Monday, April 13, 2015


Yes, yes, Roger Angell is a national treasure and all that. Even the "wild west" of America, as represented by the Baseball Reliquary, has acknowledged this at levels of extravagance that border on the unseemly.

But the Grand Old Man is (to borrow our earlier conceit...) putting the "limp" into "limpid" with his cheeky chastisement of "games that go on too long" (his recent New Yorker blog post, written after the Yankees/Red Sox' 19-inning game) and his call for curfew.

Sure, he still turns phrases gracefully: but it's now a grace mostly due to slow-motion rather than the bracing eloquence that used to come from his mastery of changing speeds. And he still knows how to be just as pretentious as anyone (including ourselves...) by invoking Higher Powers of literary achievement--though we'll take The Wasteland over some middling Shakespeare history play any day of the week--in order to mask the ultimately pedestrian nature of the subject at hand.

What deep old age may have robbed from Roger (and, to be fair, this is likely to happen to anyone who survives into that unique region of twilight) is the romance still latent in baseball's odd margins--in this case, as manifested in extraordinarily long games.

That romance might be less easy to appreciate at the ballpark, when the late night/early morning creates physical conditions that are, shall we say, sub-optimal. Or at home with the TV on, where the combination of image and sparse dialogue (if it is even that) can't help but create a soporific effect--often well before extra innings.

Dig that suit, Mel! If we run across you in this at 3 AM,
we promise that we'll be wide, wide awake!!
But consider the fan, of any age, with a SmartPhone, suddenly adrift on a Friday night somewhere, anywhere, in this benighted land, who finds that they can tune into a game played (up to) thousands of miles away, listening to the voices of the announcers (even the oft-maligned Sterling and Waldman) as they alternate reportage and repartee, grousing happily about the lateness of the hour, knowing that they  and the fans are getting something that they all-too-rarely get these days.

Namely, extra value. For free.

Those who've become too old, or too self-involved, or too whatever should simply sit this one out, go home, roll over and play dead. For in the wee hours there is a spectral magic in the game that comes through loud and clear to anyone who's willing to surrender themselves to it.

I remember as a kid, long before it was easy to get such nationwide reception, listening to the legendary 24-inning Mets-Astros game in April 1968, on a cheap radio in my upstairs bedroom, safely tucked away from the prying eyes and ears of my parents. The reception faded in and out, and at that hour (going on two in the morning) so did I; like Angell, I dozed off and missed several innings.

Only to wake up and discover that, against all odds, the game was still going on. I'd slipped back to sleep after the fourteenth inning and reawakened in time for the twentieth.

It was a moment of hushed astonishment, the pleasure of paradox delivered in a prosaic discovery made strange and wondrous, as if it were part of a dream.

Only baseball can do that, O ancient literary legend. It can, when it decides to, transcend time. We've taken so much else away from it (and from ourselves)--let's not take that away, too. Sometimes common sense is merely common. No curfews, old man!