When Bill Veeck Came to Town

The Mighty Eddie Gaedel at Bat

With all the stunts he pulled, Bill Veeck was better suited to own a circus. He wound up filling more seats for baseball teams he owned in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago and St. Louis with tacky gimmicks like scoreboards that exploded after home runs, live lobster giveaways, and hiring a clown as a coach. The Hall of Fame baseball team owner is best known for bringing in a dwarf named Eddie Gaedel for one at-bat for his lowly American League St. Louis Browns.The American League brass grumped, but the stunt earned Bill Veeck guffaws from fans.  But in St. Louis, he might have been known for something much bigger, had he succeeded in his campaign to make the Browns the city’s only ball team.His weapon was flamboyant deeds meant to lure Cardinal fans to Browns games.

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Bill Veeck hard at work

Veeck might have done it, if Cardinals owner Fred Saigh hadn’t faced fifteen months in jail for tax evasion and had to sell his team. When Anheuser Busch announced in February 1953 it would buy the Cardinals and keep them in St. Louis, Veeck knew the game was over. He couldn’t compete with the beer barons. He sold the Browns to Baltimore businessmen who moved the team to their city and renamed it the Orioles. Veeck is one of eighty folks with St. Louis connections in my upcoming book, The Colorful Characters of St. Louis. Watch for it in mid-September. Then get your autographed copy at my book launch party from 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, at the Royale, 3132 S. Kingshighway, on the South Side.

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Leroy “Satchel” Paige signs a contract with Browns owner Bill Veeck in 1951. All photos courtesy Missouri History Museum.

Published by Jim Merkel

Reedy Press published four of my books, Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2010; Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans, 2012; The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch; and the Second Edition of Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2014. They're available in bookstores and online. For an autographed copy, send a check for $21.50 made out to Jim Merkel, to Jim Merkel, 4216 Osceola St., St. Louis, MO 63116.

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