This is a book about young men who learned to play baseball during the 1930s and 1940s, and then went on to play for one of the most exciting major-league ball clubs ever fielded, the team that broke the color barrier with Jackie Robinson. It is a book by and about a sportswriter who grew up near Ebbets Field, and who had the good fortune in the 1950s to cover the Dodgers for the Herald Tribune. This is a book about what happened to Jackie, Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, and the others when their glory days were behind them. In short, it is a book about America, about fathers and sons, prejudice and courage, triumph and disaster, and told with warmth, humor, wit, candor, and love.
”Sooner or Later,” the author Ed Linn observes, “society beats down the man of muscle and sweat.” Surely these fine athletes, these boys of summer, have found their measure of ruin. But one does not come away from visits with them, from long nights remembering the past and considering the present, full of sorrow. In the end, quite the other way, one is renewed.”
Since the moment I was aware enough to process sounds and know what they mean, I’ve been a Kansas City Royals fan. From opening day until the final out, my father had the AM radio tuned to the Royals baseball games. Even when he wasn’t in the house, the radio would still be on with the sounds of the crowd, the sharp crack of a bat, and the exciting play by play commentary of the announcer punctuating the silence of a hot summer afternoon. When I got old enough to ride the tractor with my father, we would listen to the game together as the ruts of the field would bounce us from side to side.
Baseball made the world seem bigger.
My father was a dominate pitcher in high school. He’d pitch complete games, sometimes two or three times a week. His back has a permanent curvature to his spine from all that pitching. This was an era before they had rules and regulations in place to protect young, developing athletes. He was recruited to play college ball. He had thoughts of being an engineer. Going to school and playing baseball were just dreams caught in dust motes...drifting...drifting...uncatchable.
Roger Kahn’s father introduced him to baseball. His mother was a serious academic, and she considered the excited discussions about dem bums, the Brooklyn Dodgers, a detriment to the development of her son’s mind. Kahn grew up being able to talk baseball with his father and Ulysses with his mother. When he later became a sports writer, both parents would prove to have an equal amount of influence on how he saw the game of baseball and how he wrote about it.
When I was going to college in Tucson, I rented a two bedroom house just off of campus. Whenever the Wildcat football team would score, I could hear the roar of the crowd, and whenever something went wrong for the team, I could hear the collective groans. To some people who visited me this was annoying, but for me it only brought back fond memories of listening to the crowd react to a baseball game from the radio on the farm. Kahn lived in Brooklyn close enough to Ebbets Field that he could listen to the game on the radio and hear the reactions from the crowd seconds later. ”When the wind blew from the south and the French doors had been opened, the sound of cheering carried from Ebbets Field into the apartment.”
The High Flying Pee Wee Reese.
I don’t remember how I first learned that the Los Angeles Dodgers used to be in Brooklyn, but I do remember asking my father about it. He got a grin on his face and said “Pee Wee Reese.” I thought to myself what an odd name for a ballplayer. Reese had been one of my Dad’s favorite players because, when he wasn’t pitching, he played shortstop and had hopes of playing half as good as Pee Wee Reese. The Dodgers lost seven championships before finally winning in 1955. Five of those losses were to their rivals the New York Yankees. I wonder, if they had won more World Series championships, if we would still be calling them the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. Of course as a kid, I didn’t have a clue about finances or the lure of California that brought the Giants and the Dodgers to the Golden state out West. It hadn’t even occurred to me that you could move a baseball team. I thought to myself, what would I do if they moved the Royals?
Kahn had the privilege of covering the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s. He got to know Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Duke Snyder, Carl Furillo, Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Joe Black, and the great one, Jackie Robinson. When I say he knew them, I mean he really knew them. He traveled with the team. He saw them when they were ecstatic, when they were angry, when they were at their best and at their worst. We all know from documentaries, films, and slews of books about the trials and tribulations of Jackie Robinson, but I think sometimes in that narrative we forget about how important it was that the white shortstop from Kentucky offered his friendship to a black man from Georgia.
Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese.
Reese could have easily been a man of his time. He could have embraced what for the South has almost been a cultural heritage of racism. When he looked at Jackie Robinson, he didn’t just see a black man; he saw a man who could really play baseball and a man who could help the Dodgers win.
In the book, there is this poignant moment when Joe Black, a pitcher for the Dodgers, relates how he had always wanted to play baseball. He kept scrapbooks of all the clippings of his favorite players. He was a senior in high school when he asked a baseball scout why he was signing all these other guys, but hadn’t tried to sign him.
That is the moment when he realized that “colored” men didn’t play in the major leagues.
I find it a testament to his character that he had collected those newspaper articles and had followed the careers of his favorite ball players, and it never occurred to him that they were white and that none of them were black. When he went back through his scrapbook, he really peered at all the faces and for the first time saw them as white men instead of as men who were really good at playing baseball. He had been color blind until others forced him to see.
What Kahn does with this book is explore his relationship with his father. A relationship that cannot be separated from the lives of the Brooklyn Dodgers. We meet the players while they were playing and then again in their lives after baseball. There is a tinge of melancholy about the book that left me feeling a bit blue. We see these athletes at the height of the power, and then we see them later as construction workers, grocery store owners, successful entrepreneurs, and failed dreamers. Life has not been easy for most of them. They played in an era before players were receiving mega deals that made them millionaires. Few retired from baseball in the 1950s rich enough to retire from working. It has taken me a while to realize this, but regardless of whether you are a famous baseball player, a teacher, a piano player in a nightclub, a writer, or a circulation manager, life is tough and uncertain and rarely follows the script of our life that we had conceptualized in our heads.
A few years ago, I was talking to a young man on his farm, and his grandfather, who I thought was half asleep on his feet, perked up when he heard my name. He said, “Are you related to Dean Keeten?” I thought he must be talking about my father Donald because we all have the family name of Dean, but he quickly set me straight. He was asking about my grandfather. “Did you ever see him play baseball?” he asked. I explained that he had died in 1954 long before I was born. He laughed and said, “I’ve never seen anyone get from first to third as quickly as your grandfather.” I could see the images of long ago baseball games flickering behind the thin membrane of his eyelids. Men long dead were alive again brushing dirt from their pants after a slide into third or making an over the shoulder catch with a glove barely bigger than their hand.
My grandfather was a hard working man, but he would stop everything when it was time to play baseball. In those years, every town had a baseball team that would play against other town teams. It was serious business, a game played by men not boys, and winning was as important as a bumper wheat crop.
For a few moments my Grandfather shimmered to life through the eyes of a man who actually got to see him play baseball.
Roy Campanella’s career was cut short by a car accident in 1958 that severed his spine, leaving him paralysed. I could feel the trepidation in Kahn as he prepared to go see him. He found Roy whirling about in an electric chair that he controlled with the palm of one hand. His once powerful legs had withered to a fraction of their normal size. He was reduced, but not diminished. His larger than life personality was still sustaining him. ”He pushed the lever and the wheelchair started off bearing the broken body and leaving me…, to marvel at the vaulting human spirit, imprisoned yet free, in the noble wreckage of the athlete, in the dazzling palace of the man.”
I don’t really know what it is about baseball. Annie Savoy in the movie Bull Durham says: ”Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it's also a job.”
It’s a game that will break your goddamned heart and make you weep for joy, sometimes mere moments apart. In 1980, the Royals finally got passed those boys in pinstripes to go to the World Series. We were all so invested in that team. My mother, who never watched sports before, had followed their exploits all season long and had gotten to know their names. She cheered and fretted as George Brett flirted with hitting .400. He finally ended the season at .390. The Philadelphia Phillies behind the amazing pitching of Tug McGraw dispatched the Royals in six. The nation had become enamored with the plucky Royals, and game six of the 1980 World Series still holds the record for the most TV watchers of a World Series game.
I was sitting on the floor with my chin resting on my elbows, contemplating the reality that the Royals had lost. How could we lose? We had George Brett! I was starting to hope that all this had just been a nightmare, and I was going to wake up to a new day with game six unplayed. I felt tears sting my eyes and knew that the fact that we had lost was already starting to become coal dust memories. I heard my mother sob. I rolled over and looked at her on the couch with tears rolling down her cheeks. I got up and gave her a hug, and then she started to sob for real. I’d seen her cry before, but I’d never seen her cry like this before. The players may have lost the game, but we lost something a lot more precious...a dream.
The Royals did get a chance to redeem themselves in 1985. We had our Tug McGraw that year, a young phenom pitcher named Bret Saberhagen, and then I had a chance to see my mother cry tears of joy.
Whether it is dem bums in Brooklyn or the Cubbies or the Miracle Mets, they have all left an indelible mark on their fans. There has been a lot of speculation about whether Walt Whitman ever said this, that maybe Annie Savoy took liberties with Whitman’s words, but I choose to believe that Whitman was the right man to have said it: "I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us."
#42 Jackie Robinson
The Church of Baseball has been safe in the hands of Roger Kahn. He caught the magic of a diamond of green grass under a blue sky. I kept having to brush the popcorn and the peanut shells from the leaves of the book. I could feel the leather on my left hand as my eye searched the sky for the speck of white. I’m sure, like all of us, Kahn wished he could say one more time: ”Hey...Dad? You wanna have a catch.”
“I see the boys of summer in their ruin Lay the gold tithings barren, Setting no store by harvest, freeze the soils.” -Dylan Thomas
We are approaching Memorial Day. The weather should be heating up soon, and for me nothing epitomizes summer like a baseball game played on a hazy afternoon. Drink in hand on the porch with a radio by one’s side, baseball is the soundtrack of summer. This year there may be no baseball, and, if there is, it will be in abbreviated form only. In order to simulate the baseball season, I have been reading heavy doses of baseball books- history, biographies, travelogues. While nothing can substitute the actual games, at least these books allow me to immerse myself in our national pastime. Before sports ground to a halt, the baseball book club had chosen to read the seminal works of gifted sports writer Roger Kahn, who passed away this winter. Kahn lived during an era when the line blurred between sportswriters and ballplayers, with the two groups enjoying a close camaraderie. Reading Kahn’s classic The Boys of Summer takes one back to a bygone era when baseball was truly America’s game and its players were revered by countless Americans.
Roger Kahn was born on October 31, 1927 to Gordon and Olga Kahn nee Rockow of Brooklyn. Olga’s father Abraham, a dentist, lived with the family, and the Kahns navigated through the depression largely unaffected. Olga Kahn was a professor of classical literature and did not understand why her son, an all American boy, wanted to play and watch baseball. Gordon, also an intellectual, secretly spent hours playing ball with Roger, hoping to mold him into one of the top youth players in the area. When Roger was ten, Dolph Camilli lead the Dodgers to their first pennant, and Gordon managed to take his son to a few games at nearby Ebbets Field. Roger became a fan against his mother’s wishes and continued to follow the Dodgers on the radio listening to the southern lilt of Red Barber, or, if he was lucky, by attending a few games each home stand. By the time Roger entered his teen years, it was apparent that he was not going to be a future third baseman for the Dodgers, but he showed aptitude in his writing, and his father attempted to outline his future for him as a magazine writer or journalist.
Through connections from his father, Kahn joined the staff of the New York Daily Tribune in 1948. He was on the sports staff when the Dodgers lost to their rival Giants in a playoff in 1951. By that point, Dodgers beat writer Harold Rosenthal had gotten burnt out covering the Dodgers on a yearly basis. A week before 1952 spring training was to start, the job was offered to Kahn. He was all of twenty four years old, younger than most of the players on the team. As a lifelong Dodgers fan, this was the chance of a lifetime, and Kahn fortuitously became the Daily Tribune’s Dodgers beat writer for the 1952 and 1953 seasons. Taken under the wing of Rosenthal and Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen, Kahn quickly learned the ins and outs of baseball beat writing. It was a tough profession as he had to balance his position as a fan with that of a writer, and he had to remain in the good graces of the both the players and management during a time period where sports writers traveled on the team trains and planes. Kahn had to earn his place in the sports writing hierarchy because this was the era of Dick Young, a brash reporter for the rival New York Daily News. Young lasted longer than Kahn as a reporter by writing exposing stories, ones that would sell newspapers. Kahn, on the other hand, gained credibility and copy from the players by not writing controversial stories unless it was big news. A number of players on the team counted Kahn as a friend. By developing lasting relationships with core members of the Dodgers, Kahn was able to reconnect with them when he decided to write this book eighteen years later.
Kahn was not fortunate to be covering the Dodgers when the team of aging stars lead by PeeWee Reese and Jackie Robinson finally won the World Series in 1955. After the 1952 and 1953 teams lost heart breaking Series to the Yankees, Kahn left the beat, realizing that there was more money to be made as a free lance reporter for magazines. He wrote stories for Sports Illustrated during its infancy and found himself covering the 1959 World Series for the magazine won by none other than the Los Angeles Dodgers. That team was comprised of a new generation of players. Robinson had retired before the team left Brooklyn, and catcher Roy Campanella had been paralyzed in an automobile accident two years earlier. Reese was aging, and Brooklyn pitchers Carl Erskine and Joe Black had been replaced by emerging stars named Koufax and Drysdale. Only California native Duke Snider was determined to play regularly in Los Angeles, but he, too, was replaced as an everyday player in 1960. The era of the Brooklyn Dodgers team had come to a close, but ten years later Kahn wanted to see what happened to his boys of summer. How did they enjoy retirement or a second career during an era when players were not paid what they are today? Between 1968 and 1970, Kahn tracked down most of the members of the 1953 Dodgers to see how the rest of their lives were treating them.
Kahn found out that most of the Dodgers were happy to live a quiet life in or near their hometowns after their ball playing days were done. Most of these men had been gifted as teens and were fortunate to play professional baseball, but some were shy and chose to spend their lives outside of the limelight. PeeWee Reese, a hall of fame shortstop, ran a bowling alley in southern Indiana near his hometown of Louisville, and Preacher Roe returned to Ozark country in Arkansas. Even the all American boy Duke Snider tried to farm avocados in Fallbrook, California. While his farm failed, primarily for monetary reasons, even Snider was content to enjoy a relaxed, California lifestyle. In a moving section, Kahn visited Carl Erskine in Indiana, where he moved back so his youngest child Jimmy, developmentally disabled, could enjoy a quiet life. Gil Hodges remained in the spotlight as manager of the expansion New York Mets, and Jackie Robinson remained active in business and politics for the rest of his life. Kahn referred to him as the Lion at Dusk, and his visits with Robinson and his family toward the end of his life were especially poignant. For the most part, the boys of summer returned home. In some cases, few people knew that they even played on pennant winning baseball teams. Kahn revealed how his friendship with these players remained as the game moved toward modern times and how, as they neared middle age, most retired ball players are not so different than the average American. Names and exploits on the field become oral history and part of American folk lore as the players themselves fade into the past.
With no Boys of Summer to cheer this year, it is always a treat to read about a bygone era of the game’s past. Brooklyn of the 1950s was a simpler era when players stayed with the same team for their entire career, and fans associated with the players and the ebbs and flows of a long season. Roger Kahn launched his illustrious career as a beat reporter covering the Dodgers, yet, in essence, Kahn was a fan, the same as the average American. He just happened to be fortunate to gain rapport with classic ballplayers Robinson, Reese, Snider, and Hodges at a time when the Dodgers were becoming part of the American psyche. Over the course of his career, Roger Kahn wrote a number of seminal baseball books, where he closely followed one team for a number of seasons. The Boys of Summer came out to some acclaim from baseball fans, and was viewed as too long and intellectual by critics, yet over time has cemented its place as one of the classic baseball history books. There are few reporters left like Roger Kahn. He and the other members of his bygone era are sorely missed by baseball fans and players alike.
The Boys of Summer By Roger Kahn Kindle edition 5 Stars
The Boys of Summer is the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers when the best came to play baseball: Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Billy Cox, Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Clem Labine, Billy Cox, Jackie Robinson. That’s right sports fans, “Brooklyn Dodgers”. At one time there were 3 MLB clubs in New York City: The Brooklyn Dodgers, played at Ebbets Field, The New York Giants played at the Polo Grounds, and The New York Yankees, played at Yankees Stadium. All but one left for California in the 50’s and 60’s: The Yankees.
Roger Kahn has written an excellent history of the times and players of The Brooklyn Dodgers. A reporter for the Herald Tribune in 1951, Kahn was assigned to cover the team, which meant he was at every game, both at home and away. He traveled with the team, coaches and management, having first hand access. In the first part of the book, he covered players abilities, Penant races and World Series games in some detail. But I enjoyed the second and last part of the book where he met with each of the players after they left the game, interviewed them and talked of their memories of playing, what it was like once they left. The players had a love hate relationship with writers because of how their play might be described in the morning edition: as hero or goat. The writers also walked a fine line. If they dropped a bomb about a rumor trade of a player in the papers, before the player heard about it, this could dry up their sources pretty quick. All of those Dodgers to a man accepted Kahn and welcomed him in their homes.
The Dodgers got their name from pedestrians “dodging” the fast trolley cars to get to Ebbets Field in the early 1900’s. They were the first to add lights at the stadium for night games and they were the first to break the color barrier and hire a black player, Jackie Robinson. Its hard to imagine the strenghth it took for Robinson to sign, even more than the risk the Dodgers took with this revolutionary move. But Robinson had come, not to play baseball, but to be the best player ever, and not to win games but to beat the opponent. He was such a stellar player that he was quickly accepted by the wishy washy Brooklyn fans and attendance soared. Yes he was playing pro ball, but he had huge obstacles to overcome that only a certain kind of individual would have the innate tools to survive. Imagine if you will, being a member of the team, but could not stay in the same hotel or eat in the same restaurants, or ride in the same railroad car as the rest of the team. When Jackie played at opposing team baseball parks, fans and the other team would call him names and throw things at him because of his skin color.
This book was pure nostalgia for me. I was a young boy when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn and later on I listenend to Pee Wee Reese, one of those stellar Dodger short stops, call the games on TV after he retired from baseball. If you love baseball and its history you’ll love this book.
You really can't pick a better book to read in the throes of summer, or in any season of life, for that matter. More than a book about baseball or summer, this is a book about living and what makes living so good.
The Boys, ascending from unassuming childhoods and lowly towns, somehow seemed fated to achieve the greatness that was the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940's and 1950's. And what's more, Roger Kahn, one of the great sports writers that ever lived, was destined to be their chronicler. The Boys of Summer was so well written, and the story so well-told, I began to grieve for all the other teams and stories of sport that never converged with the bard-like quality of Kahn.
The Boys of Summer is divided into two sections, the first being a historical account of the writer growing up near Dodger Stadium and subsequently being assigned to cover the team as a sports writer, and the second section, is an homage and an update on the individual players that made up the famous Jackie Robinson team of the 1950's.
I've read a few reviews and critiques that have suggested that the two sections seem disjointed and could've been two separate books. I disagree. The two sections work like counterpoint to show that a truly great team really never stops being just that. Even as most of the Boys amble back to their humble beginnings, the greatness and significance of their accomplishment as a team never diminishes.
This is the book that every great sportsman and every great true story deserves.
I requested this book from the library expecting to love it, but the first few pages were so choked with baseball nostalgia of endless days of summer, boys growing to be gods in the green cathedrals of yesteryear, the tragic ending in the bitter days of autumn, blah blah blah. I almost put it down before I got through the intro. But I'm very glad I kept at it, because it ended up being wonderful -- if not at all what I expected when I decided to read it.
I thought I was going to get the story of the 50's Brooklyn Dodgers, which the book is only partly about. What I got was two books -- Kahn's memoir of growing up in Brooklyn (which itself is drenched in that special sort of Old Brooklyn nostalgia, but it has its own kitchen appeal), becoming a journalist, and his experience reporting on the team. It is very personal, and very revealing of the people and society of the time. The spirit of the book circles around Jackie Robinson, but Kahn does Robinson a great service by NOT making the book about him, and instead casting him as a talented ball player, who just happened to be strong enough and stubborn enough to shoulder the burden of the civil rights movement, but who also was just one part of an amazing baseball team.
The second book is what I wasn't expecting, but was even more engaging -- Kahn tracks down all the players in the 70's and writes about what happened to them since. No one will even be able to write this book again, as if you track down A-Rod and Derek Jeter in 20 years, they'll still be living in their mansions and dating models. The ballplayers in the 50's retired to get middle-management jobs or tend bars, gaining weight and moving on as regular men who just happened to be super-stars for a few brief years in their youth. It
When Kahn explicitly writes about baseball, he gets overblown and syrupy sweet, but strangely when he writes about the men who played the game -- which 90% of the book is -- he allows them and their actions to speak for themselves. He could easily have beaten "the twilight of the gods" themes to death, but wisely opts for restraint, which actually lends the boom more power.
I liked this book and since this is coming from someone who dislikes baseball (a lot), that is high praise indeed. I loved the voice in this. It was very "folksy"; it felt personal and the love of the game came through loud and clear. The author was engaging. I liked that this book focused on the players of this early era, more than the sport itself. It also touched on civil rights and the first few African Americans who played major ball.
Sometimes I get to the end of the book and wonder about the title. Not so here. The title was perfect.
Ok, so I finally decided to read "Boys Of Summer" and I'm melancholy. I have just gone through an emotional ride with the epilogue. This is a wonderful book. I was hesitant the first 80 pages to understand why the book was heralded as great and then I understood. The inside look at the life of great sports reporters,the insider voices of Durocher the antagonist and Robinson's responses, the feeling amongst the team when they began to win, the insecurity of the Duke even at his prime,the humorous stories that were told, the feeling of alienation by Furillo, the courage of Reese and Robinson, the battle for equality in baseball. The second part of the book is melancholy because it looks at men in the pre-Marvin Miller era who really had to make a living after being idolized by millions. Furillo was a construction worker who ate from a brown bag lunch. Bill Cox was a small town bartender etc. That will never happen again to the "new" Boys of Summer who play today's game. This is a wonderfully written work and homage by a man who became the Herald Tribune' sports reporter for the Dodgers at age 24. There is so much to say about the book but others with much better writing skills have said it. I'll tell one story that I never knew. In the late 40,s Walter O'Malley had two other partners.One was Branch Rickey. When the third died, Rickey sought to sell his private stock to Joe Kennedy.The latter wanted to buy the team for his son John who was not in great health. O'Malley balked and Kennedy backed out because he didn't want a clash with a minority owner. As O'Malley later said, if He(O'Malley) had agreed Kennedy might be sitting in his chairman's chair right now and still be alive. That is something to think about.
The legendary status of The Boys of Summer is well-deserved - it is unquestionably one of the finest non-fiction sports books ever written. However, be aware: It is the very opposite of a "feel good" read. In fact, I can scarcely remember a book that is so suffocatingly sad. The players of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early Fifties (as well as a number of others associated with the team in various ways) experienced an unusually high number of foreshortened careers, personal tragedies (especially involving sons), and early deaths. It doesn't make for a cheerful book.
Is professional sports inherently a tragic enterprise? Kahn suggests as much. It may not really be that desirable to hit the peak of your life at age 25, with the skills for which you are valued in inevitable decline after that, and your ability to do what you do at all almost certainly over by age 40. Maybe the money makes up for this, and of course the money is better now than it used to be, but you wonder.
It could be that Kahn makes just a little too much of the aging issue, partly because of the fact that he is focusing on athletes, partly because attitudes were different then. He persistently describes a man's forties as a kind of middle-aged twilight, and I don't think that we look at it that way anymore (which is a good change!). Athletes still age out of their sports, of course, but a lot of them are thinking about that inevitability early on, planning their future careers in sports management or broadcasting or other businesses or even politics. One gets the sense that the old-time ballplayers didn't look ahead in that way, and faded back into ordinary life without much mental preparation. Some wound up doing OK, but many did not.
I read this in high school. It was on a list of books that we could choose from in my honors English class. Of course, as a lifelong baseball fan, I was very excited to read it. When we went around the room and told the teacher my choice he said, condescendingly, "Now, you know that's a book about baseball and not boys, right?" What a dick.
Anyway, I digress...I loved this book. Seeing "42" made me remember it.
Eloquently-written memoir of a time and place, as Roger Kahn takes us through his career in writing in relation to his affection for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the game of baseball. He starts with memories of his childhood, attending baseball games at Ebbets field with his dad, establishing the foundation for his life-long love of the game. He then takes us through his brief but memorable time as a sportswriter for the Brooklyn Dodgers, getting to know the team members personally, and how they and others reacted to the introduction of black players. (Some of this treatment was appalling – I’d like to think we’ve come a long way as a society since those days). Finally, he expands into book-writing, and brings the story full-circle by traveling to visit many of the Dodger players of the early 50’s, and providing a glimpse into their post-baseball lives.
I was impressed with the author’s fluid, poetic style, and his flair for story-telling. I could visualize the places to which he traveled. Although it was not a page-turner for me, I enjoyed it when I picked it up. Contains locker room language and commentary of the time-period (e.g., using the term mongoloid for a person with Downs Syndrome, and showing women in mostly subservient roles). It is filled with episodes of melancholy, tenderness, roughness, and humor. One of my favorite humorous asides was when Kahn describes reading Joyce aloud with his family on Wednesday nights and imagining the reactions of his Dodger buddies. Highly recommended for baseball fans, especially those interested in baseball history or the history of the Dodgers.
“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”
“Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life as becomingly as leaving it.”
“Choker and hero are two masks for the same plain face.”
“To disregard color, even for an instant, is to step away from the old prejudices, the old hatred. That is not a path on which many double back.”
I tried to read this book when I was much younger (maybe 8th grade?) and couldn't get through it. Now I know why -- it's not a book for a 13-year-old. It's about aging, and disappointment, and nostalgia, and its very good at exploring these emotions through the lens of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early 1950s. I enjoyed the baseball very much, and also liked the way Kahn wove in both his own life story and the stories of several players, as athletes and as people. It's striking how much the tale is shot through with race relations in general and the heroism of Jackie Robinson in particular -- even as I learn more and read more I'm still astounded by how fundamental race (and particularly white racism against blacks) has been at so many stages of our nation's history. I think it says something that that was my takeaway about both this book of baseball nostalgia and Joseph Ellis's Founding Brothers about our nation's early history...but it's nice in this sad, complicated story to have some real heroes like Robinson fighting to help our country become better.
Too maudlin to take seriously, and focusing on aspects I did not care about, The Boys of Summer (despite being considered one of the greatest sports books of all time) is sorely disappointing. I wished it were better. One hundred pages is taken up recounting the authors growing up in Brooklyn. The next one hundred pages detail his covering the Dodgers, and the last two hundred fifty are a series of extremely similar, dull interviews with all of the players about sixteen years after they played on the team. The book assumes you already are familiar with the Dodgers. I was hoping for a book more about the struggles of the 50's Dodgers and the impact of the leave for LA. What I got instead was an amazingly lethargic, dense 450 pages of stuff I just didn't really care about. It's immensely depressing, Kahn focuses more on what tragedies happened to whom than the game. Overall, objectively I would say it's a good book, but it's not what I was looking for or hoped for. Recommended for hardcore Brooklyn Dodgers fans only.
Very much enjoyed - savored every word, every phrase. I remembered this as a baseball book - having read it as a 16 year old in the seventies. Reading it as a 52 year old man (it was written by a 52 year old man) I find it is not a baseball book at all - but a memoir, a tribute to Kahn's father and family, a sweet remembrance of his initiation as a young beat writer covering the Dodgers, and a lament (and again a tribute) to the his aging childhood heroes... the Jackie Robinson Dodgers. this is sweet book, and Kahn writes so well. So honest, no apologies, no inhibitions whatsoever. I realize why I thought it was a baseball book - it has a lot of charming baseball stories. But it is much much more, a sweet and sad homily to what was true, what we may still learn from those post-war years when America grew up in so many ways.
Nostalgic in the best sense of the word. Kahn paints a picture of one of the great eras in the great eras of baseball. The portraits of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson are especially gripping. But the best part of the book, at least in my opinion, was the account of his upbringing in Brooklyn with a baseball-loving, intellectual father and a mother who disapproved. He makes the reader feel like it is 1940's new york wherever the book is being read.
This my favorite baseball book of all time. I was a New York Giants fan, but even as a kid I knew you needed a great opponent if you were going to become great yourself. In the early 50's the Giants & Dodgers made each other better teams. Roger Kahn has a great feel for the game of baseball and if Carl Erskine's story doesn't move you, you can't be moved. Highly recommended to everyone who has any interest in baseball.
If you search online for the best books about sports this will appear on lots of lists. First published in 1972 it must have been innovative and of great interest to most readers who remembered professional baseball in the early 1950s. I was born at the tail end of the baby boom generation and the book struck me mostly as a time capsule of the attitudes and writing style of the early 1970s. See highlights. (Two notes about the kindle version: it's riddled with typos and errors and it lacks the photo inserts from the hardcopy edition.)
The book falls into three main categories of roughly equal length: the author's upbringing in Brooklyn (think Woody Allen movies depicting the Brooklyn (and it's characters) of the 1930s); the author's time as the Brooklyn Dodgers beat writer for the NY Herald Tribune; the period from 1968 to 1971 when the author visited Clem Labine, Carl Erskine, Carl Furillo, Joe Black, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Billy Cox and others.
My interest in the subject matter increased as the book progressed. There were some very good moments throughout but I just wasn't very interested in the author's upbringing. The final sections about the retired players felt about right. They played in an era long before the lucrative contracts of the past few decades so it was interesting to learn how they got by after their baseball careers ended. Other than Jackie Robinson most lived in very modest circumstances and needed regular jobs to supplement their incomes. They didn't blow their earnings because they never really earned that much. Too many died young.
The middle section, about the author's two years covering the Dodgers, needed more. The author provided sufficient detail about his career at the Herald Tribune but I wish he had written more about the players and the games. It all seemed to boil down too quickly the pennant and the World Series. It was okay but failed to truly bring the reader into a season with the team. For a book about sports that's a glaring weakness.
I only managed to read half of this and was forced to stop. It was too painful to read the accounts of these once-great men, reduced to wrack and ruin by the ravages of time. I'll return to it one day but not yet, not yet.
I came to The Boys of Summer knowing two things about it: That it was about the fabled Brooklyn Dodgers teams of the early 1950s, and that it had a reputation for being beautifully written. The second is, without a doubt, true; the first is also true, but only incidentally. This is not a book about the Dodgers: It’s a book about growing up, growing old, and other Big Issues, for which the Dodgers act as a touchstone.
The book is divided into three unequal acts: a kaleidoscopic memoir of a Brooklyn childhood; a shorter, tighter narrative of Kahn’s days as a journeyman sportswriter, covering the team for the New York Herald Tribune; and a series of chapter-length stories about Kahn re-visiting the Dodger players he once knew, a decade or more after their playing days had ended. There is, as a result, more Kahn and less baseball here than the book’s reputation as a classic baseball book would suggest. What baseball there is comes as glimpses, rather than games (much less series). Having read all of the first two sections, and some of the third, I know the man -- but not his team, or the game -- better. Kahn gave me reason to think about fathers, about heroes, about growing up and growing old, and about the second acts that Fitzgerald denied Americans could have in their lives. He did nothing, though, for my grasp of of Duke Snider’s hitting, Preacher Roe’s spitball, or Jackie Robinson’s base-running.
No matter. Kahn, I discover, has written a book about the trio of New York ball clubs that dominated the game from 1947 to 1957. If it’s written with the same eye for unexpected detail, and ear for an elegant phrase, as this one, it’ll be a delight to read.
What I disliked about this book: I would NOT agree with those that called this book "America's finest book on sports". I think the problem is... the majority of the book was about "where are they now". When the book was originally published in 1972, most of the readers were very familiar with the players. Now-a-days, the readers are not. I was interested to hear more about the ballplayers as ballplayers and more about how the season went. I've heard that the 1952 World Series was one of the greatest ever, but there just wasn't enough detail in these areas to appease me. What I liked about the book: I did learn about the fans love of the Dodgers and I understand more why the move from Brooklyn to L.A. was devastating. I also did learn more about the ballplayers, it's just not the way that I wanted to learn. Again, I wanted to learn in the context of the baseball season(s), not necessarily what happened with the players after the fact.
Full disclosure, I’m a Braves and Rockies fan, so a book about the Dodgers had an uphill battle with me to start with. The overall balance of the book is a good one, looking at the lifespan of a baseball fan. Detailing the Dodgers place in his childhood, then his years as their writer, and then life after was good. Where this book falls apart is all the writing about writing. At one point the writer, quotes a player reading a copy of a story he had written years earlier. While not in and of itself unforgivable, what was terrible is that he had already included a full version of the story earlier. There are several small self indulgent bits throughout that detract from an overall solid story.
Just wanted to warn people thinking of spending the money on this that it is SO not worth it. Beyond a few really beautifully insightful and poetic sentences, the book is mostly just a bare bones recounting of the author's life as a newspaper reporter following the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie Robinson played for em. There's some basic explanation of the players' personalities, but not much in the way of analysis. I couldn't even finish it.
The only reason why this book got three stars is because of the stories of the ball players after their days playing ball. I honestly don't care about Roger Kahn, and I think he used this as an excuse to write his own biography. It took me WAAAAAY too long to read this book.
Got close to the end of this book and just couldn't stop until I finished. If you love baseball this is definitely a book for you. It was very well written and brought back priceless memories of baseball history.