The New Yorker's Angell wins Spink Award
Longtime magazine and book author honored for his writings about baseball
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Roger Angell, a senior editor at The New Yorker magazine and a longtime spinner of feature-length baseball yarns, was voted the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in the annual balloting among members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday.
Angell is the first non-member of the BBWAA to win the Spink, awarded for a meritorious career of baseball writing, which he will receive in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 26 during next year's Hall of Fame induction weekend.
The ceremony at Doubleday Field will include the winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcasting, who is scheduled to be revealed Wednesday, and Joe Garagiola Sr., who was named last week as the recipient of the Buck O'Neil Award. Former managers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa will be inducted into the Hall the next day.
Angell, 93, was not in attendance at a meeting of the BBWAA on Tuesday at baseball's Winter Meetings, where his winning of the Spink Award was announced, but later he thanked the writers for the honor during a conference call.
"It's a great day -- for me, if not for baseball," he said. "I was surprised to find out how much secretly I had hoped this would happen because I was very moved, startled and extremely pleased. I thought it would never happen because I'm not a member of the [BBWAA]. I'm very, very happy and I'm stunned. Old friends and idols have won this award. It's a great honor."
Asked if he will be there in July to accept the award, Angell didn't miss a beat.
"Absolutely," he said. "Cooperstown in the middle of summer is great and to be there with those three great managers ... I got oceans of copy from those guys and I'm friends with every one of them, so I can hardly wait to be there, shake their hands and congratulate them."
Angell is best known not only for his poetic magazine pieces, but for a series of seven baseball books he wrote from 1972-2003, including "The Summer Game," "Five Seasons," "Season Ticket," "Once More Around the Park" and "Game Time," all primarily collections of essays he wrote for The New Yorker. An exception was "A Pitcher's Story," the product of him spending a good portion of the 2000 season with David Cone of the Yankees.
He first wrote about baseball in 1962, when William Shawn, his editor, sent him to Spring Training to "see what you find." Angell found much to write about, weaving sentences of a hundred or more words with characteristic fluidity. An example of his style is evident in the following paragraph, written after Game 6 of the epic 1975 World Series.
"I suddenly remembered all my old absent and distant Sox-afflicted friends (and all the other Red Sox fans, all over New England), and I thought of them -- in Brookline, Mass., and Brooklin, Maine, in Beverly Farms and Mashpee and Presque Isle and North Conway and Damriscotta, in Pomfret, Connecticut, and Pomfret, Vermont, in Waland and Providence and Revere and Nashua, and in both the Concords and all five Manchesters, and in Ramond, New Hampshire (where Carlton Fisk was born) and I saw all of them dancing and shouting and kissing and leaping about like the fans at Fenway -- jumping up and down in their bedrooms and kitchens and living rooms, and in bars and trailers, and even in some boats here and there, I supposed, and on the back-country roads (a lone driver getting the news over the radio and blowing his horn over and over, and finally pulling up and getting out and leaping up and down on the cold macadam, yelling into the night) and all of them, for once at least, utterly joyful and believing in that joy -- alight with it."
Angell has written revealing profiles on distant superstar Bob Gibson and the mysteriously afflicted Steve Blass, whose pitching career came to a screeching halt by an inexplicable bout of wildness. In 1962, Angell articulated and acutely interpreted the improbable popularity of the Mets, writing, "There is more Met than Yankee in every one of us."
In a 1971 piece entitled "The Interior Stadium," he described the mystical, unique ways in which baseball grips its fans: "Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young."
Angell began contributing to The New Yorker in 1944, becoming a fiction editor for the magazine 12 years later. His mother, renowned editor Katharine Sergeant Angell, and his stepfather, E.B. White, author of "Charlotte's Web" and "The Elements of Style," both worked at the magazine. Angell continues to write baseball essays, mostly on The New Yorker's website.
"I think every baseball writer's goal is to one day write as well as Roger," veteran writer Bob Nightengale said to Salon.com in 2000. "But that's like saying you hope to hit home runs like Mark McGwire. You're asking the impossible. So we do the next best thing. We read him as much as possible, knowing we're privileged."
Of the 451 Spink Award ballots cast, Angell received 259 votes. Furman Bisher, the late columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, received 115 votes, and Melvin Durslag, who penned a column for now-defunct Los Angeles Examiner, received 74.
Only Hall of Fame voters belonging to the BBWAA are eligible to vote for the Spink Award, and they do so every fall. Paul Hagen of MLB.com was the winner last year.
The group has voted for the award annually since 1962, honoring more than one writer in some years. Angell is the 64th winner, among them legends such as Grantland Rice, Damon Runyon, Ring Lardner, Red Smith and Shirley Povich. Other previous honorees include MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby, who won the award in 2005 when he worked for the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and Peter Gammons, who was with ESPN, after a long career with The Boston Globe, when he won in 2004.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held behind the Clark Sports Center on July 27. Cox, Torre and La Russa were elected Sunday by the Expansion Era Committee and will be joined by any players selected by eligible members of the BBWAA, which is conducting its vote on the Players Ballot this month. The results of that vote will be announced in New York on Jan. 8.
Angell doesn't have a Hall of Fame vote, as the BBWAA precludes magazine writers from the organization.
"I was hoping to be a member for many years, but it never seemed to be within reach," Angell said.
Asked his thoughts on this year's players ballot, which includes newcomers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina along with returnees Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens and Jack Morris, Angell said:
"I haven't thought about it because I've never been involved in it. I've sometimes resented it and other times it's been a great relief that I don't have to do all this thinking and all the sabermetrics that are now involved to determine the worthy candidates. The ones who are not in are ones that I have some knowledge of or a special memory or appreciation of, like Jack Morris. I think he should be there. I don't need to do this emotionally, probably, so I've been relieved of that."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. Bobbie Dittmeier, an editor for MLB.com, contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.