Book Review: Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick

Those who are not aware of the history and importance of Bill Veeck, and his influence over baseball, cannot truly call themselves historians of the game. Not knowing the story of Veeck from his owner’s chair could be on parallel with not knowing Babe Ruth from his batter’s box. While some may be familiar with a few of the higher profile acts during Veeck’s career, most would still be amazed by some of the information contained in Paul Dickson’s new work Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick.

While most are content to own one baseball team during their life, Veeck made himself standout, if not for the simple fact that he owned three different teams during the duration of his career (and one team twice). Teams of today have Veeck to thank for coming up with themed nights at the ballpark to give people another reason to get to the yard besides the game. You know that bobblehead collection you treasure in your man cave? Well, it may not exist if it were not for Veeck’s imaginative ideas.

Veeck organized some of the most and least successful promotional nights in baseball history. One that went well was when he recognized all ladies on Mother’s Day by giving them a fresh new pair of stockings. Perhaps the least successful promotion Veeck ever put together was Demolition Night. This was a night when fans were told to bring old records that they were no longer listening to in order to pile them up and see them demolished. While fans loved the idea, they also became so unruly that they created a riot like atmosphere that forced Veeck’s team to forfeit the game.

Not only was Veeck a pioneer in terms of promotions, but Dickson describes how he was a pioneer of breaking down racial barriers as well. Veeck was the first owner of an American League team to sign an African American player when the team inked Negro League standout Larry Doby in the 1940s. His willingness to sign Doby and be one of the first teams to entertain the idea of signing black players made his Indians a powerhouse during the late 1940s and early 1950s due to their competitive edge.

Veeck was a man of passion, which he showed off the field as well by fighting in World War II, during which he lost one of his legs. This experience may have sent some in a downward spiral, but as Dickson details, it seemed to invigorate Veeck even more and make him push to be even more successful once his war effort ended.

There have been owners who have certainly had bigger names that Bill Veeck or who have received more headlines over time, but finding someone who had such a wide reaching effect on so many parts of the game as Veeck did would be virtually impossible. There are very few people, owners or not, who have revolutionized a part of the game on the field and off of it.

While Veeck was a hands on owner in some aspects, he was also one that players enjoyed playing for. He created an atmosphere for the fans and even his own employees that was supposed to create success while at the same time making sure everyone was having some fun.

The book is lengthy, but due to the interesting nature of Veeck’s story and the descriptive style the author uses throughout the work the read goes much faster than expected. Anyone who considers themselves to be a fan of baseball history should pick this work up. Whether you were familiar with Veeck or not before reading the book, you stand to learn a lot about this interesting character.

In case you don’t have your fill of Bill Veeck when you finish Dickson’s work, you can always plunge into one of his three memoirs, which the author quotes and paraphrases throughout the work. This is highly recommended to anyone who is even remotely interested in historical perspectives of the game of baseball.

Overall Grade: 3.75/5

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