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Writer and Editor Roger Angell

Writer and editor Roger Angell has been a fiction editor at The New Yorker for over 40 years. And has written about baseball for the magazine for decades. His pieces about baseball have been collected in four books including Late Innings and The Summer Game. Angell new book is A Pitcher Story: Innings with David Cone (Warner Books). Cone is a celebrated pitcher, a Cy Young Award winner, and one of sixteen men in history to pitch a perfect game. Last year, pitching for the Yankees, Cone experienced his first major slump. Angell chronicles Cone struggle in his book.


Other segments from the episode on July 11, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 11, 2001: Interview with Baltasar Kormakur; Interview with Roger Angell.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur talks about his
new movie and his homeland

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite from "101 Reykjavik")

Ms. VICTORIA ABRIL (As Lola): So tell me, Hlynar, what is it you do in


Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): You.

HLYNAR: Nothing.

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): Nothing?


Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): Like what kind of nothing?

HLYNAR: The nothing kind of nothing.

GROSS: That's a scene from the new movie "101 Reykjavik," which was shot in
Iceland by Icelandic actor and director Baltasar Kormakur. The film won the
Discovery Award for the best first film at last year's Toronto Film Festival.
It begins opening in American cities later this month. The music for the film
was co-composed by a founding member of the band The Sugar Cubes, which became
Iceland's most famous cultural export.

"Reykjavik 101" is a comedy revolving around a 28-year-old slacker named
Hlynar, who still lives at home with his mother. He spends his days sleeping
and watching TV and his nights at the local bar. Things are pretty
predictable until his mother decides she's a lesbian and invite her new lover,
Lola, who is also her flamenco dance teacher, to move in. And Lola ends up
pregnant after a one-night stand with Hlynar.

This comedy is about coming of age very slowly, sexual confusion and life in
Iceland, a country that is cold, remote and so small an insular that, as
Kormakur says, `You know almost everyone.' Here's another scene from the

(Soundbite from "101 Reykjavik")

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #1: Welcome to Siberia. You have to admit, though, it has
some chow.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, glacial diarrhea.

Unidentified Woman: Oh!

Unidentified Man #1: I tell you one good thing about this place; no insects,
except near (censored).

Unidentified Woman: ...(Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #2: There's no insects, no trees, no nothing. The only
reason why people live here is because they were born here. It's a ghost town
where even the ghosts stay dead.

GROSS: Welcome to FRESH AIR. You're a pretty active guy. What attracted
you to the story of a young man who's aim in life is to do nothing?

Mr. BALTASAR KORMAKUR: Well, it's a bit of the opposite of myself. I've
been doing too much in my short time, but, actually, where this guy comes
from is the same place as I do and I wasn't interested in telling my own
story, coming of age, because nowadays people, especially men, come much later
of age than they used to. And I really wanted to use somebody else's story to
tell my own feelings and describe my environment.

GROSS: What are some of the feelings you wanted to convey through telling
this other person's story?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Well, like this sexual madness, I would say, in this part of
the world and a lot of partying and strange relationships, which I've been a
part of, as well.

GROSS: Now we might presume that the particular type of sexual madness in
Iceland would have to do with the fact that it's so cold out so much of the
time and there's so little to do so much of the time, that sex is a cheap and
popular recreational activity.

Mr. KORMAKUR: Yeah, well, at the time when you're doing it, not later if it
has a child coming out of it.

GROSS: Yes, right, which is part of the point of your movie. The main
character in your movie, at the beginning of the movie, largely has a sexual
relationship with himself, but later enters into one with his mother's lesbian
lover, who he gets pregnant. He also gets pregnant his girlfriend. I'm
wondering if there's a conservative or a religious group that protests this
type of plot in Iceland? Like in the United States, if a movie is mainstream
enough and it will be noticed by very conservative groups or, you know,
conservative religious groups, there might be picket lines or protests.
Anything like that in Iceland?

Mr. KORMAKUR: No, we don't really have that--strong religious groups that
would try to protest things like this. But when I--because part of the film
is shot in the Catholic church in Iceland and that's the only Catholic church
in Iceland because it's a Lutheran country. And even, you know, the bishop
accepted to--gave me permission to shoot in there, so I think we are quite
religiously open minded. Even the Catholics are.

GROSS: Victoria Abril is one of the stars of your movie and our listeners
might know her from Pedro Almodovar's "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" How did you
end up casting her as the mother's lover?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Well, for me, it was no other options, in a way, because I've
been a fan of Victoria for quite some while and, you know, to cast somebody
that you believe a 30-year-old man falls in love with and a 50-year-old woman
falls in love with and then all the audience has to fall in love with as
well, there are not too many actresses who have this kind of sexual charisma,
without being, you know, not with the body; more with the mind. And Victoria
is one of these women that nobody can resist, so--and me, neither, so I just
went after her as much as I possibly could and I insisted on having her,
which was quite a job.

GROSS: What did you say to her to convince her to leave Spain to go to
Iceland to star in a movie by a film director who'd never made a movie

Mr. KORMAKUR: Yeah, that was exactly the problem.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. KORMAKUR: First of all, in the script, before I edited the film, she was
coming on an airplane and the the stewardess said, `It's 3:00. It's -15
degrees. Welcome to Iceland. Have a pleasant stay.' And she didn't read
much more of the script. It was on the first page, so I had to get somebody
to hunt her down and try to get her to read the script. And finally she did
and then I want to Paris to meet her--or, actually, her agent and I--there was
two airplanes to Paris from Iceland. And when I came he said, `Oh, I forgot
you were coming this week. Could you come next week?' And then we just--I,
you know, went for her mobile phone number and called her up myself and that

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Baltasar Kormakur and he
directed the new film "101 Reykjavik." It's a film set in Iceland, where
Kormakur lives.

Part of the movie is set in a pub and the main character describes the pub as
his second home, `so crowded and noisy you hardly need to talk or dance.'
You actually co-own the pub that you shot part of the movie in.

Mr. KORMAKUR: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Describe what a typical night at your pub is like.

Mr. KORMAKUR: Well, it's very much like in the film. It goes crazy in the
weekends. And we used to have people dancing on tables there. It's a very
nice cafe in the day and then people start dancing on tables in the night and
even taking their tops off. Well, they don't do that much anymore, but, you
know, they used to do that. So it's very much like you see in the film. But
it's a certain freedom. You don't even have to dance or talk. You can just
drink. That's the idea. This is the way we publish our bars, you know, by
saying nasty things about them.

GROSS: Now was the pub the center of your night life when you were coming of

Mr. KORMAKUR: Yeah. Yeah, it was and that was the reason I decided to
buy it, actually, because it seemed a better investment than spending your
money there.

GROSS: Most of your new film, "101 Reykjavik," is shot indoors, but the
outdoor scenes are really quite beautiful. Am I giving too much away if I
say most of the outdoor scenes is the main character walking through the
snow, considering killing himself?

Mr. KORMAKUR: No. Oh, no. That's OK. The film starts with that anyway.

GROSS: Yeah, so there's long expanses of ice and snow overlooking the ocean.
There's a beautiful sunset in the movie where the sun seems to be right on
the floor of the Earth, because the horizon is so vast. What do you consider
to be the grimmest and the most beautiful parts of life in Iceland?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Well, it's a big contrast; the whole country, you know. As
much as it's beautiful outside, people mostly stay inside, except in the
summer when there's light all day or, you know, night and day. And then you
have darkness the whole winter, so it's the whole contrast of the country that
is quite rough. But you can see, also, in this shot, if you look closely, you
can see the moon and the sun in the same shot. So it's...

GROSS: I guess I didn't look closely enough.

Mr. KORMAKUR: No. It might be quite difficult to see that. But that is
something. And on the top of this glacier, actually, the boot camp of
"Journey Into the Center of the Earth"; that's exactly where it went down...


Mr. KORMAKUR: the center of the Earth. And I can tell you a little,
nice story about this glacier--is that there were--a few years ago there were
hundreds of people standing up their waiting for a spaceship to land there
because they really believed that there was a spaceship coming down. Of
course, it never came, but they figured out it came in a form that they
couldn't see it. Then a guy from a car sales lot called up and said they had
changed the plan. They were going to land on his car sales lot, so people
should go there.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. KORMAKUR: So it was a big joke in the country.

GROSS: What is it like to get through a winter where the sun never rises? I
mean, how many days of darkness do you have to endure?

Mr. KORMAKUR: It's nine months of darkness. Not the same darkness all the
time, but like in December and January you hardly see any light; maybe two or
up to four hours a day. But then the summer is so great that you forgive the
country. But that's also why you can see in the film this kind of attitude
towards the country when you say people only live there because they're born
there or this is a backwater in Siberia. This is how you feel in the winter,
but it's different. You feel different towards your country in the summer.

GROSS: Well, have you gone through periods of feeling that way; that the
only reason people live in Iceland is because they're born there?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Yeah, I've been on my to New York for the last 10 years, but,
you know, it has a very strong grip on you, the country, at the same time.

GROSS: I used to live in Buffalo, New York, which is Upstate New York. In my
memory, the trees didn't start to bud until late May. Now maybe that's just
my memory, but that's how I recall it. And much as I really loved living
there when I did, there was a period in late March when people would just be
so depressed because the winter was so long and there was no real promise that
it was going to end immediately. Do you find that toward the end of winter in
Iceland, that people are just incredibly depressed and nearly on the verge of

Mr. KORMAKUR: There is a very high suicidal rate in Iceland; one of the
highest in the world. And I am sure that's a part of it, you know. But
usually it happens in the spring. When the summer starts coming and people,
you know--they're waiting for the summer all this time and then to see that
nothing is really going to change. So it's a big problem in Iceland.

GROSS: I'm wondering if you're prone to depression right at that cusp of
winter and spring when it looks like spring really is never going to come?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Well, I do a lot of horseback riding. That is my favorite
thing. And at this time, the horsemanship is really starting, so it saves me
from my desperation, just to go riding out into the country. And, actually,
when I go back home now, I'm going to ride for two weeks in the wilderness.
So that's what I do every summer.

GROSS: My guest is Icelandic director and actor Baltasar Kormakur. He
directed the new movie "101 Reykjavik." We'll talk more after a break. This

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Baltasar Kormakur and he's the director of the new film
"101 Reykjavik." It's a film set in Iceland, which is the country that he's
from. This is his first film. He's also performed and directed theater in

Now your mother's from Iceland. Your father moved to Iceland from Spain.
Why did he leave Spain and why was his destination Iceland?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Well, this is a very romantic story, if you're ready to listen
to it. My father left Spain because of Franco. He was a Catalan and wasn't
even allowed to speak his own language. So as he finished Bayazatos(ph),
which is the university of fine arts in Barcelona, he went to Iceland to earn
some money in a herring ship to be able to buy cameras and paint. And on the
way out, because he was not going to spend his life in this wet, little
country, he met my mother in a cafe, who had just came out of the countryside
to study. And, you know, they were engaged in 18 days and he's still there
after 40 years.

GROSS: Now did you get a different view of Iceland from your father, who
wasn't a native? And the cold and the dark were new to him. Did he complain
about it a lot?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Well, he doesn't complain. He loves the country very much and
he paints a lot of, you know, old mythology from the sagas and this stuff.
And he's very fascinated by the country. But, of course, he has a different
view on the country than I think most Icelanders. And like every small
country, it has--there's less now, but it has a lot of racism and, you know,
small-town elements, which makes it a little bit hard for him.

GROSS: Was the racism directed at him?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Yeah, when he came to Iceland, first, it was very much
directed against him.

GROSS: I guess Iceland must be a fairly homogeneous country.

Mr. KORMAKUR: It's been changing the last years. There's a lot of--in the
fish industry, there's a lot of Polish people and Asian people working now,
because the Icelandic youth is not interested in the fishing industry at all.
So they had to import people to work there, so it has changed a lot. But, of
course, it's nothing like in the States.

GROSS: Now did you shoot your movie in the winter or the summer?

Mr. KORMAKUR: I did, actually, both. I shot the half part of it in January
and that was night exterior, because then you have night all day, as well.
And then the other scenes I shot when--on each day, I shot that in the
summertime and, also, because--to get Victoria to come to Iceland, because
she wasn't really fond of spending the winter there.

GROSS: So were you ever in the position of having to use fake snow because
you were shooting in the summertime?


GROSS: Even though you were in Iceland, you had to use fake snow?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Yeah. And there's another thing. You can really control the
snow, you know, so if it would snow for--you may be shooting one scene for 10
hours and if you have to have snow all the time, you know, you wouldn't--it
would always happen to disappear. So we had to use in combination. Sometimes
in the same shot, you can see real snow and fake snow. But as people who've
lived with snow for a long time, we have very good technicians in making fake
snow because they know all the differences of snow and are very much into it.
And I'm sure--I've asked people. Nobody can really see the difference of fake
and real snow on the film.

GROSS: You've had an active career in Iceland directing and performing.
Among the plays you've directed are "Hamlet," "Hair," "The Rocky Horror
Picture Show." And among the plays you've performed in are "West Side Story."
What else?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet," Constantine(ph) in "The
Sequel(ph)." And I--it's too many. I can't really remember them. And then
I've done a few films and the last film, which I shot in New York with Hal
Hartley, so...

GROSS: The shows that you've done are in Icelandic. I'm wondering how
Shakespeare sounds in Icelandic or how the lyrics to "West Side Story" are
sung in Icelandic. Would it be asking too much to ask you to sing a few bars
from a "West Side Story" song in Icelandic?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Yes, it would be too much...

GROSS: That would be too much.

Mr. KORMAKUR: ...because I played that part mostly dancing. I can dance for
you in the studio, if you want, but singing, I didn't. I did the Puerto
Rican part and he doesn't sing at all, so...


Mr. KORMAKUR: But it sounds much better than people might imagine. And, for
example, I can--you know, the lines of `to be or not to be' would be like
this, (foreign language spoken). This was the most famous Shakespearean line.

GROSS: Is there much work for actors in Iceland?

Mr. KORMAKUR: Yeah, by now. By now there is. When I was graduating, there
were only, like, two big theaters, the National and the Seety Theater(ph).
But we founded--after "Hair," I founded a theater that was called--it was
called the Castle in the Sky(ph). And it--from that point, there was a lot of
independent theaters coming up. And now there's even a lack of actors,
sometimes, when you're casting. And, also, the film industry has bloomed and
there are more television stations producing, you know, stuff. So it's quite
good by now.

GROSS: Some of the traditional literature of Iceland is in saga form, you
know, epic stories. Has that affected your storytelling sensibility, do you

Mr. KORMAKUR: Yeah, I think definitely. We learn it in the school and it's
the humor and the bleakness of these stories are incredible, you know. And,
of course, that affects the way to, you know, tell a story and the humor.
And, actually, I'm very interested in doing on of the sagas, which is called
"Burning Neil(ph)". It's one of the most famous.

GROSS: Is it "Burning Needle"?

Mr. KORMAKUR: "Burning Neil." `Neil' is a name.


Mr. KORMAKUR: It's (foreign language spoken) in Icelandic. I don't know. I
think it would be translated something like that.

GROSS: What's it about?

Mr. KORMAKUR: It's actually about two women from the Viking time that have a
huge quarrel and their men, who are friends, end up killing each other. And
I love it. It's like--you know, you never see stories about women from that
time. And they are the real characters in the story. It's called (foreign
language spoken). These are real big women and they're very, very dear to
Icelandic women. And the one, (foreign language spoken), he kills, in a way,
her husband because earlier in the story, he slaps her, and when he has
been--his enemies are attacking him and the string of his bow breaks, he asks
for a hair out of her head to be able to keep on fighting and she says, `I
will pay you now for the slap.' And in these words, he dies. So they are
big women.

GROSS: Well, I thank you so much and I wish you good luck with the new
movie. Thank you.

Mr. KORMAKUR: Thank you, too.

GROSS: Baltasar Kormakur is the director of the new film "Reykjavik 101."
It begins opening in American cities later this month. Here's another scene
from the film. Hlynar, the slacker, is at a bar sitting in between his
girlfriend and his mother's lesbian lover. The two women are talking to each
other. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite from "101 Reykjavik")

Unidentified Woman: So, what's your New Year's resolution, then

HLYNAR: Well, you know, same as usual, be out of bed by noon.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, maybe out of the house. Imagine. I spotted Hlynar
venturing through the garden today. Wow.

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): Wait. He even had the garbage with him.

Unidentified Woman: That must be your good influence.

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): Maybe. Who knows? Maybe one day he will venture out
into the big, wide world and find a place of his own.

Unidentified Woman: So, is that the plan, then, Hlynar?


Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): Do you know any single mother out there who needs
someone to look after?

Unidentified Woman: No.

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): No?

Unidentified Woman: But I might know of a single girlfriend.

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): Oh, no, no, no. He doesn't seem to be interested for
some reason.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, you never know with that guy.

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): I see what you mean. I'm still trying to figure him
out myself.

HLYNAR: Yeah. You know all about the great divide between the sexes, don't

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): Ah, you say that because I'm a lesbian.

Unidentified Woman: A real lesbian?

HLYNAR: Oh, please, please.

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): Yes.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Woman: Tell me, what's it like. I've always been curious about
that, you know, to know what it's like.

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): There is only one way to find out, my sweetheart.

HLYNAR: Can I come, too?

Ms. ABRIL (As Lola): No, I don't take groups.


GROSS: Coming up, when a celebrated baseball pitcher can't throw. We'll
talk with writer Roger Angell about pitcher David Cone. Last year, Cone
had a disastrous season. Angell chronicled it in his new book, "A Pitcher's

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Author Roger Angell talks about his new book, "A
Pitcher's Story," as well as his career with The New Yorker

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

David Cone is a great pitcher who won a Cy Young award as best pitcher in his
league. He's one of 16 men in history to pitch a perfect game. Last year,
New Yorker writer Roger Angell chronicled Cone's season with the Yankees for a
book about Cone. Angell expected this book to be about an aging pitcher still
displaying his mastery. But it turned out to be a disastrous season for Cone,
and his last season with the Yankees. Cone is now with the Boston Red Sox.

Angell's new book about Cone, "A Pitcher's Story," has just been published.
He's the author of several other books about baseball, and he's an editor and
writer at The New Yorker. Last year, when it became clear that Cone's slump
was going to be a long one, Angell told him that it might make for a more
interesting book than one about triumph. I asked Angell if it risked being
embarrassing for Cone to have such a bad season be the focus of a book.

Mr. ROGER ANGELL (Author, "A Pitcher's Story"): It was acutely embarrassing
and painful for him. I mean, he was not used to this. He had had a brilliant
season since his very first beginning season with the Mets when he was, I
think, five-and-six, but he's been a triumphant pitcher, and he didn't know
what was happening to him. He was always--at the same time, hovering over
him, was the notion that he had suddenly gotten too old, 38, and this is old
for a pitcher. And he refused to say that `I'm too old.' He would not accept
that, but something had clearly gone wrong. And I began to feel like a
paparazzo, you know, somebody who's hanging around bad news, or this had sort
of become a little scandal that I was still there, and I was a burden for him,
I think. But to his immense credit, and I expected no less from him, but he
was just astounding. He stayed with me the whole way. We had no contract.
He could have walked away at any point and said, `I don't want to do this. It
isn't going the way I wanted it to.' But he didn't. He was the other way.
he kept saying, `I'm letting you down. I'm sorry, I'm letting you down.' And
he would apologize, which was, again, even more painful.

GROSS: I'm wondering if he was ever superstitious that it was the book and
your attention that was partly causing his bad luck.

Mr. ANGELL: I don't think it ever came up. Dave is too smart for that.
He's extremely intelligent, and I--he's not particularly superstitious. I've
never found any superstitions through the year that--wearing certain clothing
or taking a certain route out to the mound or changing his diet or whatever.
He didn't have any of those, but he just went back out there and kept
experimenting. He was always a free-form pitcher. The great thing about
David was that he himself didn't know what he was going to throw on a given
day until the moment the first batter appeared. And his catchers told me
later on--Joe Girardi in particular--that with David, you didn't really have a
game plan, because he would go to what was working for him on that given day,
and sometimes in the first or second inning he would discover what was
working, and he'd go from there. But this became--this is a great asset for a
pitcher, but it became a terrific problem in this last year, because he
experimented too much. He changed form almost from game to game.

GROSS: I'm wondering what it was like for you to watch David Cone fail at the
mound. And before you talk about that, I want to quote a couple of kind of
conflicting things that you say in the book. You write, "This wasn't the Cone
I'd watched and written about, and I hadn't understood how quickly a sense of
betrayal envelops us fans when our old heroes go south. `This isn't what we
want from you, this bumbling and struggling. Show us how to win again. Go
out there, and be great.'" You say, "I hated what was happening. Seeing
performers struggle through an interview is commonplace in the sport, but
being forced to watch a damaged player endure repeated humiliation is

But you also say, "The more I saw Cone in confusion and pain, the better I
like him. Was it because I could see something fallible in him now that he
couldn't control the games and batters and turn them to his bidding, or was it
because he'd become more like me?" Talk about those conflicting emotions of
feeling, somehow, that he let you down, but also feeling like you identified
with him more.

Mr. ANGELL: I never felt as though he let me down, but I did realize that
something different was happening that we hadn't expected. And I did like
him better. I sensed--I was less in awe of him. He was more fallible, more
human. This brings up a very interesting point, which I've noticed before in
baseball. When a great performer falters and isn't himself after a couple of
times, fans or semifans bring this up, and they speak of an entirely
different tone. This happened with David Cone last summer. Friends of mine
would say, `Well, he isn't what he used to be, is he? He's no good out there.
He's terrible. What's happened to him?' And they said this with a sort of an
enjoyment, a pleasure. I use the word Schadenfreude in there, that they were
taking pleasure out of his pain, but it's more than that. He had become
human, and these great athletes are superhuman in the most literal sense.
They're beyond us. What they do is beyond our capabilities. And while we
admire it, we're in awe of it. When they stumble and fail, as they inevitably
will as they stay on in the games, we're relieved. We're not threatened by
them in some way. Very strange, but very interesting, and an integral part of
sports, I think.

GROSS: But you also--talk about this, how you felt that watching him perform
in that damaged state with his injuries was a humiliation, it was barbarous.

Mr. ANGELL: Well, that was later. This was--David had a severe injury in
early September. He fell fielding a bunt in Kansas City. I was out there,
sitting with his parents, actually. That's his hometown. And he was pitching
better by then. He'd turned the corner, it seemed, and things were going his
way. And he ran after--in the fourth inning--ran--against the Royals--he ran
after an infield pop and dived for the ball and landed on his left shoulder
and dislocated the left shoulder, not his pitching arm. Left arm, dislocated,
driven up into his neck. Horrible injury. And they pulled it out, popped
back into place eventually, after about a half an hour in the training room.
But he couldn't pitch after that, virtually, until the postseason. He only
missed one turn as a pitcher, insisted he wanted to go back out there. And
Joe Torre, out of respect, let him do it. But his motion was damaged by the
injury, and the batters just feasted on him after that. And that's when I
felt it was obscene watching him, that he was defenseless and not himself at

GROSS: Well, he's playing with Boston now. How's this season been for him
so far?

Mr. ANGELL: It's much better. I mean, the whole thing has worked out. It's
terrific. It's a great story, and people are beginning to notice that--he
took a great chance to come back to the Red Sox. It's almost the worst of
some offers he got. It wasn't guaranteed, but he was excited by the prospect.
He was turned on by the prospect of pitching in Fenway Park, pitching for
those rabid fans. And he had been a hated Yankee pitcher--that rivalry is
still very intense; would be pitching for the other side now and pitch against
the Yankees in Fenway Park. He loved that idea. Anything to get that edge,
as he says, the thing that would say `In this game, I've got this going for
me. Now I'm a Red Sox pitcher pitching against the Yankees.'

The Red Sox pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan, came to him in the off-season, along
with the manager, Jimy Williams. And Kerrigan had been charting his pitches
although he was with a different club, and said he thought he'd seen some
things he was doing wrong. And in January, before he signed with the Red Sox,
they went over this in detail, what David might have been doing wrong last

GROSS: What is he doing differently now?

Mr. ANGELL: Well, his basic motion, what he'd settle for in the end last
year, he would stand on the mound, with both feet on the rubber, as all
pitchers do, and then he would take a considerable backward step with his
right foot and swerve toward first base. So he would swing toward first base,
and then, with his hands extended away from his body more than most pitchers
have, he would then swing a little bit toward third base to make up for the
back step, and then deliver the pitch and then come straight down toward the
batter. So he was making this circuitous journey before he actually threw the

Kerrigan, Joe Kerrigan, his pitching coach, has straightened him out and
simplified what he's doing. His backward step is just a little backward lean,
a tiny sort of a half step, and then he comes straight forward, and his hands
are close to his body all the time. And it's made him much more economical
and more effective. And even his fastball, which is not what it used to be,
but his fastball has been up in the mid-90s from time to time. He's throwing
more curveballs and sliders. The sliders, you have to throw at the very
outermost end of your delivery, with your arm extended and your fingers sort
of tugging down on the ball, an extreme effort pitch. He's varying that with
more curveballs, which are easier on the arm. And he's given up too many home
runs, but his pattern right now is he tends to give up a home run fairly early
and then to be absolutely untouchable for the next four or five innings. But
he's having success, which is great.

GROSS: My guest is Roger Angell, an editor and writer for The New Yorker.
His new book is called "A Pitcher's Story: Innings with David Cone." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Roger Angell, whose new book
is called "A Pitcher's Story: Innings with David Cone."

Now David Cone is considered a pretty old pitcher, because he's 39 now. You
know, a sports career is a fairly short career. You're 80, and you're still
writing, so you know, a writer's career keeps going.

Mr. ANGELL: Well, let's wait and see, Terry. Before I wrote a word about
this, early on, when we had agreed to do the book--it was in January of last
year--I came to David one time and I said, `Look, David, here's the deal. I
just figured it out. My brain and your arm are about the same age. Let's see
what happens.' He sort of laughed.

GROSS: Did you identify with him at all with people thinking that he was
getting old and you pushing 80 and still writing?

Mr. ANGELL: Well, the question is, did he identify with me? I hope not,
'cause I am a lot older than he is. But he understood. It was amazing to
him to hear that it's hard to write a book. He is extremely curious and a
very smart, quick guy. And he said, `I didn't know this was going to be hard
for you.' And I said, `Writing is hard.' And he said, `I didn't know that.'
So it was a combined thing, and that's what makes this book interesting, it
seems to me. I think there's a lot of emotion in this book. And there's the
emotion of someone fighting with the courage and class that David showed all
last year to get a few moments of redemption at the end, which he does. And
there is this struggle of how is the book going to come out, because I say
this all the way through, `What was going to happen?' And it does come out at
the end.

And in the end, he did an amazing thing. I mean, he really astounded me.
After the season was over, he appeared against one batter in the World Series,
Mike Piazza. He was brought into a game by Joe Torre, got a big out, got rid
of Piazza, who had already hit a home run in that game and almost hit another
one. He was the main threat for the Mets, of course. And he got him out, and
that was the end of his career with the Yankees. It was the last out.

GROSS: When David Cone was going through that really bad season last year,
what did he make of it? How much of it did he think was physical, you know,
a result of injury and just, like, long-term arm or shoulder problems, and how
much of it did he think was psychological?

Mr. ANGELL: He didn't think it was physical. The strange thing about
David's last year was that he had no pain at all. For the first time in his
entire career, he had no pain at all. In fact, at one point, he said, `Maybe
I should feel pain in order to feel better. Maybe that's what's wrong. Maybe
that's what's missing.' It was a complete mystery. I don't think he felt
that his arm was damaged in any way, so that added to the mystery.

GROSS: Was last year the first time Cone had a really bad slump?

Mr. ANGELL: Yes, it was. Absolutely. He had been a winning pitcher all
through the '80s and the '90s and had also been--in spite of pain and injury,
he'd gone a stretch of something like nine years, never missed a start, which
is almost unheard of. He had the second-longest run in major-league history
of never giving up two losses in a row. He went 97 starts in a row without
giving up two losses one after the other. That's the second-highest mark in
baseball history. He led the league in strikeouts two or three times and tied
a couple of other times, so a pitcher who expected a lot and got a lot and
never really experienced anything like what happened last year.

GROSS: So what did he make of it? What did he think caused it?

Mr. ANGELL: Well, the question, of course, the hovering question, which is
what I wanted to get to, which was in the back of his mind, is that, `Maybe
I'm getting old. Maybe I'm too old.' He said that occasionally. Athletes
are not going to be able to go on forever. We watch them because, at their
best, they are--we belong to the same species. And at their very best, the
great ones do things that we can't imagine we can do, but we can, because
through them, we do it. But then they slow down and get old, and they face
what we all face, which is a diminished performance. We are not what we were.
And with them, when it stops, they die. They die as athletes. They cease to

And I remember when Joe DiMaggio came up, and I was about 14 years old, and
I saw him as--15 years old. I saw him as a--actually, I was 17 when he came
into the majors. But I watched Joe from the moment he arrived in baseball
till the time he retired in 1951. And in that period, you see somebody grow
to their full flower, begin to look middle-aged, begin to strain, begin to
have injuries, fade and die and leave the scene. And David is going through
this this year. He might be approaching his own death. I never say that in
the book. I wouldn't go that far, but that notion is hanging over this whole
book. This is late in the pitcher's career. He is not himself. All of us
experience this. This is what it may be--to go back to that other point, why
we feel closer to athletes when they begin to slow down, when they are more
like us, because they are fading and failing the way we all are.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Roger Angell. We're talking
about his new book, "A Pitcher's Story: Innings with David Cone." It's about
the pitcher David Cone.

Roger Angell, let's talk about your writing career a bit. You've been writing
for The New Yorker since 1946, so that's 45 years. When you started writing
for The New Yorker, your mother was the fiction editor. Your stepfather, E.B.
White, was one of the magazine's star writers. Did it feel like the family
business to you?

Mr. ANGELL: Yeah, it did. I mean, I didn't think of it in those terms then,
but I really wanted to be a writer, I guess, and an editor, too, you know, so
I ended up doing both. And writing for The New Yorker seemed the natural
thing. And I did write a couple of little fiction pieces when, back in those
days, we could have tiny little back-of-the-book fiction pieces, that got me
going. But I think I'd learned from my stepfather, really, how hard writing
is. I mean, E.B. White's writing always looks absolutely like the easiest
thing in the world. There's nothing to it. There's no strain in anything he
ever wrote. But I'd watched him as a teen-ager when he was writing the notes
and comment page for The New Yorker every week, and he'd go into his study up
in Maine and close the door and be there all day long, and there were long
silences between little rips and sounds from the typewriter. And he'd come
out, and he'd be silent and pale, not say anything at lunch, and at the end of
the day, he'd file it off. And then the next day, he'd say it wasn't good
enough. He'd try to get it back again.

Writing is hard, and I think that there aren't many writers who write with
ease, so I got that idea early on, too.

GROSS: Your mother was fiction editor of The New Yorker, and this was in an
era where not that many women even worked. And certainly most of the women
who did work worked in traditional women's professions. And being fiction
editor of the New Yorker doesn't fall in that category. Were you aware of how
unusual it was to have your mother do what she was doing?

Mr. ANGELL: Terry, I don't think I was sufficiently aware. I mean, I always
admired her, and she thought of herself--she sometimes--she didn't use the
word `feminist,' but she spoke of herself as being a working woman. But work
was so much a part of her life, and The New Yorker was the main event in her
life, really, and it surrounded her every day. And I think of her now, and I
think of her with galleys in a manila envelope under her arm or around the
house or even in bed in the mornings or something, but a bunch of galleys and
soft, brown pencils and erasers, a lot of the stuff that comes off erasers
around her, and smoking cigarettes, and that was the standard of her life.
And she was deeply involved with the magazine and with her writers. I think
that if Annie White inspired me to be a writer, then certainly, she inspired
me to be an editor.

I actually ended up as the fiction editor of The New Yorker myself. I'm still
a fiction editor there, and at one point, I inherited her old office. And a
shrink that I was seeing at the time heard that I had moved into her old
office and in the same job that she had had, and he said, `This is the
greatest single act of sublimation in my experience.'

GROSS: Now when you were growing up, did your friends have mothers who

Mr. ANGELL: No, not many of them, I guess. Some of them, sure. I went to
the old Progressive Lincoln School here in New York City, so there were some
working mothers, but it was the exception.

GROSS: What set this apart as a progressive school? What made it different
from the other schools?

Mr. ANGELL: Well, it was the original John Dewey Progressive School, and as
kids, we didn't learn grammar, but we did a lot of writing, and that's one
thing I remember. I never learned the rules of grammar.

GROSS: No do you miss that as an editor?

Mr. ANGELL: I know good grammar. I picked it up somewhere along the way.
Later I went to a somewhat more formal boarding school and picked up a few
things along the way. But we wrote symphonies and made our own instruments
and performed them on these weird instruments, stuff like that. It was
faintly cuckoo, but it was a lot of fun, and it made you think that maybe you
can do it, whatever it is you want to do.

GROSS: My guest is Roger Angell. He's an editor and writer for The New
Yorker. His new book is called "A Pitcher's Story: Innings with David Cone."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is writer Roger Angell, author of the new book "A Pitcher's
Story: Innings with David Cone." Angell is also a writer and editor for The
New Yorker.

Your stepfather, E.B. White, was the co-writer of, you know, the most used
stylebook, Strunk & White. Is that a stylebook you've used over the years?

Mr. ANGELL: Oh, sure. Yeah. They're a set of just general advice in there.
Be clear. Don't be fancy. I don't have them by heart, but that's the heart
of the book. There are lots of helpful hints about punctuation. Annie White
once told me the rule about that and which, which I memorized on the spot.
He said, `The New Yorker is the magazine that cares about which. The New
Yorker is a magazine that cares about that.' No, I'm sorry, a magazine which
cares about that--a magazine.

GROSS: Oh, see, this never helps me. I'm still as confused as ever.

Mr. ANGELL: One is the defining, `the magazine that,' or non-defining, a
magazine, comma, which.

GROSS: You know, with that and which, I always say to myself, `Should I
struggle again to figure out what the difference is between the two, or
should I give up and figure most people don't really care anyways?' What
advice would you have for me on that?

Mr. ANGELL: I think you're right. That's not--I don't sto...

GROSS: Give up?

Mr. ANGELL: I don't stop and think about it. I just put down what--I mean,
part of my mind does this anyway. Usually, it gets it right. And I don't
stop and say, `Is this the correct form?' And the big thing is to look at
what you've written when it's done to see if it's any good, and also to think
about how it sounds. I think a lot about how writing sounds. You can have a
perfect sentence that sounds terrible in the end. If you almost say it to
yourself as you're closing it at the end, you'll probably get it right. I
still edit John Updike, and this is what he does. He corrects over and over,
and he corrects on page proofs. The last day things are going in, he will
rewrite and rewrite, and he'll say on the phone to me, he'll say `How does
that sound? How's that sound to you, Roger?' And I do the same thing to
myself: `How does that sound?' Writing is meant to be heard as well as
looked at.

GROSS: You've been writing for The New Yorker since 1956, and your mother
before that was a fiction editor, and your stepfather, E.B. White, was a
writer, so you've been affiliated with the magazine for as long as anyone,
probably. The magazine has changed a lot over the years, particularly since
William Shawn left, and some people are very nostalgic for The New Yorker's
past. Are you?

Mr. ANGELL: No, not really. I think weathering the change after Shawn was a
shock for everybody. He'd been there for so long, and he was such an
amazingly powerful and compelling figure and also a very human one with some
immense drawbacks, I think. But New Yorker people tended to be New Yorker
people and nothing else. New Yorker writers felt there was no--many of them
felt they could only write for a place like--where it was ideal, that they
couldn't dream of writing anywhere else. And this all was personified in
Shawn in that Shawn made it right, and without him, the magazine would not be
what it was.

And he himself felt this way. I think he felt that--and I've heard him say
more than once, `If I go, the magazine will die.' I think he half wanted
that. Some part of him wanted that after he'd gone, the magazine would not be
there anymore, because he so identified with it. And there was a tendency to
identify The New Yorker on the staff of some people with life itself or with
Western civilization or whatever. There was sort of a large shimmering ideal
there. And when that ended, some people were angry. Some people left. Some
people just couldn't go on. Some people took it out on Tina Brown, who
was--on Bob Gottlieb, the next editor. But when Tina arrived, they took it
out on her. They took it out on S.I. Newhouse.

Nothing lasts forever. The magazine goes on. It's a really good magazine.
It's an excellent magazine. It's not The New Yorker that it was. Nothing is
the same as it was. I'm happy to be there. I've been able to change, and I
write shorter than I used to. I don't feel constrained by what it's like now.
I think Remnick is an excellent editor. I love working for him. I enjoyed
working for Tina. She was very seductive to work for. She made you want to
write for her. Her magazine was very little like Shawn's. It was a big
shock, and some people couldn't take it, and for others, you just go on. And
I'm extremely glad I was able to do it, I've been able to do it.

GROSS: Roger Angell, I thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. ANGELL: A great pleasure. Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Roger Angell is a writer and editor for The New Yorker. His new book
is called "A Pitcher's Story: Innings with David Cone."


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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