Title: The Boys of Summer
Author: Roger Kahn
By the Book Reviews
I sought out The Boys of Summer
after it was recommended by a commenter on one of my blog posts - a
Paul S? anyone? His profile is no longer active. Kahn's book consists
of two distinct parts, essentially two books in one. The first
chronicles the author's childhood in Brooklyn and his early career in
journalism. The second part of the book recounts Kahn's later efforts
to track down all of the key members of the Brooklyn Dodgers from the
era he covered the baseball team in the early '50s, including Hall of
Famers Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson.
The newspaper world of the 1940s and '50s was quite different from what
it is now, in as much as it survives at all. Kahn's paper, the New York Herald Tribune,
went out of business in 1966. He climbed the rungs from copy boy to
baseball beat writer on the brink of the team's glory years.
was a boyhood fan of the team, though I have discovered quite a lot of
writers who have been drawn to the bittersweet tale of the Brooklyn
Dodgers - seemingly ready-made for literature. The team was awful for
years, living in the oppressive shadows of both the Yankees and the
hated rival Giants. The Dodgers finally came into their own in the
1940s, but still didn't manage to win the World Series until 1955 after
several close-shave heartaches. In 1958, the team was gone - off to
California. What's not for a sentimental writer to love?
intertwined with the tale of those Dodgers is that of Jackie Robinson,
probably the single greatest story in all of American sports. Robinson
started at first base for Brooklyn on April 15, 1947, effectively
integrating baseball for the first time in 60 years. Kahn knew Robinson
personally (as he did all of the players featured in the book) and as
such, his presentation of the story is more textured than most. Hero?
Of course. Transcendent figure in American society? Most definitely.
But he was also a human being and Kahn writes eloquently of his multiple
While the first part of the book is
interesting, the real fun is in the second. Over the course of three
years, 1968-71, Kahn traveled the country to interview 13 members of the
team he'd covered in the early '50s. He asked them all how they first
came to the game - delightful tales of being discovered in schoolyards
and such, marvelously quaint in today's world of independent scouting
agencies and consultant coaches. The economics of player contracts have
changed exponentially since the book was published so most of the
retired players still had to work for a living. Kahn also asked all of
them about playing with Jackie Robinson - marvelous perspective from the
people in best position to comment.
have come a long way since the early '70s. Most noticeable is the
discussion of Clem Erskine's son who has Down syndrome. Kahn uses
terminology which was normal for the time but wouldn't come anywhere
close to acceptable 40 years later. Comments on race and gender also
frequently fall short of 21st century sensibilities.