In a career that has lasted more than five decades, Roger Angell has entertained readers with his elegant language and inspired storytelling surrounding the national pastime.
“I was surprised to find how much I secretly hoped this would happen because I was very moved and startled and extremely pleased,” Angell said. “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.”
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 Internet outlets. The Spink Award is not limited to BBWAA members, however.
“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,” Angell said. “And so to be in their number is a huge honor.”
Born Sept. 19, 1920 in New York City, Angell’s mother – Katharine Sergeant Angell White – was the first fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine. His father, Ernest Angell, was a lawyer and head of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Roger Angell attended Harvard University and began working for The New Yorker as an editor in 1956. In 1962, the magazine sent Angell to Spring Training to write about baseball – and it proved to be a perfect match of author and subject.
“(Baseball) 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.”
In 1972, Angell authored “The Summer Game” – a look at how baseball influences the American psyche and its hold on fans across the globe through stories on the teams and their players. It remains one of the most beloved volumes in the history of the National Pastime.
Many of Angell’s stories appeared in The New Yorker, where he still serves as a senior editor.
As for writers who influenced him, Angell cites 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.”
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.
“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.”
2014 J.G. Taylor Spink Award Winner Roger Angell (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)