Angell, Roger (1920—)

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Angell, Roger (1920—)

Writer, parodist, and magazine editor Roger Angell is most notable as an analyst of the philosophy and intricacies of professional baseball and its hidden meanings, what it reveals of the American psyche. Several of the titles of Angell's books, which are compilations of his baseball sketches, hint at his involvement with the metaphysical aspects of the game. These include The Summer Game (1972); Five Seasons (1977); Late Innings (1982); Season Ticket (1988); Baseball (1988); and Once More around the Park (1991). Born and bred in New York City, Angell received a B.A. from Harvard in 1942, spent four years in the U.S. Army Air Force, and became a writer for Curtis Publications in 1946. Angell was senior editor of Holiday travel magazine from 1947 to 1958. In 1948, Angell became an editor and general contributor to the New Yorker, quite appropriate as his connection to that magazine was almost congenital. His mother, Katharine White, had joined the magazine in 1925, the year it was founded; his stepfather was E. B. White, long associated with that publication. Angell served as the magazine's senior fiction editor and shepherded the works of cultural figures John Updike, Garrison Keillor, and V. S. Pritchett. He also composed parodies, "Talk of the Town" pieces, and, from 1976, the annual rhymed Christmas verse "Greetings, Friends."

Since 1962, Angell's baseball articles have appeared in "The Sporting Scene" column of the New Yorker. Others have been published in the New York Times. In his quintessential article, "The Interior Stadium," the concluding essay in The Summer Game, Angell disclosed many of his conclusions about baseball. Consciously paraphrasing poet William Wordsworth in the opening line—"Sports are too much with us. Late and soon …"—like Wordsworth's "spots of time," Angell recalls not just events in the game, but emotions he feels when the events take place on the ballfield. The arrested moments that Angell recalls at will in the inner stadium of his mind focus on individual players and their challenges. Baseball, in his opinion, is so intensely remembered because it is so intensely watched (or listened to) and made personal by the observers.

It is one of Angell's hallmarks that he regards baseball as a test of the character found in solitary men rather than in team dynamics. He also waxes rhapsodic, as do George Will and other baseball literati, over the game's presumed liberation from the constraints of normal time. In baseball, in Angell's estimation, time is measured by outs rather than by clocks.

Angell dwells on the bond between spectator and player, a reciprocal but perhaps not equal relationship. Only baseball with its statistics and fragments of time arguably allows precise reconstruction of events. With such a lofty vision of what essentially is a popular way to spend leisure time, it is not surprising that Angell wrote the introduction to the companion volume to Ken Burns's video paean to the higher nature of the game.

—Frederick J. Augustyn, Jr.

Further Reading:

Angell, Roger. A Day in the Life of Roger Angell: Parodies and Other Pleasures. New York, Penguin Books, 1990.

Memmott, A. James. "Wordsworth in the Bleachers: The Baseball Essays of Roger Angell." Sport Inside Out: Readings in Literature and Philosophy. Edited by David L. Vanderwerken and Spencer K. Wertz. Fort Worth, Texas Christian University, 1985.

Porter, David L., ed. Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: 1989-1992 Supplement for Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Other Sports. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1992.

Vanderzwaag, Harold J. "The Interior Stadium: Enhancing the Illusion." Sport Inside Out: Readings in Literature and Philosophy. Edited by David L. Vanderwerken and Spencer K. Wertz. Forth Worth, Texas Christian University, 1985.

Ward, Geoffrey C., and Ken Burns. Baseball: An Illustrated History. Introduction by Roger Angell. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Will, George F. Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball. New York, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990.