The great Bill Veeck –
the Spring of 1981, I was still a newlywed, married a mere 7 months.
1981 was an eventful year in the world as well as in the world of
Ronald Reagan gained release of the Iranian hostages who were held
captive for 444 days. There was an assassination attempt against
Reagan, and later in the year the Iran Contra scandal was revealed.
A successful attempt was made on the life of Egyptian
President Anwar Sadat. Violence and unrest were at an all time high
in Northern Ireland.
The launch of the space shuttle,
Columbia marked the flight of the first reusable spacecraft. 2011
marks the end of the space shuttle program.
Charles and Lady Diana were married in England to secure the
succession to the throne. The first DeLorean car hits the streets.
major league baseball, players strike and split the season into two
halves. Cubs finish last and 5th in the National East
the end of April, my friend Jeff and I decided to play hookey from
work and head to Wrigley Field for the Cubs, Cardinals game. As it
was a Wednesday in April the Cubs were drawing about 5,000 for a
weekday game. Combine that with the fact that the Cubs were sitting
firmly in last place, there would be no problem getting walk-up
tickets. We purchased tickets in the back of the lower deck. This
was prior to night baseball and permit parking in Wrigleyville, so it
was easy finding a parking spot close to the park.
were seated for the opening pitch by starter Mike Krukow. At the end
of the first half of the inning we made our way down to the lower box
seats and found two seats on the end of the third row behind home
plate. It was overcast and the temp was in the 50’s, perfect April in
Chicago baseball weather.
we were seated the Cubs the bottom of the first saw Bill Buckner
doubling, moving to third on a n Andy Rincon wild pitch, and scoring
on a Steve Henderson single up the middle. Cubs up 1-0 and a
promising start. Well nothing really happened until the Cards 6th
when Keith Hernandez hit a towering home run off of Krukow to knot up
the score at 1.
the top of the 7th I feel a tap on the shoulder and a
voice saying,”you’re in my seat”. I turn to see the legendary
Bill Veeck standing over me smiling and leaning on his cane. He was
wearing a faded Cubs t-shirt and khaki short pants that exposed his
famous peg leg. I must have showed my surprise as I couldn’t think of
what to say. He said, “hey I am, just kidding boys, move down one
and I will join you if it is okay”. We both stammered, “sure,
sure”, and we stumbled down one seat. He asked if we minded if he
bought us a beer as he needed one, he was thirsty. This day was
really shaping up to be memorable. And when he sat down with us he
removed his prosthetic leg which had an ashtray in the top that he
used while he sat with us, chain smoking, talking, and laughing.
He asked us if we were Cub fans and we both said “yes”. He said
the Cubs were always his favorite team and Wrigley his favorite
ballpark. He bought a round followed by both Jeff and I buying a
The conversation got around to who would be starting
in your outfield if you could take any players, living or dead. My
three were based on players that I actually saw play; Clemente,
Mantle, and Brock.. Jeff’s picks were similar to mine, and Mr.
Veeck’s were three players I had barely heard of. Well that was cool
as I figured he had seen a lot more than the two of us young
whippersnappers. Well, Jeff couldn’t seem to let it go at that, and
started pressing Mr. Veeck and really disagreeing about his picks, as
well as stating the case for his own. The conversation became quite
animated between the two of them, getting nose to nose, leaning over
in front of me. I thought it was going to lead to blows, but suddenly
they came to some sort of truce and they both suddenly burst out
laughing. From there out the talk really circled around all of our
love for baseball.
Mr. Veeck was one heck of a character,
and as I told Jeff later, he has probably forgotten more about
baseball than we have ever known. Mr. Veeck was legendary for his
disdain of authority and his imaginative and original marketing
methods. He is responsible for the vines at Wrigley Field, Disco
Demolition at Comiskey Park, showers in the outfield, pet nights,
batting a midget, among hundreds of other crazy stunts and gags that
would help bring interest to baseball.
talked and talked. In the 8th the Cubs finally broke the
stalemate exploding for five runs topped off by a Bill Buckner, two
run double. Cubs won 6-1 with Krukow working to one out in the 9th
when Lee Smith came in to shut the door on Whitey Herzog’s Cards. A
bright point in an otherwise dismal season or should I say two
seasons in 1981.
the game concluded, and we were ready to go, Mr. Veeck asked us if we
would join him for another beer across the street at the Cubby Bear.
He had to wait there for his wife to pick him up. Of course we were
right on that. When we entered the bar everyone turned and said, “Hi
Bill”. It was like a scene from Cheers. We were then escorted by
the waitress to a back room, where Mr. Veeck removed his ashtray and
again set up shop. There was a steady stream of people in and out
asking for autographs and trading stories.
One of the most
interesting people to stop by and trade anecdotes was the Pulitzer
Prize winning reporter, Mike Royko. He seemed to be nearly as popular
with the crowd as Mr. Veeck.
this splendor went on until nearly 6pm when Mary Frances, his wife,
arrived and said, “I hate to break this up, but it’s time to go”.
will forever cherish the few hours that I got the chance to spend
with the legendary Bill Veeck as he held court on a late Spring day
in Wrigleyville. One more reason I love the game of Baseball.
Where’s The Weather?
Well the Cubbies are hanging on in the Central Division of the
They are just a few games off the pace at this
point and there have been a few nice surprises as well as a few
appears that Garza and Dempster may be starting to put there troubles
behind them with a couple quality starts. When we get our regular 4th
starters come back soon, possibly we can have the ship righted.
Soriano has been a pleasant surprise with his bat, his fielding is
still suspect and he has to be removed late too often for defensive
purposes. Fukudome is hitting great and his fielding is solid. But
this is historically the time of year that a search party needs to be
sent looking for him. We’ll see how it goes.
Cubs still need a legit hitter in the third spot. I think that may
have to come from a trade. Time will tell what Hendry and the Rickets
will do. If by June the Cubs are still within striking distance I
think a deal should be made.
My Two Cents
What was the first
baseball team owned by Bill Veeck?
Last Trivia Question
What Washington Senator’s 5th
round draft pick, won two National League Batting crowns for the
Cubs, and four in his career? He came to the Cubs in a trade with
Texas for Ferguson Jenkins.
See you next time!