Murray Polner

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 449

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 the Dodgers, mattered very much.

I remember my friend Chick who, while his mother wept in terror after he had received his induction notice in 1951, was too frantic about the Giants catching up to worry about himself. Chick died in Korea and the Dodgers lost the pennant that year and the year after. I know how upset he would have been.

Does anyone understand? Van Lingle Mungo, flawless and certain as a right-handed fastballer, was my personal hero. When the Mirror reported that he had been chased nude through a Havana hotel with his lady of the moment, her husband in pursuit, my friends and I bristled at such irresponsibility: how dare some Cuban upset our Opening Day pitcher? Durocher was suspended for associating with hoods at the race track. We shook and we cursed. Who would manage us? When Dixie Walker, Alabama-born and the "People's Cherce" in Brooklyn, threatened to lead a player strike against the admission of blacks into baseball, he nonetheless remained popular—as did the newly-admitted black athletes. Tortuous dialectics and factionalism did not get you into the World Series. Adulated, celebrated, venerated, the players as men were the only impeccable people I had ever known. (pp. 387-88)

[However,] we all grow up sooner or later, and our fancies are punctured. For baseball, many have commented, is Jeffersonian, a rural game born of a gentler age, far from the venality of cities. Even that is a myth, for the cities have turned out plenty of athletes. But The Boys of Summer came from more pastoral settings—from Viola, Anderson, Woonsocket, Plainfield and Reading. Unlike professional football, with its chorus of super-patriotism and practiced violence, baseball remains what is has always been—a refuge and a pacifier, a glorification of "a past," wrote someone, "which may have never been ours, but which we believe was, and certainly that is enough." (pp. 388-89)

Murray Polner, in a review of "The Boys of Summer," in Commonweal, Vol. XCVI, No. 16, July 14, 1972, pp. 387-89.

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