Saturday, February 21, 2015

On the Coffee Table: The Summer Game

Title: The Summer Game
Author: Roger Angell
via goodreads
Since the last time I posted about Roger Angell (here), he has been awarded the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor given by the Baseball Writer's Association of America.  The National Baseball Hall of Fame has a permanent exhibit dedicated to the award and its recipients.  The Summer Game is a collection of some of his earliest New Yorker columns on baseball, encompassing the seasons from 1962 through 1971, a period of great transition in the national pastime.  I had read a few of the chapters before but there was plenty of new material, too.

As I have written of Angell before, his season synopses can be tedious - not unlike the endless "begats" in Genesis.  There's only so much I can bring myself to care about the intricacies of a mid-season game in August 1967, for instance.  Even so, the author's playful, elegant language catches the eye from time to time: likening a pitcher facing the heart of the opponent's lineup to opening a box of cobras.

Angell's most engaging pieces come when he takes a step back from the game, exploring the implications of moving and expanding leagues, the rise of television, the wonders of AstroTurf and domed stadiums, the encroachment of professional football and so on.  Angell writes wonderfully about the stars of the day.  A few, like Denny McLain and Vida Blue, never quite lived up to early projections.  Others, like Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, reside comfortably in the game's pantheon.  He describes Clemente "playing a kind of baseball that none of us had ever seen before - throwing and running and hitting at something close to the level of absolute perfection, playing to win but also playing the game almost as if it were a form of punishment for everyone else on the field."

For me, much of the fun of this particular collection derives from the fact that the time period includes the glory years of my own favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles.  From 1966-71, the Orioles won the American League pennant four times and the World Series twice.  They won more than 100 games in three consecutive seasons (1969-71) and also swept the American League championship series in each of those years.  The 1970 team is generally considered to be one of the best in baseball history.  In 1971, they had four 20-game winning pitchers.  In short, Baltimore was the premier franchise in baseball and, even more importantly, a place where players were happy playing. 

I don't know if a non-fan would get much out of Angell's work but for anyone who already loves baseball, it's a must-read.  This edition is top-heavy with season synopses but it's still plenty good.


  1. I don't watch baseball, but a good book about it is engaging.

    1. A lot of great writers have been drawn to baseball. It can be almost as much fun to read about as it is to watch.

  2. I have Ken Burns' Baseball in my Netflix list. Favorite Young Man says it is good.


    1. It is, indeed, very good. The piece on Jackie Robinson is worth the whole series.

      Roger Angell is one of the contributors, too.

  3. I know next to nothing about Baseball or any sports for that matter which makes me the polar opposite of my brother. He had a job, at one point, writing the back of baseball cards and I consider him an expert. he knows prices and all the obscure names, stats etc... on baseball. I am certain he will know about this book and he is and always has been a Baltimore Oriole's fan