I recently finished reading Memories of Summer, by Roger Kahn, and enjoyed it quite a lot. Kahn’s book is a memoir, and roughly the first third of the book tells of growing up in Brooklyn, going to Ebbets field with his father, playing ball and going to school and discovering that he wants to be a writer. His father happens to know the city editor of the New York Herald Tribune, and this gets 19-year-old Roger an interview and a job as a copy boy in 1946. I particularly enjoyed this part of the book, stories of how Roger learned about newspapers and sports writing from some of the greats, such as Red Smith and Heywood Broun. In 1950 he became a copyreader in the sports department ($48/week; do they still have copyreaders?), and soon after that he was out on general sports assignments, covering everything except major league baseball. (They wanted their baseball writer to be older than the players, and I suppose that’s a good general rule of thumb.) But just two years later, at the wise old age of 24, Kahn gets dispatched to Florida to cover the Brooklyn Dodgers spring training. Those were different times, obviously, but I think this speaks to Kahn’s ability as a writer, that they thought he was ready.
His first year covering the Dodgers they win the National League pennant, and (no dilly-dallying in those day, no 8 rounds of playoff games) they play the lordly New York Yankees in the World Series, and Kahn covers this experience closely in the book, and brings home the drama and personalities in the story. And there are quite a few personalities involved: Jackie Robinson, Casey Stengel, Pee Wee Reese, Mickey Mantle, Roy Campanella, Allie Reynolds. The Yankees win it in 7 games, a hard fought, well-played series. After the game, (and about a million years ago,) a reporter asked Mantle about his off season plans.
At the age of twenty, Mickey Mantle had arrived, batting .345 with two important home runs. “Nice Series, young man,” Rud Rennie said. “What are you up to now?”
“Headin’ back to Oklahoma. I got me a job working down in the mines.”
“Work in the mines? The winning share is more than $6,200. You don’t have to do that now.”
“Yes, I do,” Mantle said. “You know my dad died, and I got seven dependents who’re counting on me.” Mantle named three brothers, a sister, his mother, and his wife.
“That’s six,” Rennie said.
“A baby is due in March,” Mantle said. “I don’t know whether I’ll be in the electrical crew or the pump crew or whatever.” The Yankees’ slugging hero of the series smiled pleasantly. “I’m just lucky the mining company offered me a job.”
The second part of the book traces Kahn’s career after he leaves the newspaper, and features some chapters that focus on some individual players, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays in particular. These are thoughtful and personal character studies; Kahn tells us a lot about these legends, in a subtle and natural way.
Many of you baseball fans out there are familiar with Kahn’s other huge best-seller, The Boys of Summer. That seems like it was written a hundred years ago now, (published 1972, so, really, only 45 years ago) and it is well worth re-reading. Kahn brings the same care and skill to this book, and leaves me wanting more. And so I’m planning on tracking down another Kahn book, The Era, 1947-1957: When the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers Ruled the World.
Nice to note that Roger is still with us, 89 years old, and I hope writing another book.
Good game, Roger!