Good Enough to Dream
by Roger Kahn (1985)
“I have lived variations of this moment, with authors, physicians, lawyers and bartenders. Layers of acquired, mannered sophistication fall away to passion when they talk of distant baseball dreams that failed.”
Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer was published in 1972. Thirty years later, Sports Illustrated named it the second best sports book of all time, saying it was a baseball book “the same way Moby Dick is a fishing book … no book is better at showing how sports is not just games.”
A copy of that esteemed story of the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers has been on my shelf forever, a tribute both to its place in the sports canon and my penchant for biting off more books than I can chew. On the same shelf for even longer is Good Enough to Dream, also by Kahn. I first read it in the early 1990s, and it has survived multiple (though not multiple enough) cullings of the collection, one of my ten favorite baseball books.
I read it again this summer, a season in which I paid more attention to my favorite sport than I had in many years, sensing since the early days of spring training that 2016 would be historic. The Chicago Cubs were months away from winning their first World Series in 129 years, something so mind-blowing and deep-hitting that I yearned to get back in touch with the fan I used to be, before the days of fantasy baseball. I remembered baseball in Kahn’s book about his year managing a single-A minor league team the way I remembered my earliest baseball cards, not as some commodity or billion-dollar-enterprise, but as something to be treasured because it is beautiful.
I don’t know if anything in baseball will ever be as beautiful for me as Rickey Henderson’s headfirst slide into a stolen second base or Phil Niekro’s knuckleball floating past opponents who could only wave their bats at it. I’m not thirteen anymore, and I’ve seen too many Jose Cansecos and Mark McGwires to be certain of anything.
But the 1983 Utica Blue Sox were the only team in the New York—Penn League without a parent club in the Major Leagues. This meant its players didn’t have a next level to aspire to, at least not the way their opponents did. If the young men on the other side of the field performed well enough, they’d be promoted through the system, someday to make the big-league club. The best a Blue Sox could aspire to was catching the eye of a scout and being purchased by a real team the next season, one with built-in upward mobility.
This is the team that sportswriter Roger Kahn purchased, serving as its president and daily head of operations, making decisions out of a trailer, about a budget that didn’t have room to purchase jackets for its players because it first had to make good on bills unpaid in seasons past by previous owners.
“These fellows I hear are coming back,” I said. “Hendershot, Jacoby. Moretti. Coyle. Are they really major league prospects? How good are they?”
Joanne stood on her high heels in the infield and thought for a while. Then she said, “They’re good enough to dream.”
Why would one of the most successful sportswriters in America put himself in that trailer, mediating disagreements between coaches who had nobody better to coach and players who had nowhere better to play? Because baseball is beautiful, perhaps nowhere more than at its lowest levels, where young men who were legends of their high-school teams, and slightly older men who were about to run out of opportunities, clung to the hope that their time had not yet run out on their dreams of playing professionally the game they loved.
Kahn’s account of that season and the men who played it is one of the best things I’ve ever read about baseball. This recent reading reminded me not only of how much I adore this game, but how many of my own unrealized dreams are still in play. It’s a great book.
Four and a half stars out of five. I love it.