Sunday, April 13, 2014


It's important to remember that the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals has a literary component (or, as Mark Twain would say: a lot of "littery men" tend to abound there). Among the eclectic and eccentric folk that populate that "Hall of Fame for the rest of us" are folk who possess(ed) a good deal of flair with the pen.

The first of these "littery men" to make the cut into the Shrine is one whom we don't often associate with the written word, but whose resume as baseball's most maverick owner includes an absolute mastery of wordplay.

That would be Bill Veeck (or, more accurately, Bill Veeck, Jr.), who survived the partial loss of a leg with the same élan with which he piloted the lowly St. Louis Browns. As owner of the floundering franchise during its last (and darkest) hours (1951-53), Veeck (who reminded us how to pronounce his name by citing the unforgettable phrase "as in wreck"...) created a series of marketing innovations that did more than push the envelope--it set the whole stack of mail on fire.

Ben Sakgouchi knows an original when he sees one, and he wastes no time in giving us a panorama of Veeck's "greatest hits." (He is kind enough, however, to leave out "Disco Demolition Night," which brought out more venom on the south side of Chicago than anyone could have expected, spiraling into baseball's version of Altamont--bikers and disco records made for downright incendiary bedfellows.)

It's best to capture Veeck in his overall element--as huckster extraordinaire, and as one of baseball's genuine wits and most assiduous forward-thinkers. Those two traits did not often mesh in the little world of baseball biz-ness, as magisterial biographer Paul Dickson points out on more than one occasion.

While Dickson's bio is highly recommended, it's better to meet Veeck (like Twain) in his own voice. Thanks to the great and all-too-forgotten sportswriter Ed Linn, you can do that to your heart's content in the all-time classic Veeck (as in Wreck), still firmly in the top ten of books about baseball. Linn honed Veeck's natural eloquence into incandescent prose, and we suspect that it's largely on the basis of the book that the original Reliquary voting group decisively made Veeck a charter member in the Shrine of the Eternals.

The other thing that's eternal, of course, is hope; and there is hope on the south side of Chicago that, one of these days, the name of Veeck might return to the owner's slot on the team's masthead. That's because Veeck's grandson, William "Night Train" Veeck, now 27 years of age, is currently ensconced in the White Sox front office. This is one case where we hope that history will actually find a way to repeat itself.