"It Was His Fairness That Caught Wrigley's Eye": William L. Veeck's Journalism Career and His Hiring by the Chicago Cubs

Article excerpt

It was fourteen years ago that [William L.] Veeck, then a sports writer for the Chicago Evening American, was made president of the Cubs. He severely criticized the management of the team until the late owner, William Wrigley, jr., called him into his office.

"If you think you can do a better job of running my ball club, why go ahead," Wrigley told him.

Washington Post, October 3,1933,17

Did William L. Veeck "severely criticize" Chicago Cubs management in his newspaper columns? Did William Wrigley Jr., upon reading Veeck's supposedly inflammatory articles, summon him to his office and offer him a position with the team? Baseball historians have long known of Veeck's contributions to the Chicago Evening American. They realize, for instance, that for a number of years he wrote for the newspaper under the pen name "Bill Bailey." They are also aware that in December 1918 he left the Chicago Evening American at Wrigley's request to join the Chicago Cubs as vice president and treasurer (becoming president in July the following year).

They know all this and more about Veeck's life. But when historians attempt to flesh out the details concerning Wrigley's job offer, the biographical waters get a bit muddied. Tales of Veeck's hyper-critical commentaries and Wrigley's seemingly off-the-cuff proposal make good copy and have been trotted out by authors of books and articles from the early 1930s to the present day. (1) Even Mike Veeck, while talking to a college history class a few years ago about his family's longtime relationship with professional baseball, remarked that CC my grandfather wrote under the byline of Bill Bailey and every single day he devoted his column, and his life actually, to attacking the Wrigley family and how inept they were running the Cubs." (2) William L. Veeck's numerous articles in the Chicago Evening American, as well as other contemporary sources, however, not only prove the unreliability of anecdotal stories, but they also provide fascinating details about the early life of a man generally more respected for his baseball acumen than for his flair with a pen and typewriter.

Born in 1877, William Louis Veeck began his journalism career while still a teenager, working as a pressroom helper and printer's apprentice for his hometown paper in Boonville, Indiana. After six years on the Boonville (IN) Standard and a brief stint as a traveling photographer, he moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he landed a reporter's position on the Louisville Courier-Journal. He married his childhood sweetheart, Grace DeForest, on October 17, 1900, and two years later they left Louisville for Chicago. (3)

Veeck joined the staff of the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper and then the Chicago Chronicle. Many years later, Ed W. Smith, a retired sports editor of several Chicago newspapers, recalled that he met Veeck when they both worked on the Chicago Chronicle. Smith added that his friend applied for a job at the perfect time, as the paper needed a reporter to replace Drury Underwood, a well-known figure in both newspaper and acting circles, who was "just then going on the road with a big Henry Savage theatrical production." The timing also worked out well for a baseball fan like Veeck, said Smith, as this was the era of the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance dynasty, as well as "the 1906 days of the hitless White Sox wonders, days of murderous N. Y. Giants, poisonous Pirates, deadly Athletics." Smith reminisced that his colleague thoroughly enjoyed working for the newspaper. "It was Bill's life," Smith said, "and did he live! He wouldn't have traded jobs with the President." (4)

Smith and Veeck probably would have stayed at the Chicago Chronicle if not for it ceasing publication on May 31, 1907. According to that day's Chicago Daily Tribune, the paper "had not been a paying investment at any time," and a suspension or change in ownership had been "a matter of frequent rumor and prophecy for months. …