Heywood Hale Broun

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 646

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.

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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 when at last he realized that his dugout would be the press box.

Pivoting like a good second baseman he takes us out of his own Brooklyn world to the Brooklyn world of the Dodgers, and at last after mega-boxes of baseballs have gone their different ways, he takes a Carnet de Bal trip around the country to visit old Dodgers, and finds tragedy but not unhappiness, disaster but not defeat, and some notable victories of the human spirit.

In a sports world whose executives seem to come from the pages of Molière, its publicists and apologists from [Georges] Feydeau, and whose ideal image seems that of [Charles Dickens's character] Uriah Heep, it is refreshing and heartbreaking to see, in Kahn's pages, the passion, devotion, and anger he carried to the Dodger Vero Beach training camp 20 years ago, and to perceive as the book ends that in 20 years he has not left an ounce of them behind.

As a small boy Roger Kahn read and reread his father's copy of Pitching in a Pinch, a volume put together in 1912 by [New York Giant pitcher] Christy Mathewson and a ghost-writer. In a Pilgrim's Progress through sport which might have shaken John Bunyan, Kahn seems to have clung to the high ideals of the "greatest pitcher ever to toe the mound."

He has done this without ever being taken in by the Pecksniffian pomposities which politicians and press agents have tried to palm off as the high purpose of sport. He has not seen sport as the handmaiden of the establishment, the puffer of patriotism, or the serpentine servant of office holders who associate themselves with victory without sharing the agony of its achievement….

Some may find all this unrealistic and sentimental but it doesn't seem so to a once-young man who walked out of Yankee Stadium on a terrible April day long ago, when a stranger ran out to right field wearing Babe Ruth's number on his back.

It's nice to know that though the medicine show moguls of baseball can, with a wave of a ledger, take our teams away, a thousand accountants with a thousand erasers cannot obliterate the memories Roger Kahn has saved here for us.

Heywood Hale Broun, "Brooks, Bums, Dodgers, Men," in Bookworld, Chicago Tribune, February 27, 1972, p. 4.

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