Tag Archives: bill veeck

Formative books

I think we all had our formative books: those that stayed with us, changed our young outlooks, made us who we are. I certainly did, and they have been on my mind lately.

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine l’Engle): a book with a Christian theme, thus considered acceptable kid reading at the psychotic religious school I attended in Colorado. (Heritage Christian School, Fort Collins, CO, 1971-74, still haven’t forgotten you or the sadism. Have a good day.) At that age, I didn’t quite get it, but on a later re-read I did. There is a misfit character in the book named Meg, who is obstinate and emotional and doesn’t quite meet everyone’s lofty expectations. There comes a point where all the children are given gifts, and Meg is told: “Meg, I give you your faults.” Later on, she comes to understand and wield her obstinacy and passion as weapons.

Meg was my inspiration. I realized I would probably go through most of my life agreeing with very few people, constantly pressured to conform and fall into line, ridiculed when I would fail to do so, and never much of a group joiner. Meg also taught me that, as long as I was committed to immunity to peer pressure and okay with its consequences, I would right a few wrongs and get a few things done through simple obstinacy. I’d make a few enemies doing that, and I’d baffle people who would not understand why I cared, but that was why I had to get serious about rejecting peer pressure.

1984 (George Orwell): didn’t really get it in high school, but definitely got it in college. It was one of the texts for my modern European history survey with the late, revered Jon Bridgman, in the book’s actual titular year. At the time, I could see that there was a strong pattern of speech policing and suppression of ideas in academia, though they didn’t torture people for ‘wrong thinking.’ Then I saw that society offered the same thing, increasingly, over the course of my lifetime, though not always in the same direction. I saw mass hysteria and mass conformity, and I saw those become the social rule.

And I realized that no matter who Big Brother might represent in my world, for my own sense of self, I’d better commit to hating him all day long. Otherwise I’d be drawn into the mass conformity, and while a part of me would be happier, the majority of me would know I’d sold out.

The Gulag Archipelago (Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn): and here was the full tale of life in katorga, corrective labor in camps, for those who did not toe the Soviet line. I didn’t know what our best solution was, but from that I knew one potential solution that had an irredeemable flaw. That said, as I studied Russian in high school, Solzhenitsyn was a hero of mine. He had gone ahead with publication knowing what it would cost him personally. He may be Russia’s greatest modern writer. If I was going to despise authoritarianism, Solzhenitsyn showed me why one might.

Veeck as in Wreck (Bill Veeck with Ed Linn): I found my copy of this as a battered spine-split paperback among Gothic novels on the shelves of a house my family rented in northern Colorado when I was seven. The more I learned about Veeck, the more I yearned to have been born in a time when I could just travel to his operation and start picking up litter outside the ballpark until he finally gave me a job. Baseball can be stuffy, and that’s an insult no one ever directed at William Veeck Jr. He put clowns in the base coaching boxes. He invented the exploding scoreboard. Most famously, he sent a little person up to bat. Veeck was what the dictionary people are trying to describe when they seek to define the word ‘rollicking.’ We miss him terribly.

Ball Four (Jim Bouton): another great nonconformist book, for which the author paid the price. Bouton had risen so far as to win two World Series games for the Yankees, back when I was a tot. By the time I was six, he was throwing the knuckleball and trying to stay in the game with an expansion team. Bouton was a freethinker in the most resistant to change of all our sporting cultures, wearing a weird number, throwing a weird pitch, liking hippies and the players’ union, and all that made him somewhat of an outsider even before he wrote this tell-all book about the season. No one credibly tried to say that the book was untrue; the knock on Bouton was that he shouldn’t have written it.

As for me, I found it hilarious, bawdy, and invigorating. I was a teenager living in a small, stupid, brutal logging town, I didn’t fit in and never would, and Bouton was speaking my language. Later in life, when I went back to real baseball and was recovering from a serious injury with a new team, I donned #56–Bouton’s number, the symbol of the nonconformist and the comeback. I even learned to throw a good enough knuck to earn one start and one relief trip to the mound. Without Bouton, I’m not entirely sure I would have made it through my teens as a free adult.

They weren’t all nonconformist, though…

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (Howard Pyle): what many don’t realize is that there’s no single authoritative canon of the Robin Hood legend. To the extent that one takes it as fiction, the story can be what the author desires. Pyle’s treatment is the adventure classic I read until the covers began to fall off, and loved more and more each time. Comedy, good vs. evil, culture and history…just the thing for an early readers.

The Mad Scientists’ Club (Bertrand R. Brinley): kids, when we were young, what happened was the school passed around an Arrow book catalogue, from which we could order whichever books we could convince our parents to fund. It took weeks to receive them, but we did. As I remember, this was one such.

The book is about a group of young nerds with a lot of scientific ambition. It doesn’t set out to be comical; that was part of its genius. It told a good story, but it also told a story of gifted boys having adventures. It would be a mistake to call it ‘young adult,’ because adults are eighteen and over, and this is for teens and pre-teens. It’s worth the effort to hunt up.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain): this produced hilarious results. I loved it, of course, and for the record, the un-PC aspects didn’t imprint racism on my little brain; they showed me how it was back then, without sanitizing. However, my parents were Kansans, and in addition to the Kansas vs. Missouri rivalry that has its roots in eleven years of mutual atrocity and reprisal, there’s the fact that educated Kansans like my parents tend to recoil from the Cletus stereotype. So when I began talking like Tom Sawyer, you can imagine their horror. I didn’t understand the freakout; it wasn’t as if I didn’t know what was correct. I guess it’s the same freakout my second grade teacher had when I deliberately misspelled every word on a writing assignment. (Sorry, Mrs. Fulks. That really was disrespectful of me.)

Dune (Frank Herbert): for me, the impact was in the frank way it proposed viewpoints that held water, yet were unpalatable to speak in our own society. “We mustn’t run short of filmbase. How will the people know how well I govern them if I don’t tell them?” In two sentences, gone is the folly that the People are Wise; they are acknowledged as too foolish to discern the truth. The entrenched oligarchy without apologies: what we have, but what we are supposed, even ordered, to insist we do not have, and its ownership class expected to issue the usual pro forma denials. I have only so much patience for certain types of idealism, and Herbert presents a universe with very little.

No, I didn’t see the movie. Whatever movie you are asking about, I haven’t seen it.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (C.S. Forester): it was the first in a long series devoted to a flawed but mostly admirable semi-historical figure during the Age of Sail. It wallowed in British chauvinism while showing up all the weaknesses of the British system. It inspired. It made one wish to be able to say one had walked the decks with roundshot coming in through the side. And while it did so, it taught a great many lessons about leadership. Were it in my power, every midshipman at Annapolis and New London would read and write a paper on the entire series, of which the given title is the first.

The David Kopay Story (David Kopay with Perry Dean Young): growing up, I guess I was as homophobic as the garden variety small-town American boy, but that was already unraveling by my mid-teens. This book would help that process. Kopay, the first NFL figure to come out, was an alum of the dream school that I would later attend. His story filled me with admiration, because he had done two impressive things: he had made an NFL career out of hustle and desire and a little bit of talent, and he had taken a public stand for which there would be consequences.

I understood Kopay immediately: he had never set out to become an activist, though his actions pushed him into that position. Above all, he was a competitor. I would play sports into my mid-forties, always with a couple of ounces of talent and a whole lot of fight (at times arguably too much), and Kopay was among my inspirations.

 

Here’s a valid question that might occur to some in our control-oriented society with its schools like jails and its universal surveillance and its obsession with minor wrongdoings: could my parents have shaped my behavior through the books they provided?

I don’t think so, and here is why: so many of the books did not take. Yeah, I may have started a lamentable speaking habit after reading Tom Sawyer, but it didn’t stick. Treasure Island didn’t turn me into a pirate. The Bible didn’t stay with me long after my liberation from high school. The books that influenced me did so because they resonated with what I already was, even going back to toddlerhood. I read plenty of books that didn’t change me: Helter Skelter, for example, or None Dare Call It Conspiracy. No, I don’t think it has much targetable impact.

Thank the gods it’s not that easy.

No one who refuses to read this book should ask me for book marketing tips any more

The book in question is the autobiography of Bill Veeck, Veeck as in Wreck.

Clients ask me for marketing tips all the time. Of course, a cynic might think: “If he were that good at marketing, he’d probably be writing and pushing his own books.” Most authors hate marketing and think it’s icky; they just want to write, publish, and let their work rise on its merits. Well, it is icky. It’s like picking up after your dog icky. However, if you do not pick up after your dog, your back yard is not a fun place.

Other than how to approach Amazon reviewers, there is not a lot of useful stuff I can tell people about marketing books. The cynic above? S/he is quite correct about me.

The author who refuses to embrace marketing, and who insists that it’s a commercial rather than a vanity book, should be writing fantasy. That’s because that stance is indicative of a very active and fertile imagination, an ability to suspend disbelief in the face of obvious evidence. This should enable him or her to come up with some amazing alternate realities.

I believe that all projects should begin with a fundamental mindset. Winston Churchill knew it. His six-volume WWII memoirs, which are some of my favorite reading, began with a Moral of the Work:

“In war: resolution. In defeat: defiance. In victory: magnanimity. In peace: goodwill.”

One may debate the moral, its applicability to the telling of history, or whether Churchill lived up to it in life. He did establish a mindset, and one supposes it guided him. Thus it is with writing, or the marketing of writing. If the mindset toward marketing is that it’s icky, I see a high probability that the result will reflect the mindset. That means the author doesn’t sell very many books, and perhaps even takes a net loss after all the initial expenses are considered.

So; mindset before all. And that’s why authors seeking marketing tips must read Veeck’s book.

  • It is about growing up around and operating baseball teams.
  • It is about breaking attendance records, even with lousy teams.
  • It is about one’s approach to the public.
  • It is about just enough chicanery.
  • It is about an unconventional mentality.
  • It is about marketing without fear, shame, or guilt.
  • It is about how to treat those with whom one works.
  • It is about having fun, and plenty of laughter, while practicing all of the above.

If authors let some healthy portion of Veeck’s rollicking, fun-loving, generous, brass-balled, loyalty-building, establishment-defying, disability-defying, fiscally savvy, opportunistic mindset sink into their marketing approach, there is further point in discussing strategies. They will have a mindset, a guiding attitude, and will thus be able to carry out those strategies without feeling like they are picking up dog turds.

If they decline to read it, or read it and decide that marketing is still icky and they just want to write, I will be delighted to serve as their editor and will not bother them any more about reading Veeck’s book. However, they should know that I’ve already given them my best marketing advice, from my limited storehouse of same, and that I may not have much else of use to tell them about how to get people to buy books.


 

*I can’t finish a discussion of a book written with Ed Linn without a shoutout to his efforts as co-author. I have read several sports books written ‘with Ed Linn.’ Mr. Linn has passed on in recent years, but he happens to be one of my best examples of voice. All of Veeck’s books with Mr. Linn sound consistently Veecky. Others, with other autobiographists, sound like those persons. When I edit multiple POV first person fiction, I remind myself that those voices must, must, must differ, must match to the developed characters, and must further the speaker’s development.

Bill Veeck: major league baseball’s last entrepreneur

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.

It was only partly a labor of love…

…I admit that part of it was motivated by the desire to generate some passive blog traffic. Not all, of course, or even most. In the main, I picked it up because I wanted the information and didn’t want to wait for someone else to provide it for me.

I’m talking about the Baseball Name Pronunciation Project, of course, which I am developing on this site with the kind consent of The Baseball Reliquary, which owns the rights to the relevant research and intellectual property of the deceased Tony Salin, the author of the best baseball book you haven’t yet read (assuming you have read Veeck–as in Wreck, obviously). I began with Salin’s work, did a good bit of my own research, opened the doors to public input, and am continuing to hunt down credible pronunciations of past players’ names.

One of the most helpful tools has been Youtube. It has some old radio broadcasts, and one can look up the lineups and boxscore for that game and see who’s on the list. While I don’t 100% trust announcers to be correct, they are likely to be close–especially for members of the team they covered.

I’m still hoping to get some stiff corrections and input from the general public, and it may be so as the word gets out. Of course, if I knew one single very old major leaguer, I could solve a whole bunch of these–but I don’t. Or if I knew even one rather greying big leaguer. But I’m just not good at bothering people.

If anyone out there knows any old ballplayer who’d be willing to help out, please let me know. It would be a deed well done.