The Boys of Summer
For many years, people have been telling me that I have to get a hold of The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn. According to these individuals, The Boys of Summer is the definitive book about the Brooklyn Dodgers, and if I am a true fan, I simply have to read this book. Well, I’m a true fan…ergo, I bought the book.
Roger Kahn is a sports writer who just happens to be a baseball fan. Growing up with a father who played some baseball in college and living shouting distance from Ebbets Field, Roger was destined to be a fan of the sport, and more importantly, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dreaming of becoming a major league player like some of the Brooklyn Bums he observed at Ebbets Field, Roger went to baseball camp and played street ball, but the career in baseball never materialized. As it turned out, Roger was destined for different things.
It seemed that Roger was a decent writer and, eventually, he gave up his dream of becoming a Dodger for something just as good. Starting as a copyboy at the Herald Tribune, Roger Kahn worked his way up to becoming a reporter. Some unique and creative twists of events afforded him an amazing opportunity - he would become the Herald Tribune reporter who covered the Brooklyn Dodgers. He would never have to pay to see a game at Ebbets Field. No more sneaking on rooftops or peering under fences. He would even get to travel with the team to other playing destinations. Along the way, he met some amazing ballplayers and made some very interesting acquaintances.
Some of the Brooklyn Dodgers he covered as a Herald Tribune reporter left a deep impression on the mind of Roger Kahn. Years later, as a writer for a sports magazine, he would still keep track of these players and their careers. Still later, realizing that he wanted to do more than come up with big stories for a big sports magazine, Roger Kahn decided to write a book. The book would chronicle his years growing up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan from childhood to adulthood, the men who stood out in on the team during that time and what they are doing now.
Do I agree that this is the definitive book on the Brooklyn Dodgers? Not exactly. What I do believe is that The Boys of Summer is the definitive book of what it was like to be a Brooklyn Dodger fan in the 1930s until their move to Los Angeles in 1958. While the majority of the book covers the Brooklyn Dodgers as he knew them during his years as a Herald Tribune reporter, this is not just a book about the Brooklyn Dodgers. It’s a book about how the Dodgers had a profound affect on his life, his relationship with his family and his career.
Does that mean that I am disappointed with my friends’ recommendation? Absolutely not! In fact, I enjoyed this book that much more. The Boys of Summer is a piece of nostalgia in which an author looks back and realizes what a profound affect a baseball team actually had on his life. In the process, Roger Kahn manages to tell us about the special relationship he had with his father, how talking about baseball with his sister helped her after her bout with polio, what the newspaper business was like in the ‘40s and ‘50s, what it was like to be around the members of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the clubhouse, on the field and off, the racial tension of the times and the blatant discrimination, and more. To me, it is a bonus that the book would contain chapters on each of the important members of the team, what they are doing now and how they view the years they played with the Dodgers and in baseball as a whole.
Of course, the original book was written in 1972. A lot has happened since then. Thankfully, the copy of The Boys of Summer is an updated version featuring two extra chapters written in the 1990s that offer an update on what has happened to the ballplayers the original book highlighted in ‘72. The last chapter is a touching dedication to the team captain Pee Wee Reese, long seen as the heart and soul of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
I loved the personal aspects Roger Kahn included in this book. He wanted his readers to see the Dodgers as the great players they were, but also as human beings with feelings and pressures that any one of us have. True, they were working in a job they love and yes, that job is performed by “playing”, but the reality of the situation was that these guys took the game as serious as anyone would take their everyday job and when it was over for them, they looked back on it with fond memories, but were forced to move on. It may surprise people to realize in this day and age that there was a time when ballplayers didn’t automatically become announcers, managers, or sports commentators. Back then, when you were done in baseball, which was usually at a relatively young age, you were forced to find a job that often had nothing to do with the sport you loved.
I recommend this book to any baseball fan, but especially to fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Boys of the Summer is a book about the team we loved written by someone who loved the team as much as we did. Roger Kahn’s writing is so descriptive as to paint a picture of the area, the events and the people he writes about. It’s no wonder that he is known as the best writer in baseball history.