2011 ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing
2011 is the inaugural year of the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing. This award is given to one living American or U.S.-based writer each year to celebrate their body of work and long-time contributions to the field of literary sports writing. Eligible candidates may work in short- or long-form prose. The winner is decided by a panel of three judges, who consider letters of nomination submitted by PEN Members to PEN’s Awards Committee.
Roy Blount, Jr., Terry McDonell, David Remnick
From the Judges’ Citation
“Great American writers from Ring Lardner to Philip Roth have added to the literature of baseball, but Roger Angell’s baseball writing, in the New Yorker and in several books over a period of 40 years, is an unmatched body of work. Angell is as fine a writer of sentences as anyone alive—sentences full of brilliance and sneaky digression, precision and flights—and baseball has brought out the best in him. Eloquent without waxing mystical, canny without cracking wise, his style is ideally tuned to the vagrant yet cyclical rhythms of the game he unabashedly loves.
Here is his quick sketch of Willie Mays:
&He . . . caught flies in front of his belt buckle like a grocer catching a box of breakfast food pulled from a shelf. All in all, I most enjoy watching him run bases. He runs low to the ground, his shoulders swinging to his huge strides, his spikes digging up great chunks of infield dirt; the cap flies off at second, he cuts the base like a racing car, looking back over his shoulder at the ball, and lopes grandly into third, and everyone who has watched him finds himself laughing with excitement and shared delight.
And here is Angell on the frustrations of a catcher trying to receive a knuckleball, ‘groveling in the dirt in imitation of a bulldog cornering a nest of field mice.’
And Angell on two of Luis Tiant’s six different idiosyncratic deliveries:
The Runaway Taxi: Before the pivot, he sees a vehicle bearing down on him at top speed, and pulls back his entire upper body just in time to avoid a nasty accident.
Out of the Woodshed: Just before releasing the ball, he steps over a raised sill and simultaneously ducks his head to avoid conking it on the low doorframe.
But Angell is not just a masterly impressionist (who once compared Pete Rose’s physique to a duffel bag full of basketballs), he has a strong sense of story. When the Pirates’ pitching ace Steve Blass suddenly, in his prime, lost all control of his pitches and retired without ever getting it back, all of baseball was baffled. Angell studied the case meticulously from all angles, with Blass’ ready participation, to produce a great sports mystery story. In 1981, Angell contrived a multi-level narrative that got at the historico-suspenseful essence of baseball appreciation—he took in a great game pitched for Yale by future big-leaguer Ron Darling while sitting in the stands with the immortal Smokey Joe Wood, who enjoyed the immediate game with Angell while reminiscing about a comparably great game he pitched against Walter Johnson in 1912.
Angell’s writing on various subjects has appeared since 1944 in the New Yorker, where he also served for many years as fiction editor and is today a senior editor and staff writer. In the field of literary sports writing, his work is the gold standard.”