“The Summer Game” by Roger Angell
Baseball, professional, essays, classic
March 1, 2004 – paperback version (original publication date – 1972)
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Roger Angell is considered by many, including this reviewer, the best baseball writer to grace the pages of books or magazines. This was his first book, a collection of essays covering the decade from 1961 to 1971. The topics are wide – everything from the birth of the New York Mets (the Mets are a favorite topic of many stories in the collection) to the Pittsburgh Pirates World Series victory over the might Baltimore Orioles in the 1971 World Series.
While his prose about the action on the diamond is worth the price of the book alone, his writing on so many baseball topics is also a joy to read. Whether the topic is franchise shifts, expansion of both leagues and the postseason, the “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968, the first year of indoor baseball in the Houston Astrodome or the euphoria of New England when the Boston Red Sox lived the “Impossible Dream” by winning the 1967 American League championship, Angell tells it in flowing prose and an entertaining style.
There are so many examples in the book that illustrate the beauty of Angell’s storytelling. Many times Angell explains why baseball is the best game, and I will use two quotes from the book to show how he felt about the game. In the chapter titled “A Terrific Strain” (written after the 1966 season), Angell writes that “Baseball is perhaps the most perfect visible sport ever devised, almost never requiring us to turn to a neighbor and ask ‘What happened?’” The second quote I will use for this came from the final chapter, “The Interior Stadium.” When writing about how most sports are resembling all the others, he maintains that baseball is unique, writing “Of all sports, none has been so buffeted about by this unselective proliferation, so maligned by contemporary cant, or so indifferently defended as baseball. Yet, the game somehow remains the same, obdurately unaltered and comparable only with itself.”
With prose like this, how can any reader who enjoys baseball NOT read this man’s work? It is the perfect book for readers who have not read any of his work to pick up and start enjoying. If the reader has read this book, it is well worth the time to pick up again, as it is one that I will re-read as the winter continues.
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