Veeck, Bill

Veeck, Bill
in full William Louis Veeck

born Feb. 9, 1914, Hinsdale, Ill., U.S.
died Jan. 2, 1986, Chicago, Ill.

U.S. baseball-club executive and owner.

The son of a sportswriter who was also president of the Chicago Cubs (1919–33), Veeck became co-owner of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers (1941–45) and later the major league Cleveland Indians (1946–48), St. Louis Browns (1949–53), and Chicago White Sox (1959–68; 1976–81). Believing that baseball was a form of entertainment and should not be treated as a business, he introduced many innovations in promotion, was almost always able to improve a team's attendance, and usually bettered its performance.

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▪ American baseball executive
byname of  William Louis Veeck  
born Feb. 9, 1914, Hinsdale, Ill., U.S.
died Jan. 2, 1986, Chicago, Ill.

      American professional baseball club executive and owner, who introduced many innovations in promotion.

      Veeck grew up with baseball management. His father, a Chicago sportswriter, was president of the National League Chicago Cubs (1919–33), and young Veeck himself sold peanuts and scorecards at Wrigley Field during Cubs home games. He became treasurer for the Cubs in 1940; and in 1941, with Charley Grimm, a former player and manager of the Cubs, he bought the Milwaukee Brewers, then the name of a Cub minor-league property. They helped move the club from last place in 1941 to second place in 1942 and first place in 1943–45, while raising attendance to the highest level then known in the minor leagues. Improvement in team members was accompanied by a number of amusing promotional efforts.

      In 1946 Veeck headed a syndicate that bought the franchise of the American League Cleveland Indians, who had not won a pennant since 1920. In the first year, the Indians drew more than 1,000,000 fans for the first time. Veeck then hired Larry Doby (Doby, Larry), who, as a result, became the first black ever to play in the American League. Shortly afterward Veeck also signed Satchel Paige (Paige, Satchel), a well-known veteran of the black baseball leagues. The Indians won the pennant and the World Series in 1948. In 1949 the club was sold, and Veeck headed another group that bought the American League St. Louis Browns. In 1951, while still owner of the Browns, Veeck staged his most famous promotion when he had 3-foot 7-inch Ed Gaedel pinch hit. Finding it impossible to throw to Gaedel's strike zone, the pitcher walked him. Although the crowd thoroughly enjoyed the stunt, the league commissioner declared Gaedel's contract invalid the following day. In 1953 Veeck sold his controlling interest in the Browns, and the franchise was transferred to Baltimore.

      Veeck returned to baseball in 1959, when he headed a group that acquired control of the American League Chicago White Sox. The team won its first pennant since 1919 that year, and attendance rose to nearly 1,500,000. Veeck's group sold the ball club in 1969. In 1976 Veeck again headed a group that took control of the White Sox. In 1981, however, he sold the team once more, largely because of the financial difficulties stemming from intense bidding among baseball-team owners for the contracts of free-agent players. Veeck, who believed that baseball's primary function should be to entertain, became disillusioned with what he regarded as an increased emphasis on baseball as a business.

      Veeck wrote, with Ed Linn, Veeck as in Wreck (1962), The Hustler's Handbook (1965), and Thirty Tons a Day (1972).

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Universalium. 2010.

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