Thank Heavens for Angell

Among the numerous things I’m thankful for every year, one of them is the arrival of Roger Angell’s annual recap in The New Yorker, which I sat down and read last night over a bottle of seasonal ale after tiring of discerning the minutiae of various Angels pitching prospects. From Angels to Angell, now that I think about it. The piece is in the November 30 issue, which hit my mailbox this week, but alas, the digital edition is available only to subscribers.

Angell is 89 now, at some complain that he’s got an air of things-were-better-in-my-day about him. Alex Belth cherrypicks a few of the piece’s great quotes regarding Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson, and Hideki Matsui, and they all contain a hint of disdain for the present as opposed to the past. Nonetheless, even if he weren’t still such a master of prose, Angell’s perspective would be a valuable one simply because the breadth of baseball history he witnessed firsthand — back to the days of Ruth and Gehrig, or the Gashouse Gang, or Willie Mays in his prime in the Polo Grounds — grants him an authority on the subject that’s virtually unmatched. If he sounds a bit crotchety at times, well, where the hell else are you gonna get a comparison like this:

He throws with an elegant flail, hiding the ball behind his hip or knee and producing it from behind his left shoulder, already in full delivery. His finish brings his left leg up astern like a semaphore, while his arm swings back across his waist. This columnar closing posture — he’s not twisted off to one side, like other pitchers, but driving forward, with the back leg still aloft, as his eyes follow the pitch — is classic and reminded me strongly of some fabled pitcher from my boyhood. He looked a little dusty and work-worn out there, which may have contributed to this impression. I thought about Dizzy Dean or Lon (the Arkansas Hummingbird) Warneke, but they were righties. Then I remembered Hal Newhouser, the Tigers’ lefty ace in the nineteen-forties, who ate up batters much in the way that Lee does. Later, I put my question in a phone call to Seymour Siwoff, the dean of the Elias Sports Bureau. “Hmmm,” he said when i mentioned the flying back leg, “let me think about this for a minute.” There was a pause, and then he said, “Why do I think it was somebody on the Tigers?”

A few other favorites… On the American League Championship Series:

Nothing much about the Championship Series with the Los Angeles Angels feels like fun in retrospect, even from this distance. Mostly, it was terrifying. I remember calling home once in mid-game from the Yankee Stadium press box, and hearing “I can’t stand any more of this!” when my wife picked up the phone. Did anyone actually enjoy Game 5, out there in Anaheim, when the home-team Angels went ahead by four runs in the first ininig, watched that lead disintegrate in a six-run Yankee seventh, and came back with a winning three of their own in the bottom half? Top and botom, that inning required forty-four minutes, and it felt like a colonoscopy.”

On the Yankees’ outsized ace:

Too bad, but I’m not going to get around to C.C. Sabathia’s sunny looks and pavillion-sized pant and weird, white-toed spikes, or ask batters how they feel about his fastball-cutter-changeup assortment that arrives (he’s six-seven and two hundred and ninety pounds) like a loaded tea tray coming down an airshaft.

On Derek Jeter: “Just when you think you appreciate Derek enough, you don’t.”

One could say the same thing about Angell. My only beef with the piece was that it felt too short, lacking a grander perspective on the regular season and rushing to a close with the suddenness and finality of Game 6 itself, leaving us to face alone what Ken Burns termed “the hard facts of autumn.” I wanted to read Angell’s unwritten digression about the new Yankee Stadium and his deeper thoughts about Sabathia; when exactly are we going to get those from the nearly nonagenarian bard, whose output is down to these annual summaries? I realize that print is his medium and that the contraction of magazine advertising and the high cost of paper restricts his space. Why not produce a double-length piece for the web that we can, as Alex did, print out and read at our leisure? It seems like an opportunity missed for a guy who’s got all too few innings left.

That said, it’s still a damn good excuse to plunk down $5 and enjoy one of the old masters. Get thee to a newsstand while you still can, my friends.

Wishing a happy thanksgiving to family, friends and readers. Here’s hoping you’re enjoying your turkey and stuffing among those whom you love.

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