Bill Veeck: Happy 100th Birthday to a Baseball Pioneer

Bill Veeck would have turned 100 years old today.  Coincidentally, Wrigley Field turns 100 years old in a little over 2 months.  Bill Veeck was a major pioneer in baseball and he got his start at Wrigley Field as a member of the grounds crew.  His father was team president and Veeck had worked as a popcorn vendor as a teenager before working with the grounds crew later.  In 1937, Bill Veeck became a part of baseball history as he helped plant the ivy that is still on Wrigley Field’s wall 76+ years later.



In 1941, Veeck put some money together with former Cubs great Charlie Grimm and they bought the AAA Milwaukee Brewers.  Veeck claimed that he had an agreement to buy to the Phillies in 1942 and that he was going to bring Negro League players into MLB.  He told Commissioner Landis about his plan and the team was taken over by MLB until a different owner could be found because Landis did not want to allow blacks into baseball.  I’m not sure on the validity of that whole story but I do know that Landis was a racist so it is a believable story.  That is part of the charm of Bill Veeck…he was an amazing story teller.  SABR historians are not so sure about the truthfulness but what can’t be argued is that he bought the Cleveland Indians in 1946 after making a hefty profit in the sale of his AAA Milwaukee Brewers team.  To add some credibility to his Phillies story, Veeck signed Larry Doby and thus had the first African American player in the American League.  After the Indians won the World Series, Veeck had to sell the team due to a divorce.  He then bought the St. Louis Browns in 1951.  He tried like hell to run the St. Louis Cardinals out of town but failed.  It was during this time that he used a midget in a game…Eddie Gaedel.  Gaedel stood 3’7″ and weighed 65 pounds.  He wore uniform # 1/8.  He also had a game where fans voted from the stands on what strategy to use during the game and the Browns actually won!  He wanted teams to share broadcast revenue (which it does now) but he was voted down.  He refused to allow out of town teams to broadcast games from St. Louis which alienated enough owners to basically force him out of St. Louis.  He sold the Browns to a group that moved the team to Baltimore and changed the name to Orioles.  Finally, Veeck purchased the Chicago White Sox in 1959.  Veeck gave baseball the exploding scoreboard, Minnie Minoso playing in 5 different decades, teams playing in shorts, having Harry Caray sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame and Disco Demolition night while with the White Sox.

There is no denying the impact that Bill Veeck had on the game and the lasting impression that some of his unique ideas about drawing crowds to the games has had on baseball.

Happy birthday, Bill Veeck.


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