This offseason, during times of labor disputes in baseball as players and owners debated about who could come out on top of negotiations, a name kept coming to my mind. It was the name of a man that was more than just an owner, but a showman. The man’s name was Bill Veeck.
William Louis Veeck Jr. was born February 9th, 1914, in Chicago, Illinois, and would become a pioneer in the way baseball could appeal to all. He was an innovator who brought change to a drab sport in black and white and gave it color. Veeck got his start in baseball in 1937 as a vendor on the North side of town for the Chicago Cubs and also worked concessions for the White Sox. Veeck was the man who had the idea to plant the now famous and beloved ivy at Wrigley Field.
After owning and selling the Triple-A Milwaukee Brewers and trying and failing to buy the Philadelphia Phillies, Veeck set his sights on Cleveland. In 1946, Veeck bought the Indians and began the improvements. He first put the Indians on the radio, then moved the team to Cleveland Municipal Stadium. In 1947, he signed the first African American player to play in the American League, Larry Doby. In 1948, Bill Veeck signed the oldest rookie in the major league history, Satchel Paige. The same year, Cleveland won its 1st pennant and World Series since 1920. After a stop in St. Louis with the Browns, Veeck made his way back to the Chicago White Sox in 1959.
Seeing that the White Sox would be up for sale due to the strife in the Comiskey Family, Veeck and a group of investors bought a controlling interest in the White Sox in 1959. That year turned out to be a special year, as the “GO GO Sox” went on to win the pennant, their first in 40 years. In the next two years under Bill Veeck’s watchful eyes and creative mind, the Sox set attendance records. He also put in the now iconic exploding scoreboard that has been a staple of the White Sox home ever since. Due to his bad health, Vecck sold his stake in the White Sox in 1961.
Veeck’s health had been an issue ever since his time in the US Marine Core. He served three years in the Artillery Unit where he lost his foot and then his leg due to a piece of artillery that recoiled back into his foot. As an avid smoker, he would use his false leg as an ashtray, proving he was always innovating.
After failed attempts to buy his way back into the MLB with offers for an expansion team in Los Angeles and a failed purchase of the Washington Senators, he again bought the White Sox in 1975. His creativeness led him to give now Hall of Famer Minnie Minoso at-bats in 1976 and then again in 1980. He came up with the Collared Jerseys and shorts that Chris Sale loved so much. Veeck also had Harry Carry sing what he would become famous for, Take Me Out to the Ballgame. The most infamous promotion that Veeck was ever part of was in 1979. During a double header against the Detroit Tigers, disc jockey Steve Dahl put on Disco Demolition. The event and the crowd became so unruly, that the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game of the double header.
After struggling to keep up with other teams spending in the new free agent era, Veeck decided to sell the team for the last time in 1981. Bill Veeck stayed active in baseball, writing and going to Cubs games until his death in 1986, then going into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
Bill Veeck was more than just a baseball owner. He was an author, savant, pitch man, businessman, creator, but most of all, he was a fan of baseball. In a time when most fans think of baseball owners as suit and tie corporate CEO’s who only care about the bottom dollar, Bill Veeck tried to give the fan – all fans – a good time. He tried to create something that was more than just watching the great game of baseball. He created an experience for everyone, some of which still survive today.
So when you see that big scoreboard in centerfield light up when you enter the ballpark next, tip your cap to the great Bill Veeck.
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