The 2023 Jack Covert Award for Contribution to the Business Book Industry
December 14, 2023
Rick Wolff is the recipient of the 2023 Jack Covert Award.
We didn’t imagine, after using the 2021 Jack Covert Award to honor Jack Covert himself, that it would ever be awarded posthumously again. Sadly, another person who made great contributions to the business book industry passed away in April of this year.
Rick Wolff is best known in business book publishing for his work as an editor and publisher at Hachette Book Group and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, but he was already an accomplished individual before entering the publishing world. After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard in 1974, he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and played two years of professional baseball in the lower levels of the organization. Following his father, Hall of Fame Sportscaster Bob Wolff, he had a stint in the broadcast booth doing color commentary on college baseball games for ESPN and the MSG Network and continued to host “The Sports Edge” on WFAN Sports Radio up until the time of his passing. He was a successful college baseball coach for nearly a decade, and after earning a master’s degree in psychology from Long Island University and writing “The Psychology of Winning Baseball: A Coach’s Handbook” he was actively courted by major league teams as a sports psychologist. He ended up choosing Cleveland and would work with the team for five years, bonding with the players by practicing with them in full uniform, and eventually receiving a championship ring for his efforts when they won the pennant in 1995.
Even in his playing and coaching days before he became an editor, Wolff was always a writer himself. His first book, What’s A Nice Harvard Boy Like You Doing in the Bushes?, chronicled his two years in the minor leagues. In 1989, at 38, he undertook one of the more quixotic efforts in sports writing: returning to the minor leagues as a player for three games for the South Bend White Sox of the Midwest League. No one expected much, least of all himself, but he thought it would be good fodder for a Sports Illustrated story. The good fodder ended up becoming a great story, as he went 4-for-7 with 3 RBI and a double in his three games. South Bend would go on to win the league that season, which is how Wolff received his first championship ring in professional baseball. In the piece he penned for Sports Illustrated about the experience, he described his first hit for the team:
I came to bat to lead off the bottom of the third. By now, the crowd of more than 5,000 (the Chicken was in town for the evening) began to take note of the old-timer. I fouled off a couple of pitches down the rightfield line and then—with an 0-2 count—laced a clean, solid, line-drive hit into right center. Nobody was more surprised than I was. What I remember more than anything else was that glorious feeling of hitting a pitch right on the money with a wooden bat, that true feeling of a bat conquering a pitch.
There is nothing that quite compares to the feeling of a baseball giving way when you make solid contact with it, but Rick Wolff would go on to have many hits in his publishing career to be proud of, as well. He was a senior editor at Macmillan when he wrote his SI story and, in 2001, Wolff founded the Business Plus imprint at Hachette. His first big hit there was Jack Welch’s Jack: Straight from the Gut. One of the last books he acquired for the imprint was Cal Newport’s brilliant Deep Work—though he would move to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt before it was published.
In his career, he published books by such notable names as former treasury secretary Hank Paulson, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Ted Turner, and Tiger Woods. He published best-selling management and leadership classics like Bob Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule and Captain D. Michael Abrashoff’s It’s Your Ship. He published business startup and transformation stories like Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, Lawrence Levy’s To Pixar and Beyond, and so many more. Author Mitch Joel’s tribute to Rick is indicative of how the authors he edited and published felt about him.
Wolff also authored or co-authored 18 books himself. But most importantly, he was the author of an incredible life. As past Jack Covert Award winner Mark Fortier, a publicist who worked with Rick often over the years and counted him as a friend, wrote to us recently:
Never have I met someone so humble who had so many secret accomplishments I would keep learning about the longer I knew him.
To Rick, the people he worked with became his family. He exemplified the camaraderie and character that sets publishing apart from any other industry.
The obituary in his hometown newspaper stated:
While his professional achievements were many, Mr. Wolff was most proud of his family … “To know Rick or Dad or Pops was to love him,” his family said. “He was wise, thoughtful, sharp, funny, incredibly smart and truly just a wonderful person. In his honor, please remember to never give up on your dreams. He never did, even after so many of them had come true.”
Jack Covert was similarly minded and modest, and we know he would be pleased to know that the award we give in his name is going to Rick Wolff this year.