The Boys of Summer

by Roger Kahn

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451

The Boys of Summer, in Roger Kahn’s now-classic exploration, are US professional baseball players. He focuses on the (then Brooklyn, later Los Angeles) Dodgers during the 1952–1953 season, even though they lost to the New York Yankees. In doing so, Kahn explores the place of baseball in the United States, extending far beyond sports and popular culture into the nation’s social, cultural, and legal history.

As he acknowledges that nostalgia plays a strong role in driving his desire to probe baseball history, Kahn rhetorically asks why people want to remember the “boys of summer.”

We remember because we were young when they were, of course. But more, we remember because we feel the ache of guilt and regret. While they were running, jumping, leaping, we were slouched behind typewriters, smoking and drinking, pretending to some mystic communion with men we didn't really know or like.

Under owner Branch Rickey, the Dodgers were the first U.S. Major League Baseball team to desegregate, when Rickley signed Jackie Robinson in 1947. (The previous year, Rickey hired Robinson for the International League.) Not only was Robinson was still a member of the team, but the Dodgers added other African American players during the season that Kahn chronicles.

Integrating Major League Baseball was highly significant, Kahn argues, in part because baseball was a visible part of American culture. As people talked about the teams for which they rooted, even if their own city had no team, they were forced to talk about this change. Even though baseball—fast and well-played—was the attraction, talking about race became unavoidable.

The Robinson experience developed as an epic and now, not only a national team, the Dodgers were a national issue. Everywhere, in New England drawing rooms and on porches in the South and in California, which had no major league teams and in New York City, which had three, men and women talked about the Jackie Robinson Dodgers and as they talked the confronted themselves and American racism.

One did not go to Ebbets field for sociology. Exciting baseball was the attraction….

While the author analyzes the significance of breaking the “color line,” he does not limit his analysis to integration. Rather, he situates the sport within other aspects of the changing times from the 1930s to the 1970s. As these changes include sports writing, Kahn reflects on his experiences as a writer for the Herald-Tribune, along with analyzing evolving journalistic trends. Acknowledging as well that baseball has traditionally appealed to males, he emphasizes father-son relationships, both among players and spectators. As he connects fandom with local pride, he also situates baseball within the urban development and regional distinctions prevalent in the United States in that era.

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