NEW YORK (AP) — Roger Angell, the famed baseball writer and reigning man of letters who for more than 70 years helped define the New Yorker’s urban spirit and style through his essays, pieces of humor and its editing, died. He was 101 years old.
Angell died Friday of heart failure, according to The New Yorker.
“No one lives forever, but you’d be forgiven for thinking Roger had a good chance,” New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote on Friday. “Like the rest of us, he suffered through pain, loss and doubt, but he generally kept the blues at bay, always looking forward; he continued to write, read, memorize new poems, build new relationships.
Heir and defender of the early days of The New Yorker, Angell was the son of founding editor Katharine White and son-in-law of longtime writer EB White. He was first published in the magazine in his 20s, during World War II, and still contributing in his 90s, an incredibly thin, young man who loved tennis and vodka martinis and viewed his life as “at safe from privileges and engrossing work, and pulled through with good luck.
Angell lived well by the standards of her famous family. He was a former recipient of the BBWAA Career Excellence Award, formerly the JG Taylor Spink Award, for meritorious contributions to writing about baseball, an honor previously awarded to Red Smith, Ring Lardner and Damon Runyon, among others. He was the first recipient of the award not to be a member of the organization that votes for him, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Its editing alone was the work of a lifetime. From the 1950s, when he inherited the job (and office) from his mother, writers he worked with included John Updike, Ann Beattie, Donald Barthelme and Bobbie Ann Mason, some of whom suffered numerous rejections before entering the special club of New York authors. Angell himself admitted, unfortunately, that even his work has not always been remembered.
“Unlike his colleagues, he is fiercely competitive,” Brendan Gill wrote of Angell in “Here at the New Yorker,” a 1975 memoir. “Any challenge, mental or physical, excites him.”
Angell’s New York writings have been compiled into several baseball books and publications such as “The Stone Arbor and Other Stories” and “A Day in the Life of Roger Angell”, a collection of his humorous pieces. He also edited “Nothing But You: Love Stories From The New Yorker” and for years wrote an annual Christmas poem for the magazine. At 93, he has completed one of his most beloved essays, the highly personal National Magazine Award-winning ‘This Old Man’.
“I endured a few hits but missed worse,” he wrote. “Pains and insults are bearable. My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to send a private Apache scout in the next sentence, the one that comes, to see if there are any empty nouns or verbs in the landscape up there . If it returns a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.
Angell has been married three times, most recently to Margaret Moorman. He had three children.
Angell was born in New York in 1920 to Katharine and Ernest Angell, a lawyer who became leader of the American Civil Liberties Union. The New Yorker was founded five years later, with Katharine Angell as fiction editor and a young mind named Andy White (as EB White was known to his friends) contributing comedy pieces.
His parents were gifted and strong, apparently too strong. “What a marriage that must have been,” wrote Roger Angell in “Let Me Finish,” a book of essays published in 2006, “packed with sex, brilliance, and psychic murder, and bestowing lasting unease.” In 1929, her mother had married the sweetest White, and Angell would recall weekend visits to her mother and her new husband’s apartment, a place “full of laughing, chain-smoking young writers and artists. New Yorker”.
In high school, he was so engrossed in literature and the literary life that for Christmas one year, he asked for a book of poems by A. E. Housman, a top hat, and a bottle of sherry. Stationed in Hawaii during World War II, Angell edited an Air Force magazine, and in 1944 had his first byline in The New Yorker. He was identified as cap. Roger Angell, author of the short story “Three Ladies in the Morning”, and his first words to appear in the magazine were “The restaurant in the downtown hotel was almost empty at 11:30 a.m.”,
There was no sign, at least overt, of family rivalry. White encouraged his son-in-law to write for the magazine and even recommended him to New Yorker founder Harold Ross, explaining that Angell “lacks practical experience but he’s got the goods.” Angell, meanwhile, wrote lovingly about his stepfather. In a 2005 New Yorker essay, he noted that they had been close for nearly 60 years and recalled that “the sense of home and informal attachment” he derived from White’s writings was “even more powerful than he was to his other readers”.
Not everyone was charmed by Angell or the White-Angell family connection to The New Yorker. Former editor Renata Adler alleged that Angell “established an overt and superficially pleasant state of war with the rest of the magazine”. Complaining about nepotism was not uncommon, and Tom Wolfe made fun of his “signature” in a magazine where his mother and stepfather were founding members. “Everything locks, surely, into place,” Wolfe wrote.
Unlike White, known for the children’s classics “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” Angell never wrote a major novel. But he enjoyed a loyal following through his humorous writing and baseball essays, which put him in the pantheon with professional sportswriters and with Updike, James Thurber and other moonlighting literary writers. Like Updike, he did not alter his prose style for baseball, but demonstrated how well the game suited a life of the mind.
“Baseball is not life itself, though the resemblance keeps coming back,” Angell wrote in “La Vida,” a 1987 essay. “It’s probably a good idea to keep the two sorted, but old fans, if they’re like me, can’t help but notice how artfully our game replicates a larger calendar, with its alluring April optimism; the joyous fight of June; the crushing, serious, interminable (surely) affair of midsummer; September’s settling of scores… then the sudden exhaustion of autumn, when we wish – almost demand – a last prolonged and scintillating adventure just before the curtain.
Angell began covering baseball in the early 1960s when The New Yorker was looking to expand its readership. Over the next few decades, he wrote definitive profiles of players ranging from Hall of Famer Bob Gibson to fallen Pittsburgh Pirates star Steve Blass and had a say in everything from manager Casey Stengel’s verbosity (” a walking pantheon of evocations”) to the wonders of Derek Jeter (“imperturbably brilliant”). He was born the year before the New York Yankees won their first World Series and his baseball memories span from primetime Babe Ruth to 21st century stars such as Jeter, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
Even as the drug and labor battles shared and even stole the headlines, he believed the real story remained on the ground. Angell never had any official credentials as a sportswriter: He was just a fan, a grateful spectator, a former high school pitcher who once aspired to the big leagues.
“Sometime in my 30s or early 40s I was seeing a psychiatrist and I came in with a dream,” Angell told The Associated Press in a 1988 interview. “I dreamed that he there were bushes and shrubs, and there was a tombstone with my name and birthday on it and the year I was.
“I brought this dream to my shrink with some trepidation and he asked me how I felt and I said I felt a bit sad. He asked me what the tombstone reminded me of and I said she reminded me of those rocks in center field at Yankee Stadium.
“Then I realized that meant the end of my baseball dreams.”
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