May 23, 2022

"The stuff about the connection between baseball and American life, the 'Field of Dreams' thing, gives me a pain. I hated that movie."

"It's mostly fake. You look back into the meaning of old-time baseball, and really in the early days it was full of roughnecks and drunks. They beat up the umpires and played near saloons. In 'Fields of Dreams' [sic] there's a line at the end that says the game of baseball was good when America was good, and they're talking about the time of the biggest race riots in the country and Prohibition. What is that? That dreaminess, I really hated that." 

Said Roger Angell, quoted in this August 2000 Salon article, which I'm seeing today because it's partially quoted "Roger Angell, Who Wrote About Baseball With Passion, Dies at 101/In elegantly winding articles for The New Yorker loaded with inventive imagery, he wrote more like a fan than a sports journalist" (NYT). That obituary, by Dwight Garner, was published 3 days ago, but it's linked in a new "Conversation" between Gail Collins and Bret Stephens. Stephens calls Garner a "magnificent writer" writing about another magnificent writer.

Among the Angell quotes that Garner cherry-picked for the obituary: 

The Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk came out of his crouch, Mr. Angell wrote, like “an aluminum extension ladder stretching for the house eaves.” The Baltimore Oriole relief pitcher Dick Hall pitched “with an awkward, sidewise motion that suggests a man feeling under his bed for a lost collar stud.” Mr. Angell... described Willie Mays chasing down a ball hit to deep center field as “running so hard and so far that the ball itself seems to stop in the air and wait for him.”....

He once referred to Ron Darling as “the best right-handed part-Chinese Yale history major among the Mets starters.” He wrote that Carl Yastrzemski, “like so many great hitters, has oddly protuberant eyes.” And he noted, about a skinny Houston Astros team, that “they sometimes suggest a troupe of gazelles depicted by a Balkan corps de ballet.”

Beyond the topic of baseball, Garner points to Angell's 2002 essay "Dry Martini" (The New Yorker):

We appreciated our Martinis, and drank them before lunch and before dinner. I recall an inviting midtown restaurant called Cherio’s, where the lunchtime Martini came in chalice-sized glasses. Then we went back to work. “Those noontime cocktails just astound me,” a young woman colleague of mine said recently. “I don’t know how you did it.” Neither do I, anymore....

At dinners and parties, I knew all my guests’ preferences: the sister-in-law who wanted an “upside-down Martini”—a cautious four parts vermouth to one of gin—and a delightful neighbor who liked her Martinis so much that when I came around to get whiskey or brandy orders after dinner she dared not speak their name. “Well, maybe just a little gin on some ice for me,” she whispered. “With a dab of vermouth on top.”

51 comments:

veni vidi vici said...

We know you're writing about this in part because of the presence of the term "garner" (even as a surname); therefore the omission of the "garner" tag is troubling.

traditionalguy said...

Baseball and cigars go together.

Wince said...

To the Salon writer applauding Angell for exploding romantic historical myths: how does that square with Biden saying, "Look, the American experiment in democracy is in a danger like it hasn’t been in my lifetime. It’s in danger this hour. Hate and fear are being given too much oxygen by those who pretend to love America but who don’t understand America."

Lurker21 said...

In 'Fields of Dreams' there's a line at the end that says the game of baseball was good when America was good, and they're talking about the time of the biggest race riots in the country and Prohibition.

"Fields of Dreams"?

Whether or not America was good back then, America back then thought baseball was good. We really don't anymore. If you really like baseball, maybe you think back more fondly on those days when people actually liked and cared about it.

I can appreciate Angell's debunking the illusions of past eras and our illusions about the past, whether about baseball or about drinking, but rest assured, people in the future will do that to our own illusions and to any nostalgia their contemporaries have about our own era.

PM said...

Well, it did take place in a cornfield.
The line that bugged me. Costner: Dad, wanna have catch?
Have catch? Is that regional? Don't most people say Wanna play catch?

Rollo said...

But nostalgia is the sportswriter's bread and butter, isn't it?

John henry said...

"Cherry picked"?

Didn't he garner them?

john LGKTQ Henry

Jupiter said...

Let's just say, that this is yet another reason to despise "garner".

Jim at said...

I'll watch Field of Dreams long before Bull Durham. I barely made it through BD once. An annoying movie in every way.

Eight Men Out is superior to both.

William said...

He lived to 101. I find that reassuring. Most of the obits I read nowadays feature notables younger than me. It was even longer than 101 because he spend a lot of time watching baseball, and time barely moves in baseball.....I read some of his stuff, but it never made much of a dent. I remember stuff by Jimmy Cannon and Red Smith but not him. I bet him and George Will had some scintillating conversations. Not......He claims that the good old days weren't good old days because baseball was played by rowdy drunks and America had race riots. I don't hold the quote against him, but, jeez, now baseball is played by millionaires and America still has race riots. The world is never a nice place but there are far worse places to live than in America and that's in any era.

Lem said...

[I]n 'Fields of Dreams' there's a line at the end that says the game of baseball was good when America was good, and they're talking about the time of the biggest race riots in the country and Prohibition. What is that? That dreaminess, I really hated that."

Wouldn't white privilege say that? I mean, how authentic is that unlived experience of a New Yorker Magazine Sportswriter?

To paraphrase a radical 'Make lefties live up to their own book of rules.'

cassandra lite said...

Dying at 101 after decades of daytime drinking doesn't seem to be a great argument against daytime drinking.

On the other hand, some of his metaphors were as tortured as Ross Macdonald's that appeared in every graf and made some of his novels unreadable.

I liked Angell well enough, but he was no E.B. White.

Ann Althouse said...

"We know you're writing about this in part because of the presence of the term "garner" (even as a surname); therefore the omission of the "garner" tag is troubling."

I really like Dwight Garner, and I have no problem with the name Garner. James Garner. Jennifer Garner. Someone's name is their name. It's not a word choice of something to write or speak. The problem is one of silly avoidance — manifested originally in Jeb Bush. It's how we got Trump!

Ann Althouse said...

"silly avoidance" — I mean avoiding simple words that mean everything you have to say, like saying "garner votes" instead of "get votes."

Use "garner" only when you mean to imply storage of what you are getting — like grain in a granary or garner.

Quaestor said...

The problem is one of silly avoidance — manifested originally in Jeb Bush. It's how we got Trump!

Althouse must be really tiny, like a hobbit. She can walk under the Tree of Comedy and never bump her head on the overripe low-hanging fruit.

Joe Smith said...

He sounds like a typical liberal miserable bastard.

If just one person is being oppressed we can't enjoy any aspect of our lives.

But at least we agree that 'Field' was a shitty, cornball book.

Kinsella usually wrote better stuff...

Rollo said...

As Jen is quick to tell you, James Garner is not a real Garner. He was born a Bumgarner, like the baseball player of a few years back.

I don’t know what it felt like watching Mathewson pitch, but watching Bumgarner is like feeling an expertly administered epidural nip in between a couple of vertebrae and deliver bliss: it’s a gliding, almost eventless slide through the innings, with accumulating fly-ball outs and low-count K’s marking the passing scenery. It’s twilight sleep; an Ambien catnap; an evening voyage on a Watteau barge. Bumgarner is composed out there, his expression mournful, almost apologetic, even while delivering his wide-wing, slinging stuff. Sorry, guys: this is how it goes. Over soon. -- Roger Angell

Some people like that kind of writing.

Dwight Garner was also the name of a football player, though not a very famous one.

Jefferson's Revenge said...

You had me with the concept of martinis for lunch. I missed that era by about 10 years.

Sebastian said...

"I mean avoiding simple words that mean everything you have to say, like saying "garner votes" instead of "get votes." Use "garner" only when you mean to imply storage of what you are getting."

I agree that garner can be misused. But even the people who are just avoiding "get" may be trying to invoke connotations that get does not have.

Online synonyms: "accumulate, amass, assemble, bulk (up), collect, concentrate, congregate, constellate, corral, gather, group, lump, pick up, round up."

Bill Peschel said...

I can't think of an Angell quote or story that resonated with me, and those metaphors are execrable.

Yes, ball players were drunks and bullies. They also played beautifully. Yes, there were race riots, unlike last summer, which were mostly peaceful protests.

So what was your point again?

Lem said...

Maybe he hated it because he didn't have the chops to write it himself.

It's a work of fiction.

Earnest Prole said...

I really like Dwight Garner, and I have no problem with the name Garner. James Garner. Jennifer Garner.

Don't forget Bryan Garner, the reigning authority on American English usage. Sadly he doesn't have an entry for garner in his bible.

Earnest Prole said...

Agree entirely: Field of Dreams is fake to its core. It's as though baseball and American culture were translated into a slavic language and then translated back: You kinda sorta recognize it but it still reeks foreign.

Larvell said...

“But nostalgia is the sportswriter's bread and butter, isn't it?“

It used to be, but not any more. Sigh.

Wilbur said...

At Bill James Online in the daily Q and A section, James was asked about an earlier veiled reference James made to Roger Angell trying to give Ken Burns some advice regarding his "Baseball" series made for PBS.

Hi Bill,
What was Roger (Angell) trying to tell Ken (Burns)?
Thanks!
Asked by: djmedinah
Answered: 5/22/2022
That he was overdoing the social messaging.

Wilbur says I couldn't agree more. Just another example that Leftists can't help themselves.

The Vault Dweller said...

Yeah but if I use garner it makes me sound smart to some people.

tim maguire said...

Jim at said...I'll watch Field of Dreams long before Bull Durham. I barely made it through BD once. An annoying movie in every way.

Disagree. I think Bull Durham is the best of the modern baseball movies. Field of Dreams was unwatchable.

Eric said...

Shoeless Joe, the book on which the movie is based is very good. It isn't really about baseball.

A huge baseball fan

Readering said...

Angell was not to my taste but I have stayed away from Field of Dreams anyway.

iowan2 said...

Loved the Field of Dreams.

Aspirational, yes?

Not sure why this guy is so hot to slam early baseball. Hard drinking hard playing men, was what it was. But where are all the perfect people? Cops? Priests? Teachers?Stock Brokers? Steel
Workers? Don't go near Entertainers to find your role models. Or Writers....

Man is a flawed beast.

Not Sure said...

some of his metaphors were as tortured as Ross Macdonald's that appeared in every graf and made some of his novels unreadable.

It's unclear how anyone can evaluate the quality of his novels because it doesn't appear that he ever wrote one. However, those essays of his that I've read were consistently literate, insightful, and humane.

Static Ping said...

I don't think Field of Dreams hides the kind of men who played baseball in the 1910s. The main players are the Black Sox, who are all cheats of various kinds, and the cheats have nothing nice to say about Ty Cobb. There is a scene in there, IIRC, where Shoeless Joe says something rough around the edges and then notices Costner's daughter and is deeply embarrassed. In another scene, Moonlight Graham winks at the pitcher and the pitcher throws the ball at Moonlight's head, this in an era before helmets in which this could be and sometimes was fatal. I mean, they are all dead at this point, but nonetheless. The theme of the movie is very much that we are imperfect people who have made mistakes and have regrets, but we can be better and redeem ourselves. Why else would you have the most famous player to be banned from baseball for throwing games as your star attraction? Also, let's not forget that the protagonist and his father treated each other badly, something which both of them learned to regret and it is too late for either of them to do anything about it, or so they think.

Baseball has often been a powerful force of change in the United States, often for the better. It was in fits and starts and sometimes kicking and screaming, but baseball did a great deal for race relations. It was something that everyone could love, no matter who you were, and it helped break down barriers. Baseball, at its best, was America at its best. Of course, baseball has not always been at its best, nor has America, but that's not the point. This is a movie about literal ghosts playing baseball in an Iowa corn field; a bit of fantastic idealism is warranted.

I do appreciate with some amusement how in one sentence he notes that many baseball players were drunks, and then selects Prohibition as one of the terrible things of the time.

I do wonder what he thought of the 1890s, which makes the rough men of the 1910s look downright staid in comparison.

RMc said...

I loved Angell's writing, but like so many other critics, he misses the point on "Field of Dreams". It's not that America and baseball necessarily *were* great in the old days, it's that we *believe* that they were...and if you believe that better days once existed, then they can be re-created, even improved upon. (And James Earl Jones' speech at the end of the movie is one of the greatest in the history of cinema.)

Larry said...

I read his This Old Man a couple years back. Enjoyed it enormously. A purely American chronicle, both he good and the bad of us. I was surprised to discover him alive.

I agree with the antipathy toward sentimentalized old baseball. I had fun with FoD but have not been moved to see it again. Good to see Lancaster, though. When political pundits or senior academic administrators repine about the game and lapse into the sententious I, to malign and misquote Joey Goebbels, reach for my gun.

My great-uncle Ken Williams out homered Ruth one year. Ruth was mired in unresolved contract problems. Have a photo of he and a drunk Ruth holding a line of trout between their overdressed selves. The drank rather than fished and bout the trout.

Reading my great-grandfather's diaries (horse accounts, b 1855) I noticed that great-uncle Ken bought a new Oakland around the time of the fix. Kinda wondered if he got word. He retired to run a saloon and pool hall in Grants Pass.

He was also reputedly the man Ty Cobb hated most in professional baseball. Mr. Cobb doubtless had his reasons, reasons which family lore validates.

Anyway, I enjoyed Angell, his mother, and step-father and miss them all.

boatbuilder said...

John Nance Garner.

I had no idea that Jeb Bush using "garner" (or not using "garner?" I'm so confused) was how we got The Great MAGA King.

I thought it was the Bush thing and low energy.

But what do I know?

Mason G said...

My dad took me to see the Dodgers at the Coliseum, the year they moved to LA. It was pretty special to me. I was rather young and don't remember the game, but I do remember spending the day with my dad.

"And it'll be just like when they were little kids a long time ago, and it was summertime, and they'll watch the game and remember what it was like." - Karin Kinsella

James Earl Jones' speech was great, Burt Lancaster's remembrance was more haunting:

"It was like coming this close to your dreams, and then watch them brush past you like a stranger in the crowd. You know, we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives as they are happening. Back then I thought, well, there will be other days. I didn’t realize that was the only day."

tim in vermont said...

Major League is the best baseball movie, though it seems to share a lot of plot with Slapshot. The Natural could have been a contender if Redford were ten years younger.

Blair said...

My problem with baseball is that, even though it takes four and a half days less to play, it's still not as interesting or exciting as cricket.

PresbyPoet said...

On Field of Dreams. Almost 25 years ago one of my sons started college in the midwest. We had a weekend free, so we first drove to Milwaukee and saw a game in the old stadium, (the new one just a hole in the ground). The next day, we drove to Chicago and toured Wrigley Field, the day ended in Iowa, just a few miles from the Field of Dreams.

The next day we went to the site. The corn was ripe. The field a real place. We asked if we could pick one of the ears of corn, since they clearly were not going to be harvested. My son took a photo of me picking an ear, and I took a picture of him disappearing into the corn. We used that picture at his funeral service a couple of years ago, as a sign of hope.

I still have the corn. It has traveled to many baseball games. When I show people the ear at a game, they first wonder why I brought it. When I explain where it is from, and show them the picture of a much younger me picking it, baseball fans tell me this is a most wonderful thing. It is as tho I have brought a true Icon to the game.

One game I was going into the park with a friend. We saw someone coming toward us pointing at something. We thought it must be behind us. We looked, we saw nothing. As they got closer I realized this was a stranger I had met at an earlier season. He was pointing at me. He remembered the corn. I took it from its travel case. He fondly enjoyed the reunion. We had only met once, but he recognized the one with the corn.

Field of Dreams takes itself seriously. A story of hope, dreams, perseverance, and surprises. So this movie, reflected by my ear of corn icon resonates in the minds of baseball fans.

PresbyPoet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

“ I had no idea that Jeb Bush using "garner" (or not using "garner?" I'm so confused) was how we got The Great MAGA King. ”

His saying “garner” was a manifestation of his low energy… and lack of connection to ordinary people.

Jon Burack said...

The best part of "Field of Dreams" is the visit to find Moonlight Graham, played by Burt Lancaster. He played one game in the Majors but never got to hit. Nice because Ray is away from his unbearably cloying wife. Otherwise, the film is sort of lame. But I could not care less that baseball in that past day of the Black Sox scandal was played in some supposedly deeply flawed America - but which at that very time of race riots and Red Scares and income inequality (like ours) millions of poor people were clamoring to get into by the thousands daily. Such a hell hole of a rotten place, oh my.

My favorite baseball film is "The Rookie," Dennis Quaid playing Jim Morris, whose true story was that he only got into the Majors at 35 after coaching high school kids. Low key movie, but inspiring film for a certain type of person, I guess, of which I apparently am one.


Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

I thought Field of Dreams was garbage,too. As was Bull Durham. Don't get me started on just how shitty The Natural was. To paraphrase Casey Stengel, "Can't anybody direct a decent movie about this game?"

Jamie said...

I prefer Bill Durham to FoD because BD has a sense of humor about baseball and FoD didn't seem to me to have one. I love baseball, but it's a game to me, ultimately.

But Poet's story above reminds me that there really can be thin places, a la the Celtic Christians, anywhere, and the important thing is to recognize them when you're in one. Poet, I'm so sorry for your loss, and so glad you have discerned such meaning and import in your journey to the real Field of Dreams.

Birches said...

StaticPing and presbypoet win the thread.

Marcus Bressler said...

Poet,
As someone who has lost an adult child, your story resonates with me. Your way of preserving a tribute of memory by a concrete piece of something that was once "living" as a part of a father-son experience
is touching, to say the least. I'm sure your son is looking down at you from the real Field of Dreams in the Heavens, nudging an angel beside him and saying, "My dad loved me and misses me. My life was worth living and his tradition proves it time and time again."
It is a perfect example of God's Grace on his children. My heart goes out to you and, sheesh, it must be dusty in here. Writing this and thinking about what you do triggered my emotions. Grief is simply love that has no end.
Marcus B.
Jupiter-Tequesta FL

AMDG said...

I am not sure what the best baseball movie is but “Ball Four” is the best book about baseball.

RoseAnne said...

I was not impressed by either Field of Dreams or Bull Durham.

I had forgotten about Dennis Quaid's "The Rookie" - it was based on a true story and was entertaining.

The best baseball movie, of course, is "The Sandlot".

PresbyPoet said...

Marcus,
When my son was diagnosed with the cancer that killed him within 6 months, I offered God my grief as a gift, at the start.

As I spent much of that 6 months taking him to emergency rooms, cancer treatments, I was not alone. I was not operating in my own strength. There were many divine appointments along the way.

I tell people there are two secrets of life. Joy and gratitude. To appreciate what we have before it is gone. What do we take for granted?

cassandra lite said...

Angell took a called third strike on this.

Field of Dreams wasn't about baseball. Baseball was a metaphor.

If he was going to criticize anything in it, he could've pointed to what I heard Phil Alden Robinson himself criticize (about his own work): no Negro Leaguers.

Smilin' Jack said...

The problem is one of silly avoidance — manifested originally in Jeb Bush. It's how we got Trump!

It’s also how we got law schools.