The selection of Bill Veeck to baseball's Hall of Fame was a heart-stirring event to Baltimore Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, who worked for Veeck with the Chicago White Sox during 1975-80.
"This is just sensational news," Hemond said from spring-training camp in Sarasota, Fla. "I had goose bumps on my arm for an hour. Bill was so deserving and he adds luster, prestige and glamour to the Hall."
Veeck, an owner responsible for countless innovations and promotions still being used today, and former New York Yankees second baseman Tony Lazzeri were named yesterday by the Hall of Fame veterans' committee.
Veeck, who died in 1986, owned the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians and White Sox (twice), during which time he introduced the exploding scoreboard, once batted a 3-foot-7 midget, planted the ivy at Wrigley Field and talked endlessly about the game he loved.
In 1951, to perk up sagging attendance of the lowly Browns, he batted midget Eddie Gaedel in a game against Detroit. Gaedel walked on four pitches in a game that drew the largest crowd of the season.
Four years earlier, Veeck broke the American League color barrier by using Larry Doby in a pinch-hitting role for the Cleveland Indians and the next season, the champion Indians set a league attendance record (2,262,000) that stood until 1980.
Veeck never lost sight of the fans, often congregating with the BleacherBums at Wrigley Field, where he grew up with the game as the son of the team president.
"The common man's favorite," said Hemond. "Bill understood what the game represented, that it should provide pleasure and relief from the fan's normal days of frustration.
The second time Veeck owned the White Sox, spring training camps did not open in 1976. He brought 25 minor-leaguers to Sarasota, Fla., so "the fans could hear the bat striking the ball," said Hemond. "That might have been the worst club with the best covered camp in the history of baseball."
That was after a furious stand at the winter meetings three months earlier when Veeck set up a team office in the lobby of the Diplomat Hotel and began trading feverishly.
"We made six trades in three days and four in the last hour and 15 minutes of the meetings," said Hemond. "There was always action around Bill."
Veeck came home with an infected leg contracted during World War II service in the Pacific theater, and eventually the leg was amputated.
For Opening Day 1976, Veeck was the wounded soldier in the "Spirit of '76" tableau and manager Paul Richards was the flag bearer.
"It was a great scene when they walked onto the field," said Hemond. "He always had a means of giving a message and pleasure."
Veeck tried to buy the Orioles after the 1974 season, but his group had trouble getting the necessary financing and could not come to an agreement with owner Jerold Hoffberger. The Orioles and Veeck broke off negotiations early in the 1975 season. Later that year, Veeck's group settled on a deal for the White Sox.
He also maintained a residence on Maryland's Eastern Shore for nearly 20 years before returning to Chicago and was instrumental in the White Sox's signing of Harold Baines of St. Michael's on the Shore.
Lazzeri played 14 years in the majors, gaining his fame as a Yankee. He had a .292 lifetime batting average, 178 home runs and seven times drove in 100 or more runs. In 1936, he drove in 11 runs in a game, an American League record.