Baseball writer Roger Angell dies at 101

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6 mins read

By Bill Trott

Roger Angell, who brought a fan’s perspective, an intellectual’s enlightenment and a poet’s lyrical touch to his essays on baseball for The New Yorker magazine, building a reputation as one of America’s elite baseball writers over six decades, died on Friday at the age of 101, the magazine said.

Angell, who also helped shape the writings of John Updike, Woody Allen and others as The New Yorker’s fiction editor, died of congestive heart failure, his wife, Margaret Moorman, said, according to the New York Times.

Angell, who was born on Sept. 19, 1920 in New York City, came from a literary family. His mother, Katharine Angell White, was The New Yorker’s first fiction editor and his stepfather was E.B. White, who wrote the children’s novels “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” co-authored Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” writing guide and also wrote for The New Yorker.

Angell was in the military when he made his debut in the magazine in 1944 with a short story titled “Three Ladies in the Morning.” He joined the staff full time in 1956 as an editor and would go on to contribute general-topic essays, movie reviews and the magazine’s annual Christmas poem.

He took on a new role in 1962 when the magazine’s longtime editor, William Shawn, who knew next to nothing about baseball, decided he wanted more sports in The New Yorker. He dispatched Angell to spring training in Florida to “see what you find.”

What he found was a new calling writing about baseball – or as he preferred to put it, telling his story of being a baseball fan. Angell’s first subject was the New York Mets, a hapless amalgam of castoff and unproven players who were preparing for a debut season in which they would set a record for ineptitude but capture the hearts of baseball fans in their city.

A FAN’S STORY

The New Yorker freed Angell of the wordage limits, immediate deadlines and objectivity concerns that beat reporters faced, allowing him to be a different kind of sportswriter. Not every sportswriter could get away with calling a baseball a “little lump of physics” or “this spare and sensual object.”


His style could be rambling with meandering sentences and multiple digressions per paragraph but was always flowing, elegant and insightful.

“For some reason, from the beginning I wrote in the first person and wrote about myself as a fan,” he wrote in the magazine in 2006. “I was too nervous to talk to the players, anyway … I didn’t know how to be a sportswriter so I sat in the stands at first and reported about that.”

Angell’s elegant essays were collected in several books. Some of his standout work included a profile of Bob Gibson, the prickly and overpowering St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, and an analysis of hitting entitled “One Tough Way to Make a Living.”

His body of work led Saturday Review magazine to call Angell “the best baseball writer ever.”

“I’ve been accused once in a while of being a poet laureate (of baseball), which has always sort of pissed me off,” Angell said in an interview with Salon.com in 2000. “I think people who said that really haven’t read me because what I’ve been doing a lot of times is reporting.”

At The New Yorker, Angell also edited the works of Updike, Garrison Keillor, Vladimir Nabokov, Ann Beattie and Allen, who told the Associated Press that Angell once suggested he quit trying to be so funny.

In February 2014 at the age of 93, Angell wrote a 5,000-word piece for The New Yorker titled “This Old Man” about life and looming death. Without being maudlin, Angell wrote of missing his dead friends and family, including his second wife who died in 2012 and a daughter who committed suicide, his own demise and a longing for intimacy that never subsides.

    “I know how lucky I am and secretly tap wood, greet the day and grab a sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds,” he wrote. “I’m not dead and not yet mindless in a reliable upstate facility. Decline and disaster impend but my thoughts don’t linger there.”

    In the meantime, he said he was memorizing poems and reciting them while walking his dog and enjoying humor, “even jokes about death.”


That essay provided a framework for his final book, “This Old Man” in 2015, a collection of essays, reviews and profiles touching on life and death.

Angell was still being published in The New Yorker as he turned 100 years of age. He wrote about the importance of voting just before the November 2018 congressional elections and in 2019 wrote a short piece about the magazine’s connection to the D-Day invasion during World War Two.

Angell was married three times, most recently to writer Moorman in 2014, and had three children.

(Writing and reporting by Bill Trott; Additional reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney and Diane Craft)