This old man was a hero to sportswriters: in fact, to all writers for almost eight decades. Roger Angell, who just passed away at 101, was the stepson of E.B. White and the author of numerous books.
His work never got old.
There is nothing I can say that so many others, most notably those who worked with, or read him, at The New Yorker, will express.
What I can say is that he was a lovely neighbor. We lived in the same small apartment building on the Upper East for decades. As I mourn his death, and the loss of his always-interesting takes, my memories are of a personal nature.
For example, there was the time my husband and I had a holiday party for the tenants. Roger came and was horribly embarrassed when he spilled a glass of red wine on our carpet. We told him many times that it didn’t matter and not to give it a second thought.
He knew we had a young son who loved baseball, and the next day, I opened the front door to find a small bag. It included a witty handwritten note from Roger and with it a “little something for your boy.” That was an original Jackie Robinson card. Michael now appreciates what we told him then: that the handwritten note was more valuable than the card. (Which he still has and is worth thousands.)
Years later, Roger was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame — the first non-member of the Baseball Writers Association to receive that honor. I ran into him one day and asked if Michael could email him a few notes for his college paper. Roger said, “just have him come up and ring my bell.”
During their hour-long conversation, he mused on many things, Asked which New York team he currently rooted for, he said, “I went back to being a Yankees fan as I was when I was a kid here. I was a Mets fan for a long time, but I’m not stupid. I don’t believe in suffering.”
The next memory I have is riding the elevator with Roger one day, shortly after his daughter had taken her life, his wife had died of cancer and his beloved dog had jumped out the window to its death. I asked if he’d be writing about that tumultuous time, and he shook his head. “I bet you will,’ I responded. Less than a year later, he wrote a powerful piece for the New Yorker about what he’d been through. It was part of his next, and last, book, called “This Old Man.”
Roger then married a lovely woman named Peggy, whom he had known for several years. We threw them a congratulatory party, again just for the tenants. It was nothing less than wonderful. The next morning, I ran into Roger in the lobby, who quipped, “Can we do that again?” I said, “Roger, I promise we’ll do it every time you get married.” He was in his late 90s then.
For a man who wrote so powerfully, he was surprisingly modest, at least on the home front. “Roger is pretty shy when in small company,” says our longtime neighbor Joan Platt. She and her husband, the late and great architect Charles Platt, shared many meals with Roger and Peggy. “You never felt like he was entertaining anyone,” she adds.
Some of us celebrated his 100th birthday at a small gathering in Central Park, smack in the middle of COVID. He couldn’t see or hear particularly well, but I sat down beside him on a bench to talk about the baseball season. And I told him that our son had become a sportswriter.
Which made me recall what he’d told Michael when he was asked the secret of his success. “The thing as a writer that you learn, that I really came to appreciate, is you find people who can talk. And you go back to them again and again.” Just as we went back to Roger Angell’s writings again and again, and always will.
I recently saw the play “Take Me Out” on Broadway, which includes lines like “baseball is the perfect metaphor for society.” Peggy said baseball, in the end, was Roger’s companion. He could barely see, but she is proud of her new play-by-play skills.
The stage show also says, “in baseball, someone always loses.” Well, we have all lost a man who loved that game, yes, but spoke about so much more, for so much longer, and truly, better than anyone else. Apt. 5N will never be the same.