As aptly put by a baseball card blogger, “If your name alone could get you into the Hall of Fame, then Coot Veal would surely have been inducted years ago.”1 Decades after his last professional game, Inman “Coot” Veal’ is most often remembered for this nickname rather than for his accomplishments as a player. His major-league career spanned only parts of six seasons and a total of 247 games. Altogether, Veal spent 13 seasons in professional baseball after signing with Detroit in 1952.
The lanky Veal was an ideal fit for the classic label of “good field, no hit.” He finished with a big-league career batting average of .231, but the shortstop finished with a fielding percentage of .976, four points higher than that of Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio, who was playing for the White Sox during Veal’s time in the American League.
With only one career home run and limited extra-base hits, he accomplished a rare feat: His career on-base percentage (.298) exceeded his slugging percentage (.288). However, his defensive play at shortstop ranked among the best. Casey Stengel raved about Veal after first seeing him play, saying, “Where ya’ been hidin’ that Cooter Veal?”2 Coot’s fielding skills received accolades wherever he played. Cal Ermer, his manager with the 1958 Birmingham Barons, proclaimed, “He can make all the plays that Luis Aparicio makes.”3
Veal was born on July 9, 1932, in Deepstep, Georgia. His parents, Forrest Watson Veal and Mary Glenn Veal, had four children, with Coot being the middle of three sons. His father, a railroad engineer, played one year of professional baseball in Spartanburg, SC, before hurting his arm. Coot’s boyhood idol was St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion. Using Marion’s signature glove, he played backyard pepper with his dad. Veal’s family moved to Macon, GA, when he was four. There Coot starred at Lanier High School, where he achieved All-State honors in both basketball and baseball. On the diamond, he had a 45-game hitting streak over three seasons and was the MVP of the 1950 state All-Star Game at Ponce de Leon Park in Atlanta.
Inman’s nickname originated in high school. Veal recalled that the coach from his all-White high school “nicknamed me ‘Kook’ after a third baseman on a Black team that barnstormed the area.”4 Later in college “everyone thought that ‘Kook’ was ‘Coot’ and started calling me that.”5
Following high school graduation in 1950, Coot attended Mercer University in his hometown of Macon. After one year he received a baseball scholarship to play at Auburn. There, as a sophomore, he excelled in both baseball and basketball. A guard, he led the basketball team in scoring and assists. Legendary Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp named Veal to his annual All-Star Team. In baseball Veal had a .314 batting average and led the team in hits.
Detroit Tigers scout Bill Pierre pursued Veal through high school and college. Pierre told Coot that he could sign with the Tigers whenever he was ready. “After my sophomore year I called him,” Veal once said. “It was my aspiration to go to Detroit because he had taken a personal interest in me.”6 In June of 1952 the 6’1”, 165-pound right-handed Veal signed a contract with the Tigers for $18,000. “I would have gotten more, but Harvey Kuenn, another shortstop, had signed a week earlier for $45,000 to $50,000.”7 Coot was offered a tryout with Cleveland for the next day. He decided not to attend, instead choosing to marry his high school sweetheart, Mary, on that day back in Georgia.
After a short honeymoon Veal began his professional baseball career. He played with three teams that season: Durham (Class B), Williamsport (Class A), and Jamestown (D). He struggled as a hitter in the two higher levels but fared better in Jamestown where he had a .418 batting average in 13 games. Veal played for five teams the next five seasons and struggled as a hitter. His combined batting average over that period was only .231. “I was a contact hitter who sprayed the ball around. … I had always been a good hitter, but my first year in spring training, 1953, I was given three or four different hitting instructors…who taught me three or four different ways to hit. … It was confusing.”8
At the same time, Coot’s defensive skills were his biggest asset. While at Augusta he led the South Atlantic League in fielding percentage. As a member of the Birmingham Barons in 1957 he was named to the Southern League All-Star Team. At the all-star game that summer, columnist Zip Newman heralded Veal as “the slickest-fielding shortstop the Southern League has seen in decades,” who “saved the game for the All Stars with one of greatest plays ever seen.”9 After slipping in the inch-deep mud while fielding a ball behind second base, with his face in the mud, Coot threw the ball 10 feet to force the runner at second and end a scoring threat.
After six years, life in the minors had become less glamorous for Veal. “I played in strictly bus leagues. A 600-mile trip was nothing,” he reminisced. “When our kids got older it got tougher moving about. We moved every summer.”10 A false ray of hope emerged in 1957 with rumors of a trade to the Yankees and a spot in the big leagues. “They told me I was going to the Yankees in 1957, before Tony Kubek moved up from Richmond.”11
Entering spring training in 1958, it appeared likely that Coot would finally head north with the Tigers. Tigers manager Jack Tighe was enthused about Veal as a reserve infielder. “I like that fellow, Coot Veal, we are trying out. He’s a great glove man and we could afford to carry him for that alone.”12 Unfortunately, things changed as spring training progressed. Veal injured his arm, and the door closed when the Tigers acquired another infielder, Milt Bolling, via trade. Veal began the season with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons. After batting just .133 in 19 games, he returned to double-A Birmingham. There he fared much better with a .273 average through the first 61 games. Suddenly and without warning, the long-awaited moment arrived. While attending a movie with other players, Coot was paged and told to return to the hotel. “My dad was in pretty bad health, and I started running. … My manager was standing outside waving, telling me to calm down. He said, ‘You’re going up to the Tigers.’ I said you’ve got to be kidding me.’”13 Veal caught a plane to Detroit from Memphis. “We started banking. The pilot announced problems with the motor and after six years in the minors, I said, ‘It’s not meant to be.’”14
The plane did make it, and the following day, July 30, Coot was inserted in the starting lineup. “My knees were shaking. … The first time up I got a hit down the third-base line off Ike Delock. … That was a thrill.”15 Veal had previously played for newly-appointed Tigers manager Bill Norman at both Augusta and Charleston. He batted safely in his first six games while the Tigers experienced their longest winning streak of the season, also six games. Coot played regularly and at the end of August was batting .306. Over the same period the Tigers had a winning record and moved up in the standings. Coot started the remainder of the season, and the Tigers contended for a spot in the first division. They ultimately finished out of the money in fifth place with a .500 record, one-half game behind Cleveland. Veal’s hitting faltered in the final month, and he ended the season with a .256 average. Coot finished with a .981 fielding percentage, highest among all regular AL shortstops. His overall performance was impressive enough to earn him a spot at shortstop on The Sporting News MLB All-Star Rookie Team.
Entering the 1959 season, Coot said he “expected to be a full-time player”16 Unfortunately, Tigers management had other thoughts. During the offseason, they acquired veteran shortstop Rocky Bridges from Washington. According to manager Norman, “Veal tightened our defense last season, but I don’t think he’ll hit too much.”17 Bridges started at short for the first 17 games and began the season with a hot bat, hitting .339. At the same time the Tigers posted a dismal record of 2-15. Bill Norman was fired and replaced by Jimmy Dykes as manager. The move further disadvantaged Veal, who later recalled, “Dykes was a fine gentleman, but in 1958 he had been with Cincinnati in the other league and didn’t know me from Adam.”18 Coot appeared in 77 games, but had only 104 plate appearances and finished the season with a meager .202 batting average. He was often used as a late-inning defensive replacement or a pinch-runner.
Despite his limited playing time in 1959, there were a few noteworthy moments. On June 18 at Baltimore, Veal replaced Bridges in the field in the eighth inning. Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Tigers nursed a one-run lead. With two outs, Coot’s error opened the door for the Orioles to score two runs and win the game. Afterwards, Dykes consoled the despondent Veal. “Get your head out of the sand,” Dykes said. “An error is part of the game. Don’t worry about it. It’s all over and done with. Tomorrow’s another day.”19 Against the Senators the following night, Veal, who had been inserted into the game earlier as a pinch-runner, singled in the winning run in the 11th inning. Coot told reporters, “I was pretty low because I never messed up an easy grounder and lost a ball game. But winning a game with a base hit—well, that’s something that doesn’t happen to me very often.”20
Later that year, Bridges was injured, and Veal started at shortstop for several games. On August 11, as part of an 8-1 win over the White Sox, he hit his only major-league home run off Billy Pierce. The ball barely cleared the left-field fence, but in later years Coot bragged that he “knocked two people out of the game at the same time.”21 Outfielder Al Smith was injured trying to make the catch against the fence, and pitcher Pierce was removed from the game for a pinch-hitter shortly after the home run.
During the following offseason, the Tigers traded for Chico Fernández, whom they pegged as the team’s regular shortstop. At the end of spring training in 1960 Coot was optioned, on loan to the Buffalo Bisons, who were the triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. After playing in only 15 games there, Veal was reassigned to the Class AAA Denver Bears, Detroit’s affiliate in the American Association. There he experienced the best continuous offensive production of his career within the Detroit organization. The Bears were on their way to their first triple-A title, with a team that included several future and past major leaguers. Coot hit a robust .302 in 71 games with three home runs, including one in each of three consecutive games. At the time of his August call-up to the Tigers, he was now described as Denver’s “hard-hitting shortstop.”22 His newfound batting skills carried into the rest of the season with Detroit. With 19 hits in 64 at-bats, Veal finished with a .297 average for the Tigers.
Expansion came to baseball in 1961. The Tigers left Veal unprotected in the subsequent draft for the new teams, and the Los Angeles Angels made Coot the 27th pick. The Angels then traded him to the other AL expansion team, the Senators, in exchange for Ken Aspromonte. That spring, with Washington, Veal was optimistic about his chances of finally becoming a regular major-league player. “I’ve noticed that a lot of the younger guys who are getting their first real chance to play in the big leagues are playing the best ball they ever have. It’s almost like being reborn.”23 Veal won the starting shortstop position.
On Opening Day, as the leadoff batter for the new Washington franchise, his infield single became the first hit in team history. Veal got off to a fast start. Four games into the season he led the team in batting average at .429 with an OBP of .500. Regrettably, Coot’s hitting soon tailed off. After sustaining a groin injury in early May from a collision with catcher Earl Battey, his average dipped to .205. Looking back years later Coot remarked, “I always felt there was someone behind me ready to take my place. For that reason, if I had a minor injury, I wouldn’t ask out of the lineup.”24 Soon replaced at shortstop, Veal played intermittently the rest of the season, appeared in only 69 games, and finished with a .202 average. Some of his best memories of that season were home run balls he retrieved while in the Senators’ outfield bullpen. There he caught both the 44th homer of the season by Mickey Mantle and the 45th by Roger Maris.
In November 1961, the Senators sold Veal to the Pirates. Pittsburgh manager “Danny Murtaugh told me that Don Hoak was getting up in age,” Coot remembered. “The Pirates were thinking strongly of moving Dick Groat to third and trying me out at short. But Hoak had a good year, and Groat stayed at short.”25 Veal made the Pirates’ Opening Day roster but by early May had appeared in only one game, as a pinch-hitter. The Pirates sent him down to Columbus in the International League, where he struggled while playing for manager Larry Shepard. Batting only .205 in late June, Veal was traded back to Denver and the Detroit organization. Coot once again found his comfort zone with his former team. He finished the season with a .258 batting average. The Denver team, which included four future members of the 1968 world champion Detroit Tigers, bested the Omaha Dodgers, three games to one, in the first round of postseason playoffs. Subsequently, the Bears fell to the Louisville Colonels in the league championship finals. In one game of that series, Veal exhibited his defensive prowess in a Denver victory. “The veteran short fielder came up with one dazzling play after another,” a correspondent noted. “Several veteran observers rated Veal’s effort the finest fielding performance they had ever seen at Bears Stadium.”26 Coot also shined offensively in the two playoff series, as he finished with a .349 average, five RBIs, and one home run.
Based on his success in Denver, Veal was back with Detroit for their 1963 spring training. A good showing there once again gained him a position on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster. Coot repeated his past pattern of doing well early and fading as the season progressed. Near the end of April, he had a .313 batting average, but he went downhill from there. The Tigers had started the season poorly and on June 18, with a record of 24-36, manager Bob Scheffing was replaced by Charlie Dressen. On June 20, in what would be Veal’s last major-league appearance, he went 0-for-3 against Boston. Dick McAuliffe had been moved earlier to shortstop from second base, making Coot no longer needed as a backup shortstop. Ten days later he was sold to Syracuse, Detroit’s Class AAA farm team. Despite hitting a healthy .317 in 50 games there, Coot was no longer part of the Tigers’ plans for the future. He found himself playing second base in order to make room at short for a young, up-and-coming Ray Oyler.
The following spring, Veal had to look for a home outside of the Detroit organization. He landed with the Cardinals and began the 1964 season with their Class AAA Jacksonville Suns affiliate. After playing there in 80 games and hitting only .200, the Cardinals traded him to the Chicago White Sox. Coot finished the season with their triple-A Indianapolis team.
After the 1964 season, Veal was traded to the New York Mets. He and the Mets could not reach an agreement on contract guarantees. At the age of 31 – after 13 seasons with 24 stops along the way – Coot retired from professional baseball. Despite playing in an era when shortstops were often more noted for their defense than their hitting, the defensive stalwart had not been able to find a long-term baseball home. Veal recalled: “Detroit was a good team, but it was the wrong team for me. I needed to have been with the Yankees or another power-hitting team who would carry a low-hitting, good-fielding shortstop.”27 However, he also concluded, “Playing major-league baseball was the fulfillment of a dream that my dad and I had from the time I was born. … I regretted that I didn’t get to play as much as I’d have liked. … I felt fortunate to have played in the big leagues at a time there were few teams and a lot of competition.”28
At the time of his retirement Veal lacked the requisite time of service in the big leagues (five years at the time) to qualify for a major-league pension. Fortunately for him, he landed with the Macon Mine and Mill Company, where he worked for 43 years and eventually served as vice president. He was inducted into the Macon Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. All four of his children were athletes, and his sons Barry and Brennan eventually joined him in the Macon Sports Hall of Fame. Veal passed away on March 14, 2021, and was buried at Macon Memorial Park. He was survived by his wife, four children, 15 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
This biography was reviewed by Phil Williams and Mike Eisenbath and fact-checked by Ray Danner.
In addition to the sources shown in the notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Andrews, Bob, “A look at my collection of 1959s. Every card has a story,”
3 Watson Spoelstra, “Maxwell, Zernial Visioned by Tighe in Power Platoon,” The Sporting News, March 12, 1958, 6.
4 Danny Peary, We Played the Game (New York, Hyperion, 1994), 205.
5 Peary, We Played the Game, 205.
6 Peary, We Played the Game, 205.
7 Peary, We Played the Game, 205.
8 Peary, We Played the Game, 237.
9 Zip Newman, “Jim McManus and Coot Veal Show Stealers,” Birmingham News, July 18, 1957, 15.
10 Peary, We Played the Game, 377.
11 Peary, We Played the Game, 377.
12 Hal Middlesworth, “‘We Now Have Men to Make Moves During Games’—Tighe,” The Sporting News, March 19, 1958, 4.
13 Peary, We Played the Game, 416.
14 Peary, We Played the Game, 416.
15 Peary, We Played the Game, 416. Veal’s account is inaccurate. The hit was to short right field and dropped in front of Jackie Jensen. Hal Middlesworth, “Susce Softens up Ted, Bosox,” Detroit Free Press, July 31, 1958: 22.
16 Peary, We Played the Game, 449.
17 Robert L. Burnes, “Norman Bullish Over Bengal’s Beef-Up,” The Sporting News, January 21, 1959, 3.
18 Peary, We Played the Game, 449.
19 “Tiger Sub’s Game Winning Hit Brings Quick Atonement,” Lansing State Journal, June 20, 1959, 10.
21 Ed Grismore, Macon Telegraph, April 2, 2010, B5.
22 UPI, The Scranton Tribune, August 1, 1960, 13.
23 Sam Gazdiak, “Obituary: Coot Veal (1932-2021),” RIP Baseball, ripbaseball.com/2021/03/26/obituary-coot-veal-1932-2021/
24 Peary, We Played the Game, 448.
25 Peary, We Played the Game, 545.
26 “Association Atoms.” The Sporting News, September 29, 1962, 28.
27 Peary, We Played the Game, 487.
28 Peary, We Played the Game, 600.
Orville Inman Veal
July 9, 1932 at Deepstep, GA (USA)
March 14, 2021 at Gray, GA (USA)
If you can help us improve this player’s biography, contact us.