Wulf: Bill Veeck gave some fans the chance to manage team

From SABR member Steve Wulf at ESPN.com on September 16, 2014:

The fans at Sportsman’s Park were unusually anxious. It was only the top of the first in a game between the visiting Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Browns on Friday night, Aug. 24, 1951, but things weren’t going well for ace right-hander Ned Garver. He had gotten the first A’s batter, Eddie Joost, to line out to short, but after Ferris Fain and Elmer Valo singled, Gus Zernial blasted a homer. Then Hank Majeski reached on an error, Dave Philley singled him to third and suddenly the Browns were down 3-0 with runners at the corners and only one out.

Ordinarily, Garver would look into the Browns’ dugout to see whether manager Zack Taylor was motioning to the bullpen. But Taylor wasn’t in the dugout.

He was sitting in a rocking chair in the box seats next to the dugout, dressed in civilian clothes, a straw hat on his head and bedroom slippers on his feet, holding a pipe in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

Beside him were two strangers in Browns uniforms, and behind them was a Greek chorus of 1,115 fans, all holding cards with a green yes on one side and a red no on the other. “It was the strangest thing I have ever seen in baseball,” says Garver, now 88 and living in Bryan, Ohio. On cue, a man standing before the fans raised a sign asking, shall we warm up pitcher? The fans held up their cards in response. According to Garver, “When I saw all the nos, I appreciated that.”

What Garver was witnessing, and pitching in, was Grandstand Managers Night, perhaps the most wonderful, and certainly the most democratic, promotion in the history of baseball. The fans had been tasked with voting on every decision in the game.

It was the brainchild of Bill Veeck Jr., who had assumed ownership of the moribund Browns earlier that summer and was trying pretty much everything to take over the town from the Cardinals. And in an era when baseball is struggling to woo a new generation of fans, current owners could learn a lot from Veeck — starting with how he viewed the fans.

Read the full article here: http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/page/FansourceVeeck/bill-veeck-birth-fansourcing

Originally published: September 18, 2014. Last Updated: September 18, 2014.