Thursday, September 10, 2015

Season Ticket

  I've spent time over the past week or so reliving baseball in the mid-1980s through the eyes of Roger Angell, reading (or, more likely, re-reading, since it is 27 years old) Season Ticket, a collection of his essays that originally appeared in The New Yorker magazine.

  Whether he is talking about how different pitchers throw a fastball, the joys and woes of owning a baseball team, the doldrums of mid-summer play, or the 1986 World Series, Angell's writing is filled with anecdotes and insights that will delight any fan of the game. 
  Three decades later, it is amusing to read about rookie players who managers and teammates (and Angell) think will make names for themselves: Cal Ripkin, Roger Clemens, Darryl Strawberry, Mark McGwire, to name a few... perhaps you've heard of them. And there are patterns that repeat over the decades -- players given outrageously high contracts ($1.5 million-- gasp!) who then fail to perform, teams that are predicted to run away with championships but falter, drug use (cocaine back then rather than performance-enhancing drugs), and lesser-known players who have one shining moment. 
  Fans of this year's New York Mets will enjoy the tale of the '86 team who, after battling the Houston Astros in a 16-inning pennant-clinching game, then went on to march back from the brink of World Series defeat -- two outs, no one on base, down by two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning with the Red Sox moments away from popping open the champagne -- to claim a victory. (I remember that game so well and thinking at the time that every player on the Mets bench was saying, "I'm not going to make the last out!") Mets fans will also note that Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, members of that team and now announcers in the TV booth, were well-spoken about the mechanics and intricacies of the game back way back then.
  Perhaps my favorite anecdote in the book is Orioles manager Earl Weaver talking about his ace pitcher, Jim Palmer: "Do you remember Jim pitching that day against Oakland -- the old Oakland team, when they were so tough -- when he started rearranging our outfielders, the way he does? [Sal] Bando is coming up, with men on base, and he's a right-handed hitter, of course, and Jimmy begins to move our right fielder -- I think it's [Merv] Rettenmund -- in, and then over a step, and then back half a step, like a photographer arranging a picture, and then he holds up his hands -- Hold it! Right there! -- and the next pitch, the very next pitch, Bando hits a shot out to right, and the fielder goes like this and like this, bending in and leaning back while he's watching the ball, but he never has to take a single step, and he catches the ball. Jim Frey was coaching with us then, and he turns to me on the bench and says, 'Well, now I've seen everything.'"
  Angell will tell you, however, and every baseball fan will nod in agreement, that even when you think you've seen everything, something will happen and you'll say, "I've never seen that before!"

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