Sad to hear the news of the passing of Roger Kahn.
Kahn was a New York sportswriter who jumped beyond the black and white newsprint with his book “The Boys of Summer” about the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 50s, published two decades after the Dodgers glorious summers. Locally, he may be just as well known for his 1985 book “Good Enough To Dream” about the Utica Blue Sox and their 1983 NY–Penn League championship season.
As I remember it, Kahn had a couple of books left on his publishing contract and was offered a list of subjects to pick from. One of the topics was baseball team owner. To accomplish this, his publisher bought into the group that held the franchise of the Utica Blue Sox, the independent NY-Penn league team that played at old Murnane Field. The Blue Sox were in their third year, having succeeded the Utica Blue Jays.
The Blue Sox had already earned a notorious reputation by the start of the 1983 season, the subject of Kahn’s writing. The team was composed of baseball’s castoffs and passed overs. The Sox average age exceed that of the average age of the league, driven by guys like player/manager Jim Gattis and player/coaches Barry Moss and Jackie Uhey. But it wasn’t just their age. Moss had played at the AA and AAA levels. Gattis was drafted by the Orioles in 1972 and came to Utica, played half the games in the 1981 season, hitting .391. The next season, the Blue Sox did not endear themselves to the NY-Penn League powers when they finished with the third best record in the league, a game and a half behind the Oneonta Yankees. The 1983 season was the season of the Blue Sox championship, Roger Kahn’s book and the beginning of the end of the truly independent Blue Sox.
Kahn came to Utica after his ownership relationship with a team in the Southern League fell through. The agreement, as I remember, was that Kahn would take on the title of team president, but have nothing to do with the composition of the team. The idea was to get Roger a year on his resume in order to creditably write a book as an owner. What a year it was. This was a team loaded with characters, great stories and a come from behind in a three game championship series to win a league title.
I first met Roger Kahn in a conference room at the old Sheraton Inn in downtown, currently the Delta by Marriott. It was a Saturday afternoon and after the press conference to introduce Roger, we sat drinking gin and tonics. It was a fascinating way to spend an afternoon. While the Brooklyn version of the Dodgers were before my time, my dad admired Duke Snider and Roger shared that feeling. As we sat and drank I began to get the impression that a lot of Kahn’s book had already been written and just needed names to fill in the blanks. He told me about how, when he was covering the Dodgers, there were players who had issues with alcohol and how it was handled by the team. He then told me how he would handle similar situations in the 80s. I thought to myself that that sounded like he had already written the prescription without even knowing if he had a problem. Sure enough, some of that made its way into the story. There was also his remembrance of celebrating Pee Wee Reese’s birthday at Ebbets Field. They shut off the stadium lights and fans held up their lighters while they serenaded their shortstop. He tried the same thing at Murnane for the sake of the story, but mercury vapor lights do not respond like the old incandescent lights in Brooklyn. Fans sat in the dark for a quarter of an hour and the league was not in a celebratory mood over the stunt.
For the sake of full disclosure, I was disposed as part of a threatened law suit surrounding the publishing of the book. It was the result of a dispute between the owners of the team and the writer. It is my understanding that that issue was settled.
Still, “Good Enough To Dream” was a good read written by one of the great names of the golden era of sports writing. Utica was lucky to have Roger Kahn become part of our sports history. Roger Kahn was 92 when he passed away. Mt condolences to his family, particularly his daughter Alissa who spent the summer of 1983 with her dad in Utica.