Today was the birthday in 1914 of the wildest owner Major League Baseball ever saw, Bill Veeck.
Veeck once referred to baseball as “the orderly thing in a very unorderly world,” which is kind of ironic, given the course of his time in the game.
Veeck was born in Chicago, and liked to say that he was raised at Wrigley Field.
His sportswriter dad had complained about the Chicago Cubs in the papers, so the team’s owner said, if you think you’re so smart, you try running the team.
As Cubs president, the elder Veeck sent teams to the World Series three times before passing away in 1933.
As for Bill Veeck, he ended up working for the Cubs himself, after dropping out of college.
It wasn’t his idea to put the iconic ivy on the brick walls of Wrigley Field, but he did help to plant it.
Veeck bought his first minor league baseball team in 1941, and started scheduling surprises at each game.
Those included lots of prizes, including, at least once, a horse (!)
And during World War II, he held games in the morning, so people who worked overnight shifts could see a game.
He served the fans cornflakes!
Veeck became a big league owner a few years later, and his antics got even bigger.
He once had fans act as manager for a night, holding up signs to vote on what the team should do next.
He created the “exploding scoreboard” at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
And he once used the 3’7″ tall Eddie Gaedel as a pinch hitter, figuring correctly that no pitcher could strike out a batter with such a small strike zone.
Veeck was no different in person than he was in public: he’d lost a leg while serving in the Marines in the 40s, and had an ashtray built into his prosthethis.
But Veeck wasn’t just a showman.
He also pushed for some big changes to the game, like the designated hitter and the playoff system.
And Veeck, who had been part of the march on Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the first owners to bring in top Black players, like Larry Doby and Satchel Paige.
One of his teams won a World Series, others were… well, here’s how Veeck himself once put it.
“We can’t always guarantee the ball game will be good, but we can guarantee the fan will have fun.”
Tomorrow is known in The Netherlands as Warm Sweater Day.
To save energy, participants agree to turn their thermostats down by 1° C and put on a sweater.
Bill Veeck (SABR)
Warm Sweater Day (Treehugger)
The wild stories on this show are made possible by our backers on Patreon