High School Sports

High School Sports

Veecks dare to be different

May 19, 2010

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His name is Veeck as in Wreck, the title of his famous father’s book on baseball’s odds and ends, a volume that was first published in 1962 and has remained popular with generations of passionate fans.

Son Mike and dad Bill have had a sweeping impact on the game of baseball over the years, but at different levels.

Fortunately for Major League Baseball, legendary owner Bill Veeck never grew up. He started selling peanuts, hot dogs and soda, and planting ivy at Wrigley Field where his father, William Veeck, Sr., was president of the Chicago Cubs. He liked to dream, to think of what could be.

He went on to eventually own the Cleveland Indians in 1947 and produce the city’s first pennant and World Series championship since 1920 while establishing a major league attendance record of 2.6 million. Star pitcher Bob Feller admired his feel for the game.

Veeck always dared to be different with numerous heretofore unseen promotions, unorthodox activities that riled his fellow owners who thought they were crude and unprofessional. The fans loved him as he once used Max Patkin, a rubber-faced clown, to coach first base.

Bill Veeck signed Larry Doby as the first African American to play in the American League in 1947, and both were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He knew baseball and how to win and how to attract large crowds.

The colorful Veeck went on to own the much maligned St. Louis Browns where he is best remembered for sending Eddie Gaedel, a midget, to pinch hit for the Brownies on Aug. 19, 1951. Gaedel made it to first base on a walk, and his career came to an abrupt end. Veeck always thought his fellow owners were incapable of having a good laugh, took themselves too seriously, and were fixated on making money.

The genius of Bill Veeck was seen by all when he introduced the first “exploding scoreboard” in the major leagues in Chicago, and now all major league clubs have variations of it. He owned the franchise on the South Side twice.

In 1959, he purchased a controlling interest in the White Sox, who went on to win their first league pennant in 40 years and establish a record attendance of 1.4 million fans for home games. Old Comiskey Park was alive and well again.

Perhaps Mike, who looks, sounds, and laughs a lot like his dad, may be making a greater contribution to the future of baseball than his legendary father. He is driven to grow the sport while having fun through innovation and experimentation.

As president of several highly successful minor league teams including the Charleston RiverDogs of the South Atlantic League, he has given birth to a plethora of new and different ideas, ideas that resonate with youngsters and their parents. He hires from the younger generation, often college students who think outside the box in determining innovative ideas for fan enjoyment.

Many in the trenches of minor league baseball credit Mike with unique innovations that have resulted in significant growth of attendance. Amazingly, the 176 teams from around the country in the minors now draw more than 43 million fans a year.

Major League Baseball will likely attract some 78 million fans this season, a slight decline from a year ago. Minor League attendance might actually grow a shade because of a lagging economy and the need for low cost, quality family entertainment.

Mike has learned much from his innovative father, much that he is passing along to others. He does chuckle when he recalls the 1979 season in Chicago when the White Sox held one of the most infamous promotions, Disco Demolition Night, which resulted in a riot at Comiskey Park and a forfeit to the visiting Detroit Tigers. It was his idea.

As an investor in minor league teams that Mike oversees, comedian Bill Murray says Mike Veeck believes in baseball as a tradition-rich game of skill and as an affordable form of entertainment for young and old alike. He also believes that Mike, as few others, is doing much to sustain and grow interest in the game at the grass roots level.

Mike often seeks out the views of fans, regardless of age, always trying to better entertain them. He has never heard a bad idea, only ones that are sometimes better than others.

— Gene A. Budig, former chancellor of Kansas University, is past president of Major League Baseball’s American League (1994-2000) and a co-owner of the Charleston RiverDogs, the Class A entry of the New York Yankees in the South Atlantic League.

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