‘The Boys of Summer’ author Roger Kahn dies at age 92
The author of 20 books and hundreds of articles, Kahn was best known for the 1972 best-seller that looked at his relationship with his father through their shared love of the Brooklyn Dodger.
MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Roger Kahn, the writer who wove memoir and baseball and touched millions of readers through his romantic account of the Brooklyn Dodgers in “The Boys of Summer,” has died. He was 92.
Son Gordon Kahn said his father died Thursday at a nursing facility in Mamaroneck.
The author of 20 books and hundreds of articles, Kahn was best known for the 1972 best-seller that looked at his relationship with his father through their shared love of the Dodgers, an object of nostalgia for the many fans who mourned the team’s move to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
“At a point in life when one is through with boyhood, but has not yet discovered how to be a man, it was my fortune to travel with the most marvelously appealing of teams,” Kahn wrote.
“The Boys of Summer” was a story of lost youth, right down to its title, later borrowed for a hit Don Henley song about a man longing for his past. Kahn’s book moved back and forth between the early 1950s, when he covered the Dodgers for the New York Herald Tribune, and 20 years later, when some were ailing (Jackie Robinson), embittered (Carl Furillo) or in a wheelchair (Roy Campanella).
The book was an instant hit, although Kahn was criticized for sentimentalizing his story.
“Here is a book that succeeded for me despite almost everything about it,” wrote Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, the late New York Times book critic.
Kahn began his prolific career in 1948 as a copy boy for the Tribune, and soon became a baseball writer, working under famed sports editor Stanley Woodward. He recalled Woodward as “a wonder” who once cured a writer of using the cliche “spine-tingling” by telling him to “go out in the bleachers and ask every one of those fans if his spine actually tingled.”
He started writing about the Dodgers in 1952, and by age 26 was the newspaper’s prominent sports reporter, earning a salary of $10,000, and also covering the city’s other teams, the Giants and the Yankees.
In 1956, he was named sports editor at Newsweek magazine, and served at the Saturday Evening Post from 1963 to 1969 as editor at large. He also wrote for Esquire, Time and Sports Illustrated.
Kahn’s sports writing often incorporated social issues, particularly race. He wrote at length about Robinson and his struggles in breaking baseball’s color line, and the two formed a long friendship.
“By applauding Robinson, a man did not feel that he was taking a stand on school integration, or on open housing. But for an instant he had accepted Robinson simply as a hometown ball player,” Kahn once wrote. “To disregard color, even for an instant, is to step away from the old prejudices, the old hatred. That is not a path on which many double back.”
When Kahn was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called him “an icon of our game.”
Among Kahn’s other sports books: 2004’s “October Men: Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, and the Yankees’ Miraculous Finish in 1978,” 1986’s “Joe and Marilyn: A Memory of Love,” and 1999’s “A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring ‘20s.”
One book caused lasting embarrassment: Kuhn collaborated with Pete Rose on the 1989 authorized autobiography “Pete Rose: My Story.” Rose, the major league’s all-time hits leader, had recently been barred from baseball for betting on games and the book featured his insistence that the allegations were untrue.
But Rose acknowledged years later, in a subsequent memoir, that he did gamble. Kahn said his “first reaction was to reach for the barf bag.”
“I regret I ever got involved in the book,” Kahn told the Los Angeles Times in 2007. “It turns out that Pete Rose was the Vietnam of ballplayers. He once told me he was the best ambassador baseball ever had. I’ve thought about that and wondered why we haven’t sent him to Iran.”
Kahn also wrote two novels and two nonfiction books not related to sports: 1968’s “The Passionate People: What it Means to be a Jew in America,” and 1970’s “The Battle for Morningside Heights: Why Students Rebel.” He maintained a friendship with the poet Robert Frost, whom he profiled in the Saturday Evening Post.
He later taught writing at several colleges and lectured at Yale, Princeton and Columbia universities and in 2004, he served a one-semester fellowship as the Ottaway Endowed Professor of Journalism at the State University of New York in New Paltz.
Kahn was born in Brooklyn in on Oct. 31, 1927, and inherited his love of baseball from his father, who played third base for City College.
“There was nobody I enjoyed talking baseball with as much as this green-eyed, strong-armed, gentle, fierce, mustached, long-ball hitting, walking encyclopedia who was my father,” he wrote in his 1997 “Memories of Summer.”
Kahn lived in Stone Ridge in New York’s Hudson Valley.
A funeral is set for Feb. 10 in Katonah, New York.