Roger Angell, editor, New Yorker baseball writer, dies at 101

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Roger Angell practically grew up in the halls of The New Yorker, where his mother, Katharine S. White, was the longtime fiction editor. Her stepfather was EB White, the renowned essayist whose supple, self-effacing prose became the hallmark of the magazine’s style and whose literary legacy included “Charlotte’s Web”.

Mr. Angell (pronounced “Angel”), who was five years older than the magazine itself, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1944, and he joined the team in 1956 as editor of the fiction. Over the decades it has helped shape the stories of generations of writers, including John Updike, Vladimir Nabokov, William Trevor, Ann Beattie and Bobbie Ann Mason.

He also wrote fiction, reviews, poems and miscellaneous pieces for the magazine, including revealing essays on aging. “Here in my tenth decade,” he wrote at age 93, “I can testify that the downside of old age is the place it affords rotten news.”

Mr. Angell, who was 101, died on May 20 at his Manhattan home, his wife, Margaret Moorman, said. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Among Mr. Angell’s most memorable New Yorker stories were his idiosyncratic first-person essays on baseball, which led to his induction into the Writers’ Wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

As a young man, Mr. Angell watched Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play at Yankee Stadium. He witnessed Joe DiMaggio’s rookie season in 1936 and vividly recalled, in a memoir written 70 years after the fact, the throwing motion of New York Giants southpaw Carl Hubbell, “s’ seriously bowing twice from the waist before each delivery”.

The New Yorker’s editor, William Shawn, knew of Mr. Angell’s interest in baseball and urged him to cover the sport in a quiet and personal way, unlike the approach of most magazines and newspapers.

His first essays on baseball came in 1962, during the first season of the New York Mets, whose day-to-day woes contrasted with the crosstown preeminence of the New York Yankees. Still, the hapless Mets developed a loyal following, which Mr. Angell chronicled from the bleachers, rather than from the high perch of the press box.

“These exultant cries for the Mets were also cries for ourselves,” he wrote, “and stemmed from an ironic, half-understood recognition that there are more Mets than Yankees in each of we.”

Mr. Angell’s writings on baseball have proven to be original, spellbinding and impossible to imitate. He collected his essays into a series of bestselling books, beginning in 1972 with “The Summer Game”.

“Elegance of his prose aside, the man deals with information, a great deal of it,” Sports Illustrated journalist Ron Fimrite wrote in 1991. “It is, in fact, his power of observation, his eye for the finer details, which sets him apart not just from most baseball writers, but from most writers, period.

Mr. Angell understood, in a way that few baseball writers before him had expressed, that the game was not owned by the millionaires who owned the teams, or even the players on the field. Baseball belongs to the fans, who follow the game with its blend of hope, joy and sorrow, tracing each season’s path through the daily newspaper box score log.

“It represents chance and physical theft accurately translated into numbers and history,” he wrote. “This all-encompassing clarity allows the baseball fan, aided by experience and memory, to extract from a cardboard score the same joy, the same hallucinatory reality, which stings the scalp of a musician when ‘he glances at a page of his score for ‘Don Giovanni.’ and actually hears basses and sopranos, woodwinds and violins.

At the end of each season, Mr. Angell prepared an annual summary and wrote in-depth articles on other aspects of the game. One of his most acclaimed New York stories, from 1975, examined the psychic struggles pitcher Steve Blass, a former Pittsburgh Pirates World Series hero who suddenly lost his ability to throw shots.

“[I]It is a fact that a professional athlete – and more specifically a baseball player – faces a much more difficult task in trying to regain lost form than, for example, a sick businessman or even an artist. in trouble,” Mr. Angell wrote. “All that matters is his performance, which will be measured, with extreme coldness, by the statistics. That’s one of the reasons why athletes are paid so well, and one of the reasons why the fear of failure – the unspeakable “suffocation” – is their deepest and most intimate anxiety.

He shaped his sentences until they were solid and smooth, moving like a sailboat leaping through the wild beasts, speeding up with each sentence. Some of his stories turned out to be about deeper topics than baseball itself.

To be a fan was really “to care deeply and passionately, to really care – which is an ability or an emotion that has almost disappeared from our lives,” Mr Angell wrote in an essay ostensibly about the 1975 World Series. “And so it seems possible that we’ve come to a point where the object of that concern no longer matters so much, how fragile or foolish the object of that concern is, as long as the feeling itself even can be saved.”

Mr. Angell was a commentator on Ken Burns’ nine-part PBS documentary “Baseball,” which aired on PBS in 1994. In addition to six collections of baseball essays, he has published “A Pitcher’s Story” (2001), on David Cone at dusk. of her career.

In 2014, Mr. Angell received the Baseball Hall of Fame’s JG Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor for a writer specializing in baseball. The following year he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the only person with both honors.

“For the past half-century, no one has written baseball better than Roger Angell of the New Yorker,” journalist Tom Verducci wrote in Sports Illustrated in 2014. “What he does with words, even today Today at 93, is what Mays has done in center field and what Koufax has done on the mound… He is the curator of our baseball souls.

Roger Angell was born on September 19, 1920 in New York. His father, Ernest, was a corporate lawyer who later became chairman of the national board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union. He also passed on the love of baseball to his son.

Ernest Angell and former Sergeant Katharine’s marriage began to crumble after he returned from military service in France during World War I. Roger later wrote that his father “adopted a Gallic view of marriage and was repeatedly unfaithful to my mother after she came home.”

They divorced in 1929, and his mother married White, his New York colleague, without telling her son of their plans. Mr. Angell and an older sister mostly lived with their father and spent weekends with their mother and stepfather, often in Maine. He agreed with an assessment of his mother by New York writer Nancy Franklin: “As an editor she was motherly but as a mother she was editorial.”

He attended the private Pomfret School in Connecticut and graduated from Harvard in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree in English. He served in the Air Force during World War II, first as a gunnery instructor in the United States, then as a military journalist. He was editor at Holiday, a travel and culture magazine, from 1947 to 1956, before joining the New Yorker.

Mr. Angell’s mother started working at The New Yorker in 1925, the year it was founded. Decades later, after taking over his old office as fiction editor, he found a mirror and some makeup she had left behind.

As editor, Mr. Angell was a tweedy, unhurried presence known for his ability to identify new talent and refine the prose of established writers. He encouraged writers to strive for simplicity, clarity, and a distinctive voice – and to keep the reader in mind.

“He’s a sweet editor and a master of psychology,” short-story writer Beattie told The Washington Post in 1982. be.”

Mr. Angell continued to write about baseball and other subjects well into his 90s, collecting his autobiographical essays into two volumes, ‘Let Me Finish’ (2006) and ‘This Old Man: All In Pieces’ (2015 ).

From 1976 to 1998, one of Mr. Angell’s assignments at The New Yorker was to compose a year-end poem titled “Greetings, Friends!” in which he navigated the previous 12 months, producing a bubbly verse in which pop culture, global affairs and inside jokes took off.

After a 10-year absence, Mr. Angell resumed his annual rhyming mind game in 2008:

Through the winter lawn we’ll dance until dawn

With Sheryl Crow and Wally Shawn,

J. Lo, Mo (the valiant Yankee),

Beyonce and Ben Bernanke

“Let’s see TS Eliot try that,” New Yorker editor David Remnick joked in 2014.

Mr. Angell’s first marriage, to the former Evelyn Baker, ended in divorce. His second wife, the former Carol Rogge, died in 2012 after 48 years of marriage. Two daughters from his first marriage predeceased him: Callie Angell in 2010 and Alice Angell in 2019.

Mr. Angell wrote that when his second wife was on her deathbed, she said to him, “If you haven’t found someone else a year after I’m gone, I’ll come back to haunt you.

In 2014 he married Moorman, who survives him, and a son from his second marriage, John Henry Angell; a daughter-in-law, Emma Quaytman; half brother; a half-sister; three granddaughters; and two great-granddaughters.

When Mr. Angell was 93, he published an autobiographical essay, “This Old Man”, which won a National Magazine Award and was one of the most widely read articles in New Yorker history. He wrote that he suffered from macular degeneration, arterial stents and nerve damage caused by shingles. His hands were gnarled with arthritis. Yet despite the infirmities of age and the loss of those dear to him, Mr. Angell retained a sense of vigor.

“I believe everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight,” he wrote, “together in the dark, with the gentle warmth of a hip, a foot or with a bare shoulder within reach.Those of us who have lost this, no matter how old we are, never lose the desire: just look at our faces.

Carried away by his cane, Mr. Angell continued to show up at his New Yorker desk deep into his 90s, reading news submissions and, adapting to the times, writing a baseball blog.

In 2014, he wrote about the death of the fearsome Don Zimmer, who donned a baseball uniform for 66 years as a player, manager and coach and who, like Mr. Angell, seemed an ageless symbol of all knowledge, experience and accumulated experiences. the humor of his profession:

“He was a baseball figure from a bygone era: wonderfully familiar, tough and enduring, stuffed full of plays and bats, statistics, anecdotes and wisdom accumulated over tens of thousands of innings. Baseball remains forever, unchanged, or so we thought when we were kids, and Zimmer, sitting there, seemed to say yes, you’re right, and see you tomorrow.