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Down The Drain With Roger Angell

Illustration for article titled Down The Drain With Roger Angell

Over at the Nieman Storyboard Elon Green talks to Roger Angell about Angell's 1975 profile of Steve Blass:

On my last morning with Steve Blass, we sat in his family room and played an imaginary ballgame together—half an inning of baseball. <Had you intended to do this from the outset? Where did you get the idea?/eg <This is my idea. It was the best idea I ever had as a reporter. It really was a good idea. I mean, this is a guy who can't pitch anymore, and we've spent the whole piece watching him lose his stuff. And he cannot do it; he cannot pitch. He's out of the major leagues. And I bring him back. And he's going to pitch, and he's going to have perfect control. And for a half hour we sit and pitch this imaginary game. I thought, Good for you, Roger. This is the end of the piece, obviously. I got an ending. It also lightens the whole thing for the reader. How do you pitch to the Reds?/ra It had occurred to me that in spite of his enforced and now permanent exile from the game, he still possessed a rare body of precise and hard-won pitching information. He still knew most of the hitters in his league, and, probably as well as any other pitcher around, he knew what to pitch to them in a given situation. I had always wanted to hear a pitcher say exactly what he would throw next and why, and now I invited Blass to throw against the Cincinnati Reds, the toughest lineup of hitters anywhere. I would call the balls and strikes and hits. I promised he would have no control problems. <In this story, we are witness to baseball from so many different angles and of so many different stripes: we see a photo of a game; we see a Little League game; we watch a game from the manager's box; we see Blass throw an imaginary game in the bullpen; and — finally — we see this, in Blass's family room. I'm not sure what to say about this except that it's poignant and brilliant./eg <Well, it is the best way to end it, it seems to me. It lightens up a gloomy piece. And he still seems very young, which is a big thing to remember about ballplayers. They're young. They have to do all the serious parts of their lives while they're still in their 20s. That's why it's so hard for them to give it up later, because they don't have anything else coming along as interesting as this./ra <Yeah./eg <He was very grateful for the idea, too. We knew we wouldn't see each other again. We're sitting there, side by side, he's smoking a cigar, and we're in the middle of a ballgame at 10 o'clock in the morning in his family room./ra <Did you ever see him again?/eg <I've been to Pittsburgh a couple of times and said hello./ra


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