The Boys of Summer

The Boys of Summer

by Roger Kahn


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This is a book about young men who learned to play baseball during the 1930s and 1940s, and then went on to play for one of the most exciting major-league ball clubs ever fielded, the team that broke the color barrier with Jackie Robinson. It is a book by and about a sportswriter who grew up near Ebbets Field, and who had the good fortune in the 1950s to cover the Dodgers for the Herald Tribune. This is a book about what happened to Jackie, Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, and the others when their glory days were behind them. In short, it is a book about America, about fathers and sons, prejudice and courage, triumph and disaster, and told with warmth, humor, wit, candor, and love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060883966
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/09/2006
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 127,377
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Roger Kahn, a prize-winning author, grew up in Brooklyn, where he says everybody on the boys' varsity baseball team at his prep school wanted to play for the Dodgers. None did. He has written nineteen books. Like most natives of Brooklyn, he is distressed that the Dodgers left. "In a perfect world," he says, "the Dodgers would have stayed in Brooklyn and Los Angeles would have gotten the Mets."

Read an Excerpt

The Trolley Car That Ran By Ebbets Field


That morning began with wind and hairy clouds. It was late March and day rose brisk and uncertain, with gusts suggesting January and flashes of sun promising June. In every way, a season of change had come.

With a new portable typewriter in one hand and a jammed, disordered suitcase in another, I was making my way from the main terminal at La Guardia Airport to Eastern Airlines Hangar Number 4. There had been time neither to pack nor to sort thoughts. Quite suddenly, after twenty-four sheltered, aimless, wounding, dreamy, heedless years, spent in the Borough of Brooklyn, I was going forth to cover the Dodgers. Nick Adams ranging northern Michigan, Stephen Dedalus storming citadeled Europe anticipated no richer mead of life.

"Mr. Thompson?"

A stocky man, with quick eyes and white hair, said, "Yes. I'm Fresco Thompson. You must be the new man from the Herald Tribune." Fresco Thompson, vice president and director of minor league personnel, stood at the entrance, beside a twin engined airplane, all silvery except for an inscription stenciled above the cabin door. In the same blue script that appeared on home uniform blouses, the Palmer-method lettering read "Dodgers."

"How do you like roller coasters?" Fresco Thompson said. "On a day with this much wind, the DC-3 will be all over the sky. Perfectly safe, but we're taking down prospects for the minor league camp and a lot have never flown." He gestured toward a swarm of sturdy athletes, standing nervously at one side of the hangar, slouching and shifting weight from foot to foot. "We may call on you to benursemaid," Thompson said. "Some ball players are babies. Let's go on board. The co-pilot will see about your luggage. We'll sit up front. Might as well keep the airsickness behind us."

Thompson smiled, showing even teeth, and put a strong, square hand on my back. "Come on, fellers," he shouted over a shoulder, and the rookie athletes formed a ragged line. Looking at them, eighteen-year-olds chattering and giggling with excitement, one recognized that they were still boys. The only men in the planeload, Thompson indicated by his manner, were the two of us. We had flown and earned a living and acquired substance. We were big league. Entering the DC-3 under the royal-blue inscription I felt with certitude, with absolute, manic, ingenuous, joyous certitude, that the nickname "Dodgers" applied to me. Beyond undertaking a newspaper assignment, I believed I was joining a team. At twenty-four, I was becoming a Dodger. The fantasy ("He performs in Ebbets Field as though he built it; this kid can play") embraces multitudes and generations ("Haven't seen a ball player with this much potential since Pistol Pete Reiser back in 1940, or maybe even before that; maybe way before"). I strode onto the plane, monarch of my dream, walking up the steep incline with the suggestion of a swagger and dropping casually into seat B2. "What the hell!" Something had stung me in a buttock. I bounced up. A spring had burst through the green upholstery. A naked end of metal lay exposed. "What the hell," I said again.

"Nothing to worry about," Fresco Thompson said. "The people who maintain the springs are not the same people who maintain the engines." He paused and raised white brows. "Or so Walter O'Malley tells me."

"Seat belts," the plot announced. Fresco turned and counted heads. "Eighteen," he said, "and eighteen there's supposed to be." The little plane bumped forward toward a concrete runway and the seabound clouds of the busy March sky.

In the end, I would find, as others since Ring Lardner and before, that Pullman nights and press box days, double-headers dragging through August heat and a daily newspaper demanding three thousand words a day, every day, day after blunting day, dulled sense and sensibilities. When you see too many major league baseball games, you tend to observe less and less of each. You begin to lose your sense of detail and even recall. Who won yesterday? Ah, yesterday. That was Pittsburgh, 5 to 3. No, that was Tuesday. Yesterday was St. Louis, 6 to 2. Too many games, and the loneliness, the emphatic, crowded loneliness of the itinerant, ravage fantasy. Nothing on earth, Lardner said, is more depressing than an old baseball writer. It was my fortune to cover baseball when I was very young.

From brief perspective, the year 1952 casts a disturbing, well remembered shadow. It was then that the American electorate disdained the troubling eloquence of Adlai Stevenson for Dwight Eisenhower and what Stevenson called the green fairways of indifference. That very baseball season Eisenhower outran Robert A. Taft for the Republican nomination and, hands clasped above the bald, broad dome, mounted his irresistible campaign for the Presidency. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy rose in Washington and King Farouk fell in Egypt. Although the Korean War killed 120 Americans a week, times were comfortable at home.A four-door Packard with Thunderbolt-8 engine sold for $2,613 and, according to advertisements, more than 53 percent of all Packards manufactured since 1899 still ran.Kodak was rising from $43 a share and RCA was moving up from $26.The New York theatrical season shone.One could see Audrey Hepburn as Gigi, Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh as Ceaser and Cleopatra, Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer in Venus Observed, Julie Harris in I Am a Camera and John Garfield, who would not live out the year, bearing his special fire to Joey Bonaparte in a revival of Odets' Golden Boy.It was a time of transition, which few recognized, and glutting national self-satisfaction.Students and scholars were silent.Only a few people distinguished the tidal discontent beginning to sweep into black America.

Table of Contents

Lines on the Transpontine Madness xi
Book One The Team
The Trolley Car That Ran by Ebbets Field
Ceremonies of Innocence
Interlude I
Book Two The Return
Clem and Jay
The Bishop's Brother
Carl and Jimmy
The Sandwich Man
Black Is What You Make It
The Road to Viola
A Shortstop in Kentucky
The Hard Hat Who Sued Baseball
One Stayed in Brooklyn
Manchild at Fifty
The Duke of Fallbrook
The Lion at Dusk
Billy Alone
Interlude II
Afterwords on the Life of Kings 433(7)
An Epilogue for the 1990s and the Millennium 440(8)
A Farewell to the Captain 448

What People are Saying About This

Gay Talese

"Kahn's book is marvelous...a splendid historical work. It is about youthful dreams in small American towns and big cities decades ago, and how some of these dreams where fulfilled, and about what happened to those dreamers after reality and old age arrived. It is also a book about ourselves, those of us who shared and identified with the dreams and glories of our heroes."

Bill Veeck

"Roger Kahn has achieved the near impossible in his The Boys of Summer by writing two splendid books in one, neither of which, strangely enough, is a sports book although baseball is the central theme of both. To Mr. Kahn, 'people' is the name of the game, and it's a game he plays with brilliance, insight and thoughtfulness. To say that I 'enjoyed' the book is to say that winning a World Championship is 'interesting', owing a derby winner 'nice', and starring in the Super Bowl 'fun'."

Ring Lardner

"What most people look for in a book is a good story. Roger Kahn gives us about fifteen of them woven into one coherent narrative that is moving and funny and sentimental (about people and things that merit sentiment) and cynical (about those that don't)."

James Michener

"A work of high purpose and poetic accomplishment. The finest American book on sports. I commend it without qualification."

Customer Reviews

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The Boys of Summer 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am NOT a baseball fan. To be honest, I'd rather watch paint dry than watch a looong, scoreless baseball game. But I bought this book several years ago for a boyfriend who is a dedicated baseball lover, and after he was finished reading it, I borrowed it and read it myself. What an amazing book! I just fell into it and didn't come up for air until I got to the last page. I still don't like watching baseball, but I have a better appreciation for the game and its place in American culture. And I'm buying copies to send to my teenage, baseball playing nephews. It just goes to show you that a great book is a great book, regardless of the topic.
ehines on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a classic book, and I suppose deservedly so, but I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed. Maybe because of the central role played by Kahn himself here. But I suppose Kahn was building a model that was later to be refined. See "The Last Good Season" for a later model.
BooksForDinner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This, with the possible exception of [book:The Glory of Their Times], is the best baseball book ever penned. Then again, after only a few pages you realize this isn't really a book about baseball.
5hrdrive on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really three books in one. The first - what it was like to grow up a Jewish baseball fan in Brooklyn in the 30's and 40's. I enjoyed reading this much more than I had expected. The second - what it was like to cover the Dodgers during their Brooklyn heydey of 1952-53 as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune. This section is what brought me to read the book and it only disappointed due to its brevity - but the writing is fantastic. The third section - what happened to all those old great ballplayers twenty years after the glory days. This section is the longest and what really sets the book apart from other baseball writing. Amazing what these guys had to go through after their careers were over - imagine Carl Furillo working as an Otis Elevator installer during the construction of the World Trade Center. Boggles the mind. These ballplayers had fought World War II, played in the World Series, and lived full lives after their playing days were done, and I'm glad I got to know them a little bit. Thanks, Mr.Kahn.
bryanspellman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting look at the life of a baseball fan that becomes a sports writer. And the lives of the men that changed baseball. I quick peak at some interesting lives that will lead you to other, more in depth books on these incredible men.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing i will never forget the first time i ever read it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best baseball book i've ever read.
DaniPor More than 1 year ago
Where are They Now? The Boys of Summer is by Roger Kahn, a sportswriter who grew up near Ebbets Field, and was fortunate to cover the Dodgers for the Herald Tribune in the 1950s. The book is about young men who learned to play baseball during the 1930s and 1940s, and then went on to play for one of the most exciting major-league ball clubs ever fielded, the team that broke the color barrier with Jackie Robinson. It is also about what happened to Jackie, Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, and the others when their glory days were behind them. Throughout the book it revealed the messages of prejudice and courage, and triumph and disaster. It covered the relationships between fathers and sons. It was all told with warmth, humor, wit, honesty, and love. It was an overall novel about America. I thought that Roger Kahn did a fabulous job writing the novel, The Boys of Summer. He broke the book up into two books which really helped with organization. The first book was Kahn’s memoir of growing up in Brooklyn. It was very personal and was revealing of the people and the society of the time, which I really liked. At the beginning of the book I would get very confused because he jumped between his childhood and writing for the Dodgers, which I did not like. The second book was more engaging; Kahn tracks down all the players in the 70's and writes about what happened to them since. Throughout his book he had a lot of detail, which was a good asset for this book. The experience is aided by the attention to tone and attitude as well as the personalities of the players so you can practically hear what everyone is saying. I believe that when Kahn explicitly writes about baseball, he gets overblown and has way too much that you just can’t help but skim over, but when he writes about the men who played the game he allows them and their actions to speak for themselves. This is a great story for anyone, especially those who are fans of baseball. If you are not a fan of baseball, however, do not be scared off. Baseball serves as the backdrop, but it is much more about life: having to deal with adversity, whether in forms of racism or personal crises, and the importance of teamwork and compassion. The book leaps into the culture of the 1950s. The book makes very clear that while the main characters in the story are professional athletes, they are normal people as well, facing typical, and some not so typical, problems. I would give this book an overall rating of four out of five stars. Other recommended works would be Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis and Ball Four, by Jim Bouton. Both are books about stories of ball players and the struggles and obstacles that they overcome to play the game that they love.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Roger Khan is the Mark Twain of sports writers and this is his master work. Sports Illustrated wasn't lying when they named this book the greatest sports book of all-time. Along with books like Ball Four, you aren't a true blue baseball fan unless you've read The Boys of Summer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best sports book ever written because it really isn't about sports, it's about the amazing men who played for those wonderful and tragic Brooklyn Dodger teams of the 50's, their impact not only on their Brooklyn neighborhood but on the entire world. Kahn's portrait of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier, is nothing short of breathtaking. A book to read, re-read and treasure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Find me a better story about baseball and I'll eat your hat. A treasure, nothing less than spectacular.
chac More than 1 year ago
This isn't so much a baseball book as it is a memoir of the author's childhood and career as a sports writer. It was a disappointing read.