Another exciting baseball season has begun, so here’s a look at some of the zaniest and wonderful contributions to Major League Baseball by one the game’s most innovative and entertaining owner, Bill Veeck (1914–1986), who once held stakes in the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Chicago White Sox.
Park-wide singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
There probably isn’t a more iconic place to take in a ball game than Wrigley Field in Chicago. It’s steeped in history and tradition, such as the ivy that covers the outfield fence, and the mid-game, park-wide singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Both of those additions to the game were Veeck’s idea when he worked for the Chicago Cubs.
Fun promotional events
No matter which team he was running, Veeck loved staging fun promotional events to get people out to the ballpark. His ideas went far beyond giveaways or nickel-beer night. In 1949, the year after the Cleveland Indians won the American League pennant and the World Series, Veeck publicly had that ’48 pennant buried when it became clear the Indians wouldn’t repeat their success.
Average Joe Night
When a fan named Joe Earley complained that Veeck’s many nights praised everybody but “the average Joe,” Veeck obliged with “Average Joe Night.” The guest of honor: Joe Earley.
Grandstand Manager’s Day
In August 1951, Veeck staged the elaborate “Grandstand Manager’s Day. The crowd got to coach the game. Fans were given placards with “yes” and “no” printed on each side, which they used to vote when a team employee held up cards that said things like “bunt,” “steal,” and “change pitchers.”
When he owned the Chicago White Sox in 1976, he activated 54-year-old player Minnie Minoso for a handful of at-bats, just to publicize the fact that Minoso was the first man to play in four decades. In 1980, Veeck brought Minoso back for two at-bats…making him the only player to come up to bat in five decades.
Baseball’s color barrier
Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 when he signed Jackie Robinson. But Veeck reportedly almost did it three years earlier. In 1944, he had plans to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and then load the team’s roster with Negro League all-stars. When baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis heard about it, he blocked Veeck’s advances. This wasn’t a mere publicity stunt on Veeck’s part—he was an outspoken Civil Rights advocate. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Veeck stood in line for 15 hours to pay his respects, all the more notable considering he had a wooden leg after suffering an injury while serving in the Marines during World War II.
Veeck didn’t get to integrate all of baseball, but as the owner of the Cleveland Indians in 1947, he did sign the first African-American player in the American League, an outfielder named Larry Doby.