Veeck (As In Wreck)
If you are a baseball fan, a REAL baseball fan, you already know about Bill Veeck. Even if you are just a casual fan of The Game you are aware of his influence of the game.
The ivy on the walls of Chicago’s Wrigley Field? Thank Bill Veeck. That was his idea. He was always coming up with something. Honestly however, not all of his ideas were successful or appreciated.
Veeck would tell the story that in the early 1940s, when he was part owner of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers; he installed a portable screen that raised the height of the outfield wall. When the opposing team was at bat the screen would go up – and it was lowered when the Brewers were at bat. That lasted all of one day before the league banned it.
In 1946, as owner of the Cleveland Indians, Veeck signed Larry Doby to be the first African American player in the American League.
A number of his ideas were designed to make the game more fun for the folks in the bleachers. He dragged the rest of the baseball owners, who Veeck saw as stodgy and much too serious, kicking and screaming into the future.
Among other Veeck fan friendly innovations to baseball: Having player names on the back of the uniforms, the “Exploding Scoreboards” shooting fireworks when players hit home runs and having the players come out of the dugout for a curtain call after putting the ball into the seats, Special Event Days and free novelty giveaways to the fans. It was Bill Veeck who got Harry Carey to lead the crowd in singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” He also had the White Sox play while wearing shorts and knee socks. That idea did not catch on.
In the early 1950s Bill Veeck bought the struggling St. Louis Browns. He later moved them to Baltimore where they thrive as the Orioles.
On August 19, 1951 Veeck sent to the plate Eddie Gaedel who stood 3 feet 7 inches tall, wearing a uniform with the number 1/8 on the back. Gaedel walked on four pitches and was lifted for a pinch runner. The Baseball Establishment didn’t like that one bit, but Gaedel and Veeck remained friends and when Gaedel passed away in the early 60s his obituary ran on the front page of the New York Times.
Bill Veeck was a creative Everyman who was more comfortable in the Bleachers than in the Owner’s Suite. After his death his wife summed him up this way,
“He was born on the right side of the tracks, and dragged himself to the other side, but he was comfortable on both.”
I wrote this because I remember Bill Veeck and his impact on Baseball when I was growing up. He took what had become rather stale and made it fun again. I wish that I’d had the chance to meet him.
On one occasion he was speaking about those “special” players who changed the game when he said,
“The athlete who catches the imagination is the individualist, the free soul who challenges but the generally accepted rules of behavior; essentially, he should be uncivilized, untamed.”
He may not have thought it, but I think he was describing himself as well. He was a true “Baseball Man” as well as an innovator and a Showman. Baseball is better for having had him a part of it.
“Let’s play two!” – Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame Player.