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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

January 23, 1994|DICK RORABACK

THE ERA, 1947-1957: When the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers Ruled the World by Roger Kahn (Ticknor & Fields: $22.95; 372 pp.) I was there, and he has it just right. New York was the capital of the universe, "a cosmic town." Its kings were Willie, Mickey and the Duke, "speed, power and grace," monarchs of all they surveyed from deepest center field. Jackie introduced the era, leading the league in everything but hotel reservations. Walter O'Malley--"an ingratiating hustler," "venal and mendacious"--ended it, ripping the guts out of the city and burying them in a nicey-nicey plastic plot called Chavez.

You didn't need last names then, or even first names. Everybody knew who they were. Snuffy, Superchief, Skoonj, Schoolboy. The Barber, the Cricket and the Man. The Splendid Splinter, the Hondo Hurricane, the Naugatuck Nugget. Even stately Joe DiMaggio. whose devoted teammates called him Daig, which you couldn't get away with now. Nor were the owners--a drunk, a dilettante and a genius--immune; they were the Roarin' Redhead, the Mahatma and Big Oom.

Nobody does baseball like Roger Kahn, he of the immortal "The Boys of Summer." Nobody better tells you stuff you already knew and makes it fun again. (Pee Wee was named for his prowess at marbles, not his 5-10 height.) Nobody better unearths new nuggets. (Alistair Cooke reported on the World Series for the Manchester Guardian.) Nobody better re-creates the transcendent (the moment after the Staten Island Scot hit the homer in 1951, when the cosmos thundered and the unbaptized thought war had been declared), better resuscitates the bon mot (DiMag's first wife: "Spring training for Marilyn Monroe"). It's all there, the racism and the venality along with the power and the glory; the apotheosis of all that is sacred and profane. You could look it up.

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