Review

A Pitcher's Story

by Roger Angell



For some reason, baseball fans believe their favorite players
should be like the Pope. Not that they must be infallible, but that
their presence should last forever. So it is with some sadness that
we behold the day when a treasured athlete decides to hang it up.
Just recently, Cal Ripken Jr., the new "Iron Man," decided to
retire at the age of 40, at the end of the current season.
Testimonials have already started to pour in like eulogies. The
average career of a professional ballplayer lasts slightly longer
than a presidential term. For those who hang on for 15 or more
years, especially with one team, as did Ripken, there is a special
affection.

The life span of an athlete should be described like dog years, for
only in that context can we discuss a 38-year-old as finished,
washed up, put out to pasture. David Cone has been thought of in
that context. And Roger Angell is the type of writer who can
chronicle the declining years of a star without being too maudlin
or cynical. The author, sports editor for The New Yorker, is
a gifted analyst of the national pastime (FIVE SEASONS, ONCE MORE
AROUND THE PARK) as a game made up of "people," not merely
"athletes."

A PITCHER'S STORY was envisioned as a much happier project. Angell
wanted to look at the life of Cone, an unusually thoughtful man, an
aging cowboy heading off into the sunset (which is not an
inappropriate metaphor, considering the seemingly-perennial free
agent was often looked on as something of a hired gun). Cone, at
the time a New York Yankee, had attained pitching Nirvana, tossing
a perfect game against the Montreal Expos in 1999. The next season
the floor dropped out from under him. He won but four games while
losing fourteen, unable to significantly help the Yankees as they
headed for another World Championship. The whispers began: "He's
had it; he's done."

The old saw is that baseball is a game of inches. For pitchers, the
measurements are even less forgiving. The strike zone is 17" wide
(its height depends on the batter); for a pitcher to miss by
molecules can mean the difference between a pop up caught by the
shortstop and a ball that goes over the centerfield fence. For
Cone, during this year, it was more of the latter. After thousands
of pitches, the book ponders, how can such a trained athlete lose
his way?

A PITCHER'S STORY follows the maturation of Cone from his little
league days through all the ups and downs along the way to the big
leagues, including surgery to remove a life-threatening aneurysm
from his pitching arm. The author supplements these travails with
interviews with those close to Cone, his inner circle. We read of a
strict upbringing in a family where sports were important, of his
development from little league standout to high school prospect to
major league stardom. He has been one of the best of his
generation, but Angell portrays him as a man, not just a bubble gum
card. A PITCHER'S STORY is not your typical "kiss and tell"
biography. Cone's story is depicted with sensitivity, never
sensationalism.

At one point, when asked about the progress of the project, Cone
responded wearily, "It isn't the book that was planned. That was
going to be...technical things about what pitchers do and how they
take care of themselves, and who owns the pitcher's arm. But it
changed." Cone deserves a great deal of credit. It would have been
easy to change his mind, to decide that he didn't want a public
airing of his decline. But then this pitcher is not one of your
stereotypical monosyllabic, scratching, spitting sports
Neanderthals.

After a rough spring, Cone is trying to make a comeback with the
Yankee's nemesis, the Boston Red Sox; the competitor in him
obviously wants to keep going. You can't help wonder with him as he
muses, "Thirty-eight is old for a pitcher. Maybe I should retire
and become a young man again."

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (ronk23@aol.com) on January 22, 2011

A Pitcher's Story
by Roger Angell

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2002
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446678465
  • ISBN-13: 9780446678469