Roger Kahn’s The Era is a firsthand account of baseball’s so-called Golden Era, the decade-plus between Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier and the Dodgers and Giants departing for California. In between, New York’s three major league teams won nine World Series and provided some of the game’s most memorable moments. Though the idea that it was a Golden Era must surely rankle baseball fans in places like Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Philadelphia, Kahn’s breezy, personal retelling of these warmed-over stories is worthwhile for hardcore baseball fans.
Kahn writes as though he were sitting on the next bar stool over, insisting that he could tell you the real story, except he actually does. Kahn knew everyone involved with all three teams and his wealth of experience pays dividends for the reader. Too much of history is in shorthand, and The Era is a necessary corrective. The integration of baseball may have been a wonderful thing for humanity, but the men behind it weren’t motivated purely by the cause of justice.
Kahn also exposes the myth of Casey Stengel as a kindly old clown, portraying the Yankees’ manager in all his selfish, bitter, calculating glory. For all their remarkable success in the period, the Yankees were often beset by tumult, much of it centered around their aging superstar Joe Dimaggio, whose pride and ego should be as legendary as his 56-game hit streak.
Other colorful personalities emerge from Kahn’s narrative, Leo “the Lip” Durocher, Walter O’Malley, Larry MacPhail, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese. The glacial pace of integration, especially of the Yankees, is explored, as are the impact of television and the behind-the-scenes machinations which lead to the Dodgers’ move to Los Angeles.
Kahn’s book is uneven in its focus and oddly paced to be sure, and many of the more historic aspects of his subject matter have been picked to death in other places. Still, The Era is a fun read full of interest to the knowledgeable fan.