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Bill Veeck

Scarce letter by Veeck on St. Louis Browns stationery

William Louis Veeck, Jr., 1914–1986.  American baseball executive; member, National Baseball Hall of Fame. Uncommon Typed Letter Signed, Bill Veeck, one page, 8½” x 11”, on stationery of the St. Louis Browns, Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis, Missouri, June 17, 1952.  With original envelope and original St. Louis Browns May 1952 newsletter.

One of the most innovative major league baseball owners ever, Veeck takes the time to respond personally to a boy’s autograph request.  In full:  “Thanks for your recent letter and your good wishes.  We also hope to end in the first division this year.  /  Enclosed are the two autographed pictures [not present] which you requested for your brother and yourself.  Sorry I can’t send you the autographed picture of Ned Garver but you might obtain this by writing directly to Ned in care of the ball club.  /  Certainly hope we will continue to merit your interest.”

During his career Veeck owned three teams, the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Chicago White Sox.  He was the last owner to buy a baseball franchise without being independently wealthy.  Of his teams, the 1948 Indians won the World Series, and the 1959 White Sox won the American League pennant.

Veeck signed the American League’s first African-American player, Larry Doby, who debuted with the Indians on July 5, 1947, a little less than three months after Jackie Robinson broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He also signed the American League’s oldest rookie, 42-year-old Satchel Paige, in 1948.

But Veeck is remembered more for his gimmicks and promotions than for the serious contributions that he made to major league baseball.  His clubs were entertaining as much for what occurred around the game as for what happened on the field. Veeck pioneered outrageous door prizes and ingenious promotional schemes, and he encouraged fan participation.  He introduced concepts such as honoring fans, Bat Day, fireworks, exploding scoreboards, and player names on backs of uniforms.

Veeck’s most famous stunt occurred while he owned the Browns.  Between games of a doubleheader, in a promotion designed to help struggling attendance, Veeck staged an elaborate 50th-anniversary celebration for the American League and Falstaff Brewing Company, one of the teams sponsors.  Eddie Gaedel, a 3’7” midget who weighed only 65 pounds, jumped out of the birthday cake, wearing a Browns uniform emblazoned with the number 1/8.  Veeck had signed Gaedel to a legal player contract but had delayed notifying league officials until it was too late for them to intervene.  In the bottom of the first inning, Gaedel pinch hit for the Browns’ leadoff hitter.  With a strike zone only 1½” high, he drew four straight balls—and was promptly removed for a pinch runner.  League officials and the press castigated Veeck, but Veeck loved every minute of it.  In his autobiography, Veeck—As In Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck, he said:

I did not recognize at the time that Gaedel’s moment was my moment too.  I knew it was a good gag.  I knew it would delight the fans and outrage the stuffed shirts.  I knew, in other words, that it would be a lot of fun.  It never entered my mind, however, that it would be the single act with which I would become permanently identified.  Even today, I cannot talk to anybody from St. Louis without being told that they were there the day the midget came to bat.  If everybody was there who says he was there, we would have had a tidy gathering of 280,000.

Veeck, who was responsible for planting the ivy on Wrigley Fields outfield wall in September 1937 when his father was president of the Chicago Cubs, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 1991.

This letter is in fine condition.  Staple holes barely touch the signature, which Veeck has signed in blue-gray fountain pen. The envelope is soiled but is likewise in fine condition.  The accompanying Browns May 1952 newsletter is in near mint condition.




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