Shared from the 2/10/2020 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

Author Roger Kahn, 92; wrote best seller ‘Boys of Summer’


Roger Kahn

Roger Kahn, 92, an author best known for The Boys of Summer, a best-selling first-person account of his hometown of Brooklyn and the Dodger baseball teams of the 1950s that is considered one of the finest books ever written about sports, died Thursday at a nursing facility in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

His son, Gordon Kahn, confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.

Published in 1972, The Boys of Summer became a national best seller, with sales of more than 3 million by the end of the century. In 2002, the editors of Sports Illustrated magazine ranked it second on its list of the 100 best sports books of alltime. (A.J. Liebling’s 1956 book about boxing, The Sweet Science, was No. 1.)

The Boys of Summer, the magazine noted, 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.”

As a reporter for the old New York Herald Tribune, Mr. Kahn accompanied the Dodgers through the 1952 and 1953 baseball seasons, when the team reached the World Series, only to lose both years to their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees.

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 its star players, including Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Don Newcombe.

Mr. Kahn revisited his “boys of summer” years after their baseball careers had ended, lending a retrospective, even bittersweet, quality to the book. Campanella, the Hall of Fame catcher, was a quadriplegic, after being paralyzed in a 1958 auto accident. Hodges, the powerful first baseman, was dead of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 47. Billy Cox, a sure-handed third baseman, was tending bar.

Mr. Kahn, who was a native Brooklynite and a Dodgers fan from birth, was steeped in the team’s long legacy of futility.

“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat,” Mr. Kahn wrote in The Boys of Summer.

Roger Kahn was born Oct. 31, 1927, in Brooklyn and was the son of bookish schoolteachers. In The Boys of Summer, he recalled that while covering the Dodgers, he returned home for weekly reading sessions with his parents of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.

He attended New York University and began his career in 1948 at the Herald Tribune, where four years later he was assigned to the Dodgers beat. He left the paper in the mid-1950s to become sports editor at Newsweek and a contributor to the old Saturday Evening Post.

Mr. Kahn was the author of almost 20 books, including A Flame of Pure Fire (1999), a biography of the 1920s boxing champion Jack Dempsey; Good Enough to Dream (1985), about his year as owner of a minorleague baseball team in Utica, N.Y.; The Passionate People: What It Means to Be a Jew in America (1968); and Joe and Marilyn, a 1986 book about the marriage of baseball star Joe Di-Maggio and Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe.

Mr. Kahn published two novels, including But Not to Keep (1979), a thinly disguised account of his contentious and public divorce from his second wife, Alice Lippincott Russell. In his 2006 book, Into My Own, Mr. Kahn wrote about the 1987 suicide of their son, Roger Laurence Kahn, who had struggled with mental disorders and drug addiction.

Mr. Kahn’s first and third marriages, to Joan Rappaport and Wendy Meeker, also ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 30 years, Katharine Johnson; a son from his first marriage; a daughter from his second marriage; and five grandchildren.

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