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Celebrating The Centennial of Roger Angell + Thoughts on Sports During The Pandemic

In this time of great loss - the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the first day of the Jewish New Year was the latest cruel blow - I am glad we could celebrate Roger Angell's 100th birthday on Saturday September 19. 


Starting with a spring training piece from the Mets' debut season of 1962, Angell's essays for  "The New Yorker" magazine have been required and delightful reading for any thoughtful baseball fan. In recent years he has written on newyorker.com 


I have fond memories of his appearance on my WBAI sports radio show "Seventh Inning Stretch" during the 1980s. He did some readings for a fund-raising drive (we didn't raise much money but to hear EB White's stepson read his elegant prose was memorable.)


I treasure the autographed copy of his anthology "Five Seasons".  He thanked me for "your baseball writing and your baseball passion," the underlining making me especially proud.


Angell spoke for all of us unrepentant fans in "Agincourt and After," a "Five Seasons" essay   about the 1975 Red Sox-Reds World Series.  He knew well the "amused superiority and the icy scorn" of non-fans who considered rooting for a "commercially exploitative" sports team "foolish and childish . . . patently insignificant."


What these people forgot about ardent fans, Angell wrote, was "the caring deeply and passionately, really caring."


Thinking back at Carlton Fisk's memorable extra-inning home run in Game 6 1975, when his hand gestures seemingly willed the ball fair, Angell extolled "Naivete - the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball."


Angell's gift has been to connect with players in the same human way.  "They were dying to talk if they trusted you," he told Chris Haft of mlb.com.


I recall a piece in which the almost-patrician-looking Fisk opened up with critiques of his fellow catchers.  It prompted Angell to write that catchers carp about each other just like writers.  


So all hail to Roger Angell as he enters his 101st year and deserving of all the plaudits that have come his way, including his 2014 election into a honored place at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame plus the warm birthday encomiums this week from fellow Hall of Fame writer Peter Gammons and the Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay.  



This strange baseball season ends a week from tomorrow (Sunday September 27). 16 of the 30 teams will be eligible for a post-season scheduled to end before the end of October.  The league divisional, championship, and World Series will be held in "bubbles" in Southern California and Texas. 


So far the "bubbles" have worked without much new infection for hockey and basketball.

I guess I'm glad that the games are going on even without fans.  I'm a rooter at heart and I miss my college basketball and football teams at Columbia and Wisconsin, and especially Columbia baseball.


In a complex world, I've had to deal for almost 30 years with no baseball at Wisconsin, the only Big Ten (or to be exact Big 14) school without baseball.  Football returns at end of October to the Big Ten, a reversal of earlier decision to postpone until the spring.  


"Political pressure, money, and threatened lawsuits" had nothing to do with the decision, said Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro.  If you believe this, I have a Brooklyn bridge - choice of three - to sell you. 

Don't want to end on a sarcastic note.  So here's to sustained good health and good spirits to face what a headmaster friend of mine has aptly defined as our "volatile and ambiguous future."   


Always remember: Take it easy but take it!


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