Friday, March 6, 2009

Bill Veeck

Before baseball was a multi-billion dollar industry, and before national television deals and internet gamecasts provided hundreds of millions of dollars to baseball’s owners, the lifeblood of a baseball franchise was the revenue generated by fans showing up at the park. No one did a better job of getting fans to the ballpark than Bill Veeck.

Veeck owned three different Major League Baseball franchises from the 1940’s through his death in 1984, and the one common thread of all of these organizations was that their promotions were outrageous. Veeck was the person who arranged for 3 foot, seven inch Eddie Gaedel to appear as a pinch hitter for his St. Louis Browns. Other gimmicks Veeck used to attract fans included Grandstand Manager’s Day – where he allowed fans to plot strategy with the team’s manager through the use of cards distributed to a specific section, and the significantly less successful Disco Demolition Night – in which he invited fans to burn their disco records on the field… which led to a riot that caused his team to forfeit the game.

But not all of Veeck ideas were passing gimmicks (or dangerous flops). He integrated the American League, by signing Larry Doby to be the AL’s first black player, he introduced the concept of putting player’s names on the backs of their jerseys so the fans could more easily identify them and he introduced the “exploding scoreboard,” a scoreboard with electronic effects that were unleashed when the home team hit a home run. Fireworks displays at the ballpark and fan-appreciation nights are also Veeck originals.

But regardless of how successful his ideas were in the long run, Veeck was a genius at getting fans into the stadium. In 1948, over 2.6 million fans paid to watch Veeck’s Cleveland Indians, a staggering total for that time period, and better than several franchises can manage today.

Veeck’s spirit continues in baseball today through his son Mike, who is part owner of several minor league franchises, including the Charleston Riverdogs. The Riverdogs have gained notoriety for putting on unique promotions like “Nobody Night,” where fans were asked not to enter the park until after the 5th inning, so that the team could set a record for the lowest attendance.

More on Veeck


alina coryell said...

I love you guys, but I haven't seen John Mackey listed yet. Any particular reason why? He's quite libertarian....

Cyril Morong said...

Great choice! As a big baseball fan and White Sox fan, I was so glad to see this.

ann said...

Alina, there are so many great people, I'm certain we've not come close to tapping out the list! Thanks for the tip and thanks for reading!

ann said...

Cyril, I too enjoy this choice! Kerry's a big baseball fan, so don't be surprised if you see more baseball Heroes!

David said...

Alina, I wrote about John Mackey. See it here:

Thanks for the interest!