The author of the classic The Boys of Summer (1972) and numerous other titles about the national pastime returns with a personal account of the fracturing of the racial barrier in Major League Baseball.
Kahn (Into My Own: The Remarkable People and Events that Shaped a Life, 2006, etc.), born in 1927 (the heyday of the Yankees’ Murderers’ Row), a journalist during the Branch Rickey/Jackie Robinson era, knew the principals personally. Numerous times throughout this important narrative, he alludes to his experiences with them during and after their active days in baseball. (In the early 1950s, Robinson, with Kahn’s participation, launched a short-lived publication, Our Sports, which focused on black athletes.) Kahn shows all the ugliness of the pre-Robinson era and the ugliness of many of the Hall of Famers’ experiences while with the Dodgers, especially during spring training travels in the Jim Crow South. Kahn names names—those players and others associated with the team who did not welcome Robinson (Dixie Walker and Carl Furillo) and those who were more welcoming (Eddie Stanky). Most came around, especially when Robinson’s myriad talents contributed to Dodger success. Kahn waxes lyrical in several places about Robinson’s athletic gifts, and he also has some harsh words for journalist Dick Young, whose writing he admired but whose views he often found offensive. But Kahn has almost nothing but kind words for Rickey, who orchestrated the signing and development of Robinson but who, later, was eased out of the Dodger organization by Walter O’Malley—who does not come off as an admirable character in this compelling drama. Along the way, the author offers much cultural and diamond history—the Black Sox scandal of 1919 (he quotes from The Great Gatsby), the tenure of commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the racial situation in Canada, where Robinson began his Dodger career.
A gripping, informative blend of memoir and cultural history.