Remembering The Boys of Summer

SportsLifer@sportsliferCorrespondent IISeptember 22, 2009

I see the boys of summer in their ruin
Lay the gold tithings barren,
Setting no store by harvest, freeze the soils.

Dylan Thomas, I See The Boys Of Summer

During the 10-year period from 1947 to 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers won six National League; two other times they were denied on the final day of the season. They won Brooklyn’s lone World Series against the Yankees in 1955, after seven previous failures in the Fall Classic.

They were a legendary team, those Dodgers, with players like Jackie Robinson, the captain Pee Reese, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and many others. The first MLB team to integrate, it’s no coincidence they began their run when Robinson joined the team in 1947.

They played in one of the great old ballparks, Ebbets Field, located in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn on the block bound by Bedford Avenue, Sullivan Place, McKeever Place, and Montgomery Street.

And then, suddenly, in the middle of the winter of 1958, the Dodgers fled Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

They were The Boys of Summer as chronicled by Roger Kahn in his book about 13 of those Dodgers and how their lives evolved and changed once they left the game. Kahn covered the Dodgers for the New York Herald Tribune as a young sportswriter in the early 1950s, and caught up with many of those Dodgers two decades later.

As Gay Talese, the American author, wrote: “Kathn’s book is marvelous….a splendid historical work. It is about youthful dreams in small American towns and big cities decades ago, and how some of these dreams were fulfilled, and about what happened to those dreamers after reality and old age arrived. It is also a book about ourselves, those of us who shared and identified with the dreams and glories of our heroes.”

For many of those Dodgers, life after Brooklyn was difficult.

Tough Times

Campanella was injured in a car accident on an icy road on Long Island shortly before the Dodgers moved West. He was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, never to play baseball again.

Brooklyn pitcher Carl Erskine fathered a son with Down syndrome. Carl Furillo worked construction at the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers were built.

Hodges and Robinson would both die young; Robinson also lost a son to drug addiction and a fatal car crash.

The Dodgers were such a part of Brooklyn that even now, more than 50 years later, some fans haven’t fully recovered from the team’s move to Los Angeles. When owner Walter O’Malley was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame in 2008, there were a smattering of boos from the crowd in Cooperstown.

Five of the “Boys of Summer” actually played for the Dodgers in Los Angeles. PeeWee Reese retired after the 1958 season, but Snider, Hodges, Carl Furillo and Clem Labine were members of the 1959 team that beat the White Sox in the World Series.

Furillo retired shortly after the 1960 season began, and Labine was traded to the Tigers that same year for Ray Semproch and cash. Hodges went back to New York to join the Mets in the 1962 expansion draft; seven years later he would manage the “Miracle Mets” to a World Championship.  Snider, the Duke of Flatbush, was purchased by the Mets a year later.

And so goes the story of The Boys of Summer.

Nobody on the road
Nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
The summer’s out of reach….
……And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone

Don Henley, Eagles, The Boys of Summer

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