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This week’s tease of my upcoming book. Publication date is June,2021.
Mike Veeck’s “Old Man”
Podcast: In case you’re wondering. August 13, 2018
Host: George Case III
Guest: Mike Veeck
Panelists: Al Blumkin, Ron Rabinovitzrge Case
Apparently it was a baseball instead of an apple that didn’t fall far from the Veeck family tree.
William Veeck Sr. was the president of the Chicago Cubs from 1919 until his death in 1933. HIs son Bill sold popcorn at Cubs games as well as working confession stands for the White Sox at Comisky Park. Bill would go on to own, at various times, the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox and was inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1991. Bill’s son Mike is known as the “Funniest man in baseball,” and considering the current state of the game, baseball needs all the humor it can get. He worked for the White Sox and now owns the independent St. Paul Saints among other clubs.
Mike’s father Bill, is probably best remembered for sending 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to the plate as the leadoff batter for the St. Louis Browns on August 19, 1951 to face Detroit Tiger pitcher Bob Cain. Wearing uniform number 1/8 and ordered not to swing, Gaedel drew a four-pitch walk to lead off the game for the St. Louis Browns. Gaedel was then replaced by a pinch-runner and left to the cheers of the crowd.
But few people remember that Bill Veeck integrated the American league when he signed Larry Doby to a contract with the Cleveland Indians in July 1947.
Mike Veeck: My old man signed Larry Doby just seven weeks after Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson.
Ralph Tyko: “He was absolutely color blind.”
Mike Veeck: Yeah, he just didn’t have time for it. He would tell me a story, ‘When I was a little boy my daddy would call me into the ticket office at Wrigley Field when I was about 10 or 11. He told me to empty the registers in the middle of the counting table. So I went to each register and emptied all the money and my grandfather said ‘William, what’s the color of that money? And my old man said that money is green. And my grandfather said, that’s very good William, and then he asked, what’s the color of the person who put that money in the till? My father looked at the money and looked at my grandfather and finally said I don’t know. And my grandfather said ‘and never forget that!’.
I must have been like 14 before I realized that Larry Doby’s children weren’t my brothers and sisters.
I never thought anything about it. We lived on the eastern shore of Maryland and one day Bill and Larry were having a couples of beers and thought it would be funny if they both jumped into the country club pool all together. Well this was Maryland and they wanted to be considered deep south, and when these white kids and black kids jumped into the pool holding hands, they didn’t think that was so cool. I don’t think they drained the pool but they got us out of there in a hurry,
During the war, the teams were depleted and the first Negro League All-Star game was played in Comisky Park and he got a chance to see “Cool Papa” Bell, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and knew he could keep the caliber of baseball high by signing some of those guys. He really didn’t care. He was the least judgmental man I ever met, and as you get older you realize how difficult that is to be.
George Case III: Your father broke the color line not only with Larry Doby but he organized a race between my father and Jesse Owens in Cleveland Stadium in1946 when Jesse was known as the “fastest man in the world,” for his four Gold Medals in Munich
Jesse was originally going to race my dad in his tracksuit with my father in his heavy flannel Cleveland uniform, but then they decided that wasn’t really fair. So your dad had a special Cincinnati Reds uniform made for Jesse and I have a picture of the finish of the race where Jesse is beating my dad by about a half a step. People have written to me saying that they didn’t know that Jesse Owens played baseball. He didn’t, that was just a special uniform made for him and it had Cincinnati on it because Jesse had graduated from Ohio State and back then Cleveland was Ohio’s American League team and Cincinnati it’s National League team. So it made sense to promote that race in Ohio. When Veeck told my father about the race, he questioned Veeck since Owens was the fastest man in the world. But Bill said I think you’re gonna do pretty well.. And he did.
That was probably Bill’s first promotion in Cleveland and they drew about an extra 20,000 to a meaningless game against the St. Louis Browns – A team your father later owned and moved to Baltimore.
Mike Veeck: Those halcyon days in Cleveland were some of my dad’s favorites and in this business you really not allowed to have favorites, and for a Chicago guy to admit that Cleveland really was the one was really tough for my old man. And it gave me an idea of just how magical that ballclub was and the city was just on fire with Satchel Paige and a pitching staff that was second to none.
He drew 3.5 million people to the ballpark that season. The record books attribute 2.5 million people to the 1948 Indians Championship season but the truth of the matter is that my father didn’t want to pay the luxury tax so he let 350,000 women and children in for free.
George Case: My father played for the Indians in 1946 when Veeck took over and many of the players from 1946 were still there in 1948, Bob Feller, Jim Hegan, Kenny Keltner Bob Lemon, those guys were the nucleus of a terrific ball blub in 1946.
Mike Veeck: I’ll tell you a story. After the 1948 championship, they made a lot of money. That was a very successful club. The best trade my old man never made – he spent all winter trying to unload Lou Boudreau and then all Lou did was manages them to a championship and wind up as the MVP. But after the Championship game, my old man signed 25 contracts and he left them on his desk. And the players walked in and they were expected to fill out the amount. And Kenny Keltner, who had an off year that season gave himself a sizable decrease. And my old man said ‘Kenny, what are you thinking about? We had the greatest year in the history of the game in terms of attendance, a record that wasn’t broken for another 40 years.’ And Kenny wept and said I didn’t contribute. My old man said that’s just not true and changed the contract amount. But imagine leaving 25 signed contracts on your desk today, you’d have 25 partners.
George Case: The players back then signed one-year deals. There were no long term deals, no signing bonuses The player went in and negotiated with either the owner or the general manager, there was no agents involved. And there were stories, Ted Williams had an off year one season and he told Tom Yawkey that he was gonna take a cut in his salary because, he didn’t feel that he contributed as he normally should have. It’s a totally different world today. A guy can have an off year but he may have 10 more years left on his contract foe millions of dollars. That’s just the way it is unfortunately.
Mike Veeck: My father used to say if it’s good enough for Walter Alston to have a contract that runs out every year it’s good enough for the rest of these guys.
George Case: Walter Alston was with the Dodgers 20-odd years and he signed a new contract every year, and that’s the way it was done. When my dad and all those great players signed for the one year. If you had a good year and the team had a good year at the gate, you’d get a raise. But if you had a good year and the team did not have a good year at the gate you would probably sign for the same amount of money. And sometimes the players held out. I remember one time my dad was holding out for $500 and Clark Griffith said to him ‘George, I’m gonna agree to your terms but if we don’t have a good year at the gate I want my money back.’
Al Blumkin: Gate income was basically all they had back then. TV was still in its infancy, there was almost no merchandising and so the gate was the only revenue stream that they had.
George Case: A perfect example of that is if you look at some old photos of people in the stands at a ballgame, they’re in jackets and ties. And the women are in dresses. You look at a game today, and the fans are all wearing team hats, jerseys and jackets, that’s all part of the revenue stream. It’s very different. Back then the owners have to depend on the gate receipts to pay not only the players but also expenses. So you were hoping to draw one or two million fans because that was your revenue stream.
George Case: Did your father ever talk about his experiences in World War II?
Mike Veeck: He never talked about it. He was very proud of being a four-time PFC in the Marines. He enlisted when he was 30-years old. I asked him once how it felt to have lost his leg there and he said you never forget dragging yourself through the latrine and it taught him a great deal about a person’s humanity and his character. He never complained. He had 37 operations as they hacked more and more of his leg away. And I never heard him complain. He would get sores on his stump, back when the prothesis weren’t as good as they are today. And he’d take the stumps out and we’d be having a beer watching a ballgame and I’d look at these welts and think man that’s really unpleasant looking, but I would never say anything about it and neither did he. One of his favorite quotes was “Suffering is over- rated.”.
He was a wonderful father. It was like being raised by Geppetto, the toy maker. He had blind spots. He didn’t realize that you had to go to school. He was a fine, fun father. People always say to me that he was a great baseball guy and I always say he was a better father
George Case: Your father recognized that the fans are the ones that matter. They’re the ones paying the bills. And if you can get them in the ballpark and have them enjoy the experience, I think it’s great and Mike, you’re to be congratulated on your efforts and the success that you’ve had with the Saints. It’s a wonderful attribute that you picked up from your dad and grandfather, being in baseball all of your life.
Mike Veeck: It was always about the fans and I can tell you, my old man never made a decision that wasn’t based on the best interests of his guests. Bill just loved people and was a pretty good judge of talent. And underneath all the promotions was the heart of a real baseball guy who understood that 35% of the people love baseball leaving 65% of the audience to be won over by this great game. Those 65% are the low lying fruit as far as we’re concerned. They are the people we are after.
Mike Veeck is known for a promotion he ran on July 12, 1979 when he was working with the Chicago White Sox. It was called “Disco Demolition Night” and fans who came with a disco record were admitted to Comiskey Park for 98 cents. The event was scheduled to be held between games of a twi-night doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. A crate filled with the disco records brought by the fans was blown up on the field. Many of the fans rushed onto the field after the detonation and chaos ensued. The playing field was so damaged by the explosion and the fans that the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game to the Tigers.
As a result Mike was blackballed and eventually he along with actor Bill Murray started the St Paul Saints of the independent American Association in 1993. Mike is also part of a group that owns the Charleston SC Riverdogs of the Class A South Atlantic League.
Mike Veeck: It was only the fourth forfeit in baseball history! That was in 1979 I left the White Sox and opened an ad agency in Florida.
In 1989 I realized that he had been blackballed, “Veeck” is not a great name to have if you want a front office job. Even after the good things I did in Chicago in five years, I just couldn’t get a job. So Bill Murray called me up one day and asks me, “Are you done pouting?” And I told him, this was not a self-imposed exile. I’m not Bonaparte sitting on the island waiting. So he said we just bought the Miami Miracle. So they hired me and we moved the club first to Pompano then to Fort Myers. A few years later we became partners and I told him I wanted to bring a team to St. Paul and we took a shot and it took off.
One of the reasons the Saints have become one of the most successful independent minor league teams is that Mike has carried on his father’s mission of making a visit to the ballpark enjoyable and putting the fun back into the game. Mike has had dogs and pigs deliver baseballs to the umpire, brought in a Catholic nun to give massages and hired mimes to perform instant replays.
Mike Veeck: While I was in Charleston, we decided to give away a vasectomy on Fathers Day. We announced the promotion at 2 PM, at 2:20 the Archdiocese was picketing. At 2:40 the mayor called and said he would cancel his season tickets and at 3:20 the commissioner threatened to fine me. So I cancelled the promotion
But I put it out on the news wire and it was picked up all over the country and the next day the headline in Anchorage Alaska was “Promotion Snipped!” and we got more coverage from a promotion that never happened
His “old man” would have been proud.
September 24, 2020
September 23, 2020
September 22, 2020
Ralph welcomes back Jerry Feitelberg. Topics of discussion include the barrage of books that have recently come out about the POTUS, and Baseball in northern California.
A Comfortably Zoned Radio Network, production.
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September 22, 2020