Roger Kahn Howard Means - Essay

Howard Means

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"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.

What sticks from Kahn's book is what sticks from nearly all baseball accounts—the anecdotes: Early Wynn throwing a bean-ball at his own son, Minnie Minoso lining a single at age 53 for Bill Veeck's White Sox, Veeck describing Dodger owner Walter O'Malley as having a face "that even Dale Carnegie would want to punch."

Not that this is an unimportant contribution, for that richly anecdotal baseball lore—the quirks of character and action of the men, many from small towns and largely uneducated, who have played the game—is what separates baseball from the other, more fast-paced and rigidly controlled, more automatous national sports.

"Baseball," Kahn quotes Bill Veeck, "is a wonderful arena for jugglers, clowns, and hustlers." But the sum total of baseball is more than the accretion of all the cranks and eccentrics who have played it. Baseball is more than the national dowager, more than the national pulse or pastime; it is the national product. Its story—its movement south and westward, out of the cities and into the suburbs, out of the minors and into television, out of baggy pants and into tailored uniforms, from autocratic owners to syndicate men and collective bargaining—is the story of its customers; and that is a story that bears telling. (p. E8)

Howard Means, "Diamonds Are Forever," in Book World—The Washington Post, July 31, 1977, pp. E7-E8.∗