Bill Veeck from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Veeck, William “Bill” Louis (9 February 1914-2 January 1986) was the owner of the CLEVELAND INDIANS from 1946 until 1949, and assembled the world champion 1948 team. He signed LARRY DOBY† as the first African American player in the American league in 1947 as well as legendary Negro League pitcher LEROY “SATCHEL” PAIGE† in 1948. Veeck is often best known as the innovator of stadium promotions, such as fireworks nights and gate giveaways.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, to William Veeck Sr. and Grace DeForest, the elder Veeck became president of the Chicago Cubs in 1917 after a career as a sportswriter. His son broke into baseball working for him as a $15 per week office boy with the team. Veeck Jr.’s most notable contribution to the Cubs was when he planted the famous ivy on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field in 1937. Within a few years, at the age of 27, he purchased his own team, the minor league Milwaukee Brewers franchise in the American Association. By the time he was 32 years old, he led the syndicate that purchased the Cleveland Indians for $2.2 million.
Veeck married Eleanor Raymond in 1935. He served as a Marine in World War II. His right leg was injured at Bougainville in the South Pacific in 1943 and was amputated in 1947.
In addition to bringing the world championship in Cleveland in 1948, Bill Veeck also helped the Indians shatter season attendance figures with 2,620,627 fans that year. Large crowds, which at times topped 80,000 per game, were entertained by fireworks displays and minstrels that wandered around the grandstands. Women were treated to imported orchids from Hawaii and families could enjoy an in-park babysitting service during Veeck’s ownership tenure.
When a night watchman at a local Chevrolet plant, Joe Early, complained to the Cleveland Press that teams spent too much time honoring wealthy players, Bill Veeck decided to honor Joe Early. While much of the night included tongue-in-cheek gags, Veeck made sure that Early received a new convertible and several other prizes.
Veeck made several lasting contributions to the Indians, such as their move to Tucson, Arizona, for spring training in 1947, where they would stay until 1992. No contribution was likely more important than the integration of the Indians and the American League in 1947 with Larry Doby. In his autobiography, Veeck- As In Wreck, Veeck expressed trepidation about the addition of Doby. “If Jackie Robinson was the ideal man to break the color line, Brooklyn was also the ideal place. I wasn?t that sure about Cleveland.” He claimed he received about 20,000 letters that protested the signing of Doby, yet noted that they came from across the country. Veeck actually claimed that he planned to buy the Philadelphia Phillies in 1943 and stock the team with African American players, only to be blocked by Major League Baseball. There is no definitive evidence that he ever did more than discuss this move.
When the Indians did not win the pennant in 1949, Veeck held a mock funeral in center field and buried the pennant from the prior year. After the season he was forced to sell the team because he needed to liquidate his assets for the settlement for his divorce from his first wife Eleanor. In the fall of 1949 he met Mary Frances Ackerman, whom he married in 1950.
Veeck did not stay away from baseball for long – he bought the St. Louis Browns in 1951 for $1.5 million. During his first year as owner, he completed one of his most notable stunts when he arranged for 65 lb., three-foot, seven-inch Eddie Gaedel to have one at bat – he walked on four pitches. He sold the Browns in 1953 and they left St. Louis after the season.
In 1958 Veeck and his partners purchased the Chicago White Sox. One of his famous additions to the team was the $300,000 “exploding scoreboard” at Comiskey Park with rockets and rotating pinwheels. Veeck owned the team until 1961 and sold it primarily due to health reasons.
Veeck was coaxed out of retirement in 1969 to run the Suffolk Race Track in Boston. By 1975 he was again convinced to buy the White Sox, which he sold in 1980.
Veeck had eight children from his two marriages including four daughters, Marya, Lisa, Juliana and Ellen and four sons, Michael, Gregory, Christopher and Peter. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, five years after he died of a heart attack in Chicago. His body was cremated after his death.
Veeck, Bill and Ed Linn. Veeck – As in Wreck (1962).
Eskenazi, Gerald. Bill Veeck: A Baseball Legend (1987).