Author: Roger Angell
Roger Angell, now 92 years old, is one of America's foremost baseball writers. I have reviewed two of his books previously: Five Seasons and Game Time. Once More Around the Park cobbles together essays from several previous collections but also includes some new material. Of the chapters I'd read before in other books, the best is "Distance," a profile of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. Thoughts on the new stuff - at least, new to me - is on offer below.
My least favorite part of Angell's books is usually the season recaps. Occasional piercing insights creep in from time to time but generally speaking, those sections suffer from a one-thing-after-another feel. He is a much stronger writer when he takes the broad view. Many of the essays in this particular collection address the joys of fandom, following the game through box scores, daydreaming during the off-season and pitting the stars of yesteryear against one another in our mind's eye. For Angell, this is serious stuff, his own passion for the game anything but casual. He lives it and in his finest moments, I want to live it with him.
"In the Country" was probably my favorite chapter. In that August 1981 essay, Angell profiles Ron, a pitcher in his late-20s trying to work his way back into the game in the semi-pro leagues, and his wife Linda. That particular story takes place mostly in northwest Vermont, not too far from our home. My own familiarity with the setting adds significant charm.
"No, But I Saw the Game," first published in Summer 1989, is a brief survey of baseball movies and their varying reflections of the real game. Angell poured effusive praise upon Bull Durham and, to be honest, I might have stopped reading if he hadn't. He felt it was the first and only baseball film to present the game and its players in a realistic light. He was less impressed by Eight Men Out and Major League and thoroughly panned Field of Dreams. He touched on a few of the older movies, too, most notably Pride of the Yankees and Bang the Drum Slowly.
I am not prepared to devote as much of my own life to following baseball as Roger Angell has but his books always leaving me wishing I could. Never content with any one perspective, he seeks out stories from fans, executives, coaches, umpires and, of course, players both amateur and legendary. Baseball is one sport that is almost as much fun to read about as it is to watch and Angell is one of my favorite guides.