The Boys of Summer

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  • Edition: Revised
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 4/26/2010
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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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. A work of high purpose and poetic accomplishment. The finest American book on sports. James Michener

Table of Contents

Lines on the Transpontine Madness xi
1 The Trolley Car That Ran by Ebbets Field
2 Ceremonies of Innocence
BOOK TWO The Return
3 Clem and Jay
4 The Bishop's Brother
5 Carl and Jimmy
6 The Sandwich Man
7 Black Is What You Make It
8 The Road to Viola
9 A Shortstop in Kentucky
10 The Hard Hat Who Sued Baseball
11 One Stayed in Brooklyn
12 Manchild at Fifty
13 The Duke of Fallbrook
14 The Lion at Dusk
15 Billy Alone
Afterwords on the Life of Kings 433(7)
An Epilogue for the 1990's and the Millennium 440(8)
A Farewell to the Captain 448(11)


The Boys of Summer

Chapter One

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 be nursemaid," 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.

The Boys of Summer. Copyright © by Roger Kahn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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