Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"NO words."

Tonight, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox play a Wild Card game to determine which team goes on to face the Tampa Bay Rays in the first round of the American League playoffs. In 1978, the Red Sox and Yankees faced each other in game 163, a season-ending tie-breaker; the Yanks defeated the BoSox to win the American League East Division. The stakes were a bit higher forty-three years ago. From No Place I Would Rather Be: Roger Angell and a Life in Baseball Writing:
The Red Sox would draw within a run in the bottom of the eighth against closer Goose Gossage. Angell was watching the game from his customary place in the press box, but his heart was in the stands. Stirred by the game’s excitement, he abruptly moved from the press box to the “dark, ancient grandstand” along the first base line “among hundreds of clustered, afflicted rooters who had gathered behind the sloping stands for a closer look at the end of it.” “I’m in crowd with weak knees,” he scribbled in his notes. After Rick Burleson walked, Jerry Remy struck a drive to right field, where Lou Piniella, though blinded by the intense, late afternoon sun, snagged the ball on a hop, holding Burrelson at second. Jim Rice flied out to right, and Burleson moved to third. “Crowd is terrifically noisy,” Angell wrote in his pad, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hoarse Boston rooters. Carl Yastrzemski strode to the plate with the tying run at third. “A whole season, thousands of innings, had gone into this tableau,” Angell wrote later. “My hands were trembling. The faces around me looked haggard. Gossage, the enormous pitcher, reared and threw a fastball: ball one. He flailed and fired again, and Yastrzemski swung and popped the ball into very short left-field foul ground, where Graig Nettles, backing up, made the easy out. It was over.” 

Angell’s game notes, scrawled in his ruled steno pad under high-pitch tension and alongside jostling fans, are barely legible. Deciphered, they reveal his deep and abject disappointment as a longtime Red Sox fan and Yastrzemski admirer. “yaz: it had to come to this—. . . Gossage in—WHAT A GAME! One of the great moments—.” 

He then writes: “POPS—Oh,—NO words.”

Angell eventually found the words. A week or so later, high above West Forty-Third or in the reflective stillness of his apartment, he took a wide-angle lens on the setback. “In the biggest ballgame of his life, [Yastrzemski] had homered and singled and had driven in two runs, but almost no one would remember that,” he wrote in “City Lights: Heartthrobs, Prodigies, Winners, Lost Children” in the November 20 New Yorker. “He is thirty-nine years old, and he has never played on a world-championship team; it is the one remaining goal of his career. He emerged after a while, dry-eyed, and sat by his locker and answered our questions quietly. He looked old. He looked fifty.” Angell quoted Emily Vermeule, a professor of classics at Harvard, who days after the game had written in the Boston Globe with Senecian stoicism, “The hero must go under at last, after prodigious deeds, to be remembered and immortal and to have poets sing his tale.” Angell understood this. “I will sing the tale of Yaz always,” he wrote, “but I still don’t quite see why it couldn’t have been arranged for him to single to right center, or to double off the wall. I’d have sung that, too. I think God was shelling a peanut.”

Angell's notes of those final moments:

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