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BOOK REVIEW

In The Strike Zone

Showmanship was his game

April 01, 2012|Mike Downey | Downey is a former Times columnist

Los Angeles became the younger Veeck's field of daydreams. He tried everything and everyone he could think of in the '50s to bring MLB to this coast, having been hired to explore such a move by William Wrigley's son Phil, who owned the L.A. Angels of the minors. Veeck already qualified as a near-pioneer, having integrated the American League in 1947 (with Larry Doby), so not only did he come close to beating Rickey to emancipation, he also came close to beating Walter O'Malley to baseball's virgin territory. Who knows? Chavez Ravine could have ended up with Vin Scully leading the fans in song plus an exploding scoreboard.

More and more, thanks to the Veecks, father and son, did baseball befriend opposite sexes and different races, young Bill heeding a lesson that all paying customers' cash was green. Innovations abounded under both Veecks, seeking mass appeal. Some were inspired. Some were absurd -- Max Patkin the clownish coach was one, and when the White Sox of the late '70s took the field in short clam-digger pants, everyone pretty much concurred that the far-out owner had gone too far.

Dickson's tome tells tales I had never heard, like the time former Sen. Eugene McCarthy's campaign asked Veeck if he'd permit the '76 presidential candidate to pinch-hit. Veeck thought it over and said no, a word he didn't use much. It didn't keep him from letting a 54-year-old Minnie Minoso suit up for the Sox or agreeing to son Mike's concept for a "Disco Demolition Night" in 1979, which led to a near-riot and the Sox's being forced to forfeit a game. Sometimes with a Veeck, you did have to accept a wreck.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, April 01, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
Bill Veeck: In the Arts & Books section elsewhere in this edition, a review of the book "Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick" said that Veeck's father, William Veeck Sr., an executive with the Chicago Cubs, planted the ivy on Wrigley Field's outfield walls. In fact, Bill Veeck Jr., the subject of the book, did the planting. The error was detected after the section was printed.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, April 08, 2012 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Bill Veeck: An April 1 review of the book "Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick" said that Veeck's father, William Veeck Sr., an executive with the Chicago Cubs, planted the ivy on Wrigley Field's outfield walls. Bill Veeck Jr., the subject of the book, did the planting.

A nut? That he was not. A voracious reader, Bill Veeck killed time daily in the bathtub with a book or newspaper in hand and his wooden limb nearby, flicking cigarette ash into its built-in tray. One morning, after reading a Bob Greene column about a man in dire need of a job, Veeck was on the phone in a heartbeat, offering one at the ball yard. "I didn't know that people like Mr. Veeck really existed," said the man. I am here to confirm that few do.

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