Bill Veeck Buys the Sox!

February 29th, 2012by Peter AlterFiled under: Collections, Exhibitions

With spring training almost here, I try to forget about winter in Chicago and turn my mind to baseball. My teenage son, a South Side fan, thinks it is ridiculous that I, a Cubs fan, find White Sox history more interesting. Maybe it’s the Black Sox scandal of 1919 or something else—like two-time Sox owner Bill Veeck—that I find compelling.

In the 1980s, Veeck and his family sent some of his papers to the Museum, which included this cool newspaper cartoon. Come and see it in the Museum’s lobby now through April.

“Hey, Pop–Make This One with Gold Leaf!”
Cartoon, 1959Lou Darvas
Courtesy of Bill and Mary Frances Veeck, ICHi-65243

Cleveland-based cartoonist Lou Darvas sent his original drawing to Veeck in 1959 to mark Veeck’s purchase of the South Siders. The cartoon chronicles Veeck’s career as an owner. His father, William Veeck Sr., ran the Cubs mainly in the 1920s and early 1930s. Growing up in the business, Bill Jr. worked as a vendor at Wrigley, starting when he was ten. After his father died in 1933, he took a job with the Cubs. During that time, he planted what became the famous Wrigley Field ivy.

Bill Veeck, 1959
CHM, ICHi-14720

Veeck undertook his first foray into ownership in 1941, when he bought the then minor league Milwaukee Brewers and started to develop his crazy promotions. The Brewers, for example, held some morning games for Brew City factory workers just getting off their night shifts. At these early contests, you could munch on cereal, eating your breakfast while watching baseball. In 1946, Veeck moved onto the big leagues, buying the Indians and winning a World Series for Cleveland in 1948. That’s the last time Cleveland won the Fall Classic.

He purchased the American League St. Louis Browns in 1951. Veeck eventually hoped to drive the Cardinals out of business or move the Browns to Baltimore. His most famous publicity stunt took place in St. Louis that first year. In the second game of a double header against Detroit, three-foot-seven-inch Eddie Gaedel came up to bat for the Browns wearing 1/8 as his uniform number. The Tigers pitcher walked Gaedel on four straight balls. The Browns then lifted Gaedel for a pinch runner.

After St. Louis, Veeck eventually moved back home to buy the White Sox. He brought fans to Comiskey Park with unusual giveaways, like lobster, cupcake, and pie nights. At a game in May 1959, he had “spacemen” land at Comiskey Park and “capture” two White Sox players. Veeck, in 1960, added fireworks and pinwheels to Comiskey’s scoreboard. Today’s U.S. Cellular Field scoreboard is based on Veeck’s original. With Veeck as owner, the Sox won the 1959 American League pennant but lost the World Series.

Chicago White Sox, 1959
CHM, ICHi-35659

Comiskey Park, first game of the World Series, 1959
CHM, ICHi-22409

White Sox American League pennant victory parade, LaSalle Street, 1959
CHM, ICHi-52131

A few years ago, I was interviewed for a segment on the 1959 Go-Go Sox.

Although he sold the Sox in 1961, Veeck bought them again in 1975. During his second stint as owner, he put showers in the stands for overheated fans and added a group picnic area. For one game in 1976, the South Siders wore shorts. His most infamous promotion, Disco Demolition Night, resulted in a near riot at Comiskey and a Sox forfeit. Veeck’s flair for the unusual makes White Sox history pretty appealing to me at least.

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