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Review-a-Day
The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, July 10th, 2001


 

Veeck--As in Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck

by Bill Veeck

A review by David Uhlin

There couldn't be a better moment for the reissue of Bill Veeck's Veeck: As in Wreck. Originally published in 1962, this greatest of all baseball memoirs returns at a time when player salaries have reached new heights of absurdity and the sport seems headed for yet another labor shutdown – making Veeck's book appear less a throwback than a prophetic screed. The scion of an old baseball family (his father was the president of the Chicago Cubs from 1917 until the early 1930s, and Veeck himself helped to plant the fabled outfield ivy at Wrigley Field), Veeck owned, at various points, the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns, and the Chicago White Sox. He ran his teams with creativity and élan. Perhaps best known for signing a midget in 1951 (who walked in his only at bat), Veeck employed postgame fireworks, an exploding scoreboard, and a sense of accountability that baseball executives have generally lacked. His home number was listed to the end, and, unlike owners who demand new stadiums built with public money, he "never operated on the theory that a city owes anything to the owner of a baseball franchise, out of civic pride, patriotic fervor or compelling national interest."

It's easy to lose sight of Veeck's importance in the face of all his gimmicks, but as this book makes clear, he was a baseball visionary. Again and again he took on "the feudal barons of baseball," arguing against their old-boy tactics while pushing them to open up the game. In many ways Veeck helped to alter the dynamic of the ball field: his Indians became the first American League team with a black player when they brought up Larry Doby, in July of 1947. Just as important, though, are his ideas on the business of baseball, which he consistently sought to improve. For Veeck, one of the sport's biggest problems was the divide between wealthy franchises and those on less firm footing, a divide he saw as threatening the stability of the major leagues. As a solution he proposed revenue sharing, a concept so radical that, nearly forty years later, it still has not been implemented in full. Lest this book sound like the stuff of history, just glance at the sports pages to see how little things have changed. But then, as Veeck reminds us, "When they listen to your ravings with indulgence, and, heaven help me, affection, you know you've joined the herd."


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