Roger Kahn Essay - Critical Essays

Kahn, Roger


Roger Kahn 1927–

American nonfiction writer, journalist, novelist, and editor.

Best known as a sports journalist, Kahn has written for Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Time, and for the New York Herald Tribune, where his coverage of the Brooklyn Dodgers appeared regularly during the early 1950s. Kahn's prose style is described by many critics as straightforward yet sentimental, and he is commended for his success in recapturing the romantic essence of professional baseball in an era when the sport is considered by many to be a corporate enterprise.

Kahn's first book-length study of baseball, Inside Big League Baseball (1962), was written primarily for young adult readers. It is recommended by critics for its concise history of the sport and for Kahn's descriptions of many former major league ballplayers. Kahn's most critically acclaimed work, The Boys of Summer (1972), is a nostalgic book about the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s. He fuses reminiscences of the past with present-day profiles of the players, and also includes a complete history of the Dodger organization. As one critic said, Kahn puts the reader "back in touch with our heroes without either cosmetizing or demeaning them." Some critics found especially informative the section on former Dodger owner Branch Rickey and his role in recruiting and signing Jackie Robinson, the first black player in the major leagues. A Season in the Sun (1977) is another retrospective work on baseball, but Kahn also focuses on the contemporary profit-making aspects of the game. Although the book's format is similar to that of The Boys of Summer, critical reception was generally less favorable, with some reviewers describing its content as loose and rambling.

Kahn has also published two novels for adult readers. But Not to Keep (1979) is about a journalist's attempt to cope both with fame and personal problems. The Seventh Game (1982) is a baseball story about an aging pitcher during the World Series. Kahn is also the author of The Passionate People: What It Means to Be a Jew in America (1968) and The Battle of Morningside Heights: Why Students Rebel (1970).

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

Virginia Kirkus' Service

More than any other sport, baseball has fascinated Americans since possibly the first formal game was played on the Elysian Fields of New York back in 1846. Though Roger Kahn speculates as to why this is so, he is largely concerned with the ballplayers themselves as they work their way from the minors to the majors, as they go through spring training and enter the race for the pennant, as they undergo the hectic, exhilarating ordeal of the World Series. By observing the techniques of pros like Early Wynn, Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle, the reader [of Inside Big League Baseball] can begin to comprehend the enormous energies, both mental and physical, expended in the game. He also learns the difference between inspired and routine management through anecdotes about managers like [Leo] Durocher…. Mr. Kahn has written a diamond-studded chronology of American baseball which probes its glitter and glory to reveal its demands and rigors.

A review of "Inside Big League Baseball," in Virginia Kirkus' Service, Vol. XXX. No. 1, January 1, 1962, p. 11.

Irving T. Marsh

["Inside Big League Baseball"] is one of the simplest and clearest descriptions of the fascinations of big-time baseball that has come across this desk. It's addressed to pre-teenagers, but it has enough inside information to make it fascinating reading for any follower of the game no matter what his (or her) age, and it is authoritatively written by a man who covered major league baseball for many years and still is covering it.

Irving T. Marsh, in a review of "Inside Big League Baseball," in Books, May 13, 1962, p. 32.

Heywood Hale Broun

The world of which Roger Kahn writes in The Boys of Summer ended less than a quarter-century ago, and its continuity, statistically and intellectually apparent, is an illusion of symbolic logic in which baseball seems to be the same old game because the measurements of the diamond have not changed.

In truth, the Brooklyn Dodger team which was Kahn's to cover for the Herald Tribune was the last leap of the flame of romance in baseball, as the Tribune was the last fiercely individualist newspaper. Measurements in sport and journalism are now so changed that comparisons are not only odious but meaningless.

The Dodger Corporation, by the legal thinking which decrees that a corporation is a person, is technically alive and operates on the west coast. No logic can give life to the Tribune, and yet Kahn, carrying the material object of a baseball glove which he got old Dodgers to sign as he traveled among them recently, has assembled and organized memories so keen that those … who are old enough can weep, and those who are young can marvel at a world where baseball teams were the center of a love beyond the reach of intellect, and where baseball players were worshiped or hated with a fervor that made bubbles in our blood….

Brooklyn seemed a fine place in which to grow up to the young Roger Kahn, whose own Proustian material object is perhaps a baseball, the one he threw with his father, the one he didn't catch at Camp Al-Gon-Kwit, the ones he watched the Dodgers throw and catch and hit...

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Grace Lichtenstein

Any baseball book that begins with a quotation from Dylan Thomas can't be all good. But then, ["The Boys of Summer"] is about a team so extraordinary that Marianne Moore wrote poems to it, so perhaps Roger Kahn's pretentiousness is not entirely out of place. The "boys of summer" were named [Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Andy Pafko, Billy Cox and Carl "Skoonj" Furillo]. They were the starting lineup of the best team the majors ever saw—the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early 1950's.

As Kahn makes clear, they were remarkable both for the depths of their personalities and for the range of their skills. Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and Duke Snider took turns hitting 40 home runs a season. Hodges, Billy Cox and Carl Furillo were acknowledged as the finest glove men of their day. Jackie Robinson taught a new generation how to steal bases. Two, Robinson and Campanella, made the Hall of Fame.

Given the assignment of breaking baseball's color line in 1947, the Dodgers, captained by Pee Wee Reese of Kentucky, made it look easy and won the pennant too. Yet in the clutch games (against the Phillies in 1950, the Giants in 1951, the Yankees in 1952 and 1953) they inevitably choked. "Wait 'til next year," was more than a slogan; it was a way of life….

As a young sportswriter for The Herald Tribune, Kahn covered the Dodgers for two of their most heroic, frustrating seasons in 1952 and 1953. The first half of the book is both an autobiography and a history of the team, with emphasis on those years.

Kahn is at his best describing how the Dodgers were able to achieve a feeling of racial harmony in a time before the Supreme Court had made integration an acceptable American idea....

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Peter S. Prescott

There are many ways to waste one's youth; I wasted mine rooting for the Yankees and the Republicans. They were my teams, not because they won but because they were near: Yankee Stadium was an hour's drive from my home; the Democrats, a little farther. Brookyn was terra incognita—no one I knew had ventured there—though when my radio wandered off-course I could hear Red Barber speaking a nearly familiar language from a place called Ebbets Field. Not everyone, I knew, worshiped [Tommy] Henrich and [Charles "King Kong"] Keller, though it would take time for me to learn the inevitablity, the necessity, of defeat, the kind of defeat that makes men endure. My Yankees would presently exhibit it; Kahn's book about...

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Murray Polner

Judged on its own nostalgic terms, The Boys of Summer is a glorious recollection, recalling for us the spurious perfection of Brooklyn in the 1940s and early 1950s, its Brooklyn Eagle, which screamed joyously in a six-column spread in 1941, "WE WIN!" after the team won its first pennant in twenty-one years. Brown v. Topeka was far away in some state that couldn't even field a major league team; Joe McCarthy's extravaganzas had little impact on our schoolboy parochialism. What had it all to do with the collective fellowship we belonged to, with identifying with the "national game?" I suppose our instinct for survival encouraged those voyeuristic fantasies; but, at the same time, love of baseball, really...

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Donald Hall

Baseball is too often confused with the Major Leagues, or even with Joe Garagiola and the Game of the Week. But baseball is also college and Little League, high school and vacant lot and American Legion and Class A. "A Season in the Sun" takes its form from Roger Kahn's notion of baseball's scope. To make this book, Kahn spent last summer touching down at the four corners of the baseball world….

From the affluence of Chavez Ravine, Kahn's "Season" slopes downward to Houston and the hapless Astros, who are more than $30 million in debt; then to Paul Patrick McKernan in Pittsfield, Mass.; then to Artie Wilson, car salesman who starred in his heyday for the Negro leagues, coming up to the Majors only...

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Howard Means

"Baseball's inherent rhythm, minutes and minutes of passivity erupting into seconds of frenzied action, matches an attribute of the American character," Kahn writes in A Season in the Sun.

A better book—such as his earlier The Boys of Summer, a nostalgic, moving account of the diaspora of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the mid-1950s—might lend greater weight to his thesis, if only because it showed how that rhythm worked its way into the lives of men who played the game. But A Season in the Sun, however engaging, is too loose and rambling, too much a rework of a series of articles Kahn executed for Sports Illustrated, too overladen with his own wives and family to be that book....

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Kirkus Reviews

Kahn's sentimentality works well enough in his boys-of-summer-ish nonfiction—but here, in his whiny first novel [But Not to Keep], it glops over everything uncontrollably. David Priest (in Hebrew, Priest = Kahn) is a journalist and ghost writer with a bad case of the itchies; first annoyance to be got rid of is his wife Joyce, gone to fat and martinis. He remarries—to years-younger Caroline—only to find that 14-year-old son Joel is now agonized into choosing which parent he cares to live with. A messy, rending custody case is the upshot. As such, the book could have been palatable…. [But] Kahn, embarrassingly, interrupts his narrative early to announce: "Aside from genius and politics, talent and...

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Michael J. Bandler

The subject of veteran journalist-sports essayist Roger Kahn's first novel ["But Not to Keep"] is the interrelationship between two evolving institutions, one threatened, the other on the advance. The institution seemingly on the verge of collapse—or at least somewhat battered—is marriage. The one that appears to be holding its own is fatherhood, especially the single-parent variety.

Writing from an autobiographical perspective—if one takes as fact the personal details in the author's last book, "A Season in the Sun"—Kahn has fashioned a sober glimpse of contemporary society that is at once an indictment and a benediction. It sharply criticizes those forces—primarily the legal community and...

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Wes Lukowsky

[In Kahn's second novel, The Seventh Game,] he once again turns to baseball. John Longboat, a 41-year-old pitcher, prepares himself for the seventh game of the World Series—and the last of an illustrious career—by reminiscing about his on-and-off-the-field exploits. The reader is reluctantly herded through a tour of Longboat's poor Oklahoma childhood, his minor-league scramblings, and his major-league success…. It doesn't take nearly that long, however, to realize that Kahn is way off his form here. Like a made-for-TV movie, the novel offers just enough to grab your interest but barely enough to hold it. The author's reputation will ensure initial demand, but expect some disappointed readers. Even a...

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Daniel Okrent

"The Seventh Game" is a novel about an aging pitcher on the mound for the last game of a world series (probably the last game of his career), and of the life he has lived up until this particular October afternoon. Mr. Kahn commits enough writerly sins to send himself back to the minors. The book is littered with borrowings, from his own work (he tosses compliments at friends he encountered and evokes the places he visited on his summer's research for "A Season in the Sun"), from other baseball books (most notably, and regrettably, those by hacks of the 40's and 50's) and even from Tom Wolfe…. (pp. 11, 21)

But worse than the attributable borrowings are the clichés so firmly grounded in bad...

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