Ridgefield notables: Roger Kahn, A Boy of Summer
Roger Kahn’s 1972 bestselling book about the Brooklyn Dodgers led The New York Times bestseller list for weeks. The Boys of Summer, which told the story of the 1950s Dodgers, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, is still in print, and was ranked #2 on Sports Illustrated’s list of the 100 best sports books of all time.
Kahn was born in Brooklyn in 1927 to a trivia-loving father and a baseball-hating mother who taught him poetry and Shakespeare. Both were teachers.
In the early 1950s, he quit college to join The New York Herald Tribune as a copy boy and by age 24, was assigned to cover the Dodgers. He spent two years reporting on the Dodgers and then covered New York Giants’ baseball.
In the mid-1950s, he became a sports editor for Newsweek, and freelanced for Sports Illustrated, The Saturday Evening Post and Esquire. By the 1960s he was writing books on religion and sociology, including The Passionate People: What It Means to Be A Jew in America.
The Boys of Summer, the first of many books about sports and sporting personalities, was clearly his best. The Times called it “as influential a baseball book as has been written in the last 50 years,” but Sports Illustrated qualified that, terming it “A baseball book the same way ‘Moby-Dick’ is a fishing book.”
It came out just as Kahn was moving to 830 North Salem Road in 1971, and the promotional tours and interviews made writing tough. “Each day I keep kicking the wastebasket and beating my brains to get out one page a day,” he told The Press in June 1972.
Kahn wrote over 20 books — many still in print — including Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball; Memories of Summer: When Baseball Was an Art, and Writing About It a Game; and The Head Game: Baseball Seen From the Pitcher’s Mound.
Roger Kahn moved back to the city around 1976. He died there in February 2020 at age 92.
Over the years, Kahn made many friends among ballplayers but few were as close as Early Wynn, a hard-drinking, Hall of Fame pitcher.
In 1959, Saturday Evening Post wanted Kahn to get his friend to write an article about that year’s World Series between Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers (in which Wynn was 1-1). They offered Wynn $1,250.
Wynn did the piece but when the Post editors insisted on his rewriting it, the pitcher balked and told Kahn he wanted $1,500.
“I called the editors, told them Wynn wanted more money, and got him $2,000,” Kahn said. “He’s bought my drinks ever since.” —Jack Sanders