“Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick” – By Paul Dickson: Baseball Book Review

Wednesday June 20th, 2012


(Walker & Company:  2012)

MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen:  In the continuation search of the best baseball books in the market, I stumbled upon something new and exciting.  Paul Dickson’s biography titled:  Bill Veeck – Baseball’s Greatest Maverick. New and exciting you ask? How could a book on Bill Veeck be new and exciting? For several reasons my friends. Firstly, believe it or not, this is the first major biography on Veeck. Without having read about the man before, I only knew some of the stories and legends that I caught through third-hand stories and the occasional magazine write-ups. I would have expected there to be 100’s of books on this baseball pioneer. But Paul Dickson’s edition is the first major one. 

Considering that I read a baseball encyclopedia by my bedside as a child, I expected to have a fairly decent amount of baseball knowledge. But I was absolutely blown away by the contributions and importance of Bill Veeck to the game of baseball. I gained a great deal of new and important baseball knowledge from reading Baseball’s Greatest Maverick. Before reading this book, I thought that I “knew baseball”. When I was finished, I realized how much I have to learn about the game. How much the game has evolved and changed over the years. Baseball as we know it today may not be in its current state if not for Bill Veeck. He was one of the greatest, if not THE biggest pioneers the sport has ever seen. There had never been another Bill Veeck before he became a part of the game. And unfortunately, there may never be another Bill Veeck again. Considering what the man has meant to the sport, I could not believe that it has taken until now for a true Bill Veeck biography to be available to the public. Paul Dickson, like his subject, became the writing pioneer in bringing the story and legend of Bill Veeck to the masses. Considering how much was on the line for Dickson to be able to deliver Bill Veeck’s story in a single book, I was left in awe and appreciation when I completed the book. Dickson took on a big challenge and he came through with flying colors.

Here is a brief introduction to Bill Veeck:  Baseball’s Greatest Maverick, courtesy of walkerbooks.com:

The first major biography of one of the most influential and sharp-witted figures in baseball history, whose life and imagination helped define the several eras he encompassed.

Relying on primary sources, including more than a hundred interviews, Paul Dickson has crafted a richly detailed portrait of an American original: baseball impresario and innovator, independent spirit and unflinching advocate of racial equality, Bill Veeck.

Veeck (1914-1986) was born into baseball. His sportswriter father became president of the Chicago Cubs, and Bill later worked for owner Phil Wrigley, rebuilding Wrigley Field to achieve the famed ambience that exists today. In his late twenties, he bought into his first team, the American Association Milwaukee Brewers. As World War II intensified, Veeck volunteered for combat duty, enduring a leg injury that led to a lifetime of amputations and silent suffering. On returning, he bought the Cleveland Indians in 1946—the first of four midwestern teams he would own, preceding the hapless St. Louis Browns (1951-53) and the Chicago White Sox (twice, 1959-61 and 1975-81).

Though foiled in an earlier plan to bring Negro League players to the majors, in the summer of 1947, Veeck integrated his team on field and off, signing Larry Doby, the American League’s first black player, and hiring the first black public relations officer, trainer, and scout. A year later, he signed the legendary black pitcher Satchel Paige, who helped win the 1948 World Series—Cleveland’s last championship to this day. His promotional genius was second to none, endearing him to fans in every city, while his feel for the game led him to propose innovations way ahead of their time. Veeck’s deep sense of fairness helped usher in free agency, breaking the stranglehold owners had on players; indeed, he was the only owner to testify in support of Curt Flood during his landmark reserve clause challenge.

Bill Veeck brings fully to life a transformational, visionary figure who spent a lifetime challenging baseball’s and society’s well-entrenched status quo. It is essential reading for any fan and anyone with a fascination for twentieth-century America.

Before you go out and purchase Baseball’s Greatest Maverick, think to yourself this one thought. How much do I really know about Bill Veeck? Did you realize that his father was William Veeck Sr.? Yes, Bill got introduced to this wonderful game by his father, a sportswriter who later became the President of the Cubs. Perhaps you know that Bill owned the White Sox. But did you know that he owned them twice? What about the Indians and Browns? I’m sure you have read or remember the Disco Demolition Night promo that went wrong, or having a little person take a major league at-bat. What about signing Larry Doby, the first black American League player? That Bill Veeck was a big supporter of the negro leagues and was instrumental in integration. Signing Satchel Paige. Winning a World Series. Discovering Harold Baines. Having his own radio show. Advocating for the designated hitter.  This is just the tip of the iceberg of what Bill Veeck accomplished during his time in baseball. The list literally goes on and on. But this gives you a hint of what Bill Veeck meant to baseball. 

Reading about Bill Veeck, I kept thinking to myself that this man literally lived 10 baseball lives in his lifetime. Maybe more. Try 100. This man perhaps accomplished more in a year than most baseball executives will achieve in their careers. He was ambitious. He was proud. He embraced change. He had his visions and the means/intelligence/leadership to see through his ideas, from concepts to reality. Many of us dream big dreams. Bill Veeck actually made those dreams happen. Dickson did the story of Bill Veeck justice. He did not cut corners or skim through his life. Bill Veeck, as seen through Dickson’s eyes, is described in full detail. Dickson is methodical in describing Veeck’s tale from beginning to end. We know where Veeck started. Each step along his journey. His accomplishments and failures. Everything that went into being Bill Veeck. For all that Veeck accomplished, I felt like he had to pull teeth to complete each of his goals. Nothing came easy. You think that baseball is resistant to change today? Imagine what Veeck had to change back in his days. Considering how much opposition he faced at every turn, this was a man who could have easily given up at many stages of his career. Perhaps a lesser man would have. But Veeck was not a man who knew how to say no. I doubt that he knew what that meant. Reading his story, I grew an every bigger appreciation for how much the game owes Bill Veeck. 

If not for Bill Veeck, we could have less MLB teams. No designated hitter. No night games. No interleague play. I shudder to think what the game would look like today if Bill Veeck had not left his mark. Baseball’s Greatest Maverick is a MUST read for every baseball fan. To know and appreciate baseball, you have to learn the ins and outs of Bill Veeck. Who he was. Where he came from. What he did in this game. What the game was like before him and how he helped shape. This book is just as much about loving and learning about baseball in general, as it is reading about Bill Veeck. To me he was more than a man. He was an institution. A legacy. It saddens me to think how many geniuses like Veeck are vilified and do not receive their due credit during their lifetimes. The Bill Veecks in this world can only be appreciated sometimes after they have passed away and their body of work is viewed after the fact. If baseball had done more to embrace Bill Veeck in his heyday, the game could have grown to even higher levels. But alas, Bill Veeck is almost a tragic hero in that sense. He could have done even more…if they had just let him.

Even if you are not a baseball fan, you can take a lot out of Baseball’s Greatest Maverick. To learn how to be a leader. How to “think outside of the box”. How to make things happen when people tell you that it can’t be done. They say anything is possible if you set your mind to it. Bill Veeck is proof that this is so. Aside from being a great leader and contributor to baseball, Veeck is just an inspirational life story. Serving in the war and losing a leg. Multiple marriages. Buying and growing baseball teams. The trials and tribulations of Bill Veeck are fascinating. Bill Veeck is more than just baseball. He was a character that anyone would have enjoyed meeting and spending time with. To understand the amazing power of the human brain and what a single person can produce, is to learn about Bill Veeck.

I enjoyed Dickson’s approach as he did not attempt to write the book through Veeck. This book served as a narrative of Veeck’s life. This book can be called a biography, but I will label it as a timeless historical classic. It is not a quick and easy read. This is not a fluff read to be casually glanced over. Rather, this is an informative book. Full of stories, facts, statistics and baseball history. You have to give Baseball’s Greatest Maverick your full attention and concentration. But once you do, you will take in more baseball history than you ever thought possible. If you thought you knew baseball before, wait until you get your hands on this book. Your baseball brain will thank you.

I wanted to leave you, the readers, with some final thoughts. Baseball is starting to enter a new era. The Houston Astros are moving to the American League West next year. The AL/NL will have an even 15/15 teams split. A 2nd Wild Card was added to each league this year. Interleague play will be played almost every day starting next year.  Likely none of these changes would have ever happened if not for Bill Veeck. But then, with all the changes to the game, we can think about how much more this game can do. Realignment. Expansion. Abolish the DH completely, or introduce the DH in all of baseball. While we are moving forward, are we moving ahead quick enough? Can we do more? Will we do more? When I think about Major League Baseball today, I think how great it would be if we had the next Bill Veeck on our hands. But sadly, if a new Veeck were to emerge, he would likely be shunned much like his predecessor. While baseball does evolve, it unfortunately still remains for the most part resistant to change. They say that those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Maybe the more people who can get to know Bill Veeck, the more advocates that there will be for progress and evolution. Baseball’s Greatest Maverick is as much for me about learning about Bill Veeck, as it is about continuing his legacy. While baseball is growing, it can always evolve more. As we learn about what the new era of baseball will look like, I am sure Bill Veeck is looking over us somewhere having a great laugh and enjoying every minute.

Make sure to grab your own of Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick. It will be the smartest investment in baseball knowledge that you will ever make.

About the Author:  Paul Dickson is the author of more than forty books, including The Joy of Keeping ScoreThe New Dickson Baseball DictionaryBaseball’s Greatest Quotations, andBaseball: The Presidents’ Game. In addition to baseball, his specialties include Americana and language. He lives in Garrett Park, Maryland.


Jonathan Hacohen is the Founder & Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

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About Jonathan Hacohen

I practice daily yoga. Most foods are organic. If you catch me in the supermarket, it will be in the produce aisle. Warrior 1 Yoga was born from my wish to help people be healthy and happy. I preach the 4 key's to life: nutrition, exercise, water and sleep. This is my journey - I am hope to meet you along the way to share a similar path!

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