The Write Stuff

Acclaimed writer Roger Angell named 2014 Spink Award winner

December 10, 2013
2014 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winnter Roger Angell. (The New Yorker)

In a career that has lasted more than five decades, Roger Angell has entertained readers with his elegant prose and inspired storytelling surrounding the national pastime. On Tuesday, Dec. 10, it was announced that he will be honored next summer in Cooperstown “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.”

Angell, a senior editor at The New Yorker magazine, was elected the 2014 winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Tuesday.

“I was surprised to find how much I secretly hoped this would happen because I was very moved and startled and extremely pleased,” said Angell during a conference call with reporters hours after the announcement. “And I thought it wouldn’t happen because I’m not a member of the Baseball Writers, which is nothing against the wonderful Baseball Writers Association, but I’ve been hoping to be a member somehow for many years but it never seemed to be within reach. This brings me closer.”

[Press Release]

The 93-year-old Angell is the first winner of the Spink Award who was never a member of the BBWAA, which limits its membership to writers covering Major League Baseball for daily newspapers, wire services and some Internet outlets. The Spink Award is not limited to BBWAA members, however.

“Yesterday, when I got the message to call Jack O’Connell (BBWAA secretary-treasurer), ‘urgent,’ I probably dreamed about this message somewhere, maybe in an actual dream, but it was in the back of my mind,” Angell recalled. “And I said, ‘Can it be?’ Then it occurred to me that Jack, being a very nice guy, was calling me to say, ‘Sorry, you made a very nice try but you didn’t quite win it.’ But that wasn’t true.

“Anyway, I was really pleased and I’m very, very happy. And I’m stunned,” Angell said. “I’ve had a lot of old friends and idols of mine that have won this award, starting with Red Smith, I guess, and Dick Young, Jerry Holtzman, people like that who I really care about, Peter Gammons, and so to be in their number is a huge honor.”

The Spink Award will be presented to Angell in Cooperstown at the Awards Presentation on Saturday, July 26, as part of Hall of Fame Weekend 2014.

In recalling past trips to Cooperstown, Angell talked of a visit that resulted in a long piece, “Up at the Hall” that appeared in the August 31, 1987 issue of The New Yorker.

“I got myself invited to the induction dinner of the immortals and I sat at Lefty Gomez’s table,” Angell said, “which was a thrill for me because Lefty Gomez had been one of my heroes as a kid.”

When asked if he planned on attending the 2014 Induction Weekend, Angell replied, “Absolutely. Boy, Cooperstown in the middle of summer is great. And to be in that group of people with those three great managers (recent Hall electees Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa) who are all friends of mine, every one of them. I got ocean of copy out of those guys and became friends with every one of them so I can hardly wait to be there and shake their hands and congratulate them.

“I love the Hall and think it’s a great museum and I like being there. I’ve been there with kids and they love it. And I’m looking forward to going back,” he added. “I think the fact that it’s so far away really adds to your pleasure. If you have to drive … into Northern New York in order to go to the place you’re really going to appreciate it when you get there.”

As for writers who influenced him, Angell came up with his stepfather E.B. White, a famed essayist with The New Yorker, and Red Smith, a 1976 recipient of the Spink Award.

“Red’s pleasure in the game is what came through,” Angell said. “I hoped that maybe someday I could do that. And maybe some of that rubbed off on me. I’m really touched to see that he won this award earlier, so to be in the same room with him, so to speak, is very touching.”

According to Angell, the great thing about baseball is it has this capacity to utterly surprise us over and over again.

“It never fails. It’s just astounding … every time it just takes your breath away,” Angell said. “That World Series a couple years ago that the Rangers almost won, just a pitch or two away, just one more out away, and it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen. You can just rely on it that something is going to happen you don’t expect.” 

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum