Veteran sports journalist Stanley Cohen takes readers to the ballgame with his moving family memoir, The Man in the Crowd.In the movie Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones’ character launches into a thunderous soliloquy with the line, “The one constant throughout all the years … has been baseball.” Stanley Cohen couldn’t agree more. In The Man in the Crowd: A Fan’s Notes on Four Generations of New York Baseball (Skyhorse Publishing, $25), the veteran sports journalist and lifelong Yankees fan reflects on the comforting sense of continuity that baseball has provided his family — and the country — throughout the past century.
The four generations in the book’s title are bookended by Cohen’s grandson and Cohen’s father, who emigrated from Romania to New York City in the early 1900s and quickly adopted the sport. “Baseball was an American game. It was easy to follow,” Cohen explains. “Baseball became my father’s principal means of entry and assimilation to America.”
Cohen himself came of age in the post–World War II era of Joe DiMaggio — an era considered a golden age in Yankees history. Yet Cohen challenges the notion of a golden age. “[It] is not truly a historical reference, but a personal one,” he writes. “It defines, for each of us, a time of life, a clutch of years when our days seemed longest, when the sun of summer burned brightest, when time moved slowly and softly.”
Cohen deftly widens his lens to capture golden moments when baseball reflected the best of America in the worst of times. In one instance, he vividly describes how a violent Vietnam protest in Manhattan in 1969 was followed the next day by a citywide love-in when the “Miracle Mets” won the World Series.
Of course, the point of Cohen’s work goes far beyond seasonal stats. He asserts that for all that has changed over four generations — the stadiums, the players, the ticket prices — the game’s ability to unite fans and bind together families remains a most reassuring constant.