Happy Baseball, Bill Veeck, Wherever You Are

by Jeff Siegel

Once upon a time, there was a man who sent a midget up to bat. The midget walked, his team lost, and the owners wanted to throw the man out of baseball. The man invented the exploding scoreboard, the fans loved it, and the owners wanted to throw him out of baseball.

But what really ticked off the Lords of Baseball is that the man warned them — more than 40 years ago — about free agency and the financial dangers and changes that it would bring to the game. So they kept trying to throw him out of baseball.

Which is why, at the start of each baseball season, I hoist a cold one in memory of Bill Veeck — as in wreck, as he used to say. Between 1948 and 1980, Veeck owned three major league teams (one of them twice), made history when he signed 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to play for the woeful St. Louis Browns, and integrated the American League in the person of Cleveland outfielder Larry Doby.

How much fun was Bill Veeck? In 1975, he bought the White Sox for the second time, and even I paid attention. Why is that odd? Because I’m a Cubs fan, and our feelings toward the White Sox are better left unsaid.

Veeck did everything in his power to stop baseball from ruining itself. His manifesto (“You’d have thought it was the Communist Manifesto,” he would often joke) included interleague play, expansion to the West Coast a decade before it happened, an NFL-style television deal, free agency that benefited the game and not player agents, and a host of other, common sense improvements that have either been adopted or should be.

In 1961, Veeck wrote: “I am not saying that baseball is not a great game. It has to be a great game to have survived what we have done to it.”

That Veeck couldn’t save baseball, and that we have the mess we have today, can be traced to two things: The obstinacy and hubris of the owners, and Veeck himself, who was not the most diplomatic person in the world. Or as Ole’ Will used to say: “And just for the record, I have never called [the owners] s.o.b.s because I don't use that kind of language. A few other things I've called them, yes.”

Happy baseball, Bill Veeck.

(The World Champion Philadelphia Phillies will open the Major League Baseball season tonight, April 5 at 8 p.m. EDT with a game against the Atlanta Braves. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. To see a portion of a documentary about Bill Veeck, please check below.)

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