Kahn, Roger 1927–
Kahn, Roger 1927–
PERSONAL: Born October 31, 1927, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Gordon Jacques (a teacher and editor) and Olga (Rockow) Kahn; married Joan Rappaport, July 14, 1950 (divorced, October, 1963); married Alice Lippincott Russell, November 27, 1964 (divorced 1974); married Katharine C. Johnson, June 18, 1989; children: (first marriage) Gordon Jacques; (second marriage) Roger Laurence (deceased), Alissa Avril. Education: Attended New York University, 1944–47.
ADDRESSES: Home—Stone Ridge, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, The McGraw-Hill Companies, P.O. Box 182604, Columbus, OH 43272.
CAREER: Writer, journalist, editor, sportswriter, and educator. New York Herald Tribune, New York City, sports reporter, 1948–55; Sports Illustrated, New York City, contributing writer, 1955; Newsweek, New York City, sports editor, 1956–60; Saturday Evening Post, New York City, editor-at-large, 1963–69. Long Island University, associate professor of journalism, 1967; Colorado College, adjunct professor of creative writing, 1972; University of Rochester, director of nonfiction writing workshops, 1974, 1975, and 1977; University of New York at New Paltz, James. H. Ottaway Professor of Journalism, 2004. Lecturer at Yale University, Princeton University, and Columbia University. President, Utica Blue Sox baseball team, New York-Pennsylvania League, 1983–84. Trustee, Harvey School, Katonah, NY.
MEMBER: Authors Guild (member of board of trustees, 1995), Authors League of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: E.P. Dutton Award for best magazine sports article, 1960, 1969, 1970, 1980, and 1982; Distinguished Alumni Sesquicentennial Award, New York University, 1981; named to Brooklyn Dodger Hall of Fame.
(With Al Helfer and others) The Mutual Baseball Almanac, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1954.
(With Harry Wismer) The 1955 Mutual Baseball Almanac, edited by Paul Lapolla, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1955.
(With Wismer) The 1956 Illustrated Mutual Baseball Yearbook, edited by Lapolla, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1956.
(Editor and author of epilogue) The World of John Lardner, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1961.
Inside Big League Baseball (juvenile), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1962.
The Passionate People: What It Means to Be a Jew in America, Morrow (New York, NY), 1968.
The Battle for Morningside Heights: Why Students Rebel, Morrow (New York, NY), 1970.
The Boys of Summer, Harper (New York, NY), 1972.
How the Weather Was, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.
A Season in the Sun, Harper (New York, NY), 1977, reprinted with a new afterword by the author, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2000.
But Not to Keep: A Novel, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
The Seventh Game (novel), New American Library (New York, NY), 1982.
Good Enough to Dream, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985, reprinted with a new afterword by the author, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2000.
Joe and Marilyn: A Memory of Love (biography), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1986.
Games We Used to Play: A Lover's Quarrel with the World of Sport (collection of articles), Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1992.
The Era: 1947–1957, When the Yankees, the New York Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers Ruled the World, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1993, reprinted with a new afterword by the author, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2002.
Memories of Summer: When Baseball Was an Art, and Writing about It a Game, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.
A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring '20s, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1999.
The Head Game: Baseball Seen from the Pitcher's Mound, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2000.
Beyond the Boys of Summer: The Very Best of Roger Kahn, edited by Rob Miraldi, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to Nation, American Scholar, New York Times Magazine, New York Times Book Review, Life, Sports Illustrated, and Readers Digest. Author of column for Esquire, 1969–75, and Time, 1976.
SIDELIGHTS: Roger Kahn is a sports journalist best known for writing The Boys of Summer, a portrait of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Murray Polner, writing in Commonweal, deemed it "a glorious recollection," and reviewer Nathan Ward, writing in American Heritage, called it "as beautiful a sports or newspapering memoir as there is." Peter S. Prescott in Newsweek pointed out that "it is not just another book about baseball …, but a book about pain and defeat and endurance, about how men, anywhere, must live." The Boys of Summer won particular acclaim for its sensitive account of Branch Rickey's decision to integrate baseball by bringing Jackie Robinson onto the team as the first African-American player in the major leagues.
Kahn's next book was A Season in the Sun, another baseball retrospective, but one which also addressed the capitalistic aspects of the game. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Donald Hall found the book "thick with the old virtues," and added that Kahn "is superb as an inter viewer, masterful at retelling anecdotes." Hall also commented: "My only complaint against A Season in the Sun is its length—there isn't enough of it."
Even though most of Kahn's writing has been nonfiction, he has made two forays into the world of fiction. But Not to Keep: A Novel is the story of a journalist's efforts to work out his marriage and family problems. Edward M. White, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, found the book "a well-meaning first novel" and said that it offered "satisfaction of a sort." The Seventh Game focuses on an aging pitcher whose entire life comes down to one pitch in the seventh game of the World Series. Former White Sox owner Bill Veeck, writing in the Chicago Tribune Books, praised Kahn's ability to convey the atmosphere of the locker room and the playing field, and commented, "Kahn has concocted an eminently readable story that encompasses more than baseball."
Kahn returned to nonfiction with Good Enough to Dream, his poignant and humorous account of the year he owned the Utica Blue Sox, a minor-league baseball team. Bob Ryan of the New York Times Book Review said that the book "reads like a novel," and also noted that Kahn "is a skilled storyteller who was presented with a lifetime's supply of colorful characters." Writing in the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt compared the book favorably to Kahn's earlier classic: "Indeed, except for the lack of a nostalgic dimension … one could call it as good a book as The Boys of Summer; and since this reader was never much of a Brooklyn fan, he's willing to call it a better book than the one about the Dodgers."
Kahn's dual biography Joe and Marilyn: A Memory of Love is the story of the relationship between baseball player Joe DiMaggio and movie star Marilyn Monroe. Robert Strauss in the New York Times Book Review claimed that Kahn "leans more to the feats of DiMag than the traumas of Marilyn," but added: "In all, this is a worthy compilation of anecdotes." Clarence Petersen, reviewing the book for the Chicago Tribune Books, considered that "the extraordinary gifts [Kahn] brings to writing about baseball and baseball players are more than ample to make sense of any story he cares to pursue."
Kahn himself admitted in an article for the Los Angeles Times that Pete Rose: My Story, an authorized biography written in collaboration with baseball player and manager Pete Rose, was received by "a somewhat hostile press." The book was first commissioned in 1986, long before Rose's troubles with gambling and subsequent encounters with the law. Progress on the book was halted, tragically, when one of Kahn's sons committed suicide. By the time the book appeared, Rose had been banned from baseball. He was later sentenced to prison for his betting. "The best thing about its reception," Kahn wrote sardonically in a Los Angeles Times article, "was that nobody sent me a letter bomb."
Kahn returned again to his favorite years of baseball with The Era, 1947–1957: When the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers Ruled the World. The self-explanatory title reveals the author's regard for ten years in the lives of three teams all based in New York. Los Angeles Times critic Dick Roraback, who found that in The Era Kahn "has it just right." In Roraback's opinion, "nobody better tells you stuff you already knew and makes it fun …; nobody better re-creates the transcendent [or] better resuscitates the bon mot."
Kahn's 1997 work, Memories of Summer, "asks his readers [a] favor," noted Steve Gietschier in a Sporting News article, that being "to allow him to go over again some of the same territory he covered previously in The Boys of Summer and The Era." In this book the author screens baseball's 1940s–50s years through a more personal eye, with essays on his relationship with his parents, his development as a writer and his view of baseball's evolution.
If Kahn recounts some of the same tales as he did in previous works, some bear repeating. Indeed, said Gi-etschier, "the story of Jackie Robinson is like the story of Passover, needing to be told to each generation. Besides, the essays on [Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays] are fresh and revealing, demonstrating that Kahn's reporting skills are still sharp." Kahn "tells us about the bigotry on the fields, but also in the newsroom and the press box," Michael Prager remarked in his Boston Globe review of Memories of Summer. Kahn gives a first-hand account of a double-standard among writers regarding Robinson's performance versus his white teammates'; at the same time, Prager noted, "editors prevented [Kahn] for years from writing about the racial ugliness he saw." To Prager, "splendid prose flows throughout the book, perhaps most splendidly when Kahn compares his day with today: He romanticizes the time before 'modems and faxes and billions of disciplined electrons, marching to the orders of a mouse.'" If baseball has lost some of its legend, "we can still see what Roger Kahn has been seeing for these forty-five years. But few of us can describe it as well as he can."
Though Kahn's reputation is that of a baseball writer, he is also adept at chronicling other sports and the athletes that excel at them. In A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring '20s, Kahn "vividly recreates the Golden Age" of sports in America, when boxing was still a sport found in run-down gyms, bars, and back alleys, where a young boxer such as Dempsey could rise through the ranks on skill and toughness rather than television image, noted Bill Ott in Booklist. Kahn chronicles the nascent beginnings of the era of sports celebrity marked by the 1920s. He relates how Dempsey, a common man who learned how to box in taverns and camp fights, rose to a stature comparable to such other sports stars of the day as Knute Rockne, Red Grange, and Babe Ruth. Kahn also relates stories of his personal acquaintance with Dempsey during the boxer's later years as a restaurant owner in New York. Booklist critic Wes Lukowsky called Kahn's book "a beautifully written portrait" of the legendary pugilist, and noted that the work is "detailed and rife with humor and period detail."
Not one to stray long from the diamond that is his most familiar territory, Kahn comes back to baseball with The Head Game: Baseball Seen From the Pitcher's Mound. "Meticulous research about baseball's early days combined with interviews of prominent modern-day hurlers form this lively look at the evolution of pitching," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Kahn relates the early development and uses of a variety of pitching styles, including the curve ball, the slider, and the split-finger fastball. He includes biographical profiles of a number of pitchers, focusing on their techniques, their tenacity on the mound, and their successes. Kahn reserves special attention for the pitcher he considers his favorite, Christy Mathewson, whom Kahn ranks as the greatest pitcher of all time. Among Mathewson's phenomenal accomplishments were 373 games won with eight shutouts, and a record of three shutouts pitched in six days during the 1905 World Series. The book is "highly recommended for lovers of literate sports history and for bruised pitchers needing inspiration," commented Nathan Ward in the Library Journal.
October Men: Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, and the Yankees' Miraculous Finish in 1978 contains Kahn's recounting of the Yankees' storied year in 1978, when they won their one-hundredth game in a final playoff against Boston, after both teams entered the game tied at ninety-nine wins each. Kahn describes the colorful characters and strong personalities that ushered the team through its hard-fought season. Among the characters are Yankees manager Billy Martin, an alcoholic with a genius for baseball who quit near the end of the tumultuous season; George Steinbrenner, the team's owner, who exercised a strong control over his team but who also maintained his role as a businessman; and Reggie Jackson, a hotshot batter who was the team's star player, unafraid to stand up to Martin and carried along by his talent and personality. Kahn also reports on other members of the Yankee championship team, including Bucky Dent, Catfish Hunter, Ron Guidry, and Sparky Lyle. Kahn recaptures the atmosphere and emotion of an extraordinary baseball team playing at the peak of its powers during an extraordinary season. "Kahn could make any year a compelling one with his storytelling acumen, ease and mastery of the material, instinct for the good stuff, and ability to keep it rolling despite all the color commentary," remarked a Kirkus Reviews critic. A Publishers Weekly writer commented that "this book is a marvelous achievement for a writer who has already achieved so much."
Beyond the Boys of Summer: The Very Best of Roger Kahn assembles a selection of some of Kahn's best work, excerpts from some of his longer pieces, and material that falls outside Kahn's usual purview of sports writing, such as an interview with poet Robert Frost. Library Journal contributors Paul M. Kaplan, Robert C. Cottrell, and Nathan Ward called the book an "eloquent and incisive anthology." Booklist reviewer Wes Lukowsky remarked that "Kahn is a giant among sports journalists, and this is a fine sampling of his most memorable work."
In their essay on Kahn published in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Richard Orodenker and Andrew Milner described the author as one who "has never let anyone tell him what to write. He has always written for self-expression." They compare Kahn to Ring Lardner and another noted sportswriter, W.C. Heinz, as an example of an artist who reaches "beyond the baseball diamond or the boxing ring to write prose that makes people think, feel, laugh and sometimes cry."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 30, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
Conversations with Writers II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1978.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 171:Twentieth-Century American Sportswriters, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
American Heritage, October, 1999, Nathan Ward, "A Sporting Life," interview with Roger Kahn, p. 87.
American Spectator, July-August, 2000, Victor Gold, review of A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring '20s, p. 90.
Atlantic, August, 1977, C. Michael Curtis, review of A Season in the Sun, p. 92.
Biography, winter, 2001, Alan Schwarz, "Baseball Pitchers," review of The Head Game: Baseball Seen from the Pitcher's Mound, p. 363.
Booklist, September 1, 1999, Wes Lukowsky, review of A Flame of Pure Fire, p. 4; September 1, 2000, Bill Ott, review of A Flame of Pure Fire, p. 52; March 15, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of October Men: Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, and the Yankees' Miraculous Finish in 1978, p. 1250; March 1, 2005, Wes Lukowsky, review of Beyond the Boys of Summer: The Very Best of Roger Kahn, p. 1130.
Boston Globe, April 11, 1997, Michael Prager, Memories of Summer.
Business Week, April 7, 1997, review of Memories of Summer: When Baseball Was an Art, and Writing about It a Game, p. 18.
Chicago Tribune Book World, June 6, 1982, Bill Veeck, review of But Not to Keep: A Novel, Section 7, pp. 1, 8.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2003, review of October Men, p. 522.
Library Journal, August, 2000, Nathan Ward, review of The Head Game, p. 115; February 1, 2003, Paul Kaplan and Robert C. Cottrell, review of October Men, p. 88; May 15, 2003, Paul Kaplan, review of October Men, p. 96; February 1, 2005, Paul M. Kaplan, Robert C. Cottrell, and Nathan Ward, review of Beyond the Boys of Summer, p. 92.
Los Angeles Times, July 29, 1990, Roger Kahn, "Rose Book Was a Story in Itself, Baseball: Even before He Began Writing the Biography, the Author Had Frustrations. In the End, He Wonders if It's Fair to Condemn the Cincinnati Star."
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 24, 1979, Edward M. White, review of But Not to Keep, p. 16.
Newsweek, November 10, 1986, review of Joe and Marilyn, p. 83.
New York Times, June 15, 1982, Susan Bolotin, review of The Seventh Game, p. 25; August 5, 1985, Christopher Lehman-Haupt, review of Good Enough to Dream, p. C13; November 24, 1986, George Vecsey, review of Joe and Marilyn, p. C16; December 14, 1999, Michiko Kakutani, "Snaring Dempsey in the Tangled Ropes of History," review of A Flame of Pure Fire, p. E10.
New York Times Book Review, July 3, 1977, Donald Hall, review of A Season in the Sun, p. 5; July 25, 1982, Daniel Okrent, review of The Seventh Game, p. 10; September 8, 1985, Bob Ryan, review of Good Enough to Dream, p. 14; May 4, 1986, review of Good Enough to Dream, p. 43; November 9, 1986, Robert S. Strauss, review of Joe and Marilyn, p. 33; March 20, 1988, review of Joe and Marilyn, p. 38; December 10, 1989, Tim Whitaker, review of Pet Rose: My Story, p. 16; April 12, 1992, Michael P. Anderson, review of The Games We Used to Play: A Lover's Quarrel with the World of Sport, p. 18; April 6, 1997, Allen Barra, review of Memories of Summer, p. 12; October 31, 1999, Warren Goldstein, "The Manassas Mauler: Dempsey Would Charge His Opponent and Bludgeon Him into Submission," review of A Flame of Pure Fire, p. 42; September 10, 2000, Alan Schwarz, "Kings of the Hill: A Veteran Baseball Writer Surveys Some of the Great Pitchers in the History of the Game," review of The Head Game, p. 43; May 25, 2003, Allen S. John, review of October Men, p. 6.
Publishers Weekly, October 4, 1993, review of The Era: 1947–1957, When the Yankees, the New York Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers Ruled the World, p. 49; September 13, 1999, review of A Flame of Pure Fire, p. 69; August 28, 2000, review of The Head Game, p. 71; April 14, 2003, review of October Men, p. 60; April 14, 2003, Stephen Camelio, "Baseball and the World," interview with Roger Kahn, p. 61.
School Library Journal, June, 2001, Robert Saunderson, review of The Head Game, p. 187.
Sporting News, April 28, 1997, Steve Gietschier, review of Memories of Summer, p. 18.
Sports Illustrated, May 26, 203, Charles Hirshberg, "On the Money: Three New Books Trace the Insidious Rise of the Cash Culture in Baseball over the Past Five Decades," review of October Men, p. R2.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), February 28, 1988, review of Joe and Marilyn, p. 8.
Wall Street Journal, October 8, 1999, Allen Barra, review of A Flame of Pure Fire, p. W10; May 8, 2003, Richard J. Tofel, review of October Men, p. D8.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (February 6, 2006), Ron Kaplan, review of The Head Game.