This article was written by Jack Bales
This article was published in the Fall 2013 Baseball Research Journal
What with Bill Veeck Jr.’s gregarious nature, numerous achievements, and well-known career as “a champion of the little guy” (to quote from his Hall of Fame plaque), it is not surprising that writers have penned quite a few profiles of the flamboyant baseball executive. On the other hand, regrettably little ink has been spilled in coverage of his father, the lesser-known Veeck Sr., an “unsung hero in MLB history.”
What with Bill Veeck Jr.’s gregarious nature, numerous achievements, and well-known career as “a champion of the little guy” (to quote from his Hall of Fame plaque), it is not surprising that writers have penned quite a few profiles of the flamboyant baseball executive. On the other hand, regrettably little ink has been spilled in coverage of his father, the lesser-known Veeck Sr., an “unsung hero in MLB history.”What with Bill Veeck Jr.’s gregarious nature, numerous achievements, and well-known career as “a champion of the little guy” (to quote from his Hall of Fame plaque), it is not surprising that writers have penned quite a few profiles of the flamboyant baseball executive. On the other hand, regrettably little ink has been spilled in coverage of his father, the lesser-known Veeck Sr. According to Dr. David Fletcher, founder and president of the Chicago Baseball Museum, the elder Veeck is an “unsung hero in MLB history.” After all, William Louis Veeck Sr. (called Bill by his friends) enthusiastically promoted Ladies’ Days and the radio broadcasts of ball games, figuring—correctly—that fans would flock to his ballpark. As president of the Chicago Cubs (a position similar to today’s general manager), he brought home two National League pennants (1929 and 1932) and helped build the foundations for two others (1935 and 1938). One could argue that the baseball world of the 1920s and early 1930s had in Veeck Sr. a visionary whose accomplishments and career rivaled the later ones of his namesake.[fn]David Fletcher, “Chicago Baseball Museum to Honor Veeck Family on Sept. 20,” Society for American Baseball Research, http://sabr.org/latest/chicago-baseball-museum-honor-veeck-family-sept-20-event (accessed August 12, 2013). Several tributes published after Veeck’s death mention that he was usually called Bill, not William. E.g., “‘Bill’ Veeck, President of the Cubs, Is Dead,” Chicago Daily News, October 5, 1933, 1; Edward J. Geiger, “Geiger Says: ‘Bill Veeck Ardent Baseball Man in Days As Scribe,’” Chicago Evening American, October 6, 1933, 37. I occasionally refer to him as William or Veeck Sr. to avoid confusion with his son.[/fn]
That career began in Boonville, Indiana, a small village near Evansville, where he was born on January 20, 1877, the son of Dutch parents.[fn]“‘Bill’ Veeck, President of the Cubs, Is Dead,” 1; Jim Gallagher, “Lifetime Story of Bill Veeck, Cub President,” Chicago Evening American, October 5, 1933, 25, 30. Veeck’s birth year has been recorded as 1876, 1877, and 1878. Dr. David Fletcher of the Chicago Baseball Museum sent me a photograph of Veeck’s tombstone in Hinsdale, Illinois, which bears 1877. See also Jack Bales, “‘It Was His Fairness That Caught Wrigley’s Eye’: William L. Veeck’s Journalism Career and His Hiring by the Chicago Cubs,” NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 20, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 10, note 3[/fn] Veeck’s first job was selling newspapers, and at age ten he became a messenger boy for Western Union. He next worked in the village drugstore and also helped his father, a wagon builder and cabinet maker. As detailed in a biographical sketch written by his friend, sportswriter Jim Gallagher, when the youth was fourteen “the lure of printers’ ink trapped him” and he sought employment as a pressroom helper and printer’s apprentice for his hometown newspaper. [fn] Gallagher, “Lifetime Story of Bill Veeck,” 30. See also “‘Bill’ Veeck, President of the Cubs, Is Dead,” 1, 21; Paul Dickson, Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick (New York: Walker & Co., 2012), 7.[/fn]
After six years on the Boonville Standard, however, young Bill felt that he was wasting his talents in a small village. He and a friend, Frank Snyder, came up with the idea of wandering from Indiana through Kentucky as traveling photographers, taking pictures of people, buildings, and scenes while selling the photos along their way. The picture-taking was easy, they discovered; it was the selling of them that proved difficult.
A discouraged Snyder went home to Boonville, while Veeck drifted on to St. Louis and then back to Kentucky, where he landed a reporter’s position on the Louisville Courier-Journal. He returned to Boonville for a brief time, just long enough to marry his childhood sweetheart, Grace DeForest, on October 17, 1900. He might have remained in Louisville if a stifling heat wave had not hit the area during the following summer. When the thermometer registered 107 degrees on July 24, he told his wife, “Pack up, we’re going to Chicago. I can’t stand this any longer, it’s too hot for me. At least they got a lake up there.”[fn]Gallagher, “Lifetime Story of Bill Veeck,” 30; “‘Bill’ Veeck, President of the Cubs, Is Dead,” 21. Veeck’s marriage is in “William L. Veeck, Head of Cubs, Dies,” The New York Times, October 6, 1933, 17; Dickson, Bill Veeck, 7. Veeck quotation about the heat is from John P. Carmichael, “Prexy Bill Veeck: The Man Behind the Cubs,” Chicago Daily News, September 15, 1932, sec. 2, 17. (“This is the first of a series of articles on the career of William Veeck, president of the Cubs.” Carmichael wrote a five-part series of articles on Veeck that ran in the Daily News on September 15–17, 19, and 20, 1932.) Gallagher notes that Veeck and his wife left Louisville in 1902, but the temperature reached 107 degrees on July 24, 1901, Louisville’s hottest day on record. See National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service Weather The Baseball Research Journal, Fall 2013 Forecast Office, Louisville, Kentucky, “Top Ten Heat Events for Kentucky and Southern Indiana,” http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lmk/?n=top10heat (accessed July 30, 2013)[/fn]
Veeck resigned his job in Louisville but soon found another on the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper and then with the Chicago Chronicle. He had played ball as a youngster, and with his older brother, Ed, having been a catcher on a semi-pro team in Evansville, he continued to follow the game while working as a journalist. Many years later, Ed W. Smith, a retired sports editor of several Chicago newspapers, recalled that he met Veeck when they both worked on the Chronicle. Smith reminisced that “it was in Bill’s blood, his love of [baseball],” and “he wouldn’t have traded jobs with the President.” That may have been true, but Veeck unfortunately had to leave his position in 1907, as did Smith, because the paper ceased publication on May 31. According to an article published that day in the Chicago Daily Tribune, the Chronicle “had not been a paying investment at any time,” and rumors of its suspension or change in ownership had been circulating for months. Perhaps the two friends, foreseeing the collapse of the newspaper, had inquired about other job opportunities, for as Smith commented, “Quickly we were together on The Chicago [Evening] American.”[fn]Ed W. Smith, “Ed Smith Writes of Early Days with Bill Veeck,” Chicago Evening American, October 6, 1933, 39; “Chronicle Quits; Last Issue Today,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 31, 1907, 1. Veeck and his brother playing baseball is in Carmichael, “Prexy Bill Veeck,” September 15, 1932, sec. 2, 17 (see n. 4). [/fn]
Veeck went right to work as a reporter. Decades later, the newspaper’s sports editor, Edward J. Geiger, recalled that even though Veeck was hired to cover the city news beat, “He spent much of his spare time in the baseball department watching the baseball ticker. He loved baseball like a dyed-in-the-wool fan and was a keen student of the game.” Two years later, when the American’s sportswriter left the paper, Veeck stepped into the vacant position, where he had the opportunity to put his baseball knowledge to good use. Researchers will never know the extent of his contributions to the American, however, as many of its news and sports features lacked bylines. A systematic review of the newspaper does reveal that his first signed piece—under the name of William L. Veeck—was an article on the Chicago White Sox and their race for the American League pennant, published on September 3, 1907, soon after he joined the staff.[fn]Geiger, “Geiger Says,” 37; William L. Veeck, “Sox Can Almost Tie for First Place by Winning Today’s Game,” Chicago Evening American, September 3, 1907, 9.[/fn]
More articles followed this one, although on March 3, 1908, Veeck replaced his byline with that of “Bill Bailey.” His motives for adopting the pen name are unknown, though the decision was certainly no journalistic secret. Bill Veeck Jr. maintains in his autobiography that Bill Bailey was the paper’s “stock sports byline,” but if that were the case, why did other sportswriters, such as Ed W. Smith and Harry Neily, contribute articles under their own names? The March 3 piece, titled “Bill Bailey’s Column,” is an assortment of baseball-related anecdotes. If Veeck intended to regularly compile a collection of miscellaneous sports news, perhaps he wanted a new name to go along with the new feature. While “Bill Bailey’s Column” did not last long in the newspaper, the alliterative byline did, and Veeck apparently felt comfortable with his pseudonym. [fn]“Bill Bailey’s Column,” Chicago Evening American, March 3, 1908, 8; Bill Veeck with Ed Lynn, Veeck—As in Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1962), 25. See also Ed W. Smith, “Mowatt Has $3,000 to Bet on Papke at 7–10,” Chicago Evening American, February 28, 1908, 8; Harry Neily, “Cubs Ready to Start; Archer Missing,” Chicago Evening American, February 21, 1917, 7. For articles that show Veeck’s pen name was well known, see “New Cub Heads Get Stock in Chicago Club,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1918, 6; “Chicago’s Greatest Sporting Pages,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 5, 1918, G11.[/fn]
Although Veeck’s career as a sportswriter was off to a successful start, his personal life suffered a horrific tragedy on September 29, 1909. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, that evening the Veecks’ young son, Maurice Forest Veeck, was playing “warrior” (a game with wooden guns and swords) with a friend, Preston Lavin. The two seven-year-old boys had been friends “ever since they were old enough to run about out of doors,” and every day after school they would play at one or the other’s home. On this particular evening they were at the Lavin residence and had come across a loaded revolver that Preston’s father had carelessly left on a table in the library. Preston was showing Maurice how the gun worked when it accidentally discharged, striking the Veeck boy under his right eye and killing him.
The death was ruled accidental. Paul Dickson, author of Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick, writes that one of William L. Veeck’s grandchildren told him that after Maurice died, “My grandmother really didn’t want to have children—or at least that’s the impression she gave—but my grandfather prevailed.” Two years later, on April 27, 1911, Grace Veeck gave birth to Margaret Ann Veeck. Margaret was followed by William Louis Veeck Jr. on February 9, 1914. When young Bill was one year old, the family moved to Hinsdale, a western suburb of Chicago.
Dickson also mentions that Grace Veeck “never really got over” the death of her first son, “becoming much less social and given to long, solitary walks. For his part, William Veeck threw himself even more deeply into his work as a sportswriter….”[fn]“Boy Kills His Chum at Play,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 30, 1909,3; Dickson, Bill Veeck, 8–9.[/fn]
Veeck’s concentration on his journalism career is evident from reading the sports pages of the Chicago Evening American. Even the articles he wrote during his first few years on the paper are not mere recordings of bare-bones facts, but they instead exhibit craftsmanship and the vivid portrayal of scenes for his readers. His descriptive, almost lyrical essays prompted Chicago’s “adless daily newspaper,” the Day Book, to refer to him as the Evening American’s “baseball literary gent.”[fn]“Sporting Items,” Chicago Day Book, July 23, 1912, 18.[/fn]
Veeck’s emphasis on striking details is reflected in an article he wrote on Babe Ruth in 1918. That was the ballplayer’s breakout year in terms of plate appearances (382 as compared to 142 the year before), and opposing pitchers had quickly discovered—and feared—his big bat. On July 11, the White Sox lost, 4–0, to the Red Sox, a game about which a sportswriter for the Washington Post pointed out, “[Eddie] Cicotte was hit safely nine times, three of them doubles to left by Babe Ruth.” The next day Veeck did not simply focus on the power of Ruth’s swing; he also adroitly weaved into his narrative why a pitcher needs a certain mental toughness and confidence each time he steps on the mound. Following are three paragraphs from “All Pitchers Look Alike to Ruth, Red Sox Slugger”:
How are you going to pitch to Ruth? Eddie Cicotte, veteran, cool, crafty, sharp in the art of pitching, did a bit of experimenting in this opening battle. He had read that the Cleveland twirlers tried speed, hooks, had kept the ball high and low, and, regardless of their wiles, Ruth kept right on driving it to the distant fences.
So Cicotte determined he would profit by their mistakes. The first time that Ruth strode to the plate, which was in the second inning, Cicotte determined to sneak one past him. He put all the speed he possessed on the sphere and shot it across the outside corner of the plate.
That it would have passed that point had Ruth kept his bat on his shoulder is certain. But he didn’t. He swung, and there was all the strength of his tremendous shoulders and broad back behind the swing. There was the crash of timber against horsehide and [Fred] McMullin had an excellent view of something resembling a pea shooting between him and the bag. By the time [Nemo] Leibold had retrieved the sphere Ruth was perched upon second base. And Cicotte was certain that a fast one was not the weakness o’ this giant.[fn]Ruth’s plate appearances are in “Babe Ruth,” Baseball-reference.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/ruthba01.shtml (accessed August 12, 2013). “Red Sox Keep Up Shut-Out Pace, Beating White Sox As Ruth Gathers Three Doubles,” Washington Post, July 12, 1918, 8; Bill Bailey, “All Pitchers Look Alike to Ruth, Red Sox Slugger,” Chicago Evening American, July 13, 1918, 7. First names of players are from http://www.baseball-reference.com.[/fn]
Veeck’s articles, however, are not limited to dashing accounts of athletic prowess. As a professional sports reporter, Veeck carefully studied the players and did not hesitate to point out problems and suggest solutions. When recalling the Cubs of 1917, for instance, he maintained that first baseman Vic Saier “could have discarded his bat for a toothpick and been just as effective against left-hand pitching.” After Veeck watched a March 1918 exhibition game, he wrote that catcher Bill Killefer “caught nicely enough, but his throwing arm isn’t anywhere near right.” While the ballplayers were preparing to leave their spring training site in Pasadena, California, at the end of March, Veeck observed that “an epidemic of sore arms and injured legs has swept the camp, with the result that the majority of the men are in anything but fit condition for a bruising campaign.” In April Veeck asked, “Is [Charlie] Hollocher going to prove a star in the field and a fizzle at the bat?… He’s the lead-off man, but so far has not displayed the patience of a great waiter, consequently seldom draws a base on balls.”[fn]Vic Saier’s “toothpick” quotation is from Bill Bailey, “Cubs Now Have Six Right-Hand Batters,” Chicago Evening American, February 14, 1918, 6. Bill Killefer’s “throwing arm” quotation is from Bill Bailey, “Hollocher Hits Poorly; Shines in Field,” Chicago Evening American, March 23, 1918, 7. William Wrigley building a spring training field for the Cubs is in James Crusinberry, “Regular Park in California, Plan for Cubs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 28, 1917, 11. The “epidemic of sore arms” quotation is from Bill Bailey, “Cubs Hit Trail After Vernon Game To-Day,” Chicago Evening American, March 27, 1918, 7. Charlie Hollocher’s “star in the field” quotation is from Bill Bailey, “Alexander and Tyler Blank All Comers,” Chicago Evening American, April 2, 1918, 6.[/fn]
Throughout Veeck’s journalism career he provided similar perceptive analyses about various aspects of many sports. A misconception held by some writers, however, is that his observations on the Cubs throughout the 1918 season were more caustic than critical, which eventually prompted club Director William Wrigley to challenge him, “If you think you can do a better job of running my ball club, why go ahead.” A reading of Veeck’s articles, though, reveals no scathing outbursts. Nor did he contribute a “series” of biting articles on the mismanagement of the team, as some writers have maintained. But then, with the Cubs playing particularly well that year, there was little reason for him to write such diatribes. As early as May, Veeck and other sportswriters publicly predicted the Cubs would have a winning season—albeit a war-shortened one—and the team went on to win the National League pennant.[fn]Wrigley quotation is in “Head of Cubs Fights for Life,” Washington Post,
October 3, 1933, 17. Veeck’s pointed articles are also mentioned in “‘Bill’ Veeck, President of the Cubs, Is Dead,” 21; “William Louis Veeck,” The Sporting News, October 12, 1933, 4; “William Veeck: He Made the Cubs Popular,” The Sporting News, October 12, 1933, 4. When Bill Veeck Jr. declared in Veeck—As in Wreck (23, 25) that his father had published a “series” of articles on the Cubs’ mismanagement, other writers repeated the statement. For example, see Peter Golenbock, Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 176–77. The story that Veeck routinely lambasted the team likely originated with United Press staff correspondent Dixon Stewart in 1931. See Dixon Stewart, “Challenge Led to Success of Cub President,” Berkeley (California) Daily Gazette, January 17, 1931, 9; Bales, “‘It Was His Fairness That Caught Wrigley’s Eye,’” 1–2, 8. Wrigley as a Cubs director is in J. J. Alcock, “Cubs a $1,000,000 Ball Club; Directorate Raised to Nine,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 8, 1916, 15. Season predictions are in Bill Bailey, “Cubs Have Good Chance in Flag Race, Says Expert,” Chicago Evening American, May 6, 1918, 6; “Giants Climb Fast in Pennant Chase: Chicago Appears to Be Only Club Which Can Halt McGraw’s Speedy Team,” The New York Times, May 6, 1918, 10; James Crusinberry, “Cubs, Other Teams, Have Flag Chance; Giant Defense Weak,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 29, 1918, 11.[/fn]
Alas, the Cubs fell to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, 4 games to 2. A disappointed Veeck wrote a column on the “disastrous” outcome, but with the end of the season it was time to move on. His baseball coverage gave way to other sports, such as football, and with the advent of fall he was soon spending time on the gridiron rather than on the baseball grounds. In September and October, for instance, he profiled head football coaches Amos Alonzo Stagg at the University of Chicago and Fred J. Murphy of Northwestern University.[fn]Column on World Series is Bill Bailey, “Tyler’s Lapse of Memory Fatal,” Chicago Evening American, September 16, 1918, 5. Profiles include Bill Bailey, “Athletes Make Ideal Soldiers, So Says Coach A. A. Stagg: Wants Mass Athletics for All,” Chicago Evening American, September 26, 1918, 7; Bill Bailey, “Stagg to Start Herculean Task Tomorrow,” Chicago Evening American, October 12, 1918, 7; Bill Bailey, “Murphy Finds a Real Friend of Boys,” Chicago Evening American, October 30, 1918, 7.[/fn]
The routine of the Chicago Cubs front office was undergoing changes as well. Shortly after restaurateur Charles Weeghman and other investors—including chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr.—purchased the team from Charles P. Taft in 1916, club president Weeghman found himself in financial difficulties. Wrigley liked Weeghman, and agreed to lend him money, receiving Cubs stock as collateral. Wrigley’s interest in the club gradually grew and he soon became not only a major stockholder but also “an enthusiastic fan,” in the words of the Chicago Daily Tribune. In 1917 the Cubs began spring training at the playing field he had built for them near his home in Pasadena, and Wrigley enjoyed mingling with both the players and the sportswriters who accompanied them.[fn]An excellent article on Weeghman’s many interests and investments is Hugh S. Fullerton, “Baseball Magnate Who Made Success Success [sic] Possible Once a Waiter,” Chicago Day Book, March 2, 1914, 27–28. Purchase of the Cubs is in James Crusinberry, “Weeghman Owns Cubs; Hands Over $500,000,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 21, 1916, 11; James Crusinberry, “Rivals in Loop Now Partners in New Cubs, Chicago Daily Tribune, January 23, 1916, B1; I. E. Sanborn, “The Big Chicago Deal Completed,” Sporting Life, January 29, 1916, 6; “Half Million in Cash on Deadline! And Cubs Are His,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 4, 1936, 19. Weeghman in financial difficulties is in “Baseball Career Costs Weeghman Over $1,000,000,” Washington Herald, October 7, 1918, 6; “Baseball Costly to Weeghman,” New York Tribune, August 11, 1920, 10. Wrigley buying stock is in James Crusinberry, “Wrigley Buys Another Block of Cubs’ Stock,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 12, 1916, 15. Wrigley is referred to as a major stockholder and “enthusiastic fan” in James Crusinberry, “Killefer Wagers Ten Cent Cigar; Cashes $1,000,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 8, 1918, A5. Material on Wrigley mingling with players and reporters and visiting the spring training site is in James Crusinberry, “Regular Park in California, Plan for Cubs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 28, 1917, 11; James Crusinberry, “Alex Refuses to Take Part in Cubs’ Drill,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 17, 1918, A1; Irving Vaughn, “Wrigley’s Son to Carry on Dream of Winner,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 27, 1932, 19.[/fn]
By late 1918, Wrigley had purchased Cubs stock from Weeghman and other stockholders. Weeghman resigned as president, and when the Cubs board of directors met in early December that year, the members elected team manager Fred Mitchell president of the club. William L. Veeck was elected vice president and treasurer, succeeding William Walker.
Veeck’s colleague on the Chicago Evening American, Harry Neily, said that people had known for several weeks that Mitchell would replace Weeghman, “but the appointment of Bill Veeck came as a distinct surprise to the fans.” Veeck, however, was well known in baseball circles; the care with which he had handled his responsibilities as the Chicago representative of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America had earned him favorable notice. Veeck had covered the Cubs’ spring training activities in Pasadena earlier that year and first met Wrigley while attending a dinner party with other newspapermen at the businessman’s home. Many years later, Veeck remarked during an interview that he had always tried to be an impartial reporter who was “telling the truth” and that his well-reasoned, occasionally critical articles in the Evening American had attracted Wrigley’s attention. “I never flattered [the players] when they didn’t have it coming,” he told Chicago Daily News sportswriter John P. Carmichael. “Nor do I like to see any writer now do that.” He added that “baseball fans are not dumb; they’re entitled to intelligent comment on the game.”[fn]Weeghman’s finances and resignation are in “Weeghman, Boss of Cubs, Will Resign,” Washington Herald, November 20, 1918, 6; “Mitchell’s Elevation As Head of Cubs Pleases Chicago Fans,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1918, 2; Harry Neily, “Death Ends Meteoric Career of Charley Weeghman, Angel of Federal League and Former Owner of Cubs,” The Sporting News, November 10, 1938, 7. New Cubs officers are in James Crusinberry, “Mitchell, Veeck, and Seys Named to Direct Cubs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 8, 1918, A5; “New Officers for Cubs,” The New York Times, December 8, 1918, 31; “New Cub Heads Get Stock in Chicago Club,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1918, 6. The “distinct surprise” quotation is from Harry Neily, “Bill Veeck Is Made a Cub Official,” Chicago Evening American, December 9, 1918, 7. Carmichael quotations are from John P. Carmichael, “Prexy Bill Veeck: The Man Behind the Cubs,” Chicago Daily News, September 16, 1932, sec. 3, 32. (“This is the second of a series of articles on the career of William Veeck, president of the Cubs.” See n. 4.)[/fn]
It was this fair and intelligent commentary that had not only attracted Wrigley’s attention but also earned his respect. In July 1919, Veeck assumed the role as president of the Cubs after Fred Mitchell resigned so he could devote all his efforts to managing the team. The former sportswriter had little time to get accustomed to his new duties, however, for soon he was confronting an issue that threatened the public’s confidence not only in baseball but also in his own team. That problem was gambling. The World Series that fall featured the Chicago White Sox facing off against the Cincinnati Reds. Hugh Fullerton, among a few other journalists, suspected that gamblers had bribed some of the players, and in mid-December he wrote the first of a series of articles for the New York Evening World, “Is Big League Baseball Being Run for Gamblers, with Players in the Deal?” Many baseball fans scoffed at the rumors, however, refusing to believe that the integrity of their favorite sport had been compromised. Owners may have had their suspicions, but they just wanted the whole controversy to disappear.[fn]“Mitchell Resigns As Cub President; Veeck Is Advanced,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 7, 1919, 14; Hugh S. Fullerton, “Is Big League Baseball Being Run for Gamblers, with Players in the Deal?,” New York Evening World, December 15, 1919, 3, 20; Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns, and others, Baseball: An Illustrated History, updated ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), 140–42.[/fn]
For a while it did—but not for long. With spring came the start of the 1920 season, and as Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns relate in their Baseball: An Illustrated History, “Other players on other teams evidently began to see the advantages of getting close to gamblers.” Unfortunately for Veeck, some of those players were with the Cubs. For instance, on February 21, the baseball club announced that utility player Lee Magee, who had joined the Cubs the year before, would not play with any National League team that summer. “There was mystery in the way the announcement was guarded,” contended a reporter for the Washington Herald, and sportswriters wondered what had led to Magee’s dismissal. The mystery was cleared up a few months later, when newspapers reported that on February 10, Magee had confessed to Veeck and National League President John Heydler that while he was with the Cincinnati Reds, he had tried to “toss” the first game of a July 25, 1918, doubleheader with the Boston Braves.
This apparently was not a solitary incident; The Sporting News disclosed that Veeck and Heydler said that Magee had “made a ‘clean breast’ of his crookedness … when they called him to Chicago to explain certain evidence of his dishonesty that had come into their possession.” Veeck and other baseball officials had decided in December 1919 that Magee should be released by the Cubs for “indifferent ball playing,” and he never played professional baseball again.[fn]Ward, Baseball: An Illustrated History, 142; “After Statement on Lee Magee Case,” Washington Herald, February 22, 1920, 8. “Toss” quotation and Veeck’s decision to release Magee are from “Magee Testifies He Bet on Reds,” The New York Times, June 9, 1920, 12. “‘Clean breast’ of his crookedness” quotation is from “Magee Makes a Sorry Showing Before Jury,” The Sporting News, June 17, 1920, 2. “Indifferent ball playing” quotation is from “Cubs Are Named in Gambling Charges,” The New York Times, September 5, 1920, S16.[/fn]
National League officials formally commended the Chicago club in June 1920 “for forcing into the full light of publicity its reason for the discharge of Player Lee Magee.” Veeck’s integrity as the Cubs’ president was tested again two months later, when on August 31 he received six telegrams and two long-distance phone calls warning him that the Cubs–Phillies game that day was “fixed” for Philadelphia to win. The Chicago Herald and Examiner broke the story on September 4. The newspaper followed this article with a major piece the next day, announcing that Veeck “yesterday afternoon confirmed the news story … that gamblers had renewed their effort to get control of baseball…. A betting pool of $50,000 was said to be up, and Philadelphia won, true to the ‘dope,’ defeating Chicago 3 to 0.”
The September 5 Chicago Herald and Examiner article revealed that the sender of one of the telegrams had advised Veeck that Pete Alexander should be substituted for scheduled pitcher Claude Hendrix. The article also included a lengthy statement by the Cubs president in which he furnished the text of the six telegrams and the content of the two phone calls. Veeck said in part:
Our unfortunate experience of last year [learning of Magee’s questionable playing] made us feel doubly responsible to the great baseball-loving public, and, after conference, Manager [Fred] Mitchell and I decided to pitch Mr. Alexander, though he had pitched but three days before, and it was another twenty-four hours until his turn should come.
We know that Alexander is a man above all suspicion and felt with our premier pitcher in the box we were doing all we could, if there was any foundation to the charges, to insure that a dastardly conspiracy, if any such existed, be thwarted.
I personally sent for Alexander and sketched the situation to him, offering him a bonus of $500 if he won that particular game, and I am sure that no man ever went into the box wanting to win more than did Alexander.
Despite the pitcher’s efforts (and the monetary incentive), he was just not up to the task. Following the Cubs’ loss, Veeck contacted the manager of the Burns Detective Agency in Chicago and instructed him to locate the persons who had sent the telegrams and made the phone calls and to obtain from them any evidence they might have. He also asked the Chicago Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association for assistance in identifying the parties. In a letter to Tribune sportswriter Irving Sanborn, president of the chapter, Veeck wrote that “my sole idea is to have this investigation open and effective [so] that the charge can never be brought that the Chicago National League ball club attempted to protect in any manner whatsoever any player against whom there is any evidence.”[fn]“Full light of publicity” quotation is from “Magnates of League Laud Cub Stand on Magee Case Publicity,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 24, 1920, 15. “Warned of Fixed Game, Says Veeck; Demands Inquiry,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, September 5, 1920, final edition, sec. 1, 1–2 (text of telegrams also in “Start Quiz to Save Baseball from Gamblers,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 5, 1920, 1). “My sole idea” quotation is from “Scribes Will Go into ‘Fixed Game’ Charge on Request of Cubs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 6, 1920, 15.[/fn]
Events moved swiftly after that. On September 8 the newspapers reported that Chief Justice Charles A. McDonald of Chicago’s Criminal Court had ordered a grand jury investigation into the scandal. Within two weeks, however, disgruntled baseball fans had also clamored for an investigation into the 1919 World Series, and soon the focus shifted from the Cubs to the White Sox.
The grand jury never issued a decision concerning the August 31 Cubs–Phillies game. Although Hendrix and several other Cubs players who also had been under suspicion were never formally charged or banned from baseball, all were dropped by the team before the start of the 1921 season. In a February 8, 1921, Chicago Daily Tribune article, sportswriter James Crusinberry relates that according to Veeck, there was no evidence against Hendrix; the Cubs simply wanted to build a team of younger players. Nevertheless, Crusinberry does note that the pitcher’s name “was mentioned in an incident that started the big fireworks which culminated in the confessions of three White Sox players that the world’s series of 1919 was thrown.”[fn]Grand jury investigation is in “Jurors Cheer As Judge Orders Baseball Quiz,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 8, 1920, 9. Disgruntled fans are in Fred M. Loomis, “Is Anything Wrong with Sox?: 1919 World Series Scandal Revived; Fan Seeks Answer to Rumors,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 19, 1920, A1; “Fans Lose Patience at Official Lagging in Baseball Scandal,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 20, 1920, 21. “Big fireworks” quotation and building up a young team are from James Crusinberry, “Claude Hendrix Handed Release by Boss of Cubs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 8, 1921, 14; “Young Material for Trojan’s Cubs,” Washington Post, January 28, 1921, 10.[/fn]
One could argue that it was Veeck who lit the first fuse to the aforementioned big fireworks (and who helped extinguish a few stray sparks by prominently serving on a committee that in 1920 elected Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as baseball’s first commissioner). In early 1922, Veeck’s name was facetiously connected to the White Sox controversy after he directed that Cubs ballplayers had to wear clean uniforms. No longer could a superstitious player on a batting streak wear the same suit without washing it, and Veeck promptly ordered four uniforms for each player—two for home games and two for those on the road. Baseball writer, poet, and humorist William F. Kirk commemorated the mandate with a poem, “The Nice Clean Cubs.” The first verse reads:
PRESIDENT VEECK, of Chicago’s Cubs, Is taking a stand for laundry tubs. He says he wants his Cubs to play In spotless uniforms every day. Whatever those White Sox might have been, The Cubs, says Veeck, must all come clean![fn]“Landis the ‘Big Umpire,’” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 13, 1920, 1; Veeck, Veeck—As in Wreck, 25; David Pietrusza, Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (South Bend, IN: Diamond Communications, 1998), 163, 168–70; “Frisky Cub Players Must Show in Clean Togs, Even If Jinxed,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 8, 1922, 14; William F. Kirk, “Strolls Through Sportville: The Nice Clean Cubs,” Washington Times, April 28, 1922, 20.[/fn]
Veeck’s stipulation was not as frivolous as the rhyme perhaps makes it appear, for both he and William Wrigley recognized that an attractive ballpark setting (including the appearance of its denizens) sells more tickets and puts more fans in the seats thanone that is not well maintained. For instance, to help keep game days running smoothly and orderly, they employed Andy Frain, whose uniformed, well-trained ushers were fixtures around the park for decades. In a 1937 Sporting News interview, Club Secretary Margaret Donahue remarks that Wrigley and Veeck “were strong for the clean, well-kept grounds and stands, an idea many clubs have followed.”[fn]Andy Frain was hired in 1928. See “Family’s Ticket to Fame,” Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1991; Rex Lardner, “‘The Crowd Is Your Enemy,’” Sports Illustrated, October 2, 1961, 49–50. Edward Burns, “Margaret Donahue, Cub Secretary, One-Time Sox Fan, Joined Bruins Against Will in 1919,” The Sporting News, November 4, 1937, 5. See also “William Veeck: He Made the Cubs Popular,” 4 (see n. 12): Veeck “believed in making the park attractive, furbishing it up every spring, and presenting a spic and span corps of ushers.”[/fn]
Donahue (whom Veeck hired in 1919 as a stenographer and who rose to corporate secretary in 1926 and became a vice president in 1950) helped her boss promote the weekly Ladies’ Days at the Cubs’ ballpark.
Although Veeck did not originate Ladies’ Days, as he is sometimes credited, he certainly refined the concept. In the summer of 1927, the former journalist contributed an article to Printer’s Ink magazine on the success he and the Cubs had with their “Every Friday is ‘Ladies’ Day’ at Wrigley Field” advertisements in Chicago’s newspapers. He explains that by the Cubs admitting women free on Fridays, “We have also added many women to our list of regular patrons.” Furthermore, the women who attended games “saw that the park was an attractive spot and that the atmosphere was of such a nature as to make it a wholesome place. …”
Others saw the significance of Veeck’s thinking. In the August 28, 1930, issue of The Sporting News, Francis J. Powers remarks that Veeck “went far out of his way to make the women understand they were welcome at the Cub Park.” Powers also observes that the one day each week that is set aside for the free admission of women not only fosters goodwill but also encourages the women to become “regular followers of the Bruins,” which helps fill the ballpark on other days.[fn]“New Cubs Secretary,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 14, 1926, 23; Howard Roberts, “Miss Donahue Didn’t Want Cubs Job: Leaves After 39 Years,” Chicago Daily News, February 1, 1958, 16; “Former Cubs’ Exec Margaret Donahue Dies,” Chicago Tribune, January 31, 1978, B4; Tim Wiles, “Ladies Step Out in Numbers to the Ballpark,” Memories and Dreams 26, no. 4 (Winter 2004), 24–25; William L. Veeck, “The Chicago ‘Cubs’ Do Advertise—To Women,” Printer’s Ink, July 14, 1927, 52; Francis J. Powers, “Current Comment,” The Sporting News, August 28, 1930, 4; John P. Carmichael, “Prexy Bill Veeck: The Man Behind the Cubs,” Chicago Daily News, September 20, 1932, sec. 2, 17. (“This is the last of a series of articles on the career of William Veeck, president of the Cubs.” See n. 4.) See also Roberts Ehrgott, Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs During the Jazz Age (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), 53–55.[/fn]
In a similar vein, Veeck and Wrigley advocated the broadcasting of games, for they realized that radio would increase fan interest as well as introduce baseball— and the Cubs—to a whole new group of enthusiasts, many of whom would then enjoy spending afternoons outdoors watching the teams play. In the early 1920s, most club owners were skeptical of radio and feared the opposite would happen: fans would prefer to relax at home and listen to games rather than pay money and go to the ballpark. The two Cubs executives were undoubtedly pleased when the team made its radio debut on October 1, 1924, with A. W. “Sen” Kaney broadcasting the opening game of the Cubs–White Sox City Series from atop the grandstand roof of the park’s single deck.
That week, radio station WMAQ in Chicago began its play-by-play coverage of the Washington Senators–New York Giants World Series. In radio’s early days, WMAQ broadcast games on a limited basis, and in the spring of 1925, program director Judith Waller sounded out William Wrigley about her station putting Cubs’ games on the air. “Whether he was intrigued by the fact that a woman was asking him for this privilege, or just because the whole venture was so new, I don’t know,” she recalled years later, but he listened carefully to her suggestion.[fn]Ehrgott, Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club, 37–53; Eldon L. Ham, Broadcasting Baseball: A History of the National Pastime on Radio and Television (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), 35–36, 45–48, 52, 54, 67–68; Jonathan Fraser Light, The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, 2d ed. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 186; Elmer Douglass, “Say, You! Meet Elmer, Radio Baseball Fan,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 2, 1924, 10; “‘Sen’ Kaney Is Coming Over to W-G-N Tuesday,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 26, 1924, 10; Bruce A. Linton, “A History of Chicago Radio Station Programming, 1921–1931, with Emphasis on Stations WMAQ and WGN” (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1953), 117, 136, 178–79; “Radio Programs for Today,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 14, 1925, 10. Judith Waller quotation is from Mary E. Williamson, “Judith Cary Waller: Chicago Broadcasting Pioneer,” Journalism History 3, no. 4 (Winter 1976–1977): 112.[/fn]
One cannot help but wonder if Veeck—a former newspaperman—was also initially intrigued by radio. Most print journalists at the time felt threatened by the development of broadcast journalism, but if Veeck had any misgivings, the marketing-conscious team owner undoubtedly reassured him. “Mr. Wrigley was a man of action,” Veeck later remembered. “He was a great believer in advertising; that laid the basis for the radio [broadcasts] and the ladies day[s].” The two men mulled over Waller’s proposal and gave her the go-ahead for a thirty-day trial. Listeners were asked to comment on the wireless transmission of Cubs games, and by the end of the month, thousands of people had expressed their enthusiastic approval. “Don’t stop it,” wrote an Indiana farmer. “I have a radio in the field with me. I plow one turn, sit down for a cool drink out of the jug and listen to the score. It’s great.”
Wrigley and Veeck needed no more convincing, and they arranged for baseball programming throughout the entire season. At the time, Wrigley was more interested in broadcast listeners than broadcast rights (“the more outlets the better,” he insisted. “That way we’ll tie up the entire city”). Consequently, both stations WMAQ and WGN were at Cubs Park on Opening Day to describe the home team’s 8–2 victory over the Pirates.[fn]Veeck and Indiana farmer quotations are from John P. Carmichael, “Veeck Sets Out to Make the Cubs a Pennant-Winning Team: President of Club Recalls Deals He Made,” Chicago Daily News, September 17, 1932, sec. 1, . (“This is the third of a series of articles on the career of William Veeck, president of the Cubs.” See n. 4.) Wrigley quotation is from Curt Smith, Voices of the Game: The Acclaimed Chronicle of Baseball Radio and Television Broadcasting—From 1921 to the Present, updated ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 14. Veeck’s enthusiasm for baseball broadcasting is mentioned in “W-G-N to Broadcast All Home Games of Cubs and White Sox,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 3, 1927, H8. Journalists’ distrust of radio is in “Says Radio Cannot Rival Newspaper,” The New York Times, January 23, 1923, 7; “Baseball Writers Oppose Radio Use,” The New York Times, May 26, 1923, 11; Gwenyth L. Jackaway, Media at War: Radio’s Challenge to the Newspapers, 1924–1939 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995). WMAQ and WGN broadcasting Opening Day game is in Ehrgott, Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club, 41–42; “Radio Programs for Today,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 14, 1925, 10.[/fn]
Even though the Cubs ended the 1925 season with a dismal 68–86 record, the ballpark’s attendance total of 622,610 that year surpassed the National League teams’ average of 544,213. Radio broadcasts and Ladies’ Days continued to publicize the Cubs, and Wrigley and Veeck put a second tier of seating over the left-field grandstands in time for the 1927 season.
Veeck and a Chicago Daily Tribune reporter looked around the crowded stadium on Opening Day, the journalist observed that baseball seemed as popular as ever. “It’s a surprise even to us,” Veeck replied. “They keep coming faster than we can build.” Five years later, a Tribune columnist analyzed factors affecting ballpark attendance and succinctly concluded: “Bill Veeck, Cub president, is not dumb in his advocacy of broadcasting and ‘ladies’ days.”[fn]Chicago Cubs Attendance Data, Baseball Almanac, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/teams/cubsatte.shtml (accessed August 11, 2013); “In the Wake of the News,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 14, 1927, 19; “In the Wake of the News,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 20, 1932, 19. Additional attendance figures are in Warren Brown, The Chicago Cubs (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1946), 109. See also Don Maxwell, “Speaking of Sports,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 14, 1929, 21.[/fn]
Many of those Ladies’ Day tickets were carefully mailed out by young Bill Veeck Jr., who began going to the ballpark with his father at age ten. The younger Veeck reflects in his autobiography, “Unlike me, my father was far too dignified a man to pull any promotional stunts. He was a man of imagination, though, and easily the greatest innovator of his time.” Perhaps William Veeck Sr. did not engage in any “stunts,” but he and William Wrigley Jr. (a wealthy entrepreneur who twice sent a package of chewing gum to every telephone customer in the United States) recognized the value of publicity and promotional ventures. At the same time, they also realized that the players had to do their part on the field. “All I ask,” Veeck told an interviewer in 1932, “is that they keep physically and morally fit and play ball. The club is entitled to that much in its efforts to keep baseball popular with the men and women who have supported it.” In 1927 the Cubs became the first National League team to draw more than a million fans in a season, and in 1929 it set a then-National League record after 1,485,166 persons passed through Wrigley Field’s gates that year.[fn]Veeck, Veeck—As in Wreck, 25–26. Chewing gum anecdote is in Rose C. Feld, “Chewing-Gum King’s Rise a Modern Business Romance,” The New York Times, March 1, 1925, sec. 8, 5. Veeck quotation is from Carmichael, “Prexy Bill Veeck,” September 20, 1932, sec. 2, 18 (see n. 22). The 1927 season total was 1,159,168, as per Chicago Cubs Attendance Data, Baseball-Almanac.com. Attendance record in Light, The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, 51.[/fn]
Veeck’s judgment and ideas generally worked out well for the Cubs, and as the Chicago Daily Tribune declared in a 1925 newspaper headline, “Veeck Seethes with Ideas.” Probably none of them that year matched his decision in October to hire Joe McCarthy as manager, who in 1929 would lead the team to the National League pennant. (McCarthy’s arrival was swiftly followed by the departure of the fun-loving, hard-drinking Rabbit Maranville, whose hiring as player-manager was one of Veeck’s ideas that did not work out so well.) Wrigley, who pledged a million dollars to help McCarthy rebuild the team, knew that he could count on the financial assistance of the Decatur Staleys football team (later called the Chicago Bears), as in 1921 coach George Halas reached an agreement with Veeck to lease Cubs Park each fall.
Soon after the 1922 football season was over, Wrigley and Veeck began to renovate Cubs Park, increasing its seating capacity. One of their decisions concerning the ballpark will probably strike a chord with today’s fans who want Wrigley Field to remain untouched (and unscathed) by a Jumbotron and other forms of modernization. In 1924 Veeck removed all advertising on the scoreboard in favor of simply displaying major league team scores. Furthermore, an April 23 article in the Chicago Daily Tribune informs those going to the park that afternoon for the Cubs home opener that “there’ll be no highly colored signs in center field to dazzle the spectators and batters.”[fn]Irving Vaughan, “Veeck Seethes with Ideas, but Tells Only One,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 7, 1925, 29. For McCarthy and Maranville see “M’Carthy Signs As Manager of Cub Ball Team,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 13, 1925, 27; Irving Vaughan, “Rabbit Through As Cub, but New Job Is Unknown,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 15, 1925, 25; Irving Vaughan, “Grimm, Cooper, and Maranville Traded to Cubs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 28, 1924, 23; “Wrigley to Spend $1,000,000 on Cubs,” The New York Times, October 14, 1925, 21. For football see “Staleys Lease Cubs’ Park for Next Football Season,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 29, 1921, 18; Larry Mayer, “Wrigley Field, 1921–70: When Cubs Were Bears,” Chicago Cubs Vine Line, November 2002, 32–33; Stephen Green and Mark Jacob, Wrigley Field: A Celebration of the Friendly Confines (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2003), 127–33. For renovation of Cubs Park see Frank Schreiber, “Cubs’ ‘New’ Park Ready by April 17,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 5, 1923, 25; “Cubs to Blast Open Local N.L. Season Today with Cards,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 23, 1924, 21.[/fn]
Veeck’s ideas also focused on innovative ways to improve not just the Cubs and Wrigley Field but also baseball as a spectator sport. For example, in 1933, with the Depression crippling attendance, Veeck urged interleague games as a way of creating a “wider interest” in baseball by making it “more attractive” to fans. “We can’t go on operating on the same basis as we did twenty-five years ago,” he emphatically told an Associated Press reporter. Many baseball officials agreed with him (including National League President John Heydler, who referred to Veeck as a “progressive”), but interleague play would not be a part of major league baseball until 1997. Also, even though Chicago Daily Tribune sports editor Arch Ward first envisioned the 1933 All-Star Game, it was Veeck who exclaimed, “Great. Let’s go through with it,” and lobbied club owners and other baseball officials for their support.[fn]Veeck, Veeck—As in Wreck, 25; For interleague games see Associated Press, “Veeck Urges Inter-League Games to Revive Interest in Baseball,” The New York Times, August 23, 1933, 22; Light, The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, 491. For All-Star Game see Arch Ward, “Talking It Over,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 6, 1933, 31; David Vincent, Lyle Spatz, and David W. Smith, The Midsummer Classic: The Complete History of Baseball’s All-Star Game (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), xi.[/fn]
Just a few weeks after he endorsed interleague games, William Veeck began suffering from a high fever and other flu-like symptoms. His doctor prescribed a tonic for him, but when he didn’t improve, the physician tested his blood and found a high level of white corpuscles. Veeck entered St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago on September 29, 1933, and he died in his sleep in the morning of October 5 at age 56. The cause of death was leukemia.[fn]“W. L. Veeck, President of Cubs, Dies,” Chicago Evening American, October 5, 1933, 1, 25–26; “William L. Veeck, Head of Cubs, Dies,” The New York Times, October 6, 1933, 17.[/fn]
Within a few days, the Veeck family received more than five hundred telegrams of condolence and over four hundred floral arrangements. The funeral service was held at their home and was conducted by the rector of the Grace Episcopal Church in Hinsdale, of which Veeck was a parishioner. The Chicago Evening American reported that “every member of the Cubs’ official family was present” as well as players from the Chicago White Sox. Veeck’s pallbearers included Cubs Vice President John Seys and five other “old neighbors.” One was longtime friend George Dreher, with whom Veeck had regularly played bridge and golf (Veeck had been president of the Hinsdale Golf Club and had especially enjoyed relaxing on the golf course while at William Wrigley’s Catalina Island estate off the coast of California). Andy Frain and his blue-coated ushers lined up as a guard of honor on both sides of the sidewalk, and between them the pallbearers carried the casket.
On the lawn outside the large white house, friends and business associates recalled Veeck’s commitment to the sport—and team—he loved, and newspapers published tributes in his honor. The Chicago Evening American editorialized that baseball fans “knew that he wanted the Cubs to be winners and that he worked hard and thought hard and planned diligently to make them winners, but that he esteemed honesty and manliness and good sportsmanship above victory.”[fn]Jimmy Corcoran, “Sports World Notables at Services,” Chicago Evening American, October 7, 1933, 2; John W. Keys, “Cubs Give Their Parting Salute to ‘Bill’ Veeck,” Chicago Daily News, October 7, 1933, sec. 2, 13–14; Jim Gallagher, “Friends at Bier of Veeck,” Chicago Evening American, October 7, 1933, 17; Ehrgott, Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club, 129; Carmichael, “Prexy Bill Veeck,” September 20, 1932, sec. 2, 18 (see n. 22). Carmichael mentions that Veeck also enjoyed horseback riding while vacationing on the Pacific coast. Veeck playing golf on Catalina is in Irving Vaughan, “Wield Duster in Cub Office; Boss Due Back,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 31, 1931, 20; Edward Burns, “Veeck Brings Back Optimism and Contracts,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 1, 1933, 25. Editorial is “William L. Veeck: Sportsman,” Chicago Evening American, October 6, 1933, 48.[/fn]
Many of the remembrances focused on Veeck’s journalism career, which solidly prepared him for the Cubs’ front office. The Sporting News contended that Veeck “was one of the few baseball writers to graduate to the presidency of a prominent ball club and make a success on the job.” Harry Grabiner, vice president and secretary of the White Sox, declared that “as a baseball writer [Veeck’s] stories were most intelligent. He knew baseball and knew how to express himself in baseball terms.” Grabiner went on, adding that Veeck also possessed the ability to teach the sport, as “he had a great baseball mind and he could instruct his players along lines that made stars out of promising youngsters.” Veeck signed or traded for many of those same ballplayers, some of whom became the stars Grabiner mentioned and who were members of the Cubs’ pennant-winning teams. They included Woody English, Charlie Grimm, Stan Hack, Billy Jurges, Charlie Root, and Riggs Stephenson, as well as Hall of Famers Kiki Cuyler, Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Rogers Hornsby, and Hack Wilson.[fn]“William Veeck: He Made the Cubs Popular,” 4 (see n. 12); “Ball World Mourns Loss of Bill Veeck, Cub Chief,” Chicago Evening American, October 5, 1933, 30.[/fn]
In their testimonials, Veeck’s friends and acquaintances recounted his enthusiasm and love of baseball. Some of them listed his many accomplishments. Others mentioned that the team owners depended upon his leadership and that they listened attentively whenever he spoke. Perhaps the highest compliments paid Veeck concerned his integrity. “He was the fairest and squarest man in the game,” John Seys asserted. Cubs manager Charlie Grimm offered his opinion: “He was the best ‘scout’ baseball ever knew, and the squarest shooter.” As the Chicago Evening American, Veeck’s old newspaper, correctly pointed out, even “those with whom he had clashed” respected him.
One of those persons who may not have clashed with Veeck, but certainly did with his team, ranks among baseball’s elite. “He was a fighter and a great guy,” Babe Ruth said. “If Bill Veeck would have been in the Cub lineup in 1932, I don’t think we’d have won in four straight games.”[fn]“Hold Services Tomorrow for William Veeck,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 6, 1933, 31; Associated Press, “Associates Mourn Him,” The New York Times, October 6, 1933, 17. John Seyes and Babe Ruth quotations are from “Ball World Mourns Loss of Bill Veeck, Cub Chief,” 30. Charlie Grimm quotation is from “W. L. Veeck, President of Cubs, Dies,” 26. “With whom he had clashed” quotation is from “William L. Veeck: Sportsman,” 48.[/fn]
Ruth’s mention of the 1932 Cubs–Yankees World Series puts one in mind of his famous home run at Wrigley Field during the fifth inning of Game Three. Opinions vary about the gesture he made before slamming the ball into the center-field bleachers, but when it came to characterizing Bill Veeck Sr., Babe Ruth definitely called his shot.
JACK BALES has been the Reference and Humanities Librarian at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, for more than thirty years. He gratefully acknowledges the individuals who have assisted him with his Chicago Cubs research and writing, including Rosemary Arneson, Carla Bailey, Dick Bales, Bill Crawley, Renee Davis, Paul Dickson, Claudine Ferrell, David Fletcher, Bill Hageman, Ed Hartig, Ray Kush, John Morello, Beth Perkins, Jan Perone, Tim Wiles, and the University of Mary Washington’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies.