In the late 1980s, in addition to becoming enamoured of the writings of Bill James and of sabremetrics, I also made a point of reading some of the less stats-oriented books about baseball, including Roger Angell's The Summer Game, George Will's Men at Work, and Philip Roth's The Great American Novel.
I don't often agree with much that Maureen Dowd writes, but I love this piece of hers in the NYTimes about Roger Angell, who wrote the Boys of Summer (and many other lengthy pieces about baseball). Some excerpts:
In person, the writer is less “Angellic” — the adjective coined to describe his beguiling writing — than astringent. He has spent most of a century, from Ruth to Jeter, passionately tracking the sport as a fan, but he also proclaims himself a “foe of goo.” He much prefers the sexy “Bull Durham” to the sentimental “Field of Dreams.” He sniffs at being called “the poet laureate of baseball” and winces at a recent reverential Sports Illustrated profile. “It made me sound like the Dalai Lama,” he says. “My God, I’m just a guy who happened to live on for a long time. I’d rather be younger and writing than all this stuff.”
... “I didn’t write about baseball because I was looking for the heart and soul of America. I don’t care if baseball is the national pastime or not. The thing about baseball is, it’s probably the hardest game to play. The greatest hitters are only succeeding a third of the time. If you take a great athlete who’s never played baseball and put him in the infield, he’s lost.”“Baseball is linear — it’s like writing,” he says. “In other sports, there’s a lot going on at the same time. You can’t quite take it all in.”
Could soccer ever take over as the national pastime? “I don’t know,” he replied. “I felt I was being waterboarded by The New York Times with the World Cup.”
Roger Angell is being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend.