Roger Angell, the New Yorker writer and editor, died on Friday at the age of 101. He was one of the first people I met when I became a staff writer for the magazine in 1962. I didn’t know much about him except that he seemed to have an understated elegance which I thought was characteristic of the New Yorker. I later learned that his mother, Katharine Sergeant Angell White, had been the magazine’s first fiction editor.
After graduating from Harvard in 1942 Angell went into the air force and was assigned to be an editor of their journal. William Shawn hired him at the New Yorker. It was Shawn who asked Roger to go south and write about the spring training of baseball teams. I don’t know if Roger had much interest in baseball or indeed any kind of sport. We had a softball team that played other magazines and I don’t remember Roger showing any interest. But somehow Shawn, who had a genius for this sort of thing, suggested that Roger write about baseball and he became one of the most noted sports writers of his time. He must have stood out among the other baseball writers who were a pretty rough bunch. There was always something a bit reserved about Roger.
He specialised in drinking martinis where he moved from vodka to gin. But the New Yorker writers – at least some of them – were a hard drinking lot and Roger was not in that group. The last time that I saw him in action at the magazine was when S.I. Newhouse bought it (in 1985). One of the first things he did was to fire Shawn. We had a meeting on what to do. There was of course nothing to do but a few of the senior people like Roger said we should all sign a letter urging Newhouse to change his mind. A little committee was formed with Roger at its head and they produced what may be the best edited letter of protest ever written. We all signed it and it had no effect whatever. I was fired by Tina Brown who arrived in 1992 but Roger stuck around and wrote his last piece for the magazine in September 2020, just after his 100th birthday.