Known Mostly for his Crazy Stunts, Bill Veeck was Also a Leader in Integrating Baseball

by Rocco Constantino | Posted on Saturday, April 9th, 2016
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When the name Bill Veeck is mentioned by baseball fans, the first things that come to mind are probably Disco Demolition Night, Eddie Gaedel and the 1976 Chicago White Sox wearing shorts as part of their uniforms.

However, Veeck’s best legacy in Major League Baseball should be his stance as a staunch supporter for integration in the sport.

Years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, Veeck sought to integrate the Cleveland Indians, but was turned down by Commissioner Kenesesaw Mountain Landis.  Veeck’s intentions were to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and stock them with the greatest players from the Negro Leagues, three years before Robinson debuted with the Dodgers.  Landis and National League President Ford Frick didn’t allow it and facilitated the sale to other buyers.

When the league finally did integrate, Veeck against stood at the forefront of the movement.  Months after Robinson’s debut, Veeck signed Larry Doby to become the first black player in the American League.  Doby was actually the first player to go straight from the Negro Leagues to the Majors, skipping the minors altogether.  Veeck was also instrumental in bringing Satchel Paige to the Majors and the legendary carer of Minnie Minoso, who was the last active MLB player to have played in the Negro Leagues as well when he pinch hit in 1980 at the age of 54.

Veeck believed so much in Civil Rights that he took part in Martin Luther King’s funeral procession march on this date 48 years ago.  On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis and it moved Veeck deeply.  Veeck not only stood in line for 15 hours to pay respects to King’s body, but he also walked three and a half miles from the Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College as part of the funeral procession.  Veeck was 54 years old at the time and had a wooden leg.

Veeck’s legacy in the sport is one of zany ideas, some of which still impact the game today.  He was the one who had the idea to plant ivy at Wrigley Field and he also started the tradition of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley Field.  For all his antics, it’s an undeniable fact that Veeck was on the short list of the people who had the greatest impact of integrating the sport.

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Rocco Constantino
About the Author

Rocco is the author of 50 Moments That Defined Major League Baseball (Available on Amazon now!) and former Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He is also a die hard Mets fan going back to the awful early 80's and ready for the revival. D2 NCAA softball coach and athletics administrator. Follow Rocco on Twitter @mlb100years.







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