In the shattered illusion department for this week is the fact that Roger Angell, The New Yorker's fine baseball writer, is more than just a baseball writer. To me Angell, the shadow of a face hovering behind the dead gray membrane of the page, was a slightly stooped and slightly touched old gentleman carefully picking his way through the crowd--a dignified scramble over fat knees and waving programs--making his way to a lazy bleacher perch, pulling out his pencil, squinting from beneath his cap. Haunting the parks from San Diego to Fenway, living out of a duffel bag, sadly crusading for the survival of true baseball fanaticism in a cruel, uncaring world.
This may be, but if The New Yorker deigned to run a masthead once in a while I would have known that Angell is also a long-standing editor of the magazine. Reportedly, too, he is involved in speculation about who will succeed William Shawn in the hallowed post of editor. (The other major actor in this tacit drama is reportedly Jonathon Schell, the young author of the recent Nixon-years study, The Time of Illusion, a non-editor but a particular favorite of Shawn. This submerged competition seems to symbolize an identity crisis for the magazine: Angell's old-guard picture of a journal which embodies a whole style of life, against a newer impulse--which Schell is said to represent--toward the this-is-what-decent-and-thinking-people-must-believe politics which appeared with such frequency at the beginning of Talk of the Town in the late-Vietnam and Watergate years.)
I wish Angell was like Wallace Stevens, an insurance man doubling as a psychotic baseball freak. His writing, since his collection The Summer Game was published, has increasingly gone beyond the usual vanishing-sport, vanishing-values cliche and into an allusive yet serious search for what baseball did, does and should mean to the true believer.
Last week's piece (May 10), "In the Counting House," continues these reflections, this time musing on the business side of baseball. Angell writes for the non-fan, and takes pains to explain the machinations of the reserve clause, this spring's lock-out, next year's new franchises, and the current attitudes of the players and owners. Angell sympathizes with the former while realizing that the vast majority of fans are angrily reacting to "the view of the athlete as an employee and a card-carrying union man," which "violates our fan vision of the athlete as a mythic figure, a lone hero." The world of baseball is too much with us--it's not another world any more, an escape to childhood. But I think Angell's sadness will abate--along with the rest of the country's--in the green months of high summer, and that the successor to this wistful meandering will be an impassioned swan song to July.