Here are some reminisces of Bill Veeck from Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Dave Kindred and others in response to Veeck’s death at not quite 72, at the start of 1986. First Kindred:
To sit with Bill Veeck was to enjoy man at his fullest. He was bright and brave, laughing and conniving, in love with life. In the summer of 1977, when Veeck last ran the White Sox, he sat in the dim light of a ballpark saloon. . . .
“Baseball is the least changed thing in our society,” Veeck said in that saloon. He had a beer in hand, and another waited its turn. “In a confused and confusing world in which the underpinnings are less stable than shifting sand, baseball is an island of stability.”
By then, at 63, Veeck was deaf in one ear and wore a hearing aid in the other. Sometimes he spoke at a roar because he wanted to hear what he said; most times it was out of passion. He had no interest in being polite. He considered politeness an absence of passion. He smoked four packs a day, he drank a case of beer, he read both Shakespeare and sportswriters (“I am a dispos-all for the written word”) – and he worked at baseball with a passion alien to most men.
“These [other MLB owners] are not career baseball operators,” said Veeck, a lifer whose stiff-collared father ran the Cubs from 1917 to ’33. “These are successful businessmen from other fields who get into baseball for personal publicity, to buff and burnish their egos.”
Veeck’s off-center smile rearranged the folds and crevices of his sage’s wasted face. “Of course, no one at this table has an overwhelming desire to put a high sheen on his ego. Or on his wooden leg.”
“We lost a lot in losing Bill Veeck,” said Jimmy Gallios, an owner of Miller’s Pub, 23 W. Adams, and a friend of Veeck for 40 years. “It was something great to see him walking in. Every day was a great day with him. He was just a tiger of a man.
“He never got down about all the problems he had with his leg. No, no, no, no. As a matter of fact, he was an inspiration to a couple of customers we had who had lost a leg, always trying to get them off crutches. And joking, telling them, ‘Listen, maybe we should buy one pair of shoes together and save some money.’ “
Studs Terkel, who interviewed Veeck often on radio and for his book The American Dream said: “His life was not baseball alone. I think what he was searching for was delight.
“In talking about his scoreboard (it was Veeck who introduced the exploding scoreboard to baseball), he told me he was thinking of the scene in ‘The Time of Your Life,’ where the loser who always plays the pinball machine in the bar one day hits the jackpot and it explodes.
“That’s what he meant with his scoreboard. Even losers can have their day. There should be delight in the game.”
Larry Doby, whom Veeck signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1947 as the first black player in the American League, called Veeck’s death “a shock.”
“It was like losing a father,” he said. “I thought the world of him. I lost my father when I was eight and I adopted Mr. Veeck.
“What I remember best is his response to people. When I went to Cleveland to sign my contract, I was nervous when I walked into his office. I said, ‘Glad to meet you, Mr. Veeck.’ He said, ‘Call me Bill.’ He then called me Lawrence.”
“Players loved to play for him,” said [Lou] Boudreau. “He got credit as an entertainer, but his knowledge of the game was tremendous.
“He never came into the [Indians] clubhouse. But we had a meeting every morning. We’d talk things over and he wanted to know why you did certain things. He wanted you to argue with him. He wanted you to prove that you were right.
“Bill Veeck deserves credit for where baseball is today. Because when it was in a dull period, he brought it back.”
And some more quotes:
“(Veeck) was not one of, but the finest man that I ever met in the field of sports. Baseball will miss him without a question. I enjoyed being in baseball with him while he owned the White Sox and I owned the A’s and I learned very, very much from him. Bill did so much for the game, all I can say is I’ll miss him.”
–Former Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley
“(Veeck promised) he’d go eat crow at (the downtown intersection of) State and Lake if I could win the pennant with that team. The following year he went down to State and Lake and ate crow or pheasant or something. I don’t know if it was crow, but he ate something. He was a wonderful man but a wonderful baseball man as well. He will be missed.”
–Al Lopez, who managed the Sox to the 1959 pennant
“He loved the game of baseball but he never forgot . . . the game is for the fans. It’s not for you the manager, it’s not for the players to make money. He loved to talk about the game of baseball. He really had a complete understanding of it. He took a chance on me when a lot of other men wouldn’t. We stayed in touch through the years. He would always let me know if I wasn’t doing something right, but he never came down on the field and told me what to do.”
–White Sox manager Tony LaRussa
“He was the spirit of Chicago, powerful, a lot of gusto and verve and vigor, an emancipated man, who had a mission in life. That was to bring joy and happiness to people, an intellect, you know, in a sweatshirt.”
–Chicago Mayor Harold Washington