Bill Veeck

From Ohio History Central

Bill Veeck was born on February 9, 1914, in Chicago, Illinois. In 1918, Veeck’s father became president of the Chicago Cubs, and Veeck grew up working as a groundskeeper and as a ticket and food vendor. Veeck enrolled at Kenyon College, in Ohio, but left upon his father’s death in 1933. He accepted a position with the Cubs to help support his family and eventually became the team’s treasurer.

Veeck left the Cubs in 1941, when he became part owner of the American Association’s team in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Brewers. The team was in financial difficulty, and Veeck employed several marketing strategies to increase attendance and to improve cash flow. To attract third-shift workers, Veeck implemented morning games. He allowed weddings on home plate and gave away live animals and birds to fans. By 1945, the team had won three division titles. That same year, Veeck sold the club for a $275,000 profit. While running the team, Veeck also served in the United States Marines and served overseas during World War II. He was wounded in his right leg and, after thirty-six different surgeries, had his leg amputated.

In 1946, Veeck purchased the Cleveland Indians. In 1947, Veeck signed Lary Doby, the first African-American player to play in the American League. The next year, the Indians signed forty-two-year old Satchel Paige, the oldest rookie ever signed in Major League Baseball. Paige was an excellent pitcher. He also was an African American. Under Veeck’s leadership, the Indians won the World Series in 1948.

Veeck remained in Cleveland only a short time. A divorce from his wife caused him to sell the team. In 1951, Veeck reentered professional baseball by purchasing the St. Louis Browns. He quickly alienated other baseball owners, especially the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals. Facing enormous pressure from the owners, Veeck sold the Browns in 1952. The team eventually moved to Baltimore, Maryland.

In 1959, Veeck became part owner of the Chicago White Sox. Poor health caused him to sell his shares in 1961, but in 1965, Veeck became owner of the White Sox again. He sold the team in 1981, and Veeck died from cancer on January 2, 1986.

In 1991, Veeck was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The primary reason for his induction was the various marketing strategies that he employed to increase attendance. While owner of the St. Louis Browns, Veeck allowed the fans in the stands to call the team’s plays one game. The team actually won. With the White Sox, Veeck allowed a disc jockey to destroy disco records between a doubleheader. A riot ensued, resulting in a forfeit for the White Sox. Veeck also implemented White Sox announcer Harry Caray’s singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” during the seventh-inning stretch.

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