My epitaph is inescapable. It will read: ‘He sent a midget up to bat.’
From “Veeck – as in Wreck”
Well, that was a drag. The baseball season, I mean. The Sox lost 101 games. But it was arguably worse being a Cub fan this year. The Cubs committed the mortal sin of raising fans’ expectations, then dashing them at the very end.
Sox fans were resigned to the worst by August. Never has a team that was supposed to be so good been so bad. But at least we weren’t living and dying with them over the course of this way-too-long season.
If there is any justice in this world, to be a White Sox fan frees a man from any other form of penance.
I love baseball, but hate being a fan. Too much distress. So I took refuge in one of the best baseball books of all time, Veeck – as in Wreck, by former White Sox owner Bill Veeck (with Ed Linn), who died in 1986 after making Major League Baseball much more interesting.
Veeck was called many things in his time — colorful maverick, conniving carnival barker, Hall of Fame hustler — but the only label that truly captures him is flamboyant fun-meister.
We can’t always guarantee the ball game is going to be good; but we can guarantee the fan will have fun.
Bill Veeck was of the people, by the players, and for the fans. He didn’t own teams to make money. He owned them to give the fans their money’s worth.
I have discovered, in 20 years of moving around a ball park, that knowledge of the game is usually in inverse proportion to the price of the seats.
And move around the ballpark he did, sitting with fans and getting some of his best ideas from them. Harry Caray owed his fame to Veeck, who talked him into singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch. Caray didn’t want to. “I can’t sing,” he protested. “That’s exactly why I want you to do it,” Veeck told him.
The man with the wooden leg and boundless energy specialized in special events — like Musical Instrument Night. Fans were asked to bring their music-makers to Comiskey Park. Anyone who didn’t was handed a kazoo. During the 7th inning stretch, the assistant conductor of the Chicago Symphony came out in white coat and tie and conducted the world’s largest orchestra to the tune of the aforementioned baseball hymn. It must have been a hoot (and toot).
Little League Night gave kids, including subsequent generations of Oak Parkers, a chance to walk around the field.
Veeck never had to deal with contract holdouts because he paid his players more than they asked for. The only people he didn’t like were his fellow club owners. He enjoyed outmaneuvering the Old Boys Club, which loathed him for it.
But the players and fans loved him.
Not only doesn’t the city owe the operator of the franchise anything, but the ball club as an organization, which depends in many ways on the facilities of the city and is totally dependent on the good will of its citizens, has certain responsibilities toward the city.
Specifically, a responsibility to give fans a good time. And his teams won. When he owned the Cleveland Indians, they won the World Series (in 1948, the year Veeck broke the color line in the American League by signing Larry Doby and Satchell Paige). When he owned the White Sox, they won their first pennant since the Black Sox scandal. And his showmanship broke attendance records.
Excitement is contagious. It jumps from the fan to the non-fan and, to a degree that is astonishing, it spills over onto the field and infects the players themselves. … I would submit that without the excitement generated by the new management, the White Sox would not, out of the blue, have won their first pennant in 40 years.
He called his front office the “Fun & Games Department,” which included the first exploding scoreboard.
When he was forced, for health reasons, to give up ownership of the Sox in 1961, Early Wynn, Hall of Fame pitcher, known as a taciturn fellow who would “brush back his own mother if she dug in at the plate,” wrote Veeck a letter:
“To me and the other players, you’ll always be the No. 1 club executive of all time. … The most important thing, though, is that you enjoyed it. It’s the same thing about all the prizes you gave away at the ball park. You enjoyed seeing someone stand at home plate and discover that he had just won two dozen live lobsters or a barrel of chocolate-covered butterflies. You weren’t the only one who laughed. We all did.”
Joy and laughter are what’s missing these days from the White Sox — and the Cubs, Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks. What they need is an owner like Bill Veeck.
Come to think of it, there is someone. His name is Mike Veeck, Bill’s son. Check out the new documentary film, The Saint of Second Chances, on Netflix. He’s doing what his dad did — in the minor leagues.
Maybe Mike can find a way to buy the White Sox out from under Gloomy Jerry Reinsdorf.