Paul Dickson, who is quickly becoming one of the premier sports biographers in the business, selected his top five baseball books in an article today in the Wall Street Journal (April 22-23, 2017, p. c10). The article is entitled “Five Best: A Personal Choice.”
Dickson, who most recently penned a biography on Leo Durocher, also wrote a classic biography on Bill Veeck. I read and posted blogs on both of these books, and you can read them here.
Durocher: (3/19/2017) http://www.15minutebusinessbooks.com/blog/2017/03/19/dicksons-newest-characterizes-leo-the-lip/
These are Dickson’s top five selections in the WSJ article:
- Ball Four by Jim Bouton (1970)
- Only the Ball Was White by Robert Peterson (1970)
- Veeck as in Wreck by Bill Veeck (1962)
- The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams (1970)
- Moneyball by Michael Lewis (2003)
I have no problems with any of these selections. However, if I were making a list, I would have at the very top, the amazing work by George F. Will, entitled Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball (Macmillan, 1990). That book has convinced many skeptics and critics who think that professional athletes just play that they actually work. No, this book proves they work. And, they work harder and longer at their craft than the vast majority of employees in most professions, including examining multitudes of complex variables in making decisions. Baseball players, in this book, are not the “boys of summer.” They are truly men at work. To me, for baseball fans who read books, it is an essential selection.
I have waited quite some time for another book by Paul Dickson. In a previous blog, I discussed the virtues of his book about Bill Veeck, one of the great showmen in baseball history. You can read my blog about that book by clicking here.
I am happy to wait. Not rushing to get a book to press helps ensure that it will be more comprehensive, accurate, and of higher overall quality. To that end, it appears that Dickson has succeeded with his newest, Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017).
In a review written by Edward Kosner in the Wall Street Journal (March 18-19, p. C9), entitled “The Devil at Short,” he heaps high praise upon the book by stating, “All of this contributed to the legend that Mr. Dickson has so adroitly researched, annotated, and debunked. The authenticated Durocher turns out to be even more fascinating – and impressive, in a way – than the mythical one.”
Durocher was one of the last player-managers we had in baseball. He was a shortstop by position. As a teenager, I remember that he became the manager of the Houston Astros, which was very funny to me, because he absolutely hated playing in the Astrodome when he managed other teams. And, here he was managing IN the Astrodome!
He was certainly a crafty manager. One of the great sportscasters of all time was Lindsey Nelson. In his book, Hello, Everybody: I’m Lindsey Nelson (William Morrow, 1985), I remember that he said if he had ONE game he had to win, he would pick Durocher to manage it. He believed that he might steal it, or finesse it, but he would win it. That is quite a statement to make, showing confidence in a manager who never won a World Series game!
As the WSJ review points out, “Leo the Lip was a brawler, a womanizer, a prankster, a compulsive gambler – and a Hall of Famer.”
If you like historical baseball, and enjoy biographies about some colorful people, I am sure this book is for you.
I have believed that two of the greatest living biographers are David McCullough and Douglas Brinkley. I have blogged before about their best-selling works.Please add to their companionship the name of Paul Dickson, whose biography, Bill Veeck (New York: Walker Publishing, 2012), is as thorough and entertaining of this type of book that I have read.
One given is that it doesn’t take a lot to get great material when the subject matter is Bill Veeck. As a major league baseball owner of several teams, no one has ever had stranger techniques or wilder promotions. He also was one of the great “givers” that the game has ever known, particularly from the owner’s box.
This book details these techniques and promotions well. Who could ever forget sending a midget up to bat to ensure a sure base on balls? Or, how about disco-burning night, where more fans than could fit into the stadium showed up to contribute their albums to both a literal and figurative blow-up?
And, how humanitarian Veeck was. He sat with fans in the bleachers. He gave thousands of tickets away to kids who could not afford them. He wore a prosthetic most of his life, but it did not stop him from parading onto the field to play the national anthem as part of a spirit crew. And, he showed great courage by bringing players of color into the limelight, especially the great pitcher, Satchel Paige.
But this book is not just a recount of Veeck’s history. Dickson skillfully weaves sports, politics, economics, and other aspects of our culture into the story. It is a compelling tale, told by a skillful author, who has researched his focal person and subject well.
This is Paul Dickson’s seventh book. Not all are about baseball, and not all are biographies. But, this book clearly places him among the best currently writing.
I can’t present this book at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. It did not make a best-seller list, which is our requirement for selection. But, I hope someday to get to talk about it formally for some audience, somewhere.
Consider buying and reading it. It will be well worth your reading time.