Roger Kahn Grace Lichtenstein - Essay

Grace Lichtenstein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 730 words.)