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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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You Can’t Always Get What You Want But I Did Get My Dream Extra-Inning Game 7

If you scroll through these blogs over the past few years, you’ll see that I fervently believe in Lowenfish’s Law: No lead of four runs or less is ever safe in a baseball game until the last man is out.

In my last blog, I wrote that the Indians just might win a seventh game in what shaped up as a very close World Series. Well, the Indians did have a chance to win that seventh game on the second night of November.

They rallied from 5-1 and 6-3 deficits to score three in the 8th against the Cubs’ star closer Aroldis Chapman. Journeyman Rajai Davis hit a two-run home run to tie the game.

I couldn’t help thinking of a similar great World Series game in 1975 when Bernie Carbo hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game against Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine. Would there be a Carlton Fisk to win the game in extra innings?

That classic contest was only a Game 6 and this one was for all the marbles, a Game 7.
Alas for Cleveland, there was no Carlton Fisk on their roster. Chapman recovered his poise to retire the Indians in order in the 9th, and the Cubs got the lead in the top of the 10th on a clutch RBI single by Ben Zobrist, the deserving MVP of the Series.

I really had no horse in this race. Both teams deserved to win but in organized sports there is only one winner. I was glad that the triumphant Cubs were gracious in victory. Both manager Joe Maddon and team architect Theo Epstein praised the Indians for their gallant effort.

Zobrist, who now has won back-to-back World Series (he played for the 2015 champion KC Royals), added to his laurels as one of the classiest as well as most versatile of MLB players. He praised his teammate Anthony Rizzo for being so good that he was walked intentionally to get to Zobrist in the chance of getting the inning-ending double play.

People who truly love sports know there are times when it is a shame that there has to be a loser. The 2016 World Series was a prime example.

The Indians showed amazing heart not just in the last game but in sweeping the Red Sox in the first round, knocking out the Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS, and taking the highly favored Cubs to the last out of game 7 in the Series.

That the Tribe accomplished all this missing two key starters in their rotation, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, was quite remarkable. I know this is small consolation for Cleveland which has now not won a World Series since 1948 and has only appeared in four since then.

I think the most astonishing part of this Series is that no starting pitcher threw a ball in the seventh inning and very few got far into the sixth. The Indians had the superior bullpen and excellent manager Terry "Tito" Francona was not afraid to use Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, and Bryan Shaw more than one inning.

Joe Maddon didn’t have as many relief reliables as Francona but he hoped to get as many as three innings out of the powerful arm of Aroldis Chapman. This strategy almost backfired in Game 7 when starter Kyle Hendricks was yanked with two out in the 5th inning with a four run lead.

A throwing error by catcher David Ross followed by a wild pitch that led to two immediate runs made it a 5-3 game. But Ross, ending his 15-year major league career in style, atoned for his miscue with a big solo home run in the next half inning.

So now winter has come for everyone in baseball, but very soon news of free agent possibilities and signings will hit the sports pages. Teams have exclusive rights to their potential free agents until five days after the Series ends, which means Monday November 7.

Here are some questions for the Series teams and one other playoff team to answer:
**Will the Cubs re-sign Dexter Fowler their leadoff hitter and centerfielder?

**Will they re-sign Aroldis Chapman or will he possibly return to the Yankees ?

**How will the Indians fortify their lineup with more power and consistent hitting?

**Will the Dodgers, who actually led the Cubs two games to one in the NLCS, keep their free agents - solid third baseman/timely hitter Justin Turner and potent closer Kenley Jansen?

Those answers will be coming soon. In the meantime, let’s salute everyone on the Cubs and Indians who kept winter away for so long.

That’s all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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