Roger Angell is 89 years old. He was born in 1920. To put that in perspective, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were born in 1931. Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were born in 1924. What I’m saying is that Roger Angell is an old man. That fact, of which there is no hiding, is what makes his latest in the New Yorker, Daddies Win, so magnificent.
He takes a few cheap shots at the blogs. He bemoans statistics. But the man still writes like he is living in 1957, in a world where baseball players are made not by television, but by the words floating through the air via radio, and the ones printed on newspaper and magazine pages. He writes like baseball still has the power to capture the imagination of an entire nation. His essay on the Yankees’ latest World Series victory is plucky and poetic. Without being sappy, the piece emits a sort of sepia-tinged nostalgia. What struck me most as I read this was Angell’s knack for magnificent little descriptions. He writes about baseball like the game is still new.
Here are some of my favorite descriptions:
On Alex Rodriguez:
“This year – well, this year he he’s been somebody else.”
“I’ve had the impression that I’m within touching distance of a new species.”
“He throws with an elegant flail, hiding the ball behind his hip or knee and producint 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 across his waist. This columnar closing posture . . . is classic and reminded me strongly of some fabled pitcher from my boyhood.”
“Utley, who has slicked-backed, Jake Gittes hair, possesses a quick back and a very short home-run stroke; he looks like a man in an ATM reaching for his cash.”
“a Tom Joad with beads.”
“Sunny looks and pavilion-sized pants and weird, white-toed spikes.”
“his fastball-cutter-changeup assortment . . arrives like a loaded tea tray coming down an airshaft.”
On the New Yankee Stadium:
“I enjoy the wild, Ginza-esque light shows – the “lightage” I mean – but I’d trade them for the steeply vertical stands of the vacant, now shrouded original and the walls of noise they produced on big nights.”
On Nick Swisher:
Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
On Hideki Matsui:
“His silence kept him old-fashioned: a ballplayer from the black-and-white newspaper-photograph days, before our heroes talked.”
I’d venture to say the same thing about Angell.