The exploits of Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Willie, Mickey, and the Duke, and the other heroes and villains of postwar New York baseball are perhaps the most thoroughly chronicled in sportswriting. To his credit, Roger Kahn gives this familiar material a fresh feel, drawing on his years as a baseball writer for the NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE and NEWSWEEK to provide some fascinating vignettes.
Kahn is alternately clear-eyed and nostalgic in his presentation of the city’s teams and legendary players. He characterizes the New York Yankees organization as impersonal and bigoted, and he gives a less than flattering portrayal of Yankee icon DiMaggio. Kahn’s account of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the beloved protagonists of his breakthrough 1972 best-seller THE BOYS OF SUMMER, is more measured; his unconcealed distaste for Dodger owner Walter O’Malley is balanced by a depiction of Robinson that verges on hagiography. Although the author devotes a fair amount of discussion to Leo Durocher and Willie Mays, his coverage of the New York Giants is comparatively slight. (Since the franchise’s inclusion in the book is mostly a matter of geography, such a third- place finish seems fair; the Cleveland Indians, after all, won as many championships as the Giants did during “the Era”).
Kahn mingles his baseball reminiscences with well-chosen details of the time and place. His reflections on such period topics as the Red Scare and the nascent civil rights movement provide an effective background for the sports material, as do his vivid evocations of such New York settings as Toots Shor’s legendary restaurant. Although THE ERA covers largely familiar territory, it does so with its author’s customary acuity and charm.