Roger Kahn shared some of his memories over a lifetime of sports journalism last Saturday night.
The audience in the downtown City Library was mesmerized by Kahn's trips back in time. He recounted his unique perspective of stories with Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey and several other celebrities.
The legendary baseball writer is best known for his critically acclaimed novel "Boys of Summer." The 1972 publication has sold nearly three million copies and is in its 85th printing. Many sportswriters consider it the only reference book they need.
Sports fans filled up the library auditorium as former Utah Jazz president Frank Layden introduced the celebrated writer. The 1984 NBA coach of the year briefly worked the crowd with a series of jokes and one-liners before introducing the Brooklyn native as the man for all seasons. Layden presented him with a Utah Jazz baseball cap and a limited edition print of Brooklyn Dodger slugger Duke Snider hitting a homer out of Ebbets Field.
Kahn told stories about watching Dodgers games with his father as a child. Those early days at the ballpark formed a foundation for a lifelong passion of baseball and writing about it.
As a sports journalist, Kahn relived rarely told stories of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Robinson was the first black player to play in the majors, but it wasn't easy for him in the beginning. Kahn specifically recalled a game with the Cincinnati Reds where Robinson was bombarded with racial slurs from Reds players.
Without saying a word, Dodgers team captain Pee Wee Reece approached Robinson, put his arms around him and stared into the infielder's eyes until the shouting subsided.
"If you're looking for the greatest moment in baseball history — there you have it," Kahn said.
The writer met up with Reece years later and complimented him for his response on that day. The former Dodger said he was only trying to make the world a better place.
Kahn wrote about other social statements made in other leagues, too. In the early 1970s, Bucks center Lew Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kahn was one of the first writers to capture that moment. The author also touched on the life of boxing legend Jack Dempsey. The heavyweight champion from the 1920s spent time in Salt Lake City, where he met and married a woman named Maxine. Kahn is currently working on a movie about Dempsey's life.
He later spoke about one of his favorite writers, the late Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray. Kahn believes Murray wrote with such eloquence and command of the language that it's hard to find an equal.
Kahn started his journalism career as a copy boy in the 1940s and has since become one of the most respected baseball writers in America.