Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 408
Reviews of a new book about baseball’s importance in American culture and society routinely proclaim that “it’s not just a baseball book,” but that was rarely the case before Roger Kahn’s groundbreaking work. By placing one team and one season at the heart of his study, Kahn convincingly shows how the game mattered in his hometown and the rest of the country. While baseball becomes a metaphor for American society, he does not forget about the game itself—the book is full of analyses of players and managers, as well as ample statistics. It could be serendipity that Kahn’s hometown team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, had been the first to integrate, five years before the season about which he chose to write. But he effectively argues that integration helped to cement baseball’s position as the American pastime; in return, the game’s popularity made many Americans see the benefits of integration.
For this insightful exploration, Kahn did not choose a winning team or winning season. In fact, part of the Dodgers’ appeal while in Brooklyn was their low rate of success: it gave the fans eternal hope. Kahn also addresses changes in the business aspect, anticipating the team’s move to Los Angeles. The emotional bond between place and fans ironically grew stronger as it became more fragile, with the fans knowing the team might move to another city. Kahn locates his analysis in place and time, using his childhood appreciation of the game to explore themes of family, especially the mystique of father–son connection, local pride, and the personal relations of fan attendance, especially before television coverage became widespread.
Kahn’s book made an impact in part because he tackled the difficult story of segregation and the beginning of its demise in professional sports. He acknowledges there were business-driven reasons that Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson but credits his taking a courageous stand in the pre–civil rights movement years. Kahn addresses Robinson’s talents and skills as a player as well as his social significance, arguing that a lesser player might not have had the same impact. By the early fifties, as well, Robinson was one of several Brooklyn players. The idea of fans embracing team members as their own figures strongly in Kahn’s analysis; for many white people, he argues, rooting for a team member who was black eased the transition into welcoming coworkers and neighbors of different races.