Bill Veeck remembered as Cubs fan, baseball wild child

Sarah Schulte Image
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Many Chicagoans understand the history of the Chicago Cubs but also of the Cleveland Indians. The team hasn't won a World Series since 1948. There is one man that a lot of Cubs and even Chicago White Sox fans will remember that brings the two teams together.

Many remember Bill Veeck as the owner of White Sox with the crazy promotions. But he was also the owner of the Cleveland Indians and got his baseball start with the Chicago Cubs when his father was president.

His wooden leg never slowed him down. Veeck was known as the wild child of baseball.

It all began at Wrigley Field in 1925 when he was 11. Veeck worked as a beer vendor, ticket seller and a junior grounds keeper. He takes credit for the ivy. Veeck continued working for the Cubs until he left Chicago in 1941 to buy the Milwaukee Brewers and that is when the fun began.

"We tried everything, you have a lot of fun, it was carefree," he said.

A master marketer, Veeck packed the fans in with gimmicks like live animal giveaways. The fun ended when Veeck went to war and lost his leg in an accident. But Veeck was not about to give up on baseball. In 1946, he bought the Cleveland Indians, where Veeck signed the first black player in the American League.

Baseball's showman didn't disappoint. Fans flocked to the old municipal stadium for promotions like "Let the Fans Manage Night."

In 1948, the Indians won the World Series.

"The thing I remember most about the parade was after it was over, and after all of the cheering, I went back to the apartment and I was all alone," he said.

Veeck sold the team to pay for an expensive divorce. He eventually bought the St. Louis Browns where he pulled off one of his most memorable stunts--sending Eddie Gaedel, a 3-foot-7 little person, to the plate.

A few years later, Veeck returned to Chicago as owner of the White Sox. The South Siders won their first pennant in 40 years. Veeck sold the team, but returned to the Sox just in time for the bicentennial.

The gimmicks lived on. It was Veeck's idea to have announcer Harry Caray sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" in the 7th inning stretch-a Wrigley tradition.

Veeck's worst idea was "Disco Demolition Night" in 1979. It was the only stunt he apologized for.

"This world would be better if more people didn't take it so seriously. It isn't grim, it's kind of wonderful," he said.

A wonderful life that ended where it began, at Wrigley. Veeck spent his final years watching the Cubs from the bleachers, above the ivy he claimed to have planted.

It's fair to say Veeck was a Cubs fan at heart. He sold the White Sox in 1981. He died of cancer in 1986. Five years after that he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.