You are going to browse a long time before you come across a new book as pleasurable to read as Roger Kahn's Good Enough to Dream (Doubleday, $16.95). And you should read it before it becomes a movie, as it surely will, because you don't have to be a fan to enjoy this true baseball story.
When Kahn took over as a controlling stockholder and president of the Utica (N.Y.) Blue Sox in the New York-Penn Class A league in 1983, this was the situation:
•The Blue Sox players were rejects from major league farm teams—100%. Utica was the only "independent" team of the 12 in the league—indeed, the only one in organized baseball. The others were stocked with real "prospects" and run by parent clubs in the majors.
•Kahn's accountant could make no sense of the team's books, except that he could tell the new prez was knee-deep in debt. He couldn't even turn on the lights—most games were played at night—until he paid the previous year's bill.
•On the road, motelkeepers ducked the Blue Sox for similar reasons, and the team traveled on a school bus designed to seat kids, not 175-pound athletes.
•The team's last lawyer had been murdered, amid rumors of Mafia involvement in the killing.
•The team's home field would become a swamp after even a moderate drizzle, and reliable forecasters were anticipating the wettest summer in years.
This, and much more, made it perfectly reasonable for Blue Sox manager Jim Gattis to tell Kahn that "before this summer ends, one day you're gonna ask yourself what the hell you're doing in Utica. I guarantee it."
On the other hand, there were these pluses:
•Though occasionally out of control, Gattis was baseball-sharp, intelligent, a good teacher and driven to win. Joanne Gerace, Kahn's general manager and one of only two women holding G.M. jobs at the time, was utterly devoted to the Sox and knew her Utica. (When Kahn asked her how good the players he was inheriting were, the answer she gave became the title of this book.)
•Kahn's pitching coach was former Pirate Bob Veale, a rock of sanity, savvy and support and a satisfactory singer of The Star-Spangled Banner, which he was called upon to perform on one particularly memorable and hilarious occasion.
•The player roster included men like Barry Moss, Roy Moretti and Don Jacoby, all of whom had something to prove to the "prospects" and to the big-league teams that had rejected them.
In this area, too, the Sox had an interesting edge: Whereas farm teams concentrate on developing players for the parent club, all Utica had to concentrate on was winning. The tactics called for to meet these two goals do not always coincide.
Kahn takes his ingredients and threads them through the summer of 1983—not a day off from June 19 to Sept. 2—skillfully and with great good humor. His expert appraisal of an extraordinary cast enlists reader empathy, and Kahn himself is by no means the least interesting of his characters.
Unfortunately, this leads to the one flaw in an otherwise fine book, Kahn has chosen to weave into his narrative much of his own early life as a schoolboy and aspiring athlete—it sounds like a rehearsal for his autobiography—and many of his experiences covering baseball for newspapers and magazines. These run heavily to old Brooklyn Dodger days; they have a tired, twice-told-tale feel and interrupt his account of an exciting pennant race. In any event, Kahn has far fresher material at hand; one wishes he had stuck to the Blue Sox. We do not get to Utica's season opener until page 125.
There is a certain amount of name-dropping here, too; the names are not gratuitous but the way Kahn drops them occasionally is. A visit to Tommy Lasorda, for example, is about as relevant as a visit to the Dalai Lama would have been. Though Kahn tries to legitimize it, it is apparently in the book simply so he can report that Lasorda hugged him. Even this is a puzzlement, though, because everyone knows Lasorda hugs anything that ventures within arm's length.
Citing such lapses is not intended to keep you from reading a generally engrossing book; indeed, you may well find them a bonus.