The sports headlines from this day in history, August 24, 1951, was about “Fans Managers Night” in St. Louis. There were two teams in St. Louis, always a great baseball town. The Cardinals represented the National League. The St. Louis Browns were an American League team.
The principal owner of the Browns was Bill Veeck, and this was the second of many on-field promotions that became legendary in baseball history.
Veeck was in his first year of ownership and the Cardinals were playing their games in the Browns ball park, Sportmans Park. Veeck decided he would run the Cardinals out of town, even though the Cards were a more popular team. Veeck hired some great Cardinal names of the past, Rogers Hornsby and Marty Marion to manage the team and Dizzy Dean to be the radio announcer. It didn’t work. The Browns were having a horrible year in 1951 and as they went into August they had lost twice as many games as wins.
During the August 19 second game of a double-header, in the bottom of the FIRST inning, Veeck ordered his manager to send up Eddie Gaedel to pinch hit. Earlier in the day he had signed a contract with the little fellow. Eddie was 3’8” tall and weighed 65 lbs. The number on his uniform was 1/8. He walked on four straight pitches.
The sports pages went crazy and Veeck announced that the August 24 game would be managed by the fans. And the fans filled the ballpark.
The fans voted for the starting lineup and 1000 fans behind home plate were given Yes/No signs to vote on options given to them. Things like “Shall We Warm Up a Pitcher? Infield Moved Back? A local circuit judge tallied the votes, relayed the instructions to the third base coach. The Athletics manager, Connie Mack, went along with the arrangement.
The fans managed the Browns to a 5-3 home victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.
Bill Veeck’s personality came direct from his father, Veeck Sr. His father was a sports writer in Chicago and he constantly berated the Cubs, always stating that he could run the team better than the existing management. William Wrigley Jr, team owner, got tired of reading that stuff and took Veeck Sr. up on it. He hired him to run the Cubs. Wm. Veeck Sr. became President of the Chicago Cubs. He let Bill Jr. be a popcorn vendor when he was twelve. The next summer he told his dad they ought to plant ivy on the outfield walls. He had seen pictures of ivy at a field in Indianapolis. They argued about it for a few years and Bill Jr. when off to college. In 1933 his father died and the Cubs made Jr. an offer to be the Cub’s treasurer. He took the job and in 1937 he ordered the famous ivy to be planted on the outfield walls.
In Bill Veeck’s autobiography “Veeck—as in Wreck” he tells some outlandish tales of his dealings behind the scenes. Some of these tales didn’t pass some fact-checking, but his life was truly amazing. I could write a few more pages about his ownership of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox and the changes he brought to the game. However, space limits me to my favorite Bill Veeck story.
He actually bought the Chicago White Sox twice. The first time was 1959 and the team won their first pennant in forty years. The next year he installed the first-ever exploding score board. With Every Sox home run, fireworks shot out of the scoreboard along with sound effects. New attendance records were set the first two years. His was the first team to put the names of the players on the back of the uniform. He also installed an electric blower to clean home plate and a mechanical box that rose from the ground with fresh baseballs. The umpire controlled both devices with foot switches.
Declining health forced Veeck to sell the team in 1961. His health improved and he re-purchased the Sox in 1975.
Full disclosure: I was still a few years from moving to California and my home was a hundred twenty miles from Sox field. They were my team.
SO…when DISCO DEMOLTION NIGHT was announced by Bill Veeck in July of 1979, we gathered around the TV in anticipation. Honestly, none of my musician friends were into Disco music, so we were excited.
The White Sox were stinking up the American League and were lucky to get 15,000 people to a game. Veeck teamed up with a local rock-jock named Steve Dahl who announced on his DJ show that every fan who brought a Disco record to the game would get in for 98 cents. He said that between games, a double-header with Detroit, he would blow up all the records in centerfield. YES! I couldn’t wait.
Veeck figured this promotion would bring in another 5000 fans and maybe get the attendance up to 20,000.
What he didn’t figure was rock and roll fans were fired up and ready to destroy Disco forever. 50,000 fans filed into the ball park and after they shut the gates to the capacity crowd at least another 3000 forced their way in.
After the first game the players retired to the clubhouse (it was an early-start first game) and Steve Dahl and a large crew wheeled out a giant crate loaded with thousands of Disco vinyl records. Evidently they used to much juice and the detonation tore a big whole in the outfield PLUS the crazy fans rushed the field and started dancing and partying and refused to leave until riot police forced them out. The entire field was destroyed and the Sox forfeited the second game.
Veeck’s big promotion was a disaster.
I think the idea was fantastic. Sorry Donna Summer.