Thursday, September 18, 2008

Legends We Should Always Remember

Yet another old TSN post :

This is the first installment of a series that will hopefully get fans to remember, and pass on, the legends who have helped shape us as fans and human beings.

I miss Bill Veeck...from Larry Doby, to Satchell Paige, to Max Patkin, the shorts, exploding scoreboards, adding the surnames to jerseys, to having Harry Carey sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", to "Disco Demolition Night"....MLB stole his ideas...but lost sight of the fun that was supposed to accompany it.
His son, Mike, seemed to be following tradition with the Devil Rays when he had a Mike Marshall student pitch for the team briefly, but Mike went to the minors to run a few teams before leaving the game, which is baseballs loss. He was a promotion artist just like his dad, "Sport Shirt" Bill.

The fact is : Bill Veeck was not only good for sports, but for society. Veeck grew up watching his father become president of the Chicago Cubs. His dad got the job due to being a local sports writer who had written about what he'd do differently if he ran the Cubs. The team's owner, William Wrigley Jr. liked the ideas and hired him. Veeck worked as a vendor, ticket seller, junior groundskeeper, and club treasurer for the Cubs. In 1937, Veeck planted the ivy that is still on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field and was part of the construction of the hand-operated center field scoreboard still used today.

Bill Veeck is the last owner in the MLB to purchase a franchise without his own fortunes. In 1941, Veeck left Chicago and purchased the Milwaukee Brewers with former Cubs star and manager Charlie Grimm. After winning three pennants in five years, Veeck sold the Brewers for a hefty profit. In 1942, he acquired backing to purchase the Philadelphia Phillies and planned to stock the club with stars from the Negro Leagues. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis vetoed the sale and arranged for the league to take over the team. Veeck then joined the military. In 1946, Veeck returned and bought the Cleveland Indians. He then signed Hall of Famer Larry Doby to break the American Leagues "color barrier". He followed that by signing legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Satchell Paige. He then moved the Indians to Municipal field, where the fun began. He installed moving fences in the outfield. He'd move them in for his team, and far away for opponents. The commissioner then made a rule to have fences stay at fixed positions. Veeck wasn't done. He wanted to move the Indians to Los Angeles, but decided against the idea after negotiations. Veeck then hired the "Clown Prince of Baseball" Max Patkin to be a 1st base coach. Patkin was a fan favorite, but not of baseballs front office. Veeck cared about the Indian fans so much, that when he was contemplating a trade of Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau, the fans protested so much that Veeck went to every bar in Cleveland to assure fans he would not make the deal. It turned out to be a good move, because Boudreau batted .355 and led the Indians to a World Series victory. When it became obvious that the Indians wouldn't repeat the following season, Veeck buried the teams pennant flag. He sold the team at the end of that year due to the fact his getting divorced had strapped him financially so much, he was unable to run the team. Veeck did return to own a team just 2 years later in 1951. He bought the Saint Louis Browns. Sportsmans Park was owned by the Browns, but their tenants, the Cardinals, were the fan favorites. Veeck hired Cardinal Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby to manage, and Dizzy Dean to announce the games on radio. One of his most famous moves was hiring 3'7" Eddie Gaedel for a pinch hitting appearance. He also had a promotion called "Grandstand Manager's Day. This involved the fans calling plays in the stands by using placards. One of the fans in attendance was Hall of Famer Connie Mack. Veeck suggested that home clubs share radio and television revenue with visiting clubs. This is, of course, now a standard practice. Outvoted, he refused to allow the Browns' opponents to broadcast games played against his team on the road. Anheiser Busch then bought the Cardinals and the Browns days were numbered. Veeck tried to move the club to Milwaukee, then Los Angeles, but was rebuffed by baseballs front office. Out of options, he sold the Browns to owners who moved the team to Baltimore and renamed them the Orioles. Veeck came back to baseball 6 years later and led a group to buy controlling interest of the Chicago White Sox. The team responded by winning their first A.L. pennant in 40 years. There Veeck introduced baseball and its fans to the famous exploding scoreboard. He also added player's surnames on the back of their uniform, a now common practice by most teams. Veeck fell into poor health and had to sell his shares of the White Sox in 1959. Veeck then took a semi sabbatical from baseball, but kept his indelible finger in the games evolution during this time. Veeck wrote an autobiography that exposed most of baseball owners, and he also was the only owner that testified against the reserve clause on the behalf of Curt Flood's case. Veeck then did return as owner of the ChiSox in 1975. Baseballs front offices and fellow owners were not too happy. Then Veeck conducted 4 trades out in the open of a hotel lobby. His testifying for free agency came back on him a bit when the ruling to allow it was passed. Veeck had a hard time competing with the other wealthier owners. He tried to adopt a "Rent-A-Player" motto by acquiring players in their option years. He kept up his showmanship by signing Minnie Minoso in 1976 and 1980 so that Minoso could stake claim to having played in five decades of Major League Baseball. 1976 was also the year he had his players wear shorts for one game. In 1979, Veeck had ChiSox announcer Harey Carey start the tradition of singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" during the 7th inning stretch. When Carey moved over to the Cubs in 1981, he took Veecks blessing to carry on the still going tradition. 1979 saw the year where Veeck offered free admission to fans for a game, as well as the now infamous "Disco Demolition Night", where a forfeit was awarded to the Detroit Tigers after a riot ensued. Ultimately, the free agency that Veeck had supported was the reason he had to sell the team after 1981.

Veeck went back to his hometown in Maryland, which happens to be where he discovered Harold Baines, and died in 1984. He was inducted into baseballs Hall of Fame 5 years later. The man certainly lived his life filled with fun, and hopefully he was aware just how much fun and impact he made on the game that still reverberates today. Though blowhards like the Steinbrenners bring their own version of fun to the game, there has never been and maybe never will be, another man to grace our national past time like Bill Veeck.
So, the next time you watch a game, look around and see his impact stare at you in the eyes and smile.
I pretty certain that is all that Bill Veeck would hope for.


Lester's Legends said...

Nice piece of history. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...


how perfect is that! thanx for my crash course & i must remember that line above, that's just klassic!

Mind of MadMan said...

Bill V is what got me to move from the cunnies too the Sox when living in Chi. Went to a cubbies game and people looked at me as if I should not have been their, went to sox nation and felt home. Mind you it was only one game each, but it is what it is. Great trip down the lane.