William Louis Veeck Jr., famously known to many as “Sport Shirt Bill” or “Wild Bill”, is honored by the Foundation for his ability to overcome major adversity and bring joy to fans and those around him as a franchise owner and promoter before and after WWII.
His journey in baseball began as a popcorn vendor with the Chicago Cubs at the same time that his father was the president of the organization. He was also a part-time concession salesman for the Chicago White Sox. He worked from the ground up to build on his experiences and became the owner of the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns, and the Chicago White Sox.
Veeck was known for his innovation and creativity in baseball. He was the mastermind behind the planting of ivy along the walls of Wrigley Field. While he was with the Indians, he was responsible for moving the outfield fence, depending on who the opponent was, prompting Major League Baseball to establish a rule prohibiting any movement of the fence during an official game.
He was also a key player in breaking down the color barrier within the Major Leagues when he tried to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and stack their team with players from the Negro Leagues. Although he was told no by the National League commissioner, he did sign Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians, who on July 5, 1947, became the first black player to play in the American League, just months after Jackie Robinson’s appearance in the National League.
In 1943, Veeck considered military service. Given his economic and celebrity status, he was offered a safe promotion and an officer’s commission in the Army or Navy. Because of his sense of fair play and being a man who turned away from privilege, he turned it down and enlisted into the United States Marine Corps as a private. He remained dedicated to the war effort by demanding to be sent to a war zone. The next spring, he was stationed in the South Pacific Island of Bougainville. While there, one of his greatest sacrifices was when his right leg was crushed by a recoiling artillery piece that eventually had to be amputated in 1947. He received a Purple Heart for his injuries.
He ended his professional career with the White Sox in 1981, but not before introducing events like Disco Demolition Night that created chaos on the field. Veeck was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
Veeck is recognized by the Foundation for his efforts in making baseball more interesting and exciting, as well as for the sacrifices that he endured during WWII. He served with valor and integrity, reflecting the values that the Foundation upholds. He truly envisioned the commercial success that baseball could achieve with innovative programs and changes.