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On This Date in Sports April 28, 1960: Veeck the Showman

in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

As the Chicago White Sox celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Comiskey Park, the stadium on the southside of Chicago was given a shiny feature that would change the game forever. An Exploding Scoreboard would shoot fireworks with strobing lights for every White Sox home run and win. The exploding scoreboard is the brainchild of White Sox owner Bill Veeck, who had a reputation as a showman. 

Bill Veeck Jr. was born on February 9, 1914, in Chicago. Born into a baseball family, Veeck’s father served as President of the Chicago Cubs for 14 years after working as a sports writer. After the senior Veeck’s passing in 1933, Bill Veeck Jr. got a job as a treasurer of the Cubs, leaving Kenyon College to provide for the family. Previously Veeck held several positions, including a popcorn vendor. While working with the Cubs, Bill Veeck came up with the idea to plant the ivy in the walls at Wrigley Field.

Bill Veeck went onto purchase the Milwaukee Brewers of the International League. While owning the Brewers, Veeck made a bid to buy the Philadelphia Phillies in 1943 and stock the team with players from the Negro Leagues, a plan that was halted by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. After serving in the Marines and losing a leg in World War II, Veeck sold the Brewers and purchased the Cleveland Indians. 

While owning, the Indians Bill Veeck made good on his plan to integrate the game as Larry Doby became the first African American in the American League. Veeck also signed the legendary Satchel Paige, who, despite being over40, was still a top-level pitcher. The Indians won the World Series in 1948 under Veeck’s ownership. However, not as wealthy as other owners, Bill Veeck was forced to sell the team to pay for a divorce settlement. 

In 1951 Bill Veeck got back into the game when he purchased the St. Louis Browns. The Browns forever trapped in the shadow of the Cardinals were baseball’s poorest franchise. Hoping to draw more fans, he had several gimmicks, including sending pint-sized Eddie Gaedel to the plate in 1951 and having fans with signs manage a game. The Browns could not compete with Cardinals, so Veeck attempted a move to Los Angeles that was blocked by American League owners. After the 1953 season, he made arraignments to sell the team and move to Baltimore, where they became the Orioles. 

In 1959 Bill Veeck purchase the Chicago White Sox after a family dispute led to a sale from the Comiskey Family. The White Sox won the American League pennant in 1959, ending a 40-year drought. The following season saw the White Sox become the first team to put the player’s name on the back of the jerseys. That year also saw the addition of an exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park. The idea of an exploding scoreboard came while watching a James Cagney movie, “The Time of Your Life.” 

Bill Veeck would be forced to sell the White Sox due to poor health in 1961. When the team was in danger of leaving Chicago, Bill Veeck again purchased the White Sox in 1976. Free Agency would make it impossible to hold on to the team long, as the White Sox were sold again in 1980. Though in the years of owning the White Sox, Veeck continued his innovations, as Minnie Minosso came out of retirement twice to become the first player to appear in five decades. He also suggested that announcer Harry Caray sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh-inning stretch. Bill Veeck’s last promo was the infamous “Disco Demolition Night,” which led to a forfeit after fans stormed the field. 

In his later years, Bill Veeck spent his days sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field, often taking off his shirt and his artificial leg. After Bill Veeck passed away in 1986, he finally received the recognition of his contributions to the game as he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1991. That same year saw a new Comiskey Park open with the exploding scoreboard tradition carried over.