Jewish World Review July 4, 2003/ 4 Tamuz 5763

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Roger Madness: Maddening writing from The New Yorker's surprise stoner


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Best known for his ponderous baseball essays that appear in the magazine several times a year, which are unbearable for his elevation of a simple game to the same plateau as the Battle of Bull Run, Roger Angell's reminiscences of growing up in New York City are superb. However, in the June 30 issue, Angell's brief "Comment" about Sammy Sosa's corked-bat incident somehow managed to combine the best and worst of his prose.

Angell enjoyed the controversy immensely, for the fun of it, not because he wishes the Cubs' slugger any harm. Digest the following passage on an empty stomach: "[W]ho among us does not want this delicious malfeasance back again, at the breakfast table and in our imaginings, with its richly chewable mixture of speculation, cynicism, precedent, physics, and laughter... [Baseball's] recurring history of on-the-field chicanery has always held a raffish and comical charm. It's operetta."

Most baseball beat reporters and columnists are short on style and wit, but when a superior journalist like Angell describes the Sosa hubbub as "richly chewable," it does give a reader a new respect for just-the-facts-ma'am accounts of games. And the veteran baseball writer's consistent hyperbole about the national pastime—Alfonso Soriano is the most exciting player today but he's not a Greek god—is even more vexing when the ordinary events during a 162-game season can make a fan go nutty.

Just last weekend, as the Yanks cruised to a sweep of the woeful Mets, I came to the conclusion that Boston's manager, Grady Little, ought to be fired. After the Sox creamed the Marlins 25-8 on Friday night at Fenway Park, septuagenarian manager Jack McKeon complained bitterly that the home team was piling on their run total with aggressive base running. "I didn't realize the pitching was that bad here in Boston that you had to tag up on short flies in the seventh inning with a 16-run lead," the frustrated Florida leader asked after the game. In a word, yes. Besides, since when is baseball a courteous game of croquet?

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Little met with McKeon before Saturday's contest to smooth things over. He told a Boston Globe reporter: "There's a right and wrong way to play the game. I feel we didn't play the game the right way totally." This is one of the reasons Boston is in second place. And so, on Saturday, the Sox were winning 9-2 in the eighth inning and blew it with two outs in the ninth, as Mike Lowell hit a three-run homer off Brandon Lyon. One has to wonder if Gomer Little told his team to cool it when they had a comfortable lead.

The question is this: Would Billy Martin, Lou Piniella or Dick Williams publicly upbraid his squad for doing what they're paid for? Of course not. By all indications, Little's a wonderful fellow, but if the Sox are to compete in October, they need not only a better pitching staff but a dugout taskmaster who doesn't play footsie with his counterpart on the other side of the field.

Anyway, Angell's conclusion to the piece did strike me as thoughtful. He wrote about Sosa: "The only sadness here is the taint, the little doubt, that will always be attached to Sosa's name now, despite his sunniness and those career five hundred and six home runs [at the author's deadline]. We can forgive him, even if we question his tale of a batting-practice bat going unrecognized in the heat of the season (and an extended power outage at the plate), and late tonight perhaps forgive ourselves today's not-so-white lie, last week's unpardonable impatience with a boring old friend, and all the pot we used to smoke after the kids had gone to bed."

I may not like Roger Angell's baseball writing, but he certainly appears to be a gentleman. The twist here—at least to me—is his reference to pot smoking. Angell was born in 1920 and presumably raised children in the 40s and 50s. Does that mean he was a precocious white guy smoking weed in that era, hanging out with New York's hepcats, having ignored propaganda like the film Reefer Madness? If so, my level of respect and admiration for Angell has increased tenfold.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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