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Updike-Williams-Angell

February 7, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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A week ago I had a post about John Updike that focused on his famous 1960 New Yorker article about Ted Williams’ final at bat. I noted that my favorite sportswriter (Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star and SI) and my favorite radio host (Jonathan Schwartz of WNYC), in reminiscing about Updike, focused on this article. Now the greatest of all living baseball writers, Roger Angell, has weighed in, in a lovely short piece in the current New Yorker’s Talk of the Town section, and he too speaks of the Ted Williams article.

Angell, of course, is the embodiment of New Yorker history: son of early New Yorker writer and editor Katharine (Sergeant Angell) White, stepson of fellow New Yorker writer E. B. White (yes, that E. B. White — Charlotte’s Web, Strunk and White, etc.), long-time New Yorker fiction editor himself, and starting in 1962, unparalleled baseball essayist in the pages of the New Yorker.

In the current New Yorker remembrance of Updike, Angell notes that they were “Colleagues for more than half a century, writer-editor partners for more than half that time.” I close with Angell’s account of Updike’s Ted Williams piece:

Updike’s sentences are fresh-painted. In all his writing, critical or fictional or reportorial, he is a fabulous noticer and expander; he’s invented HD. So armed, he felt free from the start to take up and engage with all that lay within the range of his attention and put it down on paper. He had never to my knowledge written about sports when, on a morning in late September, 1960, he was stood up by a woman in Boston with whom he had an assignation and instead went to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox, in the final home game of Ted Williams’s career. Ted hit a home run in his last at-bat, and Updike came home and wrote “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” and sent it off to the magazine: the most celebrated baseball piece ever. The text grew not just out of the event but from Updike’s youthful attachment to the Splendid Splinter; when he decided to leave New York and The New Yorker, in 1957, and move his young family to the suburbs, he chose Boston, as he later explained, in part to be closer to Ted Williams. My own baseball writing was still two years away when I first read “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” and though it took me a while to become aware of it, John had already supplied my tone, while also seeming to invite me to try for a good sentence now and then, down the line, like the one he slips in when Williams fails to doff his cap after circling the bases in the wake of that homer: “Gods do not answer letters.”

Categories: Sports, Writing
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