When You Meet Your Idols, Leave Them Alone

It’s the work you respond to, not them.

Will Leitch
4 min readMay 23, 2022


There are a small number of people who have had profound impacts on my professional and personal life that aren’t family members or close friends, but Roger Angell was one of them. The longtime New Yorker writer died on Friday at the age of 101, and he leaves behind decades of warm, casually brilliant prose. To hear Angell eulogized over the weekend, you would think of him as some distant, pretentious arch stylist who wrote dense, difficult poetry that would be impenetrable to the common baseball fan. But the great thing about Angell is that he wrote clearly, concisely and straightforwardly. He wrote about baseball the same way he wrote about everything: Like he wanted you to care about it as much as he did. Angell’s work has always felt like the platonic ideal to me — his “This Old Man” essay remains one of the greatest essays I’ve ever read — and he has served, in many ways, as a North Star for me throughout my career. I cannot think of a writer’s life better lived.

I met Angell only once, and saying we “met” is probably pushing. It was during the 2009 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies, and I was sitting in the press box, writing about the series for New York magazine. Because we were two people writing for weekly magazines with “New York” in the name, the Yankees public relations staff sat us next to each other. So, for four hours during Game One of that series, on October 28, 2009, I sat next to the great Roger Angell, as important a figure in my writing career as anyone.

And I said exactly five words to him. Those five words were:


“Excuse me.” (I had to walk behind him to get to the bathroom.)

“Bless you.” (He sneezed.)

Now, circumstances might have been different if I’d have run into him at some fancy party, a cocktail event where people all sit around a table and discuss the issues of the day with one another. (These used to happen before the pandemic, I swear.) But I was sitting next to Angell at a baseball game, in a professional office environment, covering an event that we were both expected to write about. I had work to do, and so did he. (He ended up writing a wonderful piece



Will Leitch

I write about these tumultuous times 2x a week. Author of five books, including “How Lucky.” NYMag/MLB.. Founder, Deadspin. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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