Remembering the Boys of Summer

Roger Kahn

In 1972, I interviewed sportswriter Roger Kahn after he signed copies of his book, The Boys of Summer at a B. Dalton, Bookseller store at Northwest Plaza shopping mall near St. Louis.

Over coffee at the restaurant in his hotel near Lambert Field, he talked about covering The Brooklyn Dodgers and the heyday of major league baseball before the team blew the coop and sought fame and glory in Los Angeles.

Sports Illustrated calls “The Boys of Summer” one of the best sportsbooks of all time and is more than just a story about baseball.

The magazine reported:

“The Boys of Summer,” is a baseball book the same way “Moby Dick” is a fishing book. It is, by turns, a novelistic tale of conflict and change, a tribute, a civic history, a piece of nostalgia and, finally, a tragedy as the [Dodger] franchise’s 1958 move to Los Angeles takes the soul of Brooklyn with it. . . . No book is better at showing how sports is not just games.

Kahn covered the Dodgers as a sportswriter for the New York Herald Tribune.

Kahn died this past week at age 92 in a nursing home in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Reports The Washington Post in its obituary:

Mr. Kahn’s time with the Dodgers coincided with a period when baseball was in its heyday as the monarch of American sports. The World Series was the premier sporting event of the year. Television was in its infancy and had not yet catapulted professional football into preeminence with sports fans.

So it was with reverie that, decades after covering the Dodgers, he wrote his heartfelt account of the team at Ebbets Field and their star players, including Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Don Newcombe.

In St. Louis, Kahn also talked about The baseball Cardinals and the teams struggle in seasons following the surprising loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 Wolrd Series.

I had come to St. Louis in early 1969 to work as a reporter, photographer and columnist for The Telegraph in Alton, IL, just across the Mississippi River from the Gateway City. During my 12 years in Alton, the Cardinals never won a pennant or a trip to the World Series. They won the series in 1982, beating the Atlanta Braves, right after wife Amy — a lifelong Cardinal fan — and I moved to Washington.

“The Boys of Summer” became a New York Times seller and was the most popular of Kahn’s 20+ books and novels.

“It is not just another book about baseball,” book critic Peter S. Prescott wrote in a review for Newsweek, “but a book about pain and defeat and endurance, about how men, anywhere, must live.”

At one point during my interview, Kahn asked if I ever planned to write a book.

“In talking with you, you have a way of storytelling that I think would work in a book,” he said.

I told him I hadn’t thought about it.

“You should,” he said and gave me a card with the name and phone number of his agent. Two weeks after meeting Kahn, the agent called me and asked for writing samples. I sent some columns in, and he gave me the names of some publishers.

One asked if had ever considered writing mystery novels. I hadn’t but gave one a try. It was later published as the first of a series of paperback mysteries under a pen name. I made some money on them but never got around to writing anything else as a book.

“You should write about America as you see it through your eyes and the lenses of your cameras,” he said.

Someday, maybe. If I do, it will be dedicated to Roger Kahn. When he autographed my copy of “The Boys of Summer” he said he was doing so in the hope that I would soon author a book.

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