The agony and pride of being a fan: 16 essays, mostly from The New Yorker, chronicling baseball's last five seasons (1977-81) with intelligence, wit, and conscience. Thus we have: 1977, the year of Reggie Jackson and ""what he did on the very last night of this long baseball year, when he alone transformed everything""; 1978, one of ""the most absorbing, surprising and painful--painful, above all--baseball campaigns ever"" (with its famous one-shot playoff between the Yankees and the Bosox); 1979, a lackluster season redeemed by the Pirates-Orioles series--played in the classic fashion, without ""moneyed cool or aggrieved silence""; 1980, and the quiet poignancy of Ted Williams at spring training (""This is tribal wisdom--the Word handed down""); and finally 1981, the year of the seven-week baseball strike and, for Angell, a profound disillusionment with the state of the game. The general rule is two essays per season--one devoted to spring training or a particular aspect of the game (such as hitting), the other to each season's climax: the playoffs and series. There are exceptions: the brief angry response to the Mets' Seaver trade (""Goodbye, Tom""); the lovely tintype of Smokey Joe Wood, the 1912 Bosox pitching ace, at a recent Yale-St. John's pitching duel--where the name of Walter Johnson naturally comes up (""The Web of the Game""). Some of the theme pieces are a touch less effective: the heartfelt, but overlong, portrait of 1960s Cardinal ace Bob Gibson; the sympathetic, but quote-heavy, look at the women-reporters-in-the-locker-room crisis. The finale, though, is a perfectly matched pair of strike-bound pieces: a blast at the owners for their disregard of the fans (""What is going on here, I believe, is that same old psychodrama about American fathers and sons, work and play, money and sex and sports. . .""); and a return to the game's roots in semipro ball, the Babe Ruth League and a few Vermonters who ""had an involvement in the game, a connection that was simply part of life itself."" Articulate and caring.