His son, Gordon Kahn, confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.
Published in 1972, “The Boys of Summer” became a national best seller, with sales of more than 3 million by the end of the century. In 2002, the editors of Sports Illustrated magazine ranked it second on their list of the 100 best sports books of all time. (A.J. Liebling’s 1956 book about boxing, “The Sweet Science,” was No. 1.)
“The Boys of Summer,” the magazine noted, is a “baseball book the same way ‘Moby Dick’ is a fishing book.” It is, “by turns, a novelistic tale of conflict and change, a tribute, a civic history, a piece of nostalgia and, finally, a tragedy as the [Dodger] franchise’s 1958 move to Los Angeles takes the soul of Brooklyn with it. . . . No book is better at showing how sports is not just games.”
As a reporter for the old New York Herald Tribune, Mr. Kahn accompanied the Dodgers through the 1952 and 1953 baseball seasons, when the team reached the World Series, only to lose both years to their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees.
Mr. Kahn’s time with the Dodgers coincided with a period when baseball was in its heyday as the monarch of American sports. The World Series was the premier sporting event of the year. Television was in its infancy and had not yet catapulted professional football into preeminence with sports fans.
So it was with reverie that, decades after covering the Dodgers, he wrote his heartfelt account of the team at Ebbets Field and their star players, including Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Don Newcombe.
Mr. Kahn revisited his “boys of summer” years after their baseball careers had ended, lending retrospective, even bittersweet quality to the book. Campanella, the Hall of Fame catcher, was a quadriplegic, after being paralyzed in a 1958 auto accident. Hodges, the powerful first baseman, was dead of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 47. Billy Cox, a sure-handed third baseman, was tending bar.
“Unlike most, a ball player must confront two deaths,” Mr. Kahn wrote in “The Boys of Summer,” summarizing the book’s underlying theme of fading youth. “Yes, it is fiercely difficult for the athlete to grow old, but to age with dignity and with courage cuts close to what it is to be a man.”
Mr. Kahn had to battle his publisher to keep the title of his book, which comes from a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas. The publisher wanted to call it “The Team.”
In addition to accounts of baseball games and profiles of players, Mr. Kahn threads memories of his Brooklyn childhood through the book, along with recollections of being a newspaperman at the Herald Tribune, giving “The Boys of Summer” a wistful sense of nostalgia that reached beyond the baseball diamond.
“It is not just another book about baseball,” book critic Peter S. Prescott wrote in a review for Newsweek, “but a book about pain and defeat and endurance, about how men, anywhere, must live.”
Mr. Kahn, who was a native Brooklynite and a Dodgers fan from birth, was steeped in the team’s long legacy of futility.
“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat,” Mr. Kahn wrote in “The Boys of Summer.”
Brooklyn’s tradition of losing began to change in the 1940s, especially after the Dodgers broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 with Robinson and other African American players.
The Dodgers became a perennial contender in the National League and reached the World Series six times in 10 seasons. In 1955, for the first and only time, Brooklyn won the World Series over the Yankees. The team’s core consisted of many of the players featured in “The Boys of Summer.”
Besides their annual Sisyphean exercise of trying to win the World Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s took on added significance nationwide because of Robinson and what he represented before the civil rights movement gained momentum.
“Everywhere,” Mr. Kahn wrote, “men and women talked about the Jackie Robinson Dodgers, and as they talked they confronted themselves and American racism.”
Robinson, who became a friend of Mr. Kahn’s, grew old and blind before his time and died in October 1972 at 53. Mr. Kahn was asked to deliver the eulogy at his funeral at Manhattan’s Riverside Church but was denied the pulpit because he was not an ordained member of the clergy. The Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke instead.
When Mr. Kahn finished writing “The Boys of Summer,” he noted in an essay decades later for the Los Angeles Times, “$380 remained in the family bank account.” His old paper, the Herald Tribune, had closed in 1966, eight years after the Dodgers left for the West Coast.
As the book became a success, and Mr. Kahn appeared on TV talk shows with Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett, “The Boys of Summer” was recognized as an elegy to a lost era in New York.
“That time seems simpler than today,” Mr. Kahn wrote in “The Boys of Summer,” “but mostly because the past always seems simpler when its wars are done.”
Roger Kahn was born Oct. 31, 1927, in Brooklyn and was the son of bookish schoolteachers. In “The Boys of Summer,” he recalled that while covering the Dodgers, he returned home for weekly reading sessions with his parents of James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses.”
He attended New York University and began his career in 1948 at the Herald Tribune, where four years later he was assigned to the Dodgers beat. He left the paper in the mid-1950s to become sports editor at Newsweek and a contributor to the old Saturday Evening Post.
Mr. Kahn was the author of almost 20 books, including “A Flame of Pure Fire” (1999), a biography of the 1920s boxing champion Jack Dempsey; “Good Enough to Dream” (1985), about his year as owner of a minor league baseball team in Utica, N.Y.; “The Passionate People: What It Means to Be a Jew in America” (1968); and “Joe and Marilyn,” a 1986 book about the marriage of baseball star Joe DiMaggio and Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe.
Mr. Kahn also wrote of his friendships with poet Robert Frost and the late senator Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.), but his encounters with famous people were not always cordial.
After writing about sports stars and Hollywood luminaries for magazines, he collaborated on the autobiographies of actor Mickey Rooney and baseball’s all-time leader in hits, Pete Rose, but both subjects proved to be uncooperative.
The autobiography of Rose appeared in 1989, the same year Rose was banned from baseball for betting on games. The book was criticized for not directly addressing the ballplayer’s gambling.
“I must have sat him down and asked him five times, ‘Did you bet on baseball?’ ” Mr. Kahn told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2007. “And the answer was always the same. He’d look me in the eye and say, ‘I’ve got too much respect for the game.’ ”
In the end, Mr. Kahn vowed “never again to write a book with another celebrity, even if I starved to death.”
Mr. Kahn published two novels, including “But Not to Keep” (1979), a thinly disguised account of his contentious and public divorce from his second wife, Alice Lippincott Russell. In his 2006 book, “Into My Own,” Mr. Kahn wrote about the 1987 suicide of their son, Roger Laurence Kahn, who had struggled with mental disorders and drug addiction.
Mr. Kahn’s first and third marriages, to Joan Rappaport and Wendy Meeker, also ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 30 years, Katharine C. Johnson; a son from his first marriage; a daughter from his second marriage; and five grandchildren.
Throughout his writing life, Mr. Kahn returned again and again to the theme of baseball, the Dodgers and New York City. “The Era: 1947 to 1957” was a well-received 1993 book about the decade when New York’s three major league teams dominated baseball. “October Men” (2003) was an account of the 1978 New York Yankees. “Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball” came out in 2014.
In “The Boys of Summer, Mr. Kahn described his friendships with some of the Dodgers, particularly Robinson, whom the writer knew both as a fiery second baseman and as a dignified and enduring symbol of strength, defiance and grace.
“Robinson has been called a pioneer, prophet, visionary and S.O.B.,” Mr. Kahn once told the New York Times. “He could be any or all. Mostly, I remember him as a man who would risk anything, even his life, for what he believed in.”
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