Were he still with us, February 9, 2014 would be the hundredth birthday of William Louis Veeck, Jr. Today’s sterile, quillion-dollar corporate baseball industry misses him terribly. There will never be a better day to explain why.
Let’s start with one bold assertion: if Bill Veeck owned your hometown baseball team, you’d buy season tickets.
You would. I love the game, but I’m not much at all for actual stadium attendance (don’t like crowds, too many jackasses). I would want season tickets.
Even when Veeck’s teams were lousy, they entertained. And since he understood women’s buying power, and their sometimes differing expectations from the ballpark experience, Veeck’s teams appealed to women perhaps even more than men. In those days, most owners viewed female fans as afterthoughts. Veeck considered women valuable customers of the most loyal sort. An unprejudiced man in an era of African American segregation and aristocratic anti-Semitic restrictions, Veeck’s operations attracted and welcomed anyone willing to buy a ticket. Thus, Veeck set attendance records, and all his teams created buzz.
They also sometimes became winners, and on a low budget. Veeck was an entrepreneurial baseball owner; when he owned a team, it was his primary business. He was no George Steinbrenner, flush with wealth earned in other ways. Rarely could he afford a team’s purchase price, so he followed the principle of ‘other people’s money.’ He would line up investors, put up some of his own money, and operate the team. He was a salesman, a hustler of the best kind, and a very shrewd judge of administrative and sports management talent. If you had wanted a drink-from-the-firehose sports and promotional education, and you’d had any guts at all, you’d have gone to Veeck’s office and offered to take a job doing anything, for whatever he wanted to pay you. The rest would come through osmosis.
There’s a trend today in sports, news and talk shows: sports entertainment, news entertainment, talk entertainment. Pro wrestling, CNN and Jerry Springer are examples of the trend. Problem: no one today manages the second noun without losing the first. Pro wrestling is not sport, CNN is not news, and Jerry Springer isn’t discussion. They’re circuses, nothing more, deserving no more serious consideration than a stage magician who seems to believe his act involves actual magic.
Bill Veeck combined entertainment with sport without diminishing either. That is genius. And while Bill Veeck spent much of his life laughing his head off, few things gratified him more than when the game’s stuffy dignitaries would accuse him of making a travesty of baseball. But why would they say such a thing?
- He once sent a little person (formerly called a ‘midget’) up to bat.
- He gave outrageous door prizes, like a dozen live chickens or a pallet of beer.
- His stunts sometimes bombed, notably Disco Demolition Night.
- He sometimes used clowns in the coaching boxes.
- He brought up 42-year-old Satchel Paige, late of the Negro Leagues, and touted him for Rookie of the Year.
- He was the first to sign an African American (Larry Doby) to play in the American League.
- He held a funeral for a pennant.
- He held a Grandstand Managers’ Day in which fans chose the lineup and strategy. His fans won.
- His groundskeepers’ skullduggery was a legend. If Veeck’s team was full of turtles, the groundskeepers transformed the basepaths into swamps. If they couldn’t run, no one got to run.
- If he had a crosstown rival, he considered it his duty to try and run them out of town, annoying them in every way he could think of.
- Hardly a game went by without some sort of stunt. Car racing. Little people landing by helicopter. Door prizes. The exploding scoreboard (a Veeck invention). Fireworks…
…and much more. But he did all of it while doing his level best to build winning teams on a shoestring budget. Bill Veeck wanted to win as well as entertain. The ‘travesty’ was that he and his fans had fun.
My assessment is that the other owners hated him out of stuffy envy. Veeck was always having fun, and they often were not, and his promotional competence pointed up their many promotional scleroses; of course they were bound to hate him. The staid and dull almost always hate the fun and interesting, do they not? Most owners took their lordly positions very seriously. Veeck’s first act, upon buying a team, was to remove his office door. He would then reorganize the concession stands, renovate the women’s restrooms, speak at any event that wanted him, tease his detractors, excoriate his nearest rivals, and go out drinking with his friends. A caring man who meant much to many, Bill Veeck had a great many friends to drink with. Some were the bleacher guys, because Veeck did not watch games from an effete luxury box. He preferred to sit shirtless in the cheap seats, drinking beer and talking baseball with his steady customers. He loved the stadium, the stunts, the fans and the game.
For most of this time, he had a leg to stand on…and only one. He lost the right in Marine training during World War II, and every so often they had to trim it back a little more. He had to soak the stump in hot water for several hours each day. Veeck being Veeck, he cut a hole in the prosthetic leg and used it as an ashtray. For fun, he would stab it with an icepick and watch the reactions. He was inventive and brave, pioneering a number of innovations we take for granted today.
Bill Veeck made baseball fun, even for people who otherwise paid it minimal attention. He is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is something of a patron saint to the Baseball Reliquary, the organization which gave me generous permission to use Tony Salin’s work as the basis of my baseball name pronunciation project.
And if he owned your hometown team, you’d go to the games.
There is plenty of good reading out there about Bill Veeck. Here’s your Veeckography:
Veeck as in Wreck, Bill Veeck with Ed Linn
The Hustler’s Handbook, Bill Veeck with Ed Linn
Thirty Tons a Day, Bill Veeck with Ed Linn
Bill Veeck: A Baseball Legend, Gerald Eskenazi
Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick, Paul Dickson
Note: for my money, anything written with Ed Linn is worth reading. One of the most gifted co-authors whose work I’ve had the pleasure to experience. They rarely get due credit for that.
This story explains one reason why I remain open to metaphysical ideas, which is not to say I buy into them all without question.
Back in summer 1990, I bought my first real vehicle at the age of 27. We don’t count the Corvair with the failing transmission and rotting tires, which was stolen with the connivance of the dealer and the assent of our precious legal system, nor do we count the Skyhawk that also had a failing trannie, which I shoved up the seller’s rear end. It was the White Lightning, my 1990 Toyota pickup. I paid $10,200 for it. A two-wheel-drive vanilla-colored and vanilla-looking vehicle, it is, and some of the better money I have ever spent in my life. I’m still driving it.
It might surprise you, then, that one evening early in my ownership, I tried to kick the back window out–but I’m getting ahead of myself. At the time, I was engaged to K., an accountant about my age. She lived near Lynnwood, north of Seattle, and I lived in what would later become Shoreline. I was working over in Bellevue as a computer salesman in the trenches of the IBM/Microsoft wars. My work required that I wear a dress shirt, slacks, tie and dress shoes.
I was still wearing most of them late that summer evening, because I’d gone straight from arrival back at my apartment up to see K. I don’t remember why, but she was distraught about something–probably about her racist S.O.B. parents, with whom she still lived, or her abominable uncle, or her arrogant brother and cousin, or her idiot sister. If you are beginning to suspect that I didn’t have a joyous relationship with K.’s family, and that perhaps the relationship eventually disintegrated, you are a perceptive reader. Her distress wasn’t due to anything I’d done, at least.
The evening ended up with K. and I parked out in Alderwood Manor somewhere, with her bawling and sniffling, and me trying to be supportive. At one point, she had needed a mucous control method. Being the type, I had taken off my white dress shirt and encouraged her to load it up with snot and tears. That didn’t concern me. While I decided against putting the shirt back on, I figured it didn’t matter if I drove home topless. It was night. The only people who would see were my fellow tenants at the slum called The Villager, and I simply didn’t give a damn what any of my fellow Villager people thought about anything. About 10:00, I dropped K. off and headed for I-5. I’d be home in twenty minutes, maybe less. Couple beers and bed.
One decision I had made after buying the truck was a quiet protest against the apathetic climate toward stranded motorists, combined with the culture of fear. Everyone was afraid to stop and help someone, a mentality I still decry. This was before the prevalence of cell phones, so being stuck was a bigger problem than it is today, and being helped was mighty nice. I had decided to be the sort of person who would stop and help people if he could. Ah, those idealistic days. As I rolled down I-5 southbound near the 220th St. SE exit for Mountlake Terrace (mine was the next after that), I saw a vehicle stopped on the shoulder with a young man leaning against it. This Was My Time.
I didn’t stop and think about my appearance, of course. I flipped on my turn signal, braked back and pulled in behind the guy. It made sense to leave my engine running and the lights on, or so I thought. I got out, bare-chested but otherwise dressed for office work, and asked: “What’s wrong?”
The kid told me that his car had died. “Sucks,” I replied. “Where do you live?”
“Okay. I’ll give you a ride to your place if you like.”
“Sounds good.” I moved to get into the driver’s side. It was locked. My long habits of locking doors behind me had caused me to screw myself but good. Now I was the shirtless guy who had locked himself out of his new truck along I-5 around 10:15 PM, and wasn’t much use to the kid anymore. I had a bit of a panic, and figured that I needed to break a window and get in, so I climbed into the bed. I sat on the right wheelwell, brought back my foot and booted the back window with all my might. Thump. Tried again. Thump. After a third futile kick, and a perverse gratification with the obvious fruits of Toyota’s PPG auto glass standards, I got out and tried to think what to do next.
I’ll bet it was a good thing I couldn’t see the poor kid’s expression. Then I had an idea, one of a series of naive ideas I had that night, each arguably naiver than the last. There’s naive, and then there’s twentysomething J.K. naive.
“Tell you what. I have to call a tow truck to let me back into this thing before it runs out of gas. There’s a gas station off the exit. I’ll just trot down there, call a tow truck, get him to slim jim me into my truck, and if you want, he can tow yours and take you home. Wait here, okay?”
And if you can believe this, I imagined that he would. So off I went, the jogger out for his nightly conditioning run in his dress clothes, manly chest bared for the world not to see (what with it being dark). I wasn’t in bad shape back then, playing hockey and softball, and it didn’t take me that long to reach the exit and then the convenience store. I used a pay phone–kids, that’s what we used to have to do back in the day–to call a tow truck, then set off at a return trot. This was not how I’d planned to spend that evening’s end, but stupid happens.
Can you believe that the kid had bugged out on me? What was the matter with that ungrateful little bastard? In any case, I had no other business but to await the tow truck. It was getting on around 10:45 now, and a vehicle pulled up behind me, headlights like little suns. I couldn’t tell who it was, but it didn’t take long to find out.
Out stepped a Washington State Patrolman, flashlight over the shoulder and directly in my eyes. I understand why they do that, even if it wasn’t any fun. One suspected that perhaps the officer would like to know what was going on, and might justly be prepared for risk, so I did the natural thing. Keeping my hands open, wide and visible, I gave him a cheerful: “Howdy, trooper!”
“Would you like to tell me what’s going on here?”
In fact, I would rather not have, but it was a reasonable question. And if the tow truck didn’t show up, he’d be able to summon any necessary assistance. Fair’s fair; he’d stopped to help someone, so I appreciated that on a couple of levels. I told him the story to this point, omitting nothing. “Now I’m waiting for the tow truck,” I finished.
“Looks like you’ve got yourself in a jam,” advised Trooper Obvious. Couldn’t blame him, though. He was trying his best not to laugh.
A second set of lights appeared behind his patrol car. “Trooper, I think your backup just showed up.”
He looked. “No, that’s a Snohomish County Deputy. Why don’t you stay here with your vehicle and wait for the tow truck, and I’ll go explain this to him.”
While the stater was furnishing his colleague with the Nightly Civilian Comedy Report, another set of lights pulled in behind the deputy’s car. That was the tow truck, and the officers directed the driver toward me. The driver didn’t start laughing, maybe because he had seen weirder things. He took his slim jim and got to work while I watched in nervous mode. He wasn’t succeeding, it was after 11:00 PM, my engine was still running, there were five vehicles present, and I’m not a big fan of being the center of attention at the best of times. The tow truck guy still wasn’t getting anywhere with the slim jim. He explained that on newer models, Toyota had redesigned the lock mechanism. Oh, joy.
I saw a sixth car pull up, just ahead of the kid’s stalled car. Oh, crap. More cops. Not that I didn’t appreciate that the cops had stopped to begin with, but I wasn’t looking forward to another addition to the merry throng. Then I saw the license plate.
Washington, WCA 105. It’s been nearly twenty-four years, and I still remember it purely for this reason. K.’s tags.
A little cautiously, K. got out of her maroon Mustang. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“Yeah, other than locking myself out of my truck.”
“What did you do, stop and help someone, then lock yourself out?”
She knew me that well, at least. I nodded.
This is where trust pays off. When I’d bought the truck, my first act was to give K. a spare key. You never know. She pulled out her key ring, walked over and unlocked my door. Situation resolved. Then I started thinking. “What brought you out here? I’d have thought you were in bed. That’s why I didn’t call you, I figured you’d have a hard time getting to sleep as it was. Did you call my place?” I rarely ask anyone for anything, and hate to inconvenience people, especially when it will require me to explain how dumb I can be.
“No. I just knew you were in trouble, so I got in my car and headed back the way I knew you would go home.” I thanked her, hugged and kissed her, and almost hugged and kissed the tow truck driver when he declined to charge me for coming out. While he hadn’t actually achieved anything, those things aren’t free to operate. I guess he figured I’d had suffered enough for one night. Nice guy. After advising the police officers of the solution, everyone saddled up and went our various ways.
And then I began to think. She had sensed I was in trouble, taken the correct route, happened to spot my truck despite the presence of a varied little fleet of vehicles making it less than easy to pick out, and shown up with the solution in her purse. How does such a thing occur? Most of my mental answers were in language unsuitable for the blog, which maintains rather tolerant standards in that area. The kinds of things one says when one is both creeped out and relieved.
While I’m not trying to cite this as proof of the existence of psychic phenomena, it’s enough to make you think. Anyone remember the old Charlie Daniels Band tune The Legend of Wooley Swamp? It’s one of my country favorites, as they are one of my favorite country bands. And as it keeps repeating:
“Some thangs in this world ya just can’t explain.”
And to this day, I will neither get into nor out of my truck without a spare key on my person.
It has since bailed me out a couple more times.
You might be aware that the Pacific Ocean contains a Sea of Garbage. No exaggeration (and it’s not the only one of its kind). While it’s nature is popularly misunderstood, the reality is disgusting enough: enough discarded plastic is floating in the North Pacific Gyre for the deteriorated particles to be an environmental problem at best, a disaster at worst. It doesn’t quite resemble the ‘many miles of floating used diapers’ vision many people have, but that actually might be less of a problem. One might gather up and dispose of used diapers, for example. Not so simple with deteriorated plastic particles.
I apply a related philosophy to my Facebook page ‘Likes.’
Why? Because one’s Likes feed the data hydra, which enables the following:
- Serving suitable ads. I don’t like ads, and even though I block Facebook’s, that doesn’t mean I want to help them create a clear picture of my true preferences. And since we are the product, and we are not compensated nor cut into the profits, I see no reason to cooperate.
- The collation of a dossier on me, which I expect either will be or is being sold to other people. There’s probably a clause deep in some TOS that says that I authorize that, but here’s a novel concept: I do not recognize those. I don’t care whether the law does or not. To me, anything buried in impossibly legalistic fine print designed to discourage me from reading it simply isn’t morally binding, just as I do not recognize as morally binding any form of coerced oath.
If I cannot prevent the dossier from compilation, I can ruin it by drowning it in trash. Thus, the Great Facebook Garbage Patch, containing at least a hundred spurious Likes for every valid Like. I Like flower shops in Indonesia, restaurants in Warsaw, bands in Chile. I Like a bizarre variety of movies. I Like numerous celebrities I’ve never heard of. I did this by feeding a random word to the search function, then Liking the first couple dozen pages that turned up. Over and over, once a week or so.
Does it bother me what people might think, surfing through my Likes and wondering what a strange creature I must be? No. I wouldn’t be sure what to make of anyone who based a judgment on that, if I was the type to care much about public opinion to begin with. Would it be great if they could be authentic, leading me to points of actual common interest? Sure, but it’s not worth knowing that I’m fleshing out the dossier in accurate manner.
What to mass Like today? Well, the Seagulls play the Broncos in a couple of hours. I think it’s time to bulk Like ‘seagull.’
The e-version of this short story is now available. I did the editing.
What impressed me about the ms on the cold read was Shawn’s ability to generate new characters. Most of his work so far has had an autobiographical lean, and this is neither rare nor necessarily unwelcome–but one day, it comes time to fledge. I see him doing that as he gains confidence in that ability.
My part of the work was relatively modest, because with each new ms I find myself doing a little less surgery. He learns and grows, which some authors do not. We had to work over a few plot issues, seeking to avoid contrivance and create an effective and credible event flow. Those are sometimes hard for editors, or at least for me, because there is a continuum ranging from proofreading (you just look for errors) a full rewriting (few sentences may remain intact, and one may add or remove significant content). The various editing modes fall somewhere between those two, but for me the question is never far away: if I alter the story too much, will it cease to be the author’s story? There is no answer that fits all situations, but the author is the author, and I am the editor, and I have no fundamental yearning to encroach upon the author’s purview.
My usual method is to do a cold read, assess the ms and come up with some feedback and commentary prior to proceeding. There can never be two most current copies of the ms, so Shawn and I refer to it as ‘handing off the football.’ On the cold read, I think it essential to identify story inconsistencies, contrivances, credibility issues, or anything that I think a reviewer would one day pan. I would rather offer the author the opportunity to address those with his or her own ideas, so that the story remains as much his or hers as possible. I’ll offer suggestions if I have any (and I consider it my duty to arrange to have some), discuss ideas back and forth, evaluate ideas the author presents.
It went that way this time. Shawn’s a hardworking author, and was still taking time to work on the ms while he was supposed to be enjoying an idyllic getaway at the coast. I found some stuff that I felt he should rethink, and he did so. I got the football back and went to work, and I believe he accepted most of my edits.
The result is, in my opinion, a deft short story that has Shawn starting to fledge. The experience of reading his work is growing richer, and I foresee that growth continuing as his mastery of the storytelling art increases in breadth and depth. It is a pleasure to work with him and watch him succeed.
So what’s the lesson for aspiring authors? The guy is selling a lot of writing. If you want to do that, there are things you can learn from him.
- He isn’t touchy, either during the process or with the public. The gracious, approachable Shawn you see responding to his readership is the same Shawn I deal with. I’ve never had to tell him something sucked, but if it was the only honest way to convey my opinion, I could safely do so. He would ask the right questions: why does it suck, and how should it be fixed? Because if I’m saying that, I had better have some ideas, or I’m not much use. Shawn’s a friend, but this is business, and he’s a client who deserves to be treated like one.
- He takes full advantage of every service I’m offering him, which gets him the best value I can offer for his money. I told him to get in touch any time he wanted to discuss anything, from a potential project to a character that isn’t quite clicking. He believed I meant that. I want to help him, and he gives me every opportunity to do that. When you stop to think about it, I’m also helping myself, because my work will be easier later.
- Growth. It gets better each time. I may never break him of a few habits, but I have a few of my own I may never break. He incorporates feedback, and I see the results next time around.
- Marketing. Your work will not sell itself; that’s only true of endcap auto-sellers, whose series tend to jump the shark after a time. (W.E.B. Griffin, got my eye on you.) I’ve read dozens of excellent books that never sold well. If you think marketing is yucky, and you want to imagine that you can stake it all on your epic writing talent, you’re standing in your own way. Shawn can and will market his work, and that causes more people to buy it. A good product is the beginning; the next step is to bring the product to the attention of people with the power to click ‘Add to Shopping Cart.’
If you commit to those things, your chances leap skyward.