Review: Roger Angell’s love for our national pastime
Of the recent books I have read about baseball, Joe Bonomo’s book chronicling the career of Roger Angell, No Place I Would Rather Be, is one of the best, not only for Bonomo’s considerable writing skills, but also for his compelling portrayal of Angell’s erudition and unique focus on the “lesser and sweeter moments” of the sport he loves.
In Angell’s decades as an editor and writer for The New Yorker, he carved out a fascinating niche for himself by writing not so much about what happens on the field, but more about the goings-on in the stands and in the minds and hearts of the game’s faithful. A keen-eyed observer of the human condition, he zeroed in on what he described as the game’s “lovely mystery, the slow, taut, speculative ticking of baseball time.”
As Bonomo observes, Angell’s eloquence and almost anthropological perspective allowed him to lay down lyrical passages—like “a handful of men, we discover, can police a great green country, forestalling unimaginable disasters”—without ever sounding overly labored or sentimental.
By quoting from Angell’s many published essays, Bonomo displays the vast expanse of subjects he covered: from fans’ paradoxical attraction to both winning and losing (their “love of the game’s capriciousness,” as Bonomo describes it) to the cognitive dissonance arising from the contrasting social locations of baseball’s members and the less fortunate denizens outside the stadium (he quotes Angell as lamenting the “poor cities and rich sports, a lot of unnoticed kids playing in burnt-out playgrounds, and a few men playing before great crowds in a new sports palace”).
A keen-eyed observer of the human condition, Roger Angell zeroed in on baseball's “lovely mystery, the slow, taut, speculative ticking of baseball time.”
Above all, the book explains why Angell’s baseball writing stands out amid that of his peers. Angell makes a “deft and sincere movement from observing a game to sensing something larger and more complex and lasting.” This movement allows Angell to transcend the limitations of more quantitative sports writing in order to show us why we should care about baseball. Its timeless sounds soothe and excite us, and our peculiar love for the game and its rhythms unites us, briefly freeing us from the travails of our daily lives and the punishing news cycle.
Or, as Angell says: “Most of all, I think, baseball disarms us.” We are released into the “great green country” patrolled by our heroes and antiheroes alike, each ready for the next arcing singularity that may come their way. What a blessed relief!