What Took So Long?

I was shocked today when the BBWAA announced that Roger Angell was the recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and therefore joining the Hall of Fame. I was shocked because I couldn’t believe he wasn’t already in it.

“The Summer Game” has to be one of the best books ever written about baseball. As a kid, I read and re-read it and only put it down when I picked up “Late Innings”. Though the years, Angell has contributed great baseball pieces to the New Yorker and I am always excited when I see that he is contributing to an issue. Consider his most recent contribution after the 2013 World Series it’s a treat to read even if you didn’t like the final result:

O.K., about those beards—I give up. The Red Sox took this World Series in six games, but by something wider in retrospect. The Cardinals, ahead two games to one in the early going, led only once after that—a little 1-0 margin that held up for two innings in Game Four. In actuality, they outhit the Sox, .224 to .211, but did not draw sustenance from this gruel, because of a collective batting debility. The bottom four hitters in their order failed to deliver a single base runner in scoring position over the seven games. Their dugout was tomblike last night after Shane Victorino’s three-run double, high off the wall in the third inning, and no wonder. The eight Boston batters not named Ortiz, by contrast, stayed upbeat throughout—a boys’ club, you felt—despite a similar collective fatuity at the plate. Somebody or other would provide: Gomes with a three-run homer in Game Four; David Ross with a seventh-inning double the next night; that Victorino double yesterday. All this can be blamed on St. Louis pitching, of course, but there was clearly something else in play during these games—a winning conviction beyond the reach of stats. Beards did it.

Big Papi had four walks last night, three of them on free passes from the Cardinal pitchers, and struck out at last in the sixth, dropping his batting average from .733 to .688, still good enough by miles for the Series M.V.P. award. No one has ever been hotter—unless it was St. Louis third baseman David Freese, back in 2011, when he saved the Cards from extinction by the Texas Rangers in Game Six of that World Series with a ninth-inning two-out, two-strike, two-run triple, then won the game with a lead-off homer in the eleventh. Freese was present but not present this time around, striking out seven times—you wanted to look away.

Fox TV provided a nice little Ortiz vignette, with an overheard water-cooler chat between Cards catcher Yadier Molina and home-plate ump Jim Joyce as Big Papi approached the plate once again. “The guy’s unbelievable,” Molina said, through his mask.

“He’s fun to watch,” Joyce agreed.

I also appreciated a Fox shot that reprised Stephen Drew’s fourth-inning home run into the Sox bullpen, where the presiding Boston cop, Steve Horgan, again raised his arms in triumph, exactly as he had famously done in the A.L.C.S. when Ortiz’s homer landed there, with Tiger right-fielder Torii Hunter spinning after it, head over heels. Drew’s shot put the Sox up by 4-0, and there was time for me to muse about Horgan’s duties while on patrol out there: Patting down pigeons? Breaking up a deadly international ring of autograph counterfeiters?

Such are the idle between-time pleasures of baseball, but that season has now flown away, worse luck. The Red Sox have taken their third World Championship in ten years, and the first clinched at Fenway Park since 1918. No trace remains of the Curse of the Bambino and accompanying New England paranoias that filled up our paragraphs and night thoughts for so many years. Winning almost all the time has a lot to be said for it, but not quite winning, barely missing again and again, keeps you whining and breathing, and might even be more fun in the end.

That is great writing and that closing paragraph a thing of beauty. Roger Angell is 93, it’s about time he was enshrined with the greats of the game.