Minor League Spotlight: The Veeck Connection

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

In celebration of Father’s Day on June 20th, Baseball Digest.com has profiled several father and son connections including the Berras, the Bavasis, and the Bannisters. This week’s Minor League Spotlight focuses on a family that has dabbled in professional baseball for three generations.

Looking at baseball in a unique way and introducing new, innovative ideas has been a signature part of the Veeck family for generations. It all started nearly a hundred years ago with William Veeck, Sr. He was a baseball writer who got his break into the business when the owner of the Chicago Cubs brought him on board following a series of articles suggesting how he would improve the team. As vice-president and later president of the club, the team won three pennants under the guide of the senior Veeck between 1919 and 1932. Though he passed away in 1933, the impact of William Veeck, Sr. was just beginning.

By 1937 the son of the former Cubs president, Bill Veeck, had joined the Chicago Cubs as the team treasurer. Though the younger Veeck departed the Chicago Cubs by 1941 to purchase the Milwaukee Brewers, there are two key ideas that he carried out before moving on. He was the person who planted the ivy that adorns the outfield wall of Wrigley Field, and he was responsible for the construction of the manually operated scoreboard. More than 70 years later, the ivy is still growing strong, the manual scoreboard remains and the Veeck connection to baseball continues as well.

Bill Veeck bought into the Cleveland Indians and instantly made an impact. In addition to signing the oldest rookie in history, Satchel Paige at 42 years of age, he may be most remembered for having a role in breaking the color barrier of the American League following Jackie Robinson’s debut in the Natiional League in 1947. Just eleven weeks after Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Veeck signed future Hall of Famer Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians, following several seasons playing with the Newark Bears of the Negro Leagues. Doby went on to become the first African American to homer in a World Series, helping the Indians clinch the second, and last, World Series title. Doby’s career is not the only famous player connection for Bill Veeck.

A few years after Doby helped the Indians to a world title, Veeck sold his share of the team and bought into the St. Louis Browns. Due to differences between other owners and the front office of Major League Baseball, Veeck’s reign with the Browns came to end just two years after it began in 1951. However, he made the best of his time, and history records retain his fingerprints of creativity. In just his first season as owner of the Browns, Veeck secretly signed Eddie Gaedel and he debuted as a pinch hitter on Sunday, August 19th, 1951 during the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. The man wearing “1/8” as a number set the record for shortest player in Major League history at just 3 feet, 7 inches in height. Though the stunt thrilled baseball fans, the secret signing of Gaedel ushered in new rulings by MLB that required teams to provide a contract to the league before suiting up with the team.

When Bill Veeck was pushed out from the Browns, he resurfaced a few years later in 1959 as head of the new ownership of the Chicago White Sox. He made an immediate impact on the franchise when he installed an exploding scoreboard that celebrated every White Sox home run at Comisky Park. The addition coincided with the White Sox first pennant in 40 years. By 1961, Veeck was out again as owner, and during that time wrote an autobiography entitle “Veeck As In Wreck”. The book ruffled the feathers of some of the old time baseball owners, and Veeck wasn’t heard from until 1975 when he again bought into the team. Over two decades that included two separate stints as owner, Veeck ushered in a number of promotions that have been praised as some of the greatest of all time. Perhaps the most famous stint during his time with the White Sox was the two times Minnie Minosa was activated and played in games in 1975 and again in 1980 to set the record of playing in five different decades. In addition to Minosa, Veeck fielded a White Sox team wearing shorts, conducted trades in public, and was the first to have announcer Harry Carey sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.

In one of his finals stunts as owner, Bill Veeck brought in the next generation of Veecks to help make it happen. His son, Mike Veeck, was working in the White Sox marketing department at the time of the infamous Disco Demolition Night on July 12th, 1979. In an event held between a twi-night doubleheader between the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers, the promotion was to destroy disco records between the games. Over 90,000 people showed up and quickly overtook the stadium and the field during the promotion. The White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader due to the condition of the field and the unruliness of the crowd.

With the advent of free agency and growing costs of running an organization, Bill Veeck sold his share of ownership in 1981, and retired from baseball. He passed away in 1986 following a battle with emphysema, but baseball never forgot the legend. He was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his contributions to many teams, and the memories that generations of fans have come to learn about.

“Fun Is Good” is a motto of third generation baseball man Mike Veeck and for a name synonymous with promotional excitement, he continues to live up to the expectations of new ways to attract a fanbase for teams. As the son of Bill Veeck, perhaps the most famous baseball promoter in history, Mike Veeck’s own accomplishments are evidence that the eye for excitement extends to mutiple generations.

Like his father before him, Mike Veeck has found promotions for baseball in unusual places. Minnie Minosa playing professional baseball in his fourth and fifth decade seemed like an incredible feat at the time. Since then, Minosa once held the record for being the oldest person to play the game at 80 years old. In 2006, the youngest Veeck was approached by then 83 year old Jim Eriotes with an interest in playing ball. With a little help, he ended up debuting with the Sioux Falls Canaries of the independent Northern League(since moved to the American Association and known as the Sioux Falls Pheasants). While his reign as oldest person to bat in a game was supplanted by the late Buck O’Neil a week later when he played in the Northern League All-Star Game, the promotional genius wasn’t forgotten, as it caught the attention of ESPN.com.

A number of promotions involving teams Veeck has worked with have little to do with the actual game itself. The St. Paul Saints, for example, have held numerous bobblehead promotions that are slightly different than your typical bobblehead you might receive at a Major League Baseball stadium. Instead of celebrating players, the Saints celebrate events. In 2009, the team held a bobblehead event for a “Count Von Re-Count”, a spoof on Sesame Street’s Count Von Count, and more importantly a spoof on the 2008 election for United States Senator in Minnesota. Five years before then, the held a similar event during the 2004 presidential race, featuring bobbleheads with the faces of George Bush and Al Gore on either side. The stunt included a donkey and a donkey dressed as an elephant on the field.

While his father and grandfather dedicated their energy to one team at a time, Mike Veeck has turned his promoting skills into an empire of baseball teams. Working with a diverse group of people(including Jimmy Buffett and Bill Murray!), and with a group of baseball teams at a few levels of play, you never know when you may be offered a massage by a nun while sitting in the stands. You might just as easily find yourself locked out of a baseball game in an effort by the team to reach the all-time record for lowest attendance at a game! These are just a few of many promotions that have proved successful for Mike Veeck in the minor leagues of baseball.

Mike Veeck has a hand in seven baseball team promotions. As baseball season heats up, there are great options for attending a game featuring a Veeck Connection. Here is the list of teams included:

Looking Ahead: In the coming weeks, Baseball Digest.com may feature an update on the Veeck Connection which may include a person very close to the history of the family, and their involvement in baseball.

Previous Spotlights:

Stay Tuned: Keep an eye on Baseball Digest.com for an all-new Minor League Spotlight next week!

Is there a player or team in the minor leagues that you think should be featured in the Minor League Spotlight? Let us know in the Bleachers Forum!

A big thank you to Angela Weinhold for her help with research for this article! You can find her insight into St. Louis Cardinals Baseball here on Baseball Digest!

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