By Gregory Petersen
We’ve all met the know-it-all baseball fan, but how many of us know someone who can actually back it up?
Well, for 30 years, Mike Shannon has been able to find this person. For 30 years, he has recognized a voice from the stands that needs to be heard.
The CASEY Award was inaugurated in 1983 by Shannon and W.J. Harrison, the editors and co-founders of Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine, because up to that time there had never been an award specifically designated to honor the authors and publishers of outstanding baseball books. To keep this all in sports terms, the CASEY is the MVP award for the baseball author.
It did not take long for the audience to grow. In 1988, New York publisher Simon & Schuster released The Best of Spitball, which shows how important Shannon is to baseball’s literary world. In fact, it was an arena most did not know existed. Thirty years later, it is still going strong.
In honoring the best baseball book of the year, Shannon celebrates two loves: Baseball and words. As the author of 15 books himself (Everything Happens in Chillicothe, Tales from the Dugout), Shannon celebrates joining the two worlds with the annual CASEY Award Banquet.
On March 3, the 30th CASEY was awarded in Cincinnati to Paul Dickson, who is described by The Washington Post as, “Baseball’s answer to Noah Webster or, at the very least, William Safire.” His book Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick, published by Walker & Co., was one of 10 finalists selected for the award. The Wall Street Journal review stated, “Bill Veeck incorporates the picaresque anecdotes and populist charm of Veeck’s memoirs into a narrative marked by Mr. Dickson’s broad knowledge and fluid authority.”
“Once your reader is in the story,” Dickson said, “do not let them out.” And it certainly does not take long to get into the story of Bill Veeck. Dickson masterfully crafts the story that needs to be told.
The story of Veeck goes far beyond the baseball diamond. Dickson’s book captures the voice of Veeck, a man who was awarded the Purple Heart, put nurseries in the stadium, made the seemingly ill-advised hire of Tony LaRussa, set up his players with financial advisers, courageously fought racism and was hated by other owners for having the audacity to sit in the bleachers with the “common fan.”
This is what made Veeck an outstanding owner, but what about capturing the essence of such a figure? Dickson had plenty of dates and facts to put together a thorough biography, but that was not enough. Instead, Dickson also listened to interviews from Veeck in The Library of Congress. There he was able to not only hear his voice, but he was also able to listen in on his off-the-cuff remarks.
“His tone was almost Victorian,” Dickson said. “He had a subtle charm, and I wanted to capture it.”
The CASEY Award
As a founding member and former president of Washington Independent Writers and member of The National Press Club, Dickson certainly has impressive credentials, but there have been other notable CASEY winners. The book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game went on to be an Academy Award-nominated film starring Brad Pitt.
The CASEY Award is named after the iconic poem by Ernest Thayer because it is a true union of literary greatness and baseball. Shannon has continued this tradition through Spitball, a bi-annual magazine dedicated to poetry, short fiction, prose art and book reviews, all dedicated to baseball.
Baseball is known as The National Pastime, and its rich history is well chronicled in literature, and nowhere is this legacy more celebrated than at the CASEY Award Banquet.
This was the first time Dickson has won the award, having been nominated before. He also shared with the crowd a time he wrote a book that was deemed ineligible. In 1994, Dickson released The Worth Book of Softball: A Celebration of America’s True National Pastime.
“Mike Shannon said no. It’s a softball book. The CASEY is for a baseball book,” Dickson said. The audience laughed. If they didn’t know before, they knew then that Shannon is a die-hard baseball fan.
The 30th CASEY Awards was a true celebration. “When I heard about this banquet,” Dickson said as he began his speech, “I was looking for the little finger bowls, linen napkins and a carved ice swan.” The audience laughed. In no way is this some sort of highfalutin event. Hot dogs, pretzels and beer replace cucumber sandwiches, caviar and champagne.
“This is much better,” Dickson said. “This is a lot more fun.”
The CASEY Awards is a celebration of baseball and a celebration for the fans. And while it takes place about a month before Opening Day, it’s never too early to get ready for the concession stands. Whether you sit in the owner’s box or in the nosebleed section, everyone is united at this event.
“I look forward to The CASEY Awards every year,” said frequent attendee and baseball aficionado Jim Crowley. “It’s a celebration of the sport, and fellowship with other passionate fans.”
And talk about passionate fans! There is a trivia contest at the beginning of the evening that will make even the most extreme buff begging for a lifeline. Think you know baseball? You might think differently after this little exercise in humility.
While the 10 finalists for the CASEY Awards are displayed, there are several large tables around the banquet showing all the baseball-related books released in the past year. The latest banquet showed more than 100 books. At most traditional bookstores, you’ll be lucky to find 10. The love of baseball does not fade after the end of the World Series, it just changes fields. There is no offseason.
And with no offseason, there is not much downtime for Shannon. Another 100 books will be released before the next CASEY Awards, so there is plenty of reading to do before the next banquet.