February 9: Bill Veeck’s Centennial

Bill-VeeckHonestly, baseball can be a bit dull. So, today we’re raising a glass to a man who specialized in making the game more exciting for its fans. Today we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of  the sport’s greatest owner, Bill Veeck.

When Veeck was 13 years old, his father became the president of the Chicago Cubs and the young Veeck was quickly hired as a popcorn vendor. He developed a friendship with team owner William Wrigley Jr. and would often provide suggestions for what he’d do if he ran the Cubs. One of the suggestions the teenaged Veeck had was to plant ivy on the walls of Wrigley Field. Unfortunately, it would take ten years for Wrigley to actually implement the idea.

In 1951, Veeck bought the St. Louis Browns. However, the Browns were only St. Louis’ second most popular baseball team; just as it is now, St. Louis was largely a Cardinals town. So, Veeck was forced to come up with some promotional ideas that could bring people to see the Browns at Sportmans Park. Some of these promotions were things that have become common baseball practices, like Free Bat Night for instance.

Others were a bit more outlandish. For instance, there was the time he sent out 3’7” Eddie Gaedel (wearing jersey number 1/8) up to bat. It was impossible for the opposing pitcher to get a strike in Gaedel’s tiny strike zone, so after four pitches he was walked to first base, at which point he was pulled from the game and replaced with a pinch runner. Gaedel retired from the game of baseball soon afterwards. Then there was also Grandstand Manager’s Day, where the crowd voted on many of the game’s key strategic calls. In the photo above, you can see one of the placards used on the field, in this case asking fans if a pitcher should be yanked. Shockingly, this venture was a success and the Browns won 5–3, snapping a four-game losing streak.

Later in his career, Veeck would serve as the majority owner of the Chicago White Sox. At Comiskey Park, Veeck installed a few new features, namely an electric “exploding scoreboard” which featured sound effects and fireworks that would shoot off whenever the Sox hit a home run. Also, Veeck added the players’ names to the back of Sox uniforms, a move that most Major League Baseball teams would soon adopt. In the 1970s, Veeck would infamously have the White Sox wear shorts and ask broadcaster Harry Caray to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. Caray initially refused this request, but it soon became a tradition that he maintained for the rest of his broadcasting career.

However, Veeck’s undoing would come in 1979 when he and his son organized Disco Demolition Night. The way the stunt was supposed to work was that fans would bring disco records and in between two games of a double header, these records would be blown up. So, the records were blown up, leaving a large divot in the outfield grass, and then the drunken crowd (egged on by a local radio shock jock) went wild and stormed the field, destroying everything they could get their hands on. The White Sox were forced to forfeit the game and Veeck would leave the organization two years later.

For today’s drink, I thought it would be appropriate to honor the man who brought us Free Bat Night with a Louisville Slugger. This hard hitting drink is a more fruitful twist on the Manhattan.

Louisville Slugger

  • 1 ounce Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1 ounce Dry Vermouth
  • 2 teaspoons Blackberry Liqueur
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Shake all ingredients together with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: We surrender to our robot masters.

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2 responses

  1. […] At 162 games a year, Major League Baseball’s regular season is really long. Just to put that in perspective, an NFL team that makes it to the Super Bowl will play at most 20 games a year, and both the NBA and NHL’s regular seasons are only 82 games long. Naturally, it’s hard to convince fans to commit to 81 home games, so baseball owners have long tinkered with all manner of promotions to convince fans to come out to the ball game, ranging from the now regular bobblehead night to the amazing gimmicks dreamt up by American legend Bill Veeck. […]

  2. […] White Sox had recently been acquired by a new owner, the notorious and magnificent baseball legend Bill Veeck. Unfortunately, the team was not expected to do well that year, so Veeck decided that he’d draw […]

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