As a young boy, Bill Veeck performed
odd jobs at Wrigley Field. He often
claimed to have planted the Wrigley
Field ivy that covers the outfield walls.
William Veeck Jr. (1914-1986) was born to Chicago sportswriter William Veeck Sr. The elder Veeck was named the Cubs’ general manager when Bill Jr. was four years old. Junior grew up performing odd jobs at Wrigley Field, and often claimed to have planted the ivy that covers the outfield walls.
When Senior died in 1933, Junior quit college and went to work full-time for the Cubs. He quit in 1941 after buying the Milwaukee franchise in the American Association. He revived the franchise with various gimmicks, and sold it in 1945. In 1943, he put together a partnership to buy the Phillies. Bill planned to stock the team with Negro League stars, but commissioner Landis nixed the deal.
A World War II injury caused Veeck to have his left leg amputated, but that never quenched his spirit. He put another partnership together and bought the Cleveland Indians in 1946. Attendance increased from 558,182 in 1945 to 1,057,289 the next year. In 1948, the Tribe drew 2,620,627 -- a franchise record. Bill signed the first African American to play in the AL, Larry Doby, in 1947. In 1948, Veeck signed Negro League legend Satchel Paige. Paige’s first start in Cleveland attracted 78,382 people -- the largest crowd ever at a night game.
Veeck sold Cleveland in 1949 and bought the St. Louis Browns, the major leagues’ most pitiful franchise. His most famous stunt came in late 1951, when the Browns sent Eddie Gaedel, a 3970, 65-pound entertainer, up to bat. Eddie wore the number 1/8 and walked on four pitches. The baseball establishment was not amused. Losing money, Veeck tried to move the Browns to Baltimore in 1953, only to be blocked by the AL owners. Veeck sold, and the club moved to Baltimore in 1954.
After several years of nonbaseball-related promoting, Bill bought the White Sox in 1958 and promptly introduced the exploding scoreboard. Forced by his doctors to sell in 1961, Bill wrote his autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck. In 1975, a group of Seattle investors tried to buy the ChiSox, and Veeck came back to buy the team, selling five years later at a profit. Veeck could be found from that time on in the bleachers of Wrigley Field, shirtless and with a beer, among the people he loved the best -- the fans. Veeck was inducted into the Hall in 1991.
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