Three “G’s” had all my attention in 1972 . Goodman, Gilman, and Guyton were the authors of my pharmacology and physiology texts that demanded my reading time. Because of them, I missed The Boys of Summer and regrettably, never got around to reading one of the best sports books ever written. Roger Kahn has scored again and I got a second chance with Beyond the Boys of Summer: The Very Best of Roger Kahn, available in soft cover and edited by Rob Miraldi.
A well selected variety of Kahn’s writing is on display here including more than 30 works previously published in Playboy, (the now defunct) Sport, Time, Newsweek, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and many others. In spite of all the accolades from noteworthy sources for his writings about baseball (his favorite players were PeeWee Reese and Jackie Robinson), included here are some significant pieces on Muhammed Ali, Lew Alcindor, campus unrest, and perhaps, my favorite, an essay on retirement. “Past Their Prime” appeared in Playboy and won an award for the best magazine article of 1979. Kahn writes with confidence and an air of authority that can only come with experience and thorough research. This is an emotional piece addressing the need for professional athletes (as well as the reader) to master self-control and develop a sense of purpose in order to make it safely home.
Kahn himself writes the prologue, “The Wonder of Writing,” in which he says, “You make a fierce effort to understand humanity. Then you try to write like hell.” He ponders what a poem means to Robert Frost, how Fred Allen explains a joke (he doesn’t) and the frustration of writing an obit for Frank Lloyd Wright in only 60 lines (consider what Shakepeare could get into 14 lines). Kahn’s career was changed by a simple question from an editor, “Do you want to go on writing about second basemen all your life?” One of his most endearing compliments came from Roger Maris, “Of all the horseshit that got written, yours was the best.”
Robert Miraldi is an award-winning journalist and author who has taught at the State University of New York's College at New Paltz for over 20 years. Beyond the Boys of Summer: The Very Best of Roger Kahn was published in the spring of 2005 by McGraw-Hill and will make great reading for the MLB All-Star break in a couple of weeks (July 13). What an enviable task Miraldi had with this project! He got to meet and get acquainted with one of our most important and famous writers in America today and then to write about him. The introduction is an essay about Kahn and his writing titled, “Sliders with Social History” in which Miraldi does a most effective job of connecting Kahn with the readers. Miraldi makes us feel like we’ve known Kahn for years and helps us understand Kahn’s perspectives on life, writing, and of course sports. Not having previously read Kahn’s work, I can only trust Miraldi’s selections from the thousands of articles from which he had to choose.
Miraldi says, “Kahn likes to write and talk about social justice and about athletes facing life when they are young and old. And he likes to do it with a poetic flair.” This is one of those books that you could pick up and read a chapter and return to it later — if you could put it down. Kahn’s writing grabs your attention, connects you with the subject and then tells you unforgettable stories. Reading Beyond the Boys of Summer will help you better appreciate the complicated lives of professional athletes and (by example) it will make you a better writer.