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Bill Veeck

From Academic Kids

William Louis Veeck Jr. (February 9, 1914January 2, 1986), sometimes nicknamed "Sport Shirt", was a native of Chicago who became a franchise owner and promoter in Major League Baseball. Known best for his flamboyant publicity stunts, and the innovations he brought to the major leagues during his ownership of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Chicago White Sox, Veeck was the last owner to purchase a baseball franchise without an independent fortune, and is responsible for many significant contributions to baseball.

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Early Life

While Veeck (pronounced "veck") was growing up in Hinsdale, Illinois, his father, William Veeck, Sr., a sportswriter, became president of the Chicago Cubs. Growing up in the business, Bill Veeck worked as a vendor, ticket seller and junior groundskeeper. In 1933, when his father died, Veeck left Kenyon College, and eventually became club treasurer for the Cubs. He married Eleanore Raymond in 1935.

Milwaukee Brewers

In 1941 he left Chicago and purchased the American Association Milwaukee Brewers, in a partnership with former Cubs star and manager Charlie Grimm. Veeck, constantly producing new promotional gimmicks, gave away live animals, scheduled morning games for night shift workers, staged weddings at home plate, and even sent Grimm a birthday cake containing a left-handed pitcher. After winning three pennants in five years, Veeck sold his Milwaukee franchise in 1945 for a $275,000 profit.

While a half-owner of the Brewers, Veeck served for nearly three years in the Marines during World War II. Injuries he suffered eventually led to the amputation of his foot, and later, his leg.

In 1942, before entering the military, Veeck acquired backing to purchase the Philadelphia Phillies, planning to stock the club with stars from the Negro Leagues. However, he revealed his plans to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who vetoed the idea.

Cleveland Indians

In 1946, Veeck finally became the owner of a major league team, the Cleveland Indians, using a debenture-common stock group making remuneration to his partners non-taxable loan payments instead of taxable income. In 1947, he signed Larry Doby as the first African-American player in the American League, and in 1948 he signed Satchel Paige, the oldest rookie in major league history; there was much speculation at the time about Paige's true age, with estimates from just under 40 to nearly 50.

Although he had become extremely popular, an attempt to trade Lou Boudreau to the Browns led to mass protests and petitions supporting Boudreau. Veeck, in response, visited every bar in Cleveland apologizing for his mistake, and reassuring fans that the trade would not occur. By 1948, Cleveland won its first pennant and World Series since 1920. Famously, Veeck buried the 1948 flag, once it became obvious the team could not repeat its championship in 1949. That year, Veeck sold his shares in Cleveland in order to finalize an expensive divorce with his first wife.

St. Louis Browns

After marrying Mary Frances Ackerman, Veeck returned as the owner of the St. Louis Browns in 1951. Hoping to force the St. Louis Cardinals out of town, Veeck spited Cardinals owner Fred Saigh, hiring Rogers Hornsby and Marty Marion as managers, and Dizzy Dean as an announcer; and he decorated their shared home park, Sportsman's Park, with exclusively Browns memorabilia.

Some of Veeck's most memorable publicity stunts occurred during his tenure with the Browns, including the famous appearance by midget Eddie Gaedel for which Veeck predicted he'd be most remembered; and shortly afterward, Grandstand Manager's Day - involving Veeck, Connie Mack, Bob Fishel, and thousands of regular fans, directing the entirety of the game via placards: the Browns won, 5-3, snapping a four-game losing streak.

After the 1952 season, Veeck suggested that the American League clubs share radio and television revenue with visiting clubs. Outvoted, he refused to allow the Browns' opponents to broadcast games played against his team on the road. The league responded by eliminating Friday night games in St. Louis. When Saigh sold the Cardinals to Anheuser-Busch, Veeck was forced to sell the Browns, which then moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles.

Chicago White Sox

In 1959, Veeck became head of a group that purchased a controlling interest in the Chicago White Sox, who went on to win their first pennant in 40 years, and broke a team attendance record for home games with 1.4 million, and in the next year broke the same record with 1.6 million visitors to Comiskey Park with the addition of the first "exploding scoreboard" in the major leagues - producing electrical and sound effects, and shooting fireworks whenever the White Sox hit a home run. In 1961, due to poor health, Veeck sold his share of the team, only to return in 1975 as the full owner.

In another publicity stunt designed to irritate his fellow owners, Veeck and general manager Roland Hemond conducted four trades in a hotel lobby, in full view of the public. Two weeks later, however, Peter Seitz ruled in favor of free agency, and Veeck's power as an owner began to wane in opposition to richer owners. Likely his most famous stunt with the White Sox, Veeck presented a Bicentennial-themed Spirit of '76 parade on opening day in 1976, casting himself as the peg-legged fifer bringing up the rear. The same year, he reactivated Minnie Miņoso for eight at-bats, in order to give Miņoso a claim towards playing in four decades; and he did so again in 1980, to expand the claim to five. In an attempt to adapt to free agency, his rent-a-player model, centering on the acquisition of other clubs' stars in their option years, was moderately successful: in 1977, the White Sox won 90 games, and finished third behind Oscar Gamble and Richie Zisk. During this last run, Veeck decided to have announcer Harry Caray sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch. He sold the White Sox in January 1981.

Veeck died of cancer at age 71, and was elected five years later to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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