The Glory Years of Baseball

RemingtonToday marks the anniversary of a turning point in baseball.  On May 9, 1883, Brooklyn hosted its first home game in professional baseball, playing to a 7-1 victory against Harrisburg in the Interstate Baseball Association.

On May 1st, Brooklyn debuted in professional baseball, splitting a doubleheader against Wilmington.

Washington Park, Brooklyn’s home field, was not ready for the May 9th game.  Consequently, the team played in Prospect Park.  It was the beginning of a rich tradition in baseball.  What began in 1883 evolved into a fixture in Brooklyn lasting until 1957, when the Dodgers evacuated the borough for Los Angeles.

HBO’s When It Was a Game documentaries in 1991, 1992, and 2000 captured the glory years of Brooklyn and other teams through 8 millimeter and 16 millimeter home movies, a musical score of fanfare, and insight by baseball luminaries, including writers Donald Honig, Donald Hall, and Lawrence Ritter.  Additional participants include Maury Wills, James Earl Jones, Jim Bouton, Al Kaline, Bob Costas, and Thomas Boswell.  Peter Kessler was the narrator of the When It Was a Game series.

Through the home movies shot by fans from the 1930s to the 1950s, the first two documentaries showed stadiums that no longer exist.  Polo Grounds in Manhattan.  Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.  Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.  The third installment of the series focused on the 1960s.

Arguably, baseball nostalgia rests on the foundation carved by Roger Kahn in his 1972 book The Boys of Summer, which recounts Kahn’s sportswriting days of 1950s, when he covered the Brooklyn Dodgers, contrasted with depicting the gloried heroes in middle age.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt reviewed The Boys of Summer for The New York Times:  “Besides, who can really resist the story of a young man making good in the sports department of a big-city newspaper while the object of his repertorial interest is desegregating professional baseball, blowing huge leads.  In the pennant race to the New York Giants and Bobby Thomson, and rising from a condition of cluowndom to an eventual world championship.  Even if Mr. Kahn was actually assigned to cover the Dodgers for only two seasons (1952 and 1953), he does make it seem as if his and the Dodgers’ fortunes were intertwined for more than a decade.”

In 2014, Kahn offered Rickey & Robinson, becoming the fourth baseball author to write a book with that title.  Recounting the legendary relationship between Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, Kahn relies on his reporter’s instinct to offer fresh perspectives on a turning point in baseball’s history.

Baseball author Leigh Montville reviewed Rickey & Robinson for The Wall Street Journal.  About a story involving Leo Durocher, Montville wrote, “The event that happened in 1946 was a story told in 1954, now told again, 60 years later,” wrote Montville.  “That is the magic of the book.  Mr. Kahn praises the people he thought were heroes, settles scores with the people he didn’t like, fine-tunes the integration story that he thinks has become a bit too sanctified through historians’ eyes.  He liked Rickey a lot, liked Robinson a lot, but who’s perfect in this life?  Nobody.  There are reminiscences of the living, breathing people he knew.

Montville added, “Hallelujah.  Roger Kahn still has his fastball, and the boys of those long-ago summers live one more time for a different generation.”

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