Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, 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...

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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.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 725

By 1968, when he began work on The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn had progressed from copy boy at the old New York Herald Tribune, where he began work in 1948, to editor-at-large for The Saturday Evening Post. Kahn had established himself as a sportswriter with the Herald Tribune before switching to a more prestigious job at Sports Illustrated in 1954. From 1956 to 1960, he served as sports editor for Newsweek. Kahn then worked as a highly successful free-lance writer before taking the job at The Saturday Evening Post in 1963. By this time, Kahn had moved beyond sports and had become recognized as a deft commentator on a broad range of contemporary topics. Along the way he edited The World of John Lardner (1961) and wrote Inside Big League Baseball (1962), the latter aimed at a juvenile audience. Kahn published his third book, The Passionate People: What It Means to Be a Jew in America, in 1968.

The Boys of Summer brought Kahn back to his first important sportswriting assignment, reporting on the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1952 and 1953 baseball seasons. During this period, Kahn established himself as a writer of extraordinary promise. He also won the respect of the ballplayers about whose success and failures he reported. Without the willing cooperation of these players some fifteen years later, The Boys of Summer could not have been written. Kahn goes back further still, baring his personal roots. Born in Brooklyn to a Jewish family far more interested in literature and politics than religion, Kahn early became fascinated with baseball, and a particular baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. The catalyst for this relationship between boy and team was Kahn’s father, Gordon, a history teacher and primary fact man for the radio program Information Please. Kahn’s mother, Olga, on the other hand, was deeply dismayed at her son’s enthusiasm for baseball and often expressed her disapproval. This opposition helped to forge a bond between father and son, one very much alive in Kahn’s book. It is not surprising, therefore, that The Boys of Summer is dedicated to the memory of Gordon Kahn, who died in 1953, about the time his son’s assignment covering the Dodgers also came to an end.

Kahn’s book is divided into two major parts. After a brief introduction, book 1, “The Team,” describes Kahn’s coming-of-age, his introduction to the world of journalism, and his experience covering the Dodger team for the Herald Tribune. Kahn introduces the reader to his parents, grandparents, and sister and some colorful family friends. Kahn describes his passion for baseball, his visits to Ebbets Field (home park of the Dodgers), and his coming to realize the limits of his own playing ability. With the help of his father, Kahn landed a job at the Herald Tribune. The reader is then introduced to the high-pressure world of a mid-century big-city newspaper. Kahn got an opportunity to write and, after a decent interval, was offered the Dodger assignment; he accepted. Then Kahn presents some of his more illustrious fellow writers, the vagaries of life on the road, and, most important, the “boys of summer” themselves, the “Jackie Robinson Dodgers.” Kahn follows this talented, successful, but ultimately star-crossed team for two years, offering glimpses of the players, manager Charlie Dressen, and several front-office figures. Book 1 ends with Kahn’s resignation from the Herald Tribune, the firing of Dressen, and the death of Kahn’s father.

After a brief interlude, book 2, “The Return,” jumps forward fifteen years, following the fortunes of thirteen former Dodgers during the period from 1968 to 1972, Kahn crisscrossing the country in search of his subjects. Each Dodger gets a chapter to himself. While some are drawn in more detail than others, these character sketches constitute the heart of Kahn’s book. It soon becomes clear that these are players whose years in baseball preceded the era of free agentry and multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts. The team owners were firmly in command. As a result, few players left the game wealthy. Some Dodgers later did well for themselves financially, personally, and professionally, while others experienced difficulties. While some of the old Dodgers resemble the heroes fans once imagined them to be, others emerge as all too human.

The book closes with another interlude, acknowledgments, and then an epilogue that takes in the deaths of Gil Hodges and Jackie Robinson, two of Kahn’s 1952-1953 Dodgers.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 44

Campanella, Roy. It’s Good to Be Alive, 1959.

Neugeboren, Jay. “Ebbets Field,” in On the Diamond, 1987. Edited by Martin Greenberg.

Peterson, Robert. Only the Ball Was White, 1970.

Ritz, David. The Man Who Brought the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn, 1981.

Voight, David Q. America Through Baseball, 1976.

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