Books for the News

They Way Baseball Used to Be

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Baseball’s pennant races won’t heat up for another month, and the crisp fall air that blows in the playoffs is still a far-off fantasy in the sticky humidity of August. But now is a good time to pause and reflect on our national past time, and that’s just what Sports Illustrated did earlier this month when it published “25 Things We Miss In Baseball.” Among the items SI is nostalgic for—including stirrups, quality mustaches, and World Series day games—the tribute to Bill Veeck, number 18, caught our eye:

We need to stop taking this sport so seriously. The richer baseball becomes as a business, the more protective everyone gets of everything. Fun—the lifeblood and foundation of the game—is being squeezed out. But who in major league baseball with access to the levers of power can make the game pure fun again? Who can give us more innovations like doubleheaders, ivy-covered walls and exploding scoreboards? Nobody. Not anymore, at least. Bill Veeck was an owner, a visionary and, thanks to the 1948 Cleveland Indians, a world champion. He may also have been the last man in the exclusive fraternity of major league baseball who knew that baseball, before it was about multi-million dollar contracts, drug scandals and TV deals, was about fun. That it was a game. And because he did, and because he won anyway, he was one other thing, too: a Hall of Famer.

In addition to all those achievements, Veeck is also, perhaps most improbably, a University of Chicago Press author. Indeed, in 2001, the Press published in paperback Veeck’s autobiography, the alliterative Veeck—As In Wreck. An inspired team builder, a consummate showman, and one of the greatest baseball men ever involved in the game, Veeck offers here an uproarious book packed with baseball history and some of the most entertaining stories in all of sports literature. You can read the first chapter, on the career of the first little person to appear in a Major League Baseball game, Eddie Gaedel, here.
And while you’re at it, check out an excerpt of Leo “the Lip” Durocher’s Nice Guys Finish Last, out next month. Following a five-decade career as a player and manager for baseball’s most storied franchises, Durocher offers in Nice Guys Finish Last baseball at its best, brimming with personality and full of all the fights and feuds, triumphs and tricks that made Durocher such a success—and an outsized celebrity.