Louis Veeck Jr.
Profiles of Valor
The last owner to purchase a Major League Baseball franchise without an independent fortune was William Louis Veeck Jr., a trailblazer in the front office and a hero on the battlefield. He started his career in baseball as a popcorn vendor for the Chicago Cubs and a part-time concession salesman for the Chicago White Sox. He would go on to work his way up the professional ladder, becoming the owner of the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns, and the Chicago White Sox.
Veeck’s innovative efforts in baseball began before he ever owned a team. In 1937, he came up with the idea to plant ivy on the walls of Wrigley Field while he was working for the Cubs. He attempted to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and stack the team with star players from the Negro Leagues but was shot down by the commissioner of the National League. He signed Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians, who broke the American League’s color barrier in July of that same year. During his time with the Indians, Veeck famously moved the fence depending on who the Indians were playing, forcing Major League Baseball to establish a rule prohibiting the movement of the outfield fence during the season.
In an attempt to move the Cardinals out of St. Louis, Veeck purchased the St. Louis Browns in 1951, hiring Cardinal greats and decorating Sportsman’s Park, the shared home of the Cardinals and Browns, exclusively with Browns memorabilia. In 1959, Bill Veeck purchased the Chicago White Sox and introduced a number of new innovations to increase attendance, such as shooting off fireworks after home runs, expanding the scoreboard, and adding players’ surnames to the back of their jerseys.
Despite being eligible for deferment from military service, Veeck enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1943 and demanded to be shipped to a war zone. He was sent to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands where he lost his leg after a recoiling artillery pieced crushed it.
He rose to the rank of Private First-Class USMC and received a Purple Heart for his service from 1943-1946. Bill Veeck personified heroism in both baseball and battle.