CHICAGO — Bill Veeck, the colorful former owner of the Chicago White Sox who spiced up baseball with clowns, midgets, ethnic nights and giveaways, died of a heart attack today at Illinois Masonic Medical Center. He was 71.
Veeck, who began his career as a vendor with the Chicago Cubs, went on to operate the old St. Louis Browns, the Cleveland Indians and the White Sox twice.
His standard response to "How do you feel, Bill?" was "Not too bad for a balding old man with one leg who can't see or hear."
Veeck, who wore a hearing aid and bifocals, called his autobiography "Veeck, As in Wreck." He had a peg leg, the result of an injury as a Marine in World War II, and used it for an ashtray before he quit smoking because of emphysema.
Born Feb. 9, 1914, in Chicago, Veeck was a son of a baseball writer who became president of the Cubs. As a youngster, Veeck roamed Wrigley Field, running errands and checking turnstiles.
In 1941, he headed a syndicate that purchased the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Assn. He and manager Charley Grimm put on stunts that turned the Brewers into one of the minor leagues' most successful franchises.
He offered morning baseball to night-shift workers during the war. And later he sent a midget to the plate as a pinch-hitter, had clowns on the coaching lines and sent musicians strolling through the stands.
At 32, Veeck headed a group that purchased the Cleveland Indians, who won the pennant and World Series in 1948.
In 1959, he bought the White Sox and won the American League pennant. They lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1961, Veeck sold theteam because of failing health.
He bought an estate in Easton, Md., where he and his second wife raised their family.
His health returned, and in 1975, when the White Sox were up for sale, Veeck put together a group and rebought the club for $8.5 million. Five years later, he sold it for $20 million.