EDITOR’S NOTE: With Father’s Day approaching, a time when we recognize fathers and remember those who have passed, we asked maverick, baseball promoter Mike Veeck to write about his favorite Father’s Day memory of his dad, baseball Hall of Famer, Bill Veeck.
First, some background.
Baseball legend Bill Veeck was a genius at getting fans into seats. Casual baseball fans may remember him as the guy who hired short of stature Eddie Gaedel, who stood 3’7” tall, to bat in a St. Louis Browns game. Wearing number 1/8, Gaedel proceeded to earn a walk on 4 straight pitches in his only at bat. Veeck joked with friends later that he had a trained sniper focused on Gaedel if he tried to swing at a pitch.
Others may remember Bill Veeck as that baseball owner with a wooden leg. An artillery injury while serving as a marine in WWII required Veeck to have a series of wooden legs over the course of his life (Bill passed away in 1986). A regular smoker, Veeck frequently carved ashtrays into the wood providing additional functionality to his prosthetic.
Veeck’s commitment to baseball fans was, “We can’t always guarantee the ball game is going to be good; but we can guarantee the fan will have fun.” A promoter at heart, Veeck brought innovation to the great game. It was his idea to plant the ivy at Wrigley field – for this reason alone, his place in the Hall of Fame shouldn’t have required a vote.
Bill once said, “The most beautiful thing in the world is a ballpark filled with people.” To fill the stands, Veeck wasn’t short on ideas. Harry Carrey leading the singing on “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch – Veeck’s idea. Electronic scoreboards. Players’ names on uniforms. Firework displays at the stadium post-game. All were Veeck innovations.
Most baseball fans understand the Dodgers’ role in integrating baseball by signing on Jackie Robinson. Veeck played a role by helping integrate the American League by having Larry Doby play for his Cleveland Indians team. Doby was the first African American to play in the American League.
A man of the people, Bill said, “I have discovered, in twenty years of moving around a ball park, that the knowledge of the game is usually in inverse proportion to the price of the seats.” Veeck introduced “Fan Appreciation” days and expanded the menu at ballparks to include offerings beyond peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Bill’s focus on bringing family fun to the ballpark is something he passed on to his son, Mike Veeck.
As the saying goes, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Mike, with support of his business partners, has taken a $2 million investment into one minor league baseball team and turned it into a portfolio of teams valued at over $30 million.
Like his dad before him, he has done it by bringing family fun to the game. His St. Paul Saints, a minor league team that will be moving into their new ballpark in the Lowertown area of downtown St. Paul next season, have been recognized for their fun and zany promotions.
Mike hired mimes to act out instant replay, held an umpireless game where fans made balls and strikes calls by holding up signs, and he has a Roman Catholic nun give massages to fans in the stands from her perch behind 3rd base. Fans might not remember the score of the game when they leave the park, but they know they had fun.
In addition to running his minor league baseball empire, Mike teaches at The Citadel and is a music promoter. His Twin Cities promotion of a Bob Dylan concert at Midway Stadium last year sold out quickly.
He’s taken his “Fun is Good” approach to business and offers training programs to Corporate America to engage employees.
My Favorite Father’s Day
By Mike Veeck
My favorite Father’s Day memory was my first trip to Comiskey Park with my Dad – June of 1959 – to see the “Go-Go Sox.” That team included: Aparicio, Fox, Lollar, Landis, Wynn, Smith, Lopez – the list goes on and on. Anyway, we had a trip to the ballpark planned and I was going with my Dad. We got to the ball yard right after church and boy was I excited. We walked through the general office door on 35th Street into the magical home of the Chicago White Sox.
As we walked through the bowels of the grand old stadium, I couldn’t get over how many people my Father seemed to know. “Hey, Bill, “How are you, Diz?” it seemed that there was no one who didn’t know my Dad and that he didn’t know – by name. We stopped at each souvenir stand while Dad traded pleasantries with the stand people. Next stop, the concession stands. Smells that drove an eight-year-old crazy wafted from the exhaust fans behind the counter. Popcorn, red-hots (as my Dad always called hot dogs) and cotton candy all mixed together in a potpourri of childhood memories.
I was holding my Dad’s hand as we walked up the stairs of the vomitory behind home plate. I was safe. I was with my Dad. All was right with the world. And then, we stepped into the seating bowl.
There, before my very eyes, was the most beautiful playground I had ever seen. A diamond of perfectly manicured dirt complemented by a verdant lawn the likes of which I had never seen.
And then Dad said gently, “Let’s go down on the field. I think you’re playing today.”
I looked at him and followed out onto the field, where three hours later, I took the field with the rest of the kids of players of the Chicago White Sox. The rest of the day was a blur. Can’t remember a thing about the Father/Daughter/Son game at Comiskey Park before the White Sox played their Sunday afternoon tilt.
All I remember is my Dad. Isn’t that what Fathers Day is all about? I, truly, was…safe at home. My Dad.
A special thanks to Mike Veeck for contributing the story and photos.