Veeck as in Dreck

December 26, 2015

I love tracers, love reading about them, love doing them, but this is one of the things that my brother, and Bill sometimes, inveighs against, for slightly different reasons.  My brother belongs to the "Who gives a crap if someone got a small detail wrong in a book one time? Jeez, get a life, wouldya?" school of criticism, while Bill’s perspective, as I understand it, is to be forbearing and forgiving of those writers of an earlier age who tended to spin glamorous, glorious, inspiring tales of derring-do that occasionally get the dates, players, scores, homefields, etc. slightly off in the course of creating entertaining legends.

Me, I get a little bit deranged whenever a writer describes some event inaccurately.  I worked (briefly and without particular distinction) as a journalist, and later taught some college courses in journalism:  "ACCURACY" was tattooed on my forehead at the first gig and then emblazoned across my chest in red ink at the second one. Well, it felt like that, anyway.  It just isn’t that hard to get the story straight, and readers kind of appreciate it when you do take that trouble, so young reporters are cautioned against taking liberties and shortcuts with the facts. Bill, though, seems much more amused than angered by legend-spinners like Bill Stern, who basically embellished anecdotes to the point of complete and laughable unrecognizability. Woody Allen mocked this trait of Stern in "Radio Days," you may recall.  I grew up reading Stern, and was disappointed to learn that most of the stories I had committed to memory as a lad were just that, stories, bearing little resemblance to what had actually transpired.  But Bill (James, not Stern) did publish the first "Tracers" I ever read, and they ranked very high on my list of features I was delighted by in Bill’s early work, so I know he’s not above juxtaposing the facts and the whoppers for our amusement and delectation, either. I hope you enjoy them, because I’ve got a few more for you here.

As mentioned in one of my Eddie Gaedel pieces, the author of both the Gaedel episode and the best written account of that episode, is Bill Veeck.  I can’t recommend his autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck, highly enough—I loved it as a boy, quite a few years back, so while researching the Gaedel pieces, I picked it up again, this time thoroughly suspicious of any fact ever transcribed by any writer. Armed now with baseball-reference.com’s box scores and (sometimes) play-by-play accounts, I decided to inspect some of the colorful stories Veeck tells of particular games, plays, seasons. As you may expect, the first few I examined were a little light on facticity, but I still love Veeck’s writing anyway-- the scamp, the rogue, the charming raconteur.  Let’s just classify VAIW under "non-non-fiction," though.

On page 20 of my tattered NAL paperback (the same copy I read some 50 years ago, the front and back covers long-disintegrated, as well as the end-papers, leaving me with a yellowing, disheveled mess) Veeck writes this passage, about his first baseball gig, working for his dad’s Chicago Cubs:

"Late in the season, we were playing the Giants to break a tie for first place. The Giants seemed to have the game sewed up right up until the ninth inning when the Cubs scored four runs to tie it up. The Giants scored four runs in their half of the tenth. In our half, the first two batters went out. Mark Koenig kept us alive with a home run. The next three batters got on to load the bases. Up came Kiki Cuyler, representing the winning run. And Cuyler belted one."

Let’s examine the passage closely:

"Late in the season"  (Okay, Veeck is in trouble right off the bat. A few lines earlier, he had specified that "the Cubs were in another hot race with the Giants that season. It was the year we finally won our first pennant"—which makes it 1929.  Since Veeck was born in 1914, and his dad became the team president in 1919, we’ll assume "our first pennant" is the 1929 one. (The Cubs did win one in 1918, but I doubt that the four-year-old Veeck was a big fan yet.)  A huge problem with 1929, though, is that Mark Koenig didn’t become a Cub until 1932, when the Cubs also won a pennant. Veeck is obviously mixing up the 1929 and 1932 pennant drives.  The events most similar to Veeck’s description here happened on August 31, 1932—I guess that’s late enough to qualify as late in the season—but there are some significant differences there too, which I’ll get to in a moment.)

"we were playing the Giants to break a tie for first place"  (In 1929, the Cubs led the NL by 5 games at the end of July, gradually increasing their lead as high as 14 and ½  games, so there is no point "late in the season" that they were tied with the Giants, or anyone, for first place. In the 1932 pennant race, which conforms best to Veeck’s account, the Cubs led the second-place Pirates by 7 and ½ on August 31. The way that sentence is constructed, you’re forgiven if you thought the Giants and the Cubs were tied for first place. There is no point anything like "late in the season" in either 1929 or 1932 when the Cubs were tied for first place with anyone—this sentence seems purely delusional or fantastical on Veeck’s part.)

"The Giants seemed to have the game sewed up right up until the ninth inning"  (Well, the Giants were leading the whole game, but after the 3rd inning never led by more than two runs—the score was 5-4, Giants, going into the ninth, hardly what I’d call sewed up, especially in Wrigley.)

"when the Cubs scored four runs to tie it up." (Uh, no. The Cubs scored one run in the 9th to tie it up.)

"The Giants scored four runs in their half of the tenth." (This is accurate.)

"In our half, the first two batters went out."  (BBref.com doesn’t supply a play-by-play for this game, so this seems possible BUT:)

"Mark Koenig kept us alive with a home run." (BBref.com credits Koenig with 2 RBIs on this homerun, so obviously the bases were not empty, and therefore the first two batters couldn’t have made outs. It would be possible that three batters preceded Koenig in the inning and one of them got on base and two of them made outs, BUT:)

"The next three batters got on to load the bases." (There were three batters between Koenig, batting 8th, and Kiki Cuyler, batting 3rd, but one of them had to have made an out, BECAUSE:)

"Up came Kiki Cuyler, representing the winning run. And Cuyler belted one." (He did, and won the game, but since the Cubs won 10-9, and Koenig had hit a two-run homer, that score means that Cuyler’s HR was a 3-run HR, not the grand slam Veeck describes. BBref confirms this by listing it as a 3-run HR in Cuyler’s HR log. By the way, it was Cuyler’s 100th HR, which Veeck doesn’t mention, probably because this was decades before we started taking notice the hundredth time anyone does anything in MLB--"That was Alvaro Espinoza’s one-hundredth hawked loogie into his glove, folks. They’re going to delay the game a moment to take photos." Probably no one noticed. This may be the first time anyone has ever mentioned it, for all I know. Cuyler also hit exactly 100 HRs against right-handed pitchers in his career.) Anyway, Veeck goes on to describe all sorts of fabulous events in the stands celebrating Cuyler’s exciting blow, but since I have no boxscore to compare that part of the account to, we’ll just assume all of those celebratory heroics are rendered with piercing accuracy.

I wasn’t sure why, exactly, I liked Veeck’s autobiography so much, but this time around, I found a few concrete reasons. For such a garrulous fellow, he’s remarkably reticent about praising himself. His ballclubs, yes. His business partners, sure. His dad, my gosh yes. His players, mentors, friends, wives, ex-wives, allies—he gushes praise on them more indiscrimately than a Harlem fire hydrant wrenched opened on a hot July morning. He even finds words of admiration, from time to time, for some of the shadier team-owners who swindled him. But he leaves out about 99.9% of the story about leaving the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers in 1943 to join the Marines, and devotes about half of one subordinate clause to his getting wounded in the Pacific and spending most of the war in a hospital.  His leg was operated on 36 times, eventually getting amputated below the right knee, but I had to read Veeck’s SABR bio to learn what happened to him, exactly.  (An anti-aircraft gun’s recoil, on the island of Bougainville, basically destroyed his lower leg.) Now, if I had had 36 headaches or 36 paper-cuts, you can rest assured I’d find several pages, if not several chapters, in my autobiography to recount my suffering but from Veeck? Not a word. You’ve got to admire that. His empathy for Negro League players, badly injured athletes, and people struggling against all sorts of incredible obstacles is worthy of anyone’s admiration. One of the few baseball people he expresses disapproval of, briefly, is Max Patkin, the baseball clown you remember from Bull Durham,  who occasionally gyrated in vulgar ways that struck Veeck as bordering on the obscene—but his description of Patkin’s schtick is one of the liveliest and most enjoyable passages in the book.

Anyway, now that that I’m done, for the time, heaping accolades on Veeck, let’s examine another of his whoppers:

"Mickey [Mantle] hit one out of Sportsman’s Park right-handed to beat us in a night game. When he went to the plate the next night against Satch, he was naturally swinging left-handed. This time Mickey hit a screaming line drive to the centerfielder." The point of the anecdote, on p. 195, is that Satchel Paige mistook the young switch-hitting Mantle for two entirely different batters.

So I looked first for a game in which Mantle, batting left-handed against the right-handed Paige in St. Louis, "hit a screaming line-drive to the centerfielder." Veeck doesn’t say whether this line-drive was a hit or an out, so anything that fits the general description would count. Then, after I found that game, I figured, I would see whether the previous night, Mantle had hit a right-handed home run. So I found eight games the Yankees played in St. Louis in 1951, 1952, and 1953, Paige’s only seasons pitching for the Browns:

In 1951, the Browns played the Yankees twice in Sportsman’s Park when Paige got into the game. The first game, July 22, Mantle didn’t play. The second game, August 29, Mantle batted twice against Paige, getting on via an error by the third-baseman and homering.

In 1952, the Browns played the Yankees three times in Sportsman’s Park when Paige got into the game. Paige did not face Mantle in his one inning on June 25th.  On August 3rd, Mantle hit an RBI single against Paige. On September 10th, Mantle didn’t face Paige.

In 1953, the Browns played the Yankees twice in Sportsman’s Park when Paige got into the game. On June 7th, Paige faced four batters, none of them Mantle. On July 16th, Paige faced five batters, none of them Mantle. (In both of these short stints in 1953, btw, Berra homered off Paige.)

That’s a grand total of three plate appearances in Sportsman’s Park, for a single, a home run, and an error.  The only possibility of "a screaming line-drive to the centerfielder" would seem to be the RBI single, though why Veeck left out those details about the screaming line-drive, I cannot say. (A "line-drive to" any fielder would seem to describe an out, though you could argue, I guess, that this could also describe the direction of a hit.)   The impressive details about how Mantle blasted balls off the Browns’ pitchers in these two at-bats are the whole point of the story, and I’m more impressed by a hit and an RBI than I am by a ball hit, however hard, towards a particular fielder’s glove. In any event, assuming that this single matches the screaming line-drive, there are still some problems: the August 3, 1952 game was the second game of a double-header, meaning that it wasn’t a night game. Okay, maybe Veeck fudged that detail, and maybe his story doesn’t actually say in so many words that these two Mantle shots were in consecutive games,  just consecutive days, so let’s look at the previous night’s game to see if Mantle hit a right-handed home run to beat the Browns.

Uh, no. The Browns won. It was a day game. Mantle went homerless. So as far as I can tell, Veeck’s account doesn’t even give us an occasion to fact-check him. It simply never happened, at least not in the form he tells it.

Tracers are fun, and while Bill might not have the full-sized cow that I have in noting them (his is more like a cute little wobbly calf, I think), they are a little scary if you start assuming that baseball anecdotes bear a very close relationship to what happened. Maybe "baseball stories," for some people, bear an inherent disclaimer, in a microscopic font, warning that "Of course, in reading any anecdote about sports, you need to treat any facts herein with extreme suspicion." For another example, Bill recently reflected that maybe he was too harsh in quibbling with David Halberstam’s Summer of ’41, though I’m still resentful of Halberstam’s sloppiness in writing about baseball, not because I think it is essential that all sports-writing be rigorously fact-checked (though I do think that’s a virtue) but because I’d like to think that when Halberstam is writing about something more serious, like the Vietnam War, his facts can be relied on across the board, that I don’t need to cross-check whether General Westmoreland really said what Halberstam quotes him as saying.  But now that I see how unreliable his baseball stories are, I do feel the need to fact-check his non-baseball stuff, and there’s no convenient vietnam-reference.com.

And, likewise, my serious complaint about the fact-challenged stories Veeck tells is that, they cast doubt on every larger issue Veeck discusses, such as the account he gives of his valiant attempt to integrate baseball some years prior to 1947. His version of his effort to buy the Phillies, and introduce Negro stars, but being thwarted by the racist baseball establishment is, perhaps necessarily, light on provable details—necessarily, because much of the account rests on private conversations and closed-door meetings with people  who would want to deny what they said and did. But if Veeck were reliable on the things that can checked through boxscores and other objective measures, it would be easier to believe that Veeck’s accounts across the board are reliable, which I wish I could do.

But now my presumption is that he just made up some stuff about out-Branching Branch Rickey. (Who, by the way, is one of the several swindling baseball executives Veeck goes out of his way to find virtues in.) Or, if he didn’t invent it out of whole cloth, more likely he exaggerated his plan and his desire, and maybe a few opening forays into buying the Phillies, into actually nearly doing so. No one has been able to find much evidence for Veeck making this attempt, anyway.

He emerges from this book as a pretty good baseball man, though much of the book is devoted to explaining the complicated business maneuvers that a relatively poor man has to pull off to buy control in a baseball club, even in the relatively low-cost period of the first part of the twentieth century. (Veeck’s early attempts to raise a sum sufficient to buy a ballclub are, in terms of dollars and cents, about what you’d need to raise today to put a down payment on a mid-sized car.)  But his entire business plan, the parts I can make sense of, anyway, rests on his baseball know-how, because his plan seems to be 1) borrow money , 2) buy good ballplayers cheap, and play them regularly,  3) sell your ballplayers for sky-high prices to better organizations, 4) pay back the lenders or investors you borrowed from, and  5) start the whole process again.

If it were this easy, of course, you or I or any pauper could do the same thing—Veeck’s rare talent is knowing which ballplayers could really play ball, or more specifically, knowing which executives to hire who understand horse-flesh.  He rather charmingly explains his apprenticeship, starting as a ticket-taker, enabling him to evaluate everyone who worked for his organization, because he eventually understood how to do every job: answering phones, selling concessions, scheduling hotel rooms, and most of all, promoting his product.  Which is to say, for a baseball book, descriptions of particular games are surprisingly rare.

Let’s look at one more, in search of what actually happened:

Veeck gives an account of a famous game, the one in which he distributed thousands of placards ( saying "YES" and "NO" and several other options) to fans he designated as Grandstand Managers, and they would be asked to hold up these placards in response to questions like "Should we warm up a new pitcher now?" and "Infield in here?". Among the details I learned here, re-learned, I suppose, was that this game was just a few days after the Gaedel game, and the Gaedel game came only a few weeks after Veeck had bought the Browns, so he really was promoting the heck out of his team from the get-go. Still, I was a little disheartened to learn that this game, which had to be publicized well in advance (Veeck needed to place an ad in the local paper asking fans to vote on a starting lineup), drew a measly crowd of 3,925. (The Gaedel game’s crowd was much better, 18,369, no doubt because it was a Sunday doubleheader, and the Grandstand Manager game was the next Friday night.)

Anyway, long story short, Veeck’s account (p. 227) describes every move the Grandstand Managers made, and the results, and he got only one detail wrong: he says that the fans selected backup catcher Sherman Lollar to start the game, and that "Lollar collected three of our nine hits, scored three runs and drove in three," all of which is true except the last—Lollar had two RBIs, not three.

It’s a slightly better story if Lollar, the Peeple’s Cherce, drove in three, of course-- I don’t doubt that in all of these overly dramatic anecdotes, the mistakes are almost always in the direction of more drama, not less.  Note that in the example of the early Cubs’ pennant race, every muffed detail—the time of the season, the tightness of the pennant race, the walk-off grandslam—makes the drama greater, not lesser. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  As Bill said (March 3, 2012 "Ask Bill" column) when someone asked him about an anecdote that Ed Konetchy had messed up, "Oh, I’m sure he was trying to tell the truth. People just mix up details in their memory, that’s all. We all conflate our memories every day without realizing we are doing it" with which I agree. I just think that messing up a story you’re recalling on the spot, without notes, speaking extemporaneously, is just a little different from a story you’re writing in a book that, like Veeck as in Wreck, might be read for a long time after it’s been published, and that innocent readers might assume to be reliable.  After all, Veeck was there, and I wasn’t even born yet in 1951 (my folks were trying their best, I’m sure), so who am I to say I have it right, and he has it wrong?

And of course an argument can be made, and should be made, that Veeck isn’t responsible for the mis-checked facts in his autobiography—his co-author is. Well, any author such as Veeck is always going to be held responsible,  but really it’s the co-author’s job to make sure that chapter 2 and chapter 3 add up to chapter 5. As anyone who’s ghostwritten, or co-written, a book knows, most non-authors who want to tell their stories are totally clueless as to literary construction, transitional sentences, dangling participles and the other niceties of, you know, writing anything, so mostly depending on how much money they’re offering, they have to hire a ghost-writer (for $$$$) or a co-author (usually $$ or maybe $$$, but more glory). Among the duties of such an assistant is checking the facts—I wouldn’t expect Bill Veeck to sit up late at night poring over old newspapers to see if Lollar got two hits or three. He would trust his memory. His co-author, in this case a very capable fellow named Ed Linn, would track down every fact out of Veeck’s mouth to see that they add up.

I know Linn was very capable, by the by, because I’ve read some of his other work, including Leo Durocher’s (co-written)  book Nice Guys Finish Last, about which Bill has written that "the use of language is astonishingly good, the pace is right, and all the details are in place. There are no gaps; the book follows a complex, tumultuous life year by year and day by day, giving both a sense of the time and a sense of the event." This could also describe Veeck as in Wreck (which, surprisingly, Bill did not describe in the first Historical Abstract, where I found that passage on Nice Guys Finish Last.) I will have to find my copy of Nice Guys… to see if the same sorts of errors appear there: it’s on my to-do list.

So in Veeck’s three descriptions of games I found, all contained some large or small detail misconstrued, teaching a lesson I wish I’d learned better and earlier: caveat lector.  Or translated into English: Dick Hannibal.

 
 

COMMENTS (32 Comments, most recent shown first)

MarisFan61
Kaiser: Just FYI, Mick did occasionally hit righty against righty pitchers, although perhaps only against knuckleballers. I know that he did it at least sometimes against Hoyt Wilhelm.
12:02 PM Jan 5th
 
billsizer
Loved your article and love tracers. I always suspected Veeck was liberal with facts; you've proved it. But I share your admiration for his book.

Bill Sizer, Nashville
4:44 PM Jan 4th
 
KaiserD2
As I was reading about the Mantle/Paige story, something struck me as wrong. Then I remembered what it was.
The Fireside Book of Baseball contains an amazing article, The Fabulous Satchel Paige, written in early 1953, and giving a long account of Paige's career. The author was Richard Donovan and I believe it appeared in Look. In the midst of a discussion of Paige and various hitters, the following text occurs:
"Despite his sharp observance of many things, Paige's coaches complain that he does not look closely enough at the faces of the men batting againt him. According to St. Louis sports announcer Bud Blattner, for example, switch hitter Mickey Mantle hit a left-hand home run off Paige his firt time up in one Yankee-Browns contest last year, then changed over and batted right-handed from there on. All the rest of the game, Paige kept asking: 'Where is that boy done me the injury?'"

Now I can see which Donovan presented this story rather cautiously because it doesn't make a lot of sense. It doesn't say that Paige LEFT the game, and implies that he stayed in it. But I never heard of Mantle batting right-handed against a right-hander, and it seems awfully odd that he would change in mid-game after homering.

But I wondered whether this story, too, might have been scrambled. And what do you know? In the very first game between the Yankees and the Browns in 1952, on April 30, Mantle homered off of Bobby "Sugar" Cain--who was left-handed. Paige took over in the 7th inning and faced Mantle in the 8th. Mickey singled to right.

Now Paige had pitched against Mantle--and, equally importantly, seen Mantle hit against other Browns pitchers, some of them lefties--in 1951, so it is odd if he didn't recognize him. But it is possible that he did say, "What happened to that boy who did Bobby the injury?" or some such, after the game, because he was looking for that fearsome lefty and didn't see him.

We'll never know.

David K
12:56 PM Jan 2nd
 
KaiserD2
I actually expected to find many more and much worse errors described in your piece, based upon the title and the tone of the opening paragraphs. I think Veeck's accuracy was better than average for reminiscing baseball people. But there is at least one much worse fabrication in the book (as far as anyone can tell): the idea that Satchel Paige beat Dizzy Dean 1-0 in extra innings in a California exhibition game in the early 1930s. No one, including me, has been able to find such a game.

Regarding Halberstam--he and I wrote essentially the same book twice. He wrote Summer of '49, I wrote Epic Season about 1948. Don Zminda kindly praised my greater accuracy in public, and Bill James's comments were very much to the point. But in addition, nearly thirty years after he wrote The Best and The Brightest, I wrote American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War, which covered the same ground based on archival research and used footnotes. I can assure you that Halberstam used the same technique for all his books: interview everyone you can, and if they tell you a good story, print it. Period. On several occasions I was able to show not only that he was wrong, but where his misinformation had originated, or how he had distorted things to make them sound more dramatic.

David K
12:20 PM Jan 2nd
 
Steven Goldleaf
That Cubbie website oddly enough confirms the post-game celebratory heroics that I had mockingly suggested I would accept as true because I had no boxscore saying otherwise.
7:00 PM Dec 30th
 
steve161
Try the Advanced Book Exchange www.abebooks.com/, which has a larger selection, although it is (I believe) an Amazon property. There is a hardcover of the Koufax book currently on offer for $30.
6:08 PM Dec 30th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Thank you. It occurs to me that I have a perfectly good subscription to the NY Times archive going back to the dawn of time, and I should use that to check up if something seems murky. I found my father's hole-in-one when I was three years old on it--which gets murky itself, but that's another story.

BTW, I tried to buy Linn's other co-authored books on Amazon, where they're going for like a penny plus shipping, all except his Koufax bio which starts at $45.00 and then proceeds to get a little bit expensive. Wonder why that is.
5:07 PM Dec 30th
 
TJNawrocki
It was reprinted on the Bleed Cubbie Blue blog, here:

www.bleedcubbieblue.com/2012/12/4/3692966/cubs-history-game-august-31-1932

The story struck a chord with me because there was a feature on it in a book called "Chicago Cubs" by Jim Enright that I read as a kid. And I remember specifically Enright saying that Koenig hit a solo home run.
3:42 PM Dec 30th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Interesting. So the jury's still out on whether Koenig hit a solo shot or a 2-run homer, though the game story seems to contradict the HR log, and we've got it verified that Cuyler hit a 3-run HR. Thanks. Where'd the game story come from? I'd like to use stuff like that for future tracers.
2:32 PM Dec 30th
 
TJNawrocki
So bb-ref shows Koenig's home run as being worth one run or two runs, depending on where you look. Of course, whether Cuyler's homer was a three-run shot or a grand slam has nothing to do with whether Koenig's was worth one or two runs.

This is from the Tribune's contemporaneous reporting on that game:
The wind up of this most terrific of the Cubs' sensational victories was launched, after Jurges and Gudat had been retired, by Mark Koenig, who knocked a homer into the right field stands at the expense of Pitcher Sam Gibson. Taylor singled to right center and Herman singled to center, Taylor stopping at second. English singled to center, scoring Taylor. Then Cuyler socked his fifth hit of the game, a homer into the center field stands, about 3O feet to the right of the scoreboard, driving in Herman and English ahead of him and winning the ball game.

Koenig hit a solo homer.

1:43 PM Dec 30th
 
Steven Goldleaf
If you look at Mark Koenig's HR log for August 31, 1932 it credits him with 2 RBI for that HR www.baseball-reference.com/players/event_hr.cgi?id=koenima01&t=b

And if you go to Kiki Cuyler's HR, it credits him with 3 RBI for his www.baseball-reference.com/players/event_hr.cgi?id=cuyleki01&t=b

Further, under "score"it specifies that the game was 9-7, Giants when Cuyler came to bat, and we know that the final score was 10-9, so you can do the math.




11:56 AM Dec 30th
 
TJNawrocki
Regarding the Cubs-Giants game in 1932: bbref lists Koenig with having just one RBI in that game. I'm not sure why you think he had two RBIs in that game. Veeck appeared to have that part of the story correct.

www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHN/CHN193208310.shtml
11:22 AM Dec 30th
 
Steven Goldleaf
How about "Veeck As In Reckless"?
6:04 AM Dec 30th
 
Steven Goldleaf
What? Dreck is Yiddish for questionable quotation. Donald Trump told me so.

Kidding. You guys are right. It's too harsh.
5:16 AM Dec 29th
 
MarisFan61
Agree with the below. 'Dreck' was uncomfortably needlessly nasty.
11:40 PM Dec 28th
 
wovenstrap
"Veeck as in Dreck" seems a little harsh. Might I suggest "Veeck as in Check"?

On Ed Linn, he was surely a very gifted co-author type of that era -- his Veeck book and his Durocher book frequently get praised, just as you did. I like those books but there is something about his work on his Koufax memoir that I find simply enchanting. His subject was superficially less interesting than Veeck and Durocher and I think he adapted his approach to suit him; the book is more relaxed and a little bit more atmospheric. I remember more things from it than the other two books, Koufax's Brooklyn upbringing, his love of basketball, his arm troubles later on (very vividly described).
10:48 PM Dec 28th
 
MarisFan61
OBS: Yes, you're right about Paige coming in right after Mantle's RBI single. I have no idea what I was seeing before about that; I thought I saw that some other pitcher was still in the game till the 7th, and that I had even confirmed it by double-looking a couple of extra times. I have to learn to compensate better for not seeing too good. :-)

About "breaking the game open," relatively small point of course, but yes, the rally broke the game open, but Mantle didn't. An RBI single that takes a game from 9-2 to 10-2 isn't "breaking the game open."
BTW this doesn't give me any extra problem about the anecdote.
4:02 PM Dec 28th
 
steve161
A more recent example is the yarn about Rickey Henderson and John Olerud (you all know which one, right?). The difference is subtle, probably resulting from Veeck's affection for Paige on the one hand, and unnamed sportswriters dislike for Henderson on the other. When you read the Paige story you smile indulgently and think nostalgic thoughts about the old man. When you read the Henderson story you (are intended to) think, jeez, what a self-centered egomaniac Rickey was.

And of course the Paige story might have some basis in fact, while the Henderson story, which still has legs, is completely apocryphal.
3:48 PM Dec 28th
 
OldBackstop
Steve, I think you are seeing malicious intent or at least gross journalistic negligence where I think it was simply a stem winder memoir from simpler times. But these weren't historians and while you'd call Linn a journalist that was incidental to the pen for hire.

NOW, in this corner of the internet we frequent, capital offenses, each one of them.

You make a good point about the exaggerations from the pennant chase story each being in the more grandiose direction. I hadn't noticed that.

But the placard game....it really is a pretty granular account. I wasn't going to mention it, but it's the holidays :-) ...in the book Veeck says the Placard game broke a 4 game losing streak. It was only a two game losing streak.

I'll circle back when I have a chance to read the book and pick at the carcass. By the way, Rob Neyer has a tracer book if you haven't read it...its available on Kindle. You, me and Maris are probably the only people in the world who don't think it comes off like Lenny Bruce reading his trial transcripts.

This would be cool to do with a book like The Glory of Their Times, although maybe the historical records are thin on the ground there. I got the feeling every one of those old farts was lyin' his ass off....

Or maybe we attack Ken Burns....
3:38 PM Dec 28th
 
Steven Goldleaf
And just to elaborate a little bit: I'm further suggesting that maybe, instead of hearing Satch express confusion about the two Yankee batters, Veeck maybe observed a puzzled expression of awe and consternation on Satch's face as Mantle hit one out, and thought to himself "Gee, I wonder if Satch realizes that the lefty who hit that out, and the righty who hit one out last week, are actually the same kid? Man, if he were to say that, I bet his teammates might not know if he was serious or kidding." And further I'll ask you to imagine that he told that anecdote like that, several times that winter on the rubber-chicken circuit, where it was hilariously received, so Veeck kept telling it until he remembered it as having happened that way. Again, I'm not saying that any such thing actually occurred, but if did, that would explain his writing in his autobiography over a decade later as a true story. This speculation is plausible, and makes some sense-- no more sense but no less sense than speculating about the real story we can only guess at using bbref.com.
2:47 PM Dec 28th
 
Steven Goldleaf
"Your presumption with some of these are that 'it simply never happened' or that he made stuff up from whole cloth. I find it unlikely that a guy who lived as wonderful a life as Veeck had to stare at the wall and think up stories to fill a biography"

I completely agree that Veeck wasn't being malicious, or lying, or anything like that, and I accept completely your (and Bill's) explanation for the benign motives behind Veeck's getting some of his stories wrong, and your glowing assessment of his character. But you still haven't identified a game that definitively describes the situation he puts down as having occurred, and I think you agree with me that this is a confused memory of his of some game, possibly two or three different games, in which Veeck has combined, misconstrued, mistaken all sorts of details to reach an essentially true conclusion. This is fine, I guess, but that's what I mean by "made up out of whole cloth" --if we can't track it down to a particular game (and thanks for your efforts in that direction), it's as useful as if he'd just made up some illustrative tall tale about Satch to make a point.

Here, I'll do it for him: "When Ole Satch played in the Negro Leagues, he saw Willie Mays hit a monster blast, over 600 feet, and then in the very next inning chase a ball further than any human being had ever chased it, making an elegant backhand grab with his back to home plate, and he said 'Boy, them Birmingham Barons have all these great young players, that kid who hit that shot last inning and this kid here who made that catch' No one in his dugout could tell if Satch was kidding or if he really thought they were two separate players." Now that tale is total BS, I just made it up, but it makes almost the same exact point that Veeck's story about Satch and Mantle makes, without the added virtue of being based loosely on actual facts. But I hope you won't go around telling people my story about Mays just because it makes a point about Satch and Veeck that is essentially faithful to their characters. I could add all sorts of imaginative details, about where and when this imaginary game took place, but they won't make it any more accurate, will they? You approve of inadvertent legend-making, and that's fine (I told you I was a little cranky about factual accuracy) but excuse it as you will, the story still has holes you can drive a go-kart through.

Remember, too, that this process is limited to what's provable. My larger point is that for all we know Satch never said a word about Mantle, or about confusing him for two different players, or anything of the sort. It could have been a completely invented anecdote on Veeck's part. I think far too much of Veeck's integrity to actually suggest that, but if he embellishes one part of his story, how sure can we be that other, unfalsifiable parts of the story are 100% accurate either? Like I said, Dick Hannibal.
1:57 PM Dec 28th
 
OldBackstop
Brock -- I remember your story. I thought to myself, I've had a distressing rise in my "I coulda swores.." in the past ten years.

Makes you wonder about witness testimony.
1:27 PM Dec 28th
 
OldBackstop
Maris, you are correct on the fifth inning rally making it 10-2. I would say it is not entirely unreasonable to say that a rally that makes it a 10-2 game in the fifth from a 6-2 game "broke open the game". Maybe Tango can tell us the win probability swing. Mick's hit scored the tenth run and put two more men on. You can nitpick...but we wouldn't want to do that :-)

As to the rest, are you doing this from memory? :-)

www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLA/SLA195108290.shtml

Mantle's RBI hit was in the fifth, and Paige came in to face the next batter, striking out Rizzuto (about whom Veeck tells another anecdote about Paige knowing him from his swing years earlier, but no idea on the player).

When Mantle came up next in the seventh against Paige, he reached on error on the first baseman. Clearly Paige was doing his time in the barrel in a blowout, as he came in in the fifth and finished the game.

When Mantle came up for his sixth and final plate appearance in the ninth, he homered against Paige, driving in the 13th and 14th runs and scoring the 15th and final Yankee run, to make it 15-2.

I would also mention that there are three other Mantle PAs there....one on a flyout to center (I have no idea that was a tattooed line drive, all flyball outs were apparently just called that.) Then two were of the "Batted Ball: Unknown out on play" with which we are all familiar. Just saying this because perhaps one of those was tattooed enough to also have made an impression.

Steve...first off thanks for bringing Veeck's book back to my attention, it is my next read.

Now -- you zeroed in on the awesome subject of tracers, so, helmets on.

Here is what Veeck says Paige said when he came in after facing Mantle and getting hit (whatever the hit actually was):

“Geez,” Satch said, back in the dugout, “them Yankees sure get them great kids. Last night a kid busts up the game and tonight this other kid hits one like that off the old man. Where they come up with two kids like that?”

It makes sense to me that Veeck swapped out which was the early hit that impressed Paige and the nature of the hit Paige surrendered. I would think he would have been a lot more impressed with a three run homer than a line ball to center, so it makes sense to me. Or rather, it makes MORE sense to me than your alternative.

Your presumption with some of these are that "it simply never happened" or that he made stuff up from whole cloth. I find it unlikely that a guy who lived as wonderful a life as Veeck had to stare at the wall and think up stories to fill a biography. And, as Bill said many times, it was an era without accountability to details like we have now, or, put a kinder way, an era where a year in the library would be needed to rebuild every inning-by-inning account. VAIW was originally published as you say, over 50 years ago, in 1962. You write that Ed Linn shoulda/coulda/woulda "track down every fact out of Veeck’s mouth to see that they add up"...what would that have entailed in 1962? I ask because I don't know, but I'm thinking it might be daunting, since we can only get swiss cheese game accounts as of even date. You'd be pitching a tent in the St. Louis Dispatch morgue and calling around to substantiate every quote he puts in somebody's mouth (and then deleting all the interesting ones.)

I find it more likely that he was talking about this game, albeit with seriously scrambled details.

PS: I think it would be fun to look at my old baseball books and do this same exercise...I find it a ton of fun.
12:33 PM Dec 28th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I don’t quite see how a story where Mantle hit a HR OFF Paige becomes a story about Paige being super-impressed with Mantle’s hitting despite NOT hitting a HR off him. If that’s the case, then Veeck muffed the anecdote even more badly than I suggested he did. It’s a trainwreck. Yes, Steve161, these tracers are scary for the reason you cite: people’s memories are horrible. I’ll pass along one of the maxims I learned in my brief stint as a working reporter: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” If I ever publish a collection of tracers, that’s not a half-bad title.
8:12 AM Dec 28th
 
Brock Hanke
I recently got a lesson in tracers on this here site. I remembered that, in 1964, while St. Louis City and St. Louis County were arguing on where a new, desperately needed, ballpark should go, a man named John Lough got murdered after a game. He and his pals had driven, and, talking while leaving the park, John forgot that his bladder was not going to make it home. He saw a bar on the corner, and you can guess the rest. Someone ran a tracer. It turns out that Lough was the driver of the car, but it was another member of the group who got killed, and it was not inside a bar, but outside, where he'd had Lough stop so he could get out and do his business. Now, John Lough's mother was, at that time, my mother's best friend. You'd think I could get all the details down, given that very close connection. But no, I had it wrong. John Lough was the driver, not the victim. Someone ran a chaser and caught me. I am VERY glad he did, because it will make me fact check what I say a LOT more often, especially when I'm relying on old memories. On the other hand, I am reading a bio of Perry Wallace, the basketball pioneer at Vanderbilt (first black scholarship varsity player in the SEC in any sport). I remembered that, during Perry's first season, when he was on the freshman team (freshmen could not play on the varsity at this time), the U. of Mississippi managed to find "irreconcilable scheduling conflicts" with both the home and road freshman games. This turns out to be absolutely true. And I was a lot further from that situation than from Lough's. Lesson: Your old memories are not going to be always wrong, but you should fact check them anyway, because some of them will be wrong.
4:50 AM Dec 28th
 
MarisFan61
Nice job, OBS!
But, since you're in the business of giving facts, I figured I'd give a few myself. :-)
According to what I see in the play-by-play on Retrosheet, a couple of things were different from how you put it.

Mantle hadn't broken the game open. His only productive at-bat before the HR was the RBI single you mentioned. (BTW it made the score 10-2, not 9-2; doesn't matter but I figured I'd say it as long as I'm on this.)

And, Paige didn't come in "following that hit"; it was 2 innings later. Paige did have Mantle on 1st, but it wasn't via inheritance -- Mick reached on an error. (BTW he was then caught stealing.)

But good work anyway, and maybe anyone who checks on what I'm saying here will find a few mistakes too. :-)
12:39 AM Dec 28th
 
OldBackstop
My guess on the Mantle/Saige story is that it happened on August 29, 1951, when Mantle homered against Satchel.

Veeck said the previous Mantle at bat was the night before. But Mantle's three run home run put the Yankees up 15-2, which probably was a game that felt like three games.

Not the previous night, but earlier that game Mantle had five other at bats including an RBI single, field unrecorded. That was the finale of a fifth inning rally that pushed the score from 6-2 to 9-2, and surely fits the description of breaking the game open.

Following that hit, Satchel Paige relieved, so he actually came in with Mantle on first.

Mantle's RBI single was against a righty like Satchel, so the switch hitting misidentification doesn't follow. And the previous St. Louis pitcher was also a righty.

But I downloaded the book, and, while you accurately describe the lefty/righty passage from Veeck, the punchline is this:

There developed one of those crazy situations in which some of the players, not quite sure that Satch wasn’t pulling their leg, tried to explain that it was the same kid, and Satch, absolutely convinced that they were pulling his leg, didn’t believe them.

The theme of that section was how batters were faceless to Paige. That being Mantle's rookie year, Paige had never faced him, and they had only played a handful of games with both of them on the roster.

I think that the actual story here is that rookie Mantle broke open the game, as Veeck says, was on first when Paige came in, and when Mantle homered against him later Satchel didn't connect the dots.

10:45 PM Dec 27th
 
steve161
I'm reminded of Churchill's remark about King Arthur: if he didn't exist he should have (in The History of the English Speaking Peoples).

Chilling, though, when you think about it: we send people to prison on eyewitness testimony.
3:18 PM Dec 27th
 
mauimike
"I get a little bit deranged...."

I'm shocked. I've never observed you deranged.

"he gushes praise on them more indiscriminately than than a Harlem fire hydrant wrenched open on a hot July morning."

Is that before or after they cook the egg on the street?
12:48 AM Dec 27th
 
MarisFan61
(Just a clarification: The thing I cited from Bill, about these kinds of mangled anecdotes usually conveying essential truths, wasn't in reference to Veeck, but about mangled baseball anecdotes in general.)​
6:49 PM Dec 26th
 
MarisFan61
Love it!
Bill's "Tracers" were one of my favorite features too (BTW if I had a "co-author" and he said we can't say "....were one of...." because of a grammatical 'agreement' issue, I'd fire him) :-) .....and I always wished Bill would do a whole book of them.

In that first tracer, given the context of everything else being screwed up, it's almost literally thrilling when we get to this:
".....The Giants scored four runs in their half of the tenth." (This is accurate.....)

---------------------------------

I don't particularly agree that the factual errors in the baseball anecdotes cast doubt on the essential accuracy of his accounts of external things; yes, doubt about the fine details, but not necessarily about the essence.

In a "Hey Bill," some time ago -- I'd guess maybe a year or so -- Bill said something like (I hope I'm rendering it fairly, but I'd welcome any Tracer that anyone would want to put on it) :-) ....that most of these mangled baseball stories do convey essential truths, notwithstanding their errors, and that the essential truths are more important than the details. (That's my take as well.) So, like, about the Satchel-Mick thing: The main point, I guess, was that Paige was somewhat oblivious to details of major league personnel, to the point of not realizing that Mantle was a switch hitter and so didn't necessarily realize it was Mantle when this guy who had hit lefty in one game was the same guy who was coming up righty now. I'd guess this was probably so -- and if so, the anecdote is what I'd call 'faithful enough' despite being wrong on details.

So, I don't see any reason for it to give me real doubt when he talks about his supposed efforts to integrate baseball. Sure, it's very possible that he has some details mixed up, like exactly when it was that something occurred and who it was with, and he may well be burnishing his own role in all kinds of ways (which I pretty much assume occurs wholesale in any autobiography anyway) -- but, especially in view of what you say that reflects on 'character' aspects -- I wouldn't particularly doubt the essence of what he conveys about the larger subjects.
6:46 PM Dec 26th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Summer of '41 should be Summer of '49, of course. I knew, no matter how I tried, that I would commit a typo as I was castigating Halberstam for not checking his own typos diligently.
1:46 PM Dec 26th
 
 
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