Dickson ’61 Writes Biography of Baseball Genius Bill Veeck

Paul Dickson '61

The prolific Paul Dickson ’61 is the author of the book Bill Veeck: Baseball Maverick (Walker Books), the first major biography of one of the most influential and smartest figures in baseball history. Dickson used primary sources, including more than 100 interviews to tell the story of Veeck (1914-1986) who was a baseball impresario, an innovator, and a staunch advocate of racial equality. Admired by baseball fans, Veeck was known for his promotional genius for the sport, while his feel for the game led him to propose innovations way ahead of their time. His deep sense of fairness helped usher in free agency, breaking the power owners had over players.

Book by Paul Dickson '61

In a recent interview with MLB Reports, Dickson says: “I had always wanted to write a biography and felt that if it were to be a sports biography it had to be about a transformational character in the history of sports which Veeck was. I also wanted to able to tell a story in the context of the subject’s time. Because of Veeck’s interest in racial equality, his position as a war veteran and amputee, and his genius as a promoter and businessman, he was perfect. He was also witty, provocative and drew outside the lines. He attracted the descriptor ‘maverick’ more than any other figure in sports before or since.”

In a review of the book in the Chicago Sun-Times, Dave Hoekstra calls Dickson’s book  “a comprehensive, steady and spirited work. Dickson had a challenge, as Veeck’s 1962 autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck, ranks with Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season and Jim Bouton’s Ball Four as essential baseball literature. Dickson brings a keen eye to his subject. You wouldn’t expect anything less from the Maryland-based author who also wrote a baseball book called The Joy of Keeping Score.”

Dickson’s subject is a fascinating one. Early in his career, Veeck worked for owner Phil Wrigley, rebuilding Wrigley Field. In his late 20s, Veeck bought into his first team, the American Association Milwaukee Brewers. He volunteered for combat duty during World War II, enduring a leg injury. Next, he purchased the Cleveland Indians in 1946—the first of four midwestern teams he would own.

Veeck tried to bring Negro League players to the majors earlier without success. But in the summer of 1947, Veeck integrated his team by signing Larry Doby, the American League’s first black player, and hiring the first black public relations officer, trainer, and scout. A year later, Veeck also signed the legendary black pitcher Satchel Paige, who helped win the 1948 World Series (Cleveland’s last championship to this day).

Dickson is the author of more than 40 books, including The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, The Joy of Keeping Score, Baseball’s Greatest Quotations, and Baseball: The Presidents’ Game. In addition to baseball, his specialties include Americana and language. He lives in Garrett Park, Maryland.  (Paul Dickson web site)

David Low

David Low '76 writes about arts and culture for the Wesleyan magazine and Wesleyan Connection. He is associate director of publications in the Office of University Communications. He is also a published fiction writer. E-mail: dlow@wesleyan.edu