An era most certainly ended with the passing of Roger Angell this past Friday (May 20). The renowned New Yorker writer was 101 years old. That is unquestionably a full life. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Angell’s career spanned multiple eras.
Angell watched players that most of us only read about. He saw Babe Ruth play for the New York Yankees. And he also watched Ruth’s modern-day equivalent, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani.
Current generations of baseball fans might be unfamiliar with Angell’s work, attaching it to a bygone era. Though his name is associated with the finest baseball writing, Angell might be perceived as out of place during a time when the focus is largely on numbers and metrics, trade rumors, star players, and the daily grind of a baseball season.
Yet his writing shouldn’t be viewed in sepia tones or grainy black and white footage. Angell winced at any descriptions of his baseball work as “poetic.” He had no use for sentimentality, saying in a 2000 Salon interview that he “hated” Field of Dreams. He didn’t traffic in nostalgia, enjoying how baseball evolved and changed throughout the years.
Angell insisted he was a reporter. Yes, he had access to major-league clubhouses and manager’s offices and was revered for his knowledge and sense of history. But he also watched the game from the stands and at home.
Long before bloggers and the likes of Bill Simmons wrote about their fandom, Angell approached baseball from that perspective as well. Angell knew what it was like to be a fan, how absurd it might seem to those who don’t invest themselves in the fortunes of their favorite team, who don’t let glorious wins and crushing losses influence their mood and emotions — or their very lives.
“What I do know is that this belonging and caring is what our games are all about; this is what we come for,” wrote Angell in his 1977 book Five Seasons.
“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives.”
There may be no better description of being a sports fan ever written. Angell argues that such devotion and emotional investment make us better people.
Inspired by John Updike’s 1960 story about Ted Williams, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” Angell lauded the players who excelled at the sport, explaining what made them special with spectacular descriptions. In his 1972 book The Summer Game, Angell detailed Willie Mays playing center field as “running so hard and so far that the ball itself seems to stop in the air and wait for him.” He compared Chase Utley’s swing in a 2009 New Yorker piece (via the NY Times‘ Tyler Kepner) to “a man in an A.T.M. reaching for his cash.”
Angell’s career didn’t begin as a baseball writer, which might be one reason why he was able to write about it with such distinction. The New Yorker was practically the family business with his mother, Katherine Sargeant, becoming the magazine’s first fiction editor. His eventual stepfather was E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.
After serving in the Army, Angell published his first work in 1945, a short story titled “Three Ladies in the Morning.” He was hired on the staff in 1956 and eventually became fiction editor as well, working with writers like Updike, Vladimir Nabokov, William Trevor, and Ann Beattie. He also wrote poetry for the New Yorker, authoring the magazine’s holiday poem for more than 20 years.
But Angell unquestionably loved baseball. He was so enthusiastic and descriptive of the sport that legendary New Yorker editor Wallace Shawn suggested he write about it, despite the magazine being known for literary fiction and poetry. In 1962, Shawn wanted to expand the magazine’s coverage into sports and told Angell, “Go down to spring training and see what you find.”
That 1962 season was the inaugural campaign for the expansion New York Mets, who lost more games than any team in Major League Baseball history. Those 120 losses set a record that still stands. But amid that struggle, Angell found plenty to chronicle, much to love about a team that endeared itself to fans.
“They were these terrific losers that New York took to its heart,” Angell said, via the New York Times obituary written by Dwight Garner. But Angell couldn’t restrict his admiration to only one team. He also followed the Yankees. And the Boston Red Sox. His love of baseball was so sizable that no one called him out on that.
Many of Angell’s numerous essays on baseball for the New Yorker were collected into books, including Late Innings, Season Ticket, and Once More Around the Park. He also wrote a book with David Cone, A Pitcher’s Story, that delved into the craft of pitching and the career of someone who was among the sport’s best during a 17-year career. But Angell wrote about more than baseball, including his 2006 memoir, Let Me Finish, and a 2015 collection of essays, This Old Man: All in Pieces. The title pieced earned him a National Magazine Award.
In 2014, Angell was honored with the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award (renamed the BBWAA Career Excellence Award in 2021), recognizing “meritorious contributions to baseball writing.” (He couldn’t have received a better induction speech than Tom Verducci’s tribute to him in Sports Illustrated.) Interestingly, Angell was the first writer to earn the Spink Award who wasn’t a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
We will likely never see a writer like Angell again. He emerged during an era when literary writers, including Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, often took forays into sports like boxing and football. Sportswriting is more specialized now, typically restricted to websites and magazines devoted to sports, and the sports section of a newspaper. Writers and reporters who follow beats like politics or finance often have to write a book to cover sports. (Michael Lewis, for example. Or current New Yorker editor David Remnick.)
But we will always have Angell’s work — the words, the stories, the passion — to enjoy.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.