Besides being one of the most influential figures in the history of baseball, Bill Veeck was also one of the most fascinating.
Want a great read? Find, if you can, a copy of Veeck As in Wreck and dive in. There’s very little being done to promote the game of baseball that didn’t spring from the twisted, but oh so fertile and clever mind of one William Louis Veeck, Jr.
BV, or Before Veeck, the game and those who ran it took itself and themselves way too seriously. It needed a good goosing, and nobody was more up to the task than Veeck.
“I try not to break the rules,’’ Veeck once explained, “but merely test their elasticity.’’
One great regret is that I never met him. I know he was full of himself, and that enemies who described him as a huckster and a gadfly weren’t entirely wrong. But anybody who loses a leg fighting as a Marine in the South Pacific, and then carves an ashtray out of his wooden prosthetic to snuff his cigarettes in is OK by me.
He dropped out of Kenyon College when his father – a sportswriter hired as general manager of the Chicago Cubs – came down with leukemia, the same scourge that did in my own mother. But he never lost his love for the written word.
When he’d come across an author who caught his attention, he would do his diligence and read the writer’s output in the chronological order that it was written. He wanted to see what evolution, or perhaps devolution, the author had experienced and soak in everything that had been offered.
I’m drawn to Veeck for at least three reasons – his love of baseball, his love of the written word, and his love of stirring up the established order in the pursuit of pure unadulterated fun.
My own taste in literature runs toward historical fiction. I love reading those books where if you’re not careful you might learn something worth learning.
Favorites are Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, Edward Rutherfurd and Ken Follett. If ever tortured to the point I’d have to name my favorite historical fiction work of all time, I’d probably scream out Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.
Whoever thought a tale about building a cathedral in 12th Century Britain could be so spell-binding?
But a writer who, in my mind, is giving them all a run for their money is one I came across a couple of years back named Steven Saylor. He writes about a period I find infinitely engrossing, Roman history in the final century BC, the time of Sulla, Cicero, Spartacus, Pompey and, of course the great one himself, Julius Caesar.
His hero is a Roman citizen named Gordianus the Finder, who over past couple of years has become one of my all-time favorite literary characters. If there’s anyone reading this who has any say in the development of television or cinematic entertainment, I’m going to give you the best advice of your career.
Take the character Gordianus the Finder and make a series out of him. You’d be rich and famous and I’d be happy and grateful to have something good to watch.
Gordianus was called The Finder because his powers of deduction were so uncanny that he – and ostensibly only he – could unlock the deepest, darkest secrets of the deep and dark Roman Empire. And everyone knew it, so they would hire him to glean the kind of information that could make a society rumble and an empire crumble.
He was, in short, a PI, a Private Investigator centuries before the term was coined.
So the series would have that element, and even those who have little interest in Roman history would have trouble resisting a good mystery. And Saylor, besides having researched his history to infinite detail, also writes a good mystery.
Best I can tell, Saylor has trotted out 16 tales of Gordianus The Finder so far in a series titled Roma Sub Rosa. In Latin, a matter deemed Sub Rosa meant it was confidential.
Unless I’m mistaken I’ve read six of the 16 Gordianus the Finder. Every one has been a page-turner.
Only I never read them in any particular order, just whenever I could find one on the shelves of a local library or second-hand book store. So by the closing chapters of The Judgment of Caesar, which I polished off over the holidays, I decided to take a Veeckian approach to the series and read them in order.
By The Judgment of Caesar, Gordianus was an old man riddled by the aches and pains and frustrations that I, at 66, know all too well. I could relate.
But it’s been fun starting back at the start, with The Seven Wonders, when Gordianus is a fresh-faced whippersnapper of 18 years old who had just donned his toga signifying adulthood. He travels the ancient world with a celebrated poet gone incognito named Antipeter of Sidon solving mysteries from Ephesus to Rhodes to Olympia to Babylon to Memphis.
I’ve already checked the local library’s catalog to find that most of the books are in one branch or another. And here in Winston-Salem, those running the library are great about transferring a book from a far-away branch to one much closer.
Another trick I’ve learned is to buy a book used on-line and have it sent to your house. You can usually find a decent copy for less than 10 dollars, postage included.
The Seven Wonders closes in Egypt where Gordianus finds and buys the love of his life, a slave named Bethesda. So obviously he remains there for the second book of the series Raiders of the Nile, which I’ve yet to read but am looking forward to with great anticipation.
What I’ve found is retirement is boring only to those who allow it to be.