YOU KNOW A man understands the Red Sox when he writes, as Roger Angell has (in ďCity Lights,Ē an essay about the 1978 season), that ďthe team at its best is awesome, but it is slow and luck-prone (good and bad) at other times, and at its worst it resembles wet concrete.Ē He does understand, and his understanding is born of love. But as a writer and editor at the New Yorker, where heís covered baseball for more than 40 years, heís also had to pay plenty of attention to the bad guys in the big city to the south ó both the Mets, whom he has covered affectionately since their first season, and the Yankees, whose fans he once described as ďoverdressed, uncomprehending autumn arrivistes.Ē Fittingly, the subject of his latest book ó A Pitcherís Story: Innings with David Cone, forthcoming in May from Warner Books ó has a foot in both worlds: the book chronicles Coneís difficult last year with the Yankees before decamping for Boston. The Phoenix spoke with Angell earlier this season, as he was heading off to spring training.
Q: Let me ask you this: are the Yankees making you sick yet?
A: No, why would they do that?
Q: I donít know, it just seems that you being a Red Sox fan and living in New York†...
A: I donít feel that way. I feel that, I mean, I was very much involved in the Yankees last year because of David Cone.... This whole current Yankees run, certainly they supplemented their team year after year with bringing in new players and spending huge amounts of money, but the heart of the team is basically the same. And I think that the complaint of Yankees haters or Yankees doubters or Yankees rivals or real fans everywhere is that nobody stays long and that all these guys are replaceable and that theyíre always going off somewhere else for a whole lot more money, but the real truth about the Yankees is that theyíve kept this club together. Itís the basic tone of the team thatís set by [manager] Joe Torre, whoís extraordinary, I think.
Q: Speaking about Cone, is there anything about him that we in Boston should be aware of?
A: Iíve never met a ball player like him. I mean, heís a combination of passion and of really caring and a violent competitor. Heís extremely intelligent and heís a control freak all mixed up into one.
I found it remarkable that this turned out to be a book about a losing season in detail, and I think people tell me itís extremely affecting for this reason. But the thing is that he stuck with the book. We didnít have any contract together, but he stuck with me. Pretty good, because this is my book, not his. And when he started losing I kept saying this is more interesting ... and he could have walked away at any moment and he never did.
Q: Had you been watching him for a while?
A: Iíve written about him two or three times over the years. I wrote about him in 1996 just before he went down with the aneurysm. Every writer in New York has gone to Cone because he is so articulate and he understands the media so well and as a writer, you come to appreciate him. In Boston, if you go to him heíll always be there, no matter what happens. Jack OíConnell [of the Hartford Courant] says heís the best since Casey Stengel.
Q: Do you ever write with women in mind ... as readers?
A: I never think about that, itís never crossed my mind. I think the only difference of my writing is that I still identify myself as a fan, which I am, and I care about different teams and different players and I let that come through, and most sports writers are not supposed to do that. Thereís a convention youíre not supposed to do that, although most sports writers are fans, too. Particularly beat guys, who really get tortured because theyíre not supposed to let it show. I let that come through because I think it connects me to fans and to fans who are readers.
Q: How long have you been a Red Sox fan?
A: Well, Iíve been a Red Sox fan most of my life, but my fan loyalties have been famously fickle. I mean, in 1986 I wrote about the Red Sox and the Mets, who are my two favorite teams. Iíve written about the Mets for years in the National League and the Red Sox in the American League. And the chances of any two teams meeting in the World Series, with that number of teams back then, was, I found out, 127 to one against. But I didnít know which team I was going to be for, and as it played out in the middle of Game Six, I found out I was a Mets fan. And I wrote that. And I expected a flood of letters from Boston, and I got one. I was so clear about how surprised I was and I was opening it up and I could see the red inside and I open it up and in huge red felt pen it said: ďFĒ to Roger.
Q: Pretty funny stuff.
A: I find that if I spend any degree of time with a particular team, I get so interested in the team, and the guys struggling and what theyíre doing and whatís going on ó the young guys, the old guys ó that I become a fan of that team and I follow for the rest of the year. I spend part of the summer in New England and I listen to the Red Sox and follow them, but I have a lot of different teams that I follow.
Q: What are your thoughts on Fenway, as a park?
A: Well, I love Fenway, but I think itís doomed. I mean, I really think it should go. Itís a relic, and you go there with some of your family and some of those seats are excruciating, faced the wrong way.... I donít mind the tunnel-like stuff downstairs, I rather like that, but itís not a modern park.
Q: I know youíre familiar with the Zen-like feel that baseball has. I mean, thatís what I think a lot of us fans really like about the game. But it seems to me that a lot of those Zen-like feelings have gone away.
A: Well, I was never much for that. I donít know. I think there are very specific reasons why baseball was attractive and is attractive, but youíre talking those terms and I never know what to grab hold of, you know?
Q: So what is the great attraction?
A: I think the great attraction of the game is that itís so difficult and it really is by far the hardest game to play.... And the pace of it is great. I like the linear quality of baseball: one thing and then another thing. I like the way the time passes ó sometimes excruciating slowness and sometimes you can hardly catch your breath. But I donít go much for the, well, the mystical powers of baseball. It all comes down to that, plus the fact that itís really the same game that was played when we were kids. We think itís just the same. I mean, the moneyís different and everything, but the way itís played; the big difference is that the guys are getting a lot more money, but I think a larger difference is that theyíre not very well trained, but theyíre much, much better athletes than they used to be, much better, all of them.... I mean, I remember sitting with [former Detroit Tigers manager] Sparky Anderson in his office in Lakeland [Florida]. Thereís a huge picture of Ty Cobb up on the wall wearing one of those button-up sweaters, heavy button-up sweaters with the D on the side, and I said, ďWhat about this guy?Ē And Sparky lowers his voice and he said, ďIím not sure heíd make this squad.Ē
A: Really, Iím serious.
Q: Wow, thatís great. What are some of the quirks of the game that you enjoy most?
A: This game is so ... thereís so much to it, so much going on, you see connections you havenít thought about. Thereís a lot ó I mean watching a left-handed pitcher pitch at Fenway is a great treat, once they learn how to do it. John Tudor, Bobby Ojeda, people like that. I mean, thereís a lot going on, watching the effect of a great third baseman with a good left-handed pitcher who can throw ground balls. Stuff like that is endlessly pleasing. I mean itís sort of inside, but then thereís just the regular appeal, the sounds of the game, all that stuff weíre all used to. [Somebody once described someone as] the kind of guy who will never understand [why] the game is played from right to left ó [why] you run to first base first. I said to myself, why do we run to first base instead of to third base? Itís because everybodyís right-handed.
Henry Santoro can be reached at hsantoro[a]phx.com.