February 20, 1995 in Sports

This Wreck Needs Veeck

Melissa Isaacson Chicago Tribune
 

You can’t help but wonder what Bill Veeck would have made of all of this.

Thankfully, however, we don’t have to wonder too much as long as Mary Frances Veeck remains her ever-candid, sincere self, always available for a thoughtful take on current events and a perspective that would be useful to anyone who cares to listen.

She’s available, by the way, to settle this baseball strike nuisance should anyone ask her. Just give her a little advance notice, she jokes, and she’ll be there.

Her sense of humor, however, should not be mistaken for a lack of serious concern about what is happening to the game her husband adored and she still cares for deeply.

Bill Veeck was a businessman, and a savvy one, lest anyone forget, but he and Mary Frances also had some very firm ideas about the way players should be treated. She fully realizes that today’s fan doesn’t buy it, but she also believes what she believes.

“I’m careful about what I say in public because I’m no longer involved,” she says, “but I truly think players, generally speaking, are dealing from a position of principle and integrity.”

She respects, for example, a Frank Thomas for sacrificing even a portion of the very prime of his career when it would be far easier to continue collecting a large paycheck and ignore future generations of players. Just as she respected, she said, a player such as Ted Williams for leaving baseball to fight in World War II without so much as a complaint when the asterisks were handed out.

“I’m on the side of the players, absolutely,” she says. “I am because I have this simplistic childlike view of the world that there is nothing that can’t be worked out if you sit down together - and the key phrase is - in goodwill. That’s why we were given brains and feelings. I just do not believe things can’t be worked out.”

She sides with the players because her husband believed that they were the reason people came to games. It’s the same reason why Bill Veeck averaged more than 300 speaking engagements and appearances a year, not because he loved the attention so much as because he felt the player’s job was to play, not promote.

She sides with the players because her husband was a big fan of former union chief Marvin Miller. And she sides with the players because her husband was all for free agency, as he first suggested back in a report in 1955.

Mary Frances roots hard for baseball’s antitrust exemption to fall and has written to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., in an effort to urge such a move.

And she has no doubt whatsoever that her husband would not have gone along with the majority of owners and instead would have been more along the lines of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos in this current labor dispute. “I know Bill would have tried to avoid this,” she said. “He was a different man from Angelos, but I can only say that Bill stood up for other causes he believed in.”There is no question why the owners are taking the firm stand that they are, and Mary Frances Veeck agrees. “From the beginning,” she said, “I felt that busting the union has been their overriding goal.”Why else to even play replacement baseball, a product the owners know full well is a farce, if not to create a picket line to cross?

There is still some justification in not sympathizing with the players, and it’s hard to picture any professional ballplayer refusing to cross the picket line of, say, the peanut vendors’ union. But when you’re divvying up points for integrity, it’s a heck of a lot easier to go with the guys not wearing the dress suits.

Veeck would clearly have been out of his element if he still owned a team today. Thinking of the fans first is obviously not in vogue, as evidenced by the Sox banning tailgating at the new Comiskey Park. One fan was even asked to leave his candy bar outside when it was spied in his pocket. Veeck not only encouraged that stuff, he joined in on it, reveled in it.

And you couldn’t help but think how sickened he would have been, as his wife is, to see the Sox open spring training with no hope, no fun and fewer than 100 people in the stands. Veeck would have wanted no part of it.

He was an outcast, says Mary Frances, no doubt about it. And no question, he would be one today. Other owners would shun him, some members of the media would smirk.

He would stand largely alone.

And be proud of it.


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