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The most celebrated baseball writer of our time has selected his favorite pieces from the last forty years to create Once More Around the Park, a definitive volume of his most memorable work. Mr. Angell includes writing never previously collected as well as selections from The Summer Game, Five Seasons, Late Innings, and Season Ticket. He brings back the extraordinary games, innings and performances that he has witnessed and written about so astutely and gracefully—“The Interior Stadium,” on the complex ...
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The most celebrated baseball writer of our time has selected his favorite pieces from the last forty years to create Once More Around the Park, a definitive volume of his most memorable work. Mr. Angell includes writing never previously collected as well as selections from The Summer Game, Five Seasons, Late Innings, and Season Ticket. He brings back the extraordinary games, innings and performances that he has witnessed and written about so astutely and gracefully—“The Interior Stadium,” on the complex attractions of baseball; “In the Country,” on a friendship that began with a fan letter and took him far from the big stadiums and big money; “The Arm Talks,” on contemporary pitching strategy and the arrival of the split-finger delivery; and many others. Mr. Angell's conversations with past and present players and managers, scouts and coaches, rookies and Hall of Famers enhance his own expertise and critical appreciation, which define him as the game’s most useful and ardent fan. “Angell resembles a pitcher with pinpoint control. As a chronicler of the game, he’s in a class with Ring Lardner and Red Smith.”—Newsweek. “Angell’s perceptions are fresh, vivid, and uncannily accurate.... Only a fan who cares this much could observe so carefully and write so eloquently.”—San Francisco Chronicle. “A triumph of art and grace.”—Chicago Tribune Book World.
The best of Roger Angell's bestselling baseball writings are contained in this affordable trade paperback edition. Here are 21 of his most illuminating classics, including "The Summer Game" and Five Seasons."
Today the Times reported the arrival of the first pitchers and catchersat the spring training camps, and the morning was abruptly brightened,as if by the delivery of a seed catalogue. The view from my citywindow still yields only frozen tundras of trash, but now spring isguaranteed and one of my favorite urban flowers, the baseball box score, willburgeon and flourish through the warm, languid, information-packed weeksand months just ahead. I can remember a spring, not too many years ago,when a prolonged New York newspaper strike threatened to extend itselfinto the baseball season, and my obsessively fannish mind tried to contemplatethe desert prospect of a summer without daily box scores. The thoughtwas impossible; it was like trying to think about infinity. Had I been deprivedof those tiny lists of sporting personae and accompanying columns of runsbatted in, strikeouts, double plays, assists, earned runs, and the like, allserved up in neat three-inch packages from Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Baltimore,Houston, and points east and west, only the most aggressive kind ofblind faith would have convinced me that the season had begun at all or thatits distant, invisible events had any more reality than the silent collision ofmolecules. This year, thank heaven, no such crisis of belief impends; summerwill be admitted to our breakfast table as usual, and in the space of half acup of coffee I will be able to discover, say, that Ferguson Jenkins went eightinnings in Montreal and won his fourth game of the season while giving upfive hits, that Al Kaline was horse-collared by Fritz Peterson at theStadium,that Tony Oliva hit a double and a single off Mickey Lolich in Detroit, thatJuan Marichal was bombed by ye Reds in the top of the sixth at CandlestickPark, and that similar disasters and triumphs befell a couple of dozen-oddof the other ballplayers—favorites and knaves—whose fortunes I follow fromApril to October.
The box score, being modestly arcane, is a matter of intense indifference,if not irritation, to the non-fan. To the baseball-bitten, it is not onlyinformative, pictorial, and gossipy but lovely in aesthetic structure. It representshappenstance and physical flight exactly translated into figures andhistory. Its totals—batters' credit vs. pitchers' debit—balance as exactly asthose in an accountant's ledger. And a box score is more than a capsulearchive. It is a precisely etched miniature of the sport itself, for baseball, inspite of its grassy spaciousness and apparent unpredictability, is the mostintensely and satisfyingly mathematical of all our outdoor sports. Everyplayer in every game is subjected to a cold and ceaseless accounting; no ballis thrown and no base is gained without an instant responding judgment—ballor strike, hit or error, yea or nay—and an ensuing statistic. This encompassingneatness permits the baseball fan, aided by experience and memory,to extract from a box score the same joy, the same hallucinatory reality, thatprickles the scalp of a musician when he glances at a page of his score ofDon Giovanni and actually hears ]bassos and sopranos, woodwinds andviolins.
The small magic of the box score is cognominal as well as mathematical.Down the years, the rosters of the big-league teams have echoed and twangledwith evocative, hilarious, ominous, impossible, and exactly appropriatenames. The daily, breathing reality of the ballplayers' names in box scoresaccounts in part, it seems to me, for the rarity of convincing baseball fiction.No novelist has yet been able to concoct a baseball hero with as tonic a nameas Willie Mays or Duke Snider or Vida Blue. No contemporary novelist woulddare a supporting cast of characters with Dickensian names like those thathave stuck with me ever since I deciphered my first box scores and beganpeopling the lively landscape of baseball in my mind—Ossee Schreckengost,Smead Jolley, Slim Sallee, Elon Hogsett, Urban Shocker, Burleigh Grimes,Hazen Shirley Cuyler, Heinie Manush, Cletus Elwood Poffenberger, VirgilTrucks, Enos Slaughter, Luscious Easter, and Eli Grba. And not even a latter-dayO. Henry would risk a tale like the true, electrifying history of a pitchernamed Pete Jablonowski, who disappeared from the Yankees in 1933 afterseveral seasons of inept relief work with various clubs. Presumably disheartenedby seeing the losing pitcher listed as "J'bl'n's'i" in the box scores of hisday, he changed his name to Pete Appleton in the semi-privacy of the minors,and came back to win fourteen games for the Senators in 1936 and tocontinue in the majors for another decade.
The "Go!" Shouters
Through April and May, I resisted frequent invitations, delivered viaradio and television, to come up to the Polo Grounds and see "thoseamazin' Mets." I even resisted a particularly soft blandishment, extendedby one of the Mets' announcers on a Saturday afternoon, to"bring the wife and come on up tomorrow after church and brunch." Mynonattendance was not caused by any unwillingness to attach my loyalty toNew York's new National League team. The only amazement generated bythe Mets had been their terrifying departure from the runway in a fullnosedive—the team lost the first nine games of its regular season—and I haddecided it would be wiser, and perhaps kinder, to postpone my initial visituntil the novice crew had grasped the first principles of powered flight. Bythe middle of May, however, the Mets had developed a pleasing habit ofcoming from behind in late innings, and when they won both ends of adoubleheader in Milwaukee on May 20, I knew it was time to climb aboard.In the five days from Memorial Day through June 3, the Los Angeles Dodgersand the San Francisco Giants were scheduled to play seven games at the PoloGrounds, and, impelled by sentiment for the returning exiles, who would berevisiting the city for the first time since 1957, and by guilt over my delayedenthusiasm for the Mets, I impulsively bought seats for all five days. Theresulting experience was amazin', all right, but not quite in the mannerexpected by the Mets or by me or by any of the other 197,428 fans who sawthose games.
I took my fourteen-year-old daughter to the opening doubleheader,against the Dodgers, and even before we arrived at the park it was clear thatneither the city subway system nor the Mets themselves had really believedwe were coming. By game time, there were standees three-deep behind thelower-deck stands, sitting-standees peering through the rafters from theramps behind the upper deck, and opportunist-standees perched on telephonebooths and lining the runways behind the bleachers. The shouts, thecheers, and the deep, steady roar made by 56,000-odd fans in excited conversationwere comical and astonishing, and a cause for self-congratulation; justby coming out in such ridiculous numbers (ours was the biggest baseballcrowd of the 1962 season, the biggest Polo Grounds crowd since September6, 1942), we had heightened our own occasion, building a considerablephenomenon out of the attention and passion each of us had brought alongfor the games and for the players we were to see.
It must have been no more than an hour later when it first occurred tome that the crowds, rather than the baseball, might be the real news of thetwo series. The Dodgers ran up twelve runs between the second and the sixthinnings. I was keeping score, and after I had jotted down the symbols for theirseven singles, two doubles, one triple, three home runs, three bases on balls,and two stolen bases in that span, the Dodgers half of my scorecard lookedas if a cloud of gnats had settled on it. I was pained for the Mets, andembarrassed as a fan.
"Baseball isn't usually like this," I explained to my daughter.
"Sometimes it is," she said. "This is like the fifth grade against the sixthgrade at school."
For a time, the long, low "Oooh!" sound and the accompanying thunderclapof applause that greeted the cannon shots by Ron Fairly, Willie Davis,Frank Howard, and the other visitors convinced me that I was in an audiencemade up mostly of veteran Dodger loyalists. The Mets' pitchers came andwent in silence, and there were derisive cheers when the home team finallygot the third out in the top of the fourth and came in to bat trailing 10-0. Ididn't change my mind even when I heard the explosive roar for the pop-flyhomer by Gil Hodges that led off the home half; Hodges, after all, is anex-Dodger and perhaps the most popular ballplayer in the major leaguestoday. Instantly, however, I learned how wrong I had been. Gil's homer pulledthe cork, and now there arose from all over the park a full, furious, happyshout of "Let's go, Mets! Let's go, Mets!" There were wild cries of encouragementbefore every pitch, boos for every called strike. This was no Dodgercrowd, but a huge gathering of sentimental home-towners. Nine runs to thebad, doomed, insanely hopeful, they pleaded raucously for the impossible.When Hickman and Mantilla hit a double and a single for one run, andChristopher singled for another, the Mets fans screeched, yawped, poundedtheir palms, leaped up and down, and raised such a din that players in bothdugouts ducked forward and peered nervously back over the dugout roofsat the vast assemblage that had suddenly gone daft behind them.
The fans' hopes, of course, were insane. The Dodgers got two runs backalmost instantly in the fifth, and in the top of the ninth their lead was 13-4.Undiscouraged, the spectators staged another screaming fit in the bottomhalf, and the Mets responded with four singles, good for two more runs,before Sandy Koufax, the Dodger pitcher, grinning with embarrassment anddisbelief, got the last man out. It was the ninth successive victory for theDodgers, the ninth successive defeat for the Mets, and the Mets had neverbeen in the game, yet Koufax looked a little shaken.
The second game was better baseball, but the fans, wearied by their ownexercise or made fearful by legitimate tension, were noticeably more repressed.A close, sensible game seemed to make them more aware of realityand more afraid of defeat. The Mets spotted the Dodgers three runs in thefirst on Ron Fairly's second homer of the afternoon, and then tied it in thethird on homers by Hodges and Hickman. It was nearly seven o'clock andthe lights had been turned on when Hodges, who was having a memorableday, put the Mets in the lead with still another home run. Suddenly convincedthat this was the only moment in the day (and perhaps in the entire remainderof the season) when the Mets would find themselves ahead, I took myfellow fan reluctantly away to home and supper. This was the right decisionin one respect (the game, tied at 4-4 and then at 5-5, was won by the Dodgerswhen Willie Davis hit a homer in the ninth) but the wrong one in another.A few minutes alter we left the park, the Mets pulled off a triple play—somethingI have never seen in more than thirty years of watching big-leaguebaseball. Sandy Koufax and I had learned the same odd lesson: It is safe toassume that the Mets are going to lose, but dangerous to assume that theywon't startle you in the process.
* * *
In the following four days, the Mets lost five ball games—one more to theDodgers and all four to the Giants—to run their losing streak to fifteen. Someof the scores were close, some lopsided. In three of the games, the Metsdisplayed their perverse, enchanting habit of handing over clusters of runsto the enemy and then, always a little too late, clawing and scratching theirway back into contention. Between these rallies, during the long, Gobistretches of home-team fatuity, I gave myself over to admiration of thevisiting stars. Both the Dodgers and the Giants, who are currently runningaway from the rest of the league, are stocked with large numbers of stimulating,astonishingly good ballplayers, and, along with the rest of their oldadmirers here, I was grateful for the chance to collect and store away viewsof the new West Coast sluggers and pitchers. Now I have them all: FrankHoward, the six-foot-seven Dodger monster, striding the outfield like afarmer stepping through a plowed field; Ron Fairly, a chunky, redheaded firstbaseman, exultantly carrying his hot bat up to the plate and flattening everythingthrown at him; Maury Wills, a skinny, lizard-quick base-runner. In theThursday-night game, Wills stole second base twice in the span of threeminutes. He was called back after the first clean steal, because Jim Gilliam,the batter, had interfered with the catcher; two pitches later, he took offagain, as everyone knew he would, and beat the throw by yards. Willie Davis,the Dodger center fielder, is the first player I am tempted to compare to WillieMays. Speed, sureness, a fine arm, power, a picture swing—he lacks nothing,and he shares with Mays the knack of shifting directly from lazy, loose-wristedrelaxation into top gear with an explosion of energy.
I don't understand how Orlando Cepeda, the Giants' slugger, ever hitsa pitch. At the plate, he stands with his hands and the bat twisted back almostbehind his right shoulder blade, and his vast riffles look wild and looping.Only remarkable strength can control such a swing. In one game, he hit a linedrive that was caught in front of the center-field screen, 425 feet away; inanother, he took a checked half-swing at an outside pitch and lined it intothe upper right-field stands. Harvey Kuenn, by contrast, has the level, intelligentswing of the self-made hitter. He is all concentration, right down to theclamped wad of tobacco in his left cheek; he runs with heavy, poundingdetermination, his big head jouncing with every step. Mays, it is a pleasureto say, is just the same—the best ballplayer anywhere. He hit a homer eachday at the Polo Grounds, made a simple, hilarious error on a ground singleto center, and caught flies in front of his belt buckle like a grocer catchinga box of breakfast food pulled from a shelf. All in all, I most enjoy watchinghim run bases. He runs low to the ground, his shoulders swinging to his hugestrides, his spikes digging up great chunks of infield dirt; the cap flies off atsecond, he cuts the base like a racing car, looking back over his shoulder atthe ball, and lopes grandly into third, and everyone who has watched himfinds himself laughing with excitement and shared delight.
The Mets' "Go!" shouters enjoyed their finest hour on Friday night, afterthe Giants had hit four homers and moved inexorably to a seventh-inninglead of 9-1. At this point, when most sensible baseball fans would be edgingtoward the exits, a man sitting in Section 14, behind first base, produced along, battered foghorn and blew mournful, encouraging blasts into the hotnight air. Within minutes, the Mets fans were shouting in counterpoint—Tooot!"Go!" Tooot! "Go!" Toooooot! "GO!"—and the team, defeated andrelaxed, came up with five hits and five runs that sent Billy Pierce to theshowers. It was too late again, even though in the ninth the Mets put twobase-runners on and had the tying run at the plate. During this excitingfoolishness, I scrutinized the screamers around me and tried to puzzle outthe cause of their unique affliction. It seemed statistically unlikely that therecould be, even in New York, a forty- or fifty-thousand-man audience madeup exclusively of born losers—leftover Landon voters, collectors of mongrelpuppies, owners of stock in played-out gold mines—who had been waitingyears for a suitably hopeless cause. Nor was it conceivable that they wereall ex-Dodgers or ex-Giant rooters who had been embittered by the calloussnatching away of their old teams; no one can stay that bitter for five years.And they were not all home-town sentimentalists, for this is a city known forits cool and its successful teams.
The answer, or part of the answer, came to me in the lull during theeighth inning, while the Giants were bringing in a relief pitcher. Two men justto my right were talking about the Mets.
"I tell you, there isn't one of 'em—not one—that could make the Yankeeclub," one of them said. "I never saw such a collection of dogs."
"Well, what about Frank Thomas?" said the other. "What about him?What's he batting now? .315? .320? He's got thirteen homers, don't he?"
"Yeah, and who's he going to push out of the Yankee outfield? Mantle?Maris? Blanchard? You can't call these characters ballplayers. They all belongback in the minors—the low minors."
I recognized the tone. It was knowing, cold, full of the contempt that thecalculator feels for those who don't play the odds. It was the voice of theYankee fan. The Yankees have won the American League pennant twentytimes in the past thirty years; they have been world champions sixteen timesin that period. Over the years, many of their followers have come to watchthem with the smugness and arrogance of holders of large blocks of blue-chipstocks. These fans expect no less than perfection. They coolly accept thelate-inning rally, the winning homer, as only their due. They are apt to takedefeat with ill grace, and they treat their stars as though they were executiveshired to protect their interests. During a slump or a losing streak, thesecapitalists are quick and shrill with their complaints: "They ought to damnwell do better than this, considering what they're being paid!"
Suddenly the Mets fans made sense to me. What we were witnessing wasprecisely the opposite of the kind of rooting that goes on across the river.This was the losing cheer, the gallant yell for a good try—antimatter to thesounds of Yankee Stadium. This was a new recognition that perfection isadmirable but a trifle inhuman, and that a stumbling kind of semi-success canbe much more warming. Most of all, perhaps, these exultant yells for the Metswere also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognitionthat there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us. I knew for whomthat foghorn blew; it blew for me.
Excerpted from Once More Around the Park by Roger Angell. Copyright © 1991 by Roger Angell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Part 1 Preface ix Part 2 Box Scores 3 Part 3 from: The "Go!" Shouters 5 Part 4 Days and Nights with the Unbored 10 Part 5 Three for the Tigers 24 Part 6 Gone for Good 43 Part 7 from: Agincourt and After 69 Part 8 On the Ball 86 Part 9 from: Several Stories with Sudden Endings 95 Part 10 from: Wilver's Way 99 Part 11 So Long at the Fair 117 Part 12 Distance 125 Part 13 The Web of the Game 153 Part 14 In the Country 170 Part 15 In the Fire 203 Part 16 Life in the Pen 230 Part 17 from: Not So, Boston 236 Part 18 from: La Vida 267 Part 19 from: The Arms Talks 278 Part 20 Celebration 304 Part 21 No, But I Saw the Game 325 Part 22 from: The Interior Stadium 347