Probably best known for sending midget Eddie Gaedel to bat in a game against the Tigers in St. Louis (1952), Bill Veeck, by any measure, was the most imaginative promoter in baseball history. Veeck owned, or led syndicates that owned, the Cleveland Indians (1946-1949), the St. Louis Browns (1951-1953), and the Chicago White Sox on two separate occasions (1959-1961—1976-1981.) Previously he had owned the minor league Milwaukee Brewers (1941-1945.) According to his memoirs, Veeck attempted to buy the Philadelphia Phillies in 1942 and had the financial backing to do so. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a noted racist, vetoed the sale after finding out Veeck wanted to stock the club with Negro League stars. Even the most cursory glimpse into this man’s history will show a generous and unpretentious man, a champion of civil rights, and a passionate devotee of “America’s National Pastime.” Larry Doby, baseball’s second African-American, whom Veeck signed to a Cleveland Indian contract only weeks after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color-barrier (1947), said Veeck was “probably the nicest and greatest man I ever met.” The next season (1948) Veeck signed the Negro League star, Satchel Paige, to a contract. Under Veeck’s leadership the Indians won the American League pennant and World Series in 1948, while setting an attendance record of 2,620,627.
What most refer to as “stunts,” Veeck claimed were just extras the fans were entitled to, since most were not publicized beforehand. The famous midget stunt was unpromoted. Falstaff Brewery, sponsors of the St. Louis Browns, and the fans were only told to expect “a festival of surprises” to commemorate the American League’s 50th anniversary. Falstaff officials were promised national publicity, and were understandably disappointed, when all they got was a midget jumping out of a cake between the first and second games of a doubleheader. In the second game the midget, Eddie Gaedel, came to the plate as a pinch-hitter with the number, 1/8, on his back and a toy bat. The home plate umpire called the manager to home plate, and he came out with a valid American League contract…so it was “play ball.” Fellow owners and league officials were furious with Veeck, who they viewed as an “outsider.”
Another stunt that bothered the league was the burial of Cleveland’s 1948 championship flag when it became apparent in 1949 they would not repeat as champs. He used Gaedel again as part of a group of “Martians” that invaded the ballpark between innings. Exploding scoreboards, live animal give-aways, weddings at home plate, and scheduling morning games for night-shift workers, only begin to tell the story of the man who referred to himself a “hustler.” He also instituted casual pajama-style tops and bermuda shorts as the White Sox uniform.
Veeck served in World War II, injuring his foot, leading to the eventual amputation of his leg. Among other things, he operated a race track, planted the ivy that grows on Wrigley Field walls (his father was president of the Chicago Cubs), attempted to buy Ringling Brothers Circus, and authored three books. It was not unusual to find Veeck championing liberal and sometimes unpopular causes, both in and out of baseball. Although he had an artificial leg, he participated in the day-long civil rights march in Selma, Alabama in March of 1965, without the use of crutches. Take a look at this video to get a glimpse of this man.