Roger Angell, who's witnessed much of the history of two American institutions, baseball and the New Yorker, celebrates his 100th birthday Saturday in his beloved Manhattan.
Revered for his New Yorker baseball writing, Angell has a deep connection to the magazine.
He contributed his first piece in 1944, seven years before the death of founder Harold Ross, who still edited the magazine along with the legendary William Shawn.
That was five years before the publication of John Hersey's landmark report on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Angell's stepfather, E.B. White, and mother, Katharine White, joined James Thurber in giving life to Ross' s creation. Angell played a major role during Shawn's stellar editorship and remained a mainstay during the tumultuous rules of Robert Gottlieb and Tina Brown and the excellent restoration of David Remnick.
With Angell's long, deeply reported baseball essays no longer appearing, the New Yorker's tradition of excellent sportswriting is gone.
Under Shawn, who launched Angell's baseball writing career in 1962, Herbert Warren Wind's lyrical reports on golf made their mark, and pieces like John Updike's valediction to Ted Williams and John McPhee's appreciation of Princeton's Bill Bradley set a standard.
The New Yorker probably will run spot pieces on athletes, but no longer cover sports in depth.
Before gaining fame for his baseball writing, collected in several books seen as classics of the sport’s literature, Angell followed his mother in giving shape to the New Yorker as an editor of fiction and other pieces.
He was one of the guiding lights in developing the "New Yorker short story," fashioned by J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, Peter Taylor, Jean Stafford, Mavis Gallant, Ann Beattie and other writers.
Although Angell saw Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Jackie Robinson, Carl Hubbell, Mickey Mantle, Sal Maglie, Willie Mays, Duke Snider and other Hall of Fame players, Angell never romanticized baseball's past.
Angell valued new generations of players as much as earlier stars. He appreciated players' exceptional talents, seeing them as artists engaged in high-quality competition.
A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Angell focused on a single game's unfolding, the drama of tense anticipation and turning point moments. He saw the game's beauty in each double play, outfielder's catch and stolen base.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay Friday, Angell avoided harsh criticism of Covid 19 baseball, played without spectators. Angell merely expressed bemusement at the seven-inning double header and teams placing a runner on second base in extra innings.
Yet, he gave the best criticism I've heard of the designated runner innovation, saying that violated a key element of the sport, that every base must be earned.
At age 90 a decade ago, Angell in the New Yorker essay "An Old Man" remembered the vanished New York City of his youth, before Rockefeller Center was built and when New York City had a hockey team called the Americans. He recalled all that had passed away - the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, the House that Ruth Built - but kept looking forward.
At age 100, Angell is still young.