William Louis Veeck, Jr. (Surname rhymes with "wreck"; February 9 1914 – January 2 1986), also known as "Sport Shirt Bill", was a native of Chicago, Illinois, and franchise owner and promoter in Major League Baseball. He was best known for his flamboyant publicity stunts, and the innovations he brought to the league during his ownership of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Chicago White Sox. Veeck was the last owner to purchase a baseball franchise without an independent fortune, and is responsible for many significant innovations and contributions to baseball.
is a member of
Hall of Fame
While Veeck was growing up in Hinsdale, Illinois, his father, William Veeck Sr., became president of the Chicago Cubs. Growing up in the business, Bill Veeck worked as a vendor, ticket seller and junior groundskeeper. Veeck attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In 1933, when his father died, Veeck left Kenyon College, and eventually became club treasurer for the Cubs. In 1937, Veeck planted the ivy that is on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field and was responsible for the construction of the hand-operated center field scoreboard still used. He married Eleanor Raymond in 1935.
Milwaukee BrewersEditIn 1941 Veeck left Chicago and purchased the American Association Milwaukee Brewers, in a partnership with former Cubs star and manager Charlie Grimm. After winning three pennants in five years, Veeck sold his Milwaukee franchise in 1945 for a $275,000 profit.
While a half-owner of the Brewers, Veeck served for nearly three years in the Marines during World War II in an artillery unit. During this time, a recoiling artillery piece crushed his leg, requiring amputation first of the foot, and later of the entire leg.
According to Veeck's memoirs, in 1942, before entering the military, he acquired backing to purchase the Philadelphia Phillies, planning to stock the club with stars from the Negro Leagues. He revealed his plans to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who effectively vetoed the idea by arranging for another owner to buy the team. Although this story has long been part of accepted baseball lore, in recent years, its accuracy has been challenged by researchers.
In 1946, Veeck finally became the owner of a major league team, the Cleveland Indians, using a debenture-common stock group making remuneration to his partners non-taxable loan payments instead of taxable income. He immediately put the team's games on radio, and set about to put his own indelible stamp on the franchise.
The following year, he signed Larry Doby as the first African-American player in the American League, then followed that one year later by inking Satchel Paige to a contract, making the hurler the oldest rookie in major league history; there was much speculation at the time about Paige's true age, with most sources stating that he was 42 when he joined the Indians.
When the Indians moved to cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium for good in 1947, Veeck had a movable fence installed in the outfield that moved as much as 15 feet between series, depending on how the distance helped or hurt the Indians against a particular opponent. The American League soon passed a new rule fixing the outfield fences during any given season.
Although Veeck's image has long been considered fan-friendly, his actions during the early part of the 1947 season briefly gave a different view. When the city of Cleveland began renting Cleveland Stadium for midget auto racing, an activity that often left the field in shambles, Veeck hinted that he might consider moving the team to the then-virgin territory of Los Angeles. However, after the two sides discussed the issue, the matter was settled.
As in Milwaukee, Veeck took a whimsical approach to promotions, hiring rubber-faced Max Patkin, the "Clown Prince of Baseball" as a coach. Patkin's appearance in the coaching box delighted fans and infuriated the front office of the American League.
Although he had become extremely popular, an attempt to trade Lou Boudreau to the Browns led to mass protests and petitions supporting Boudreau. Veeck, in response, visited every bar in Cleveland apologizing for his mistake, and reassuring fans that the trade would not occur. By 1948, Cleveland won its first pennant and World Series since 1920. Famously, Veeck buried the 1948 flag, once it became obvious the team could not repeat its championship in 1949. That year, Veeck sold his shares in Cleveland in order to finalize an expensive divorce with his first wife.
St. Louis BrownsEdit
After marrying Mary Frances Ackerman, Veeck returned as the owner of the St. Louis Browns in 1951. Hoping to force the St. Louis Cardinals out of town, Veeck spited Cardinals owner Fred Saigh, hiring Cardinal greats Rogers Hornsby and Marty Marion as managers, and Dizzy Dean as an announcer; and he decorated their shared home park, Sportsman's Park, exclusively with Browns memorabilia. Although the Cardinals were easily the more successful team, it was the Browns, and thus whoever owned them, who owned the ballpark.
Some of Veeck's most memorable publicity stunts occurred during his tenure with the Browns, including the famous appearance by midget Eddie Gaedel for which Veeck predicted he'd be most remembered; and shortly afterward, Grandstand Manager's Day - involving Veeck, Connie Mack, Bob Fishel, and thousands of regular fans, directing the entirety of the game via placards: the Browns won, 5-3, snapping a four-game losing streak.
After the 1952 season, Veeck suggested that the American League clubs share radio and television revenue with visiting clubs. Outvoted, he refused to allow the Browns' opponents to broadcast games played against his team on the road. The league responded by eliminating Friday night games in St. Louis. When Saigh sold the Cardinals to Anheuser-Busch, Veeck realized he would never have the resources to compete. He began to look for other cities for the Browns to play.
In the early 1950s, Veeck considered moving the Browns back to Milwaukee (where they had played their inaugural season in 1901). He was denied permission by the other American League owners. He also wanted to move his club to the lucrative-yet-still untapped Los Angeles market, but was denied as well. Veeck was later forced to sell the Browns, who then moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles.
Chicago White SoxEdit
In 1959, Veeck became head of a group that purchased a controlling interest in the Chicago White Sox, who went on to win their first pennant in 40 years, and broke a team attendance record for home games with 1.4 million. The next year, the team broke the same record with 1.6 million visitors to Comiskey Park with the addition of the first "exploding scoreboard" in the major leagues - producing electrical and sound effects, and shooting fireworks whenever the White Sox hit a home run, and also began adding player's surnames on the back of their uniform, a practice now standard by 25 of 30 clubs on all jerseys, and by three more clubs on road jerseys. (According to Lee Allen in The American League Story (1961), After the Yankees watched the exploding scoreboard a few times, Clete Boyer, the weak-hitting third baseman, hit the ball over the outfield fence and Mickey Mantle and several other Yankee players came out of the dugout waving sparklers. The point was not lost on Veeck.) In 1961, due to poor health, Veeck sold his share of the team, only to return in 1975 as the full owner, much to the chagrin of baseball's owner establishment, most of the old guard viewing him as a pariah after both exposing most of his peers in his 1961 book Veeck As In Wreck and for testifying against the reserve clause in the Curt Flood case.
Almost immediately after taking control of the Sox for a second time, Veeck unleashed another publicity stunt designed to irritate his fellow owners. He and general manager Roland Hemond conducted four trades in a hotel lobby, in full view of the public. Two weeks later, however, Peter Seitz ruled in favor of free agency, and Veeck's power as an owner began to wane in opposition to richer owners. Ironically, Veeck had been the only baseball owner to testify in support of Curt Flood during his famous court case, where Flood had attempted to gain free agency after being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Veeck presented a Bicentennial-themed Spirit of '76 parade on opening day in 1976, casting himself as the peg-legged fifer bringing up the rear. The same year, he reactivated Minnie Miñoso for eight at-bats, in order to give Miñoso a claim towards playing in four decades; he did so again in 1980, to expand the claim to five. In addition, he also had the team play in shorts for one contest.
In an attempt to adapt to free agency, he developed a rent-a-player model, centering on the acquisition of other clubs' stars in their option years. The gambit was moderately successful: in 1977, the White Sox won 90 games, and finished third behind Oscar Gamble and Richie Zisk.
During this last run, Veeck decided to have announcer Harry Caray sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch. On July 12, 1979, Veeck, with an assist from son Mike and radio host Steve Dahl, held one of his most infamous promotion nights, Disco Demolition Night, which resulted in a riot at Comiskey Park and a forfeit to the visiting Tigers.
Finding himself no longer able to financially compete in the free agent era, Veeck sold the White Sox in January 1981. He retired to his home in St. Michaels, Maryland, where he had earlier discovered White Sox star Harold Baines while Baines was in high school there.
Veeck, weak from emphysema and having had a cancerous lung removed in 1984, died of a pulmonary embolism at age 71. His health had begun to fail after decades of smoking 3-4 packs of cigarettes a day. He was elected five years later to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Books by VeeckEdit
Veeck wrote three autobiographical works, each a collaboration with journalist Ed Linn:
- Veeck As In Wreck - a straightforward autobiography
- The Hustler's Handbook - divulging his experience in operating as an outsider in major leagues
- Thirty Tons A Day - chronicling the time he spent running Suffolk Downs racetrack. The title refers to the quantity of horse excrement that had to be disposed of.
- ↑ Veeck - as in Wreck, pg 171, by Bill Veeck with Ed Linn, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1962.
- ↑ A Baseball Myth Exploded, David M. Jordan, Larry R. Gerlach, and John P.Rossi , http://www.sabr.org/cmsFiles/Files/Bill_Veeck_and_the_1943_sale_of_the_Phillies.pdf#search=%22veeck%20phillies%22
|DATE OF BIRTH||1914|
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|DATE OF DEATH||1986|
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