"It Was His Fairness That Caught Wrigley's Eye": William L. Veeck's Journalism Career and His Hiring by the Chicago Cubs
Bales, Jack, Nine
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." Perhaps the two friends, foreseeing the end was inevitable, had inquired about other employment opportunities, for as Smith commented, "Quickly we were together on The Chicago [Evening] American." (5)
According to the newspaper's sports editor, Edward J. Geiger, Veeck went right to work as a reporter covering the city news beat and transferred to the sports department in 1909. Though initially responsible for local news, "He spent much of his spare time in the baseball department watching the baseball ticker," Geiger recalled. "He loved baseball like a dyed-in-the-wool fan and was a keen student of the game." (6) Perhaps Veeck did write general news stories; unfortunately, researchers will never know, since many of the news and sports features were published anonymously. A systematic review of the newspaper, however, shows that his first signed piece--under the name of William L. Veeck--was an article on the Chicago White Sox and their race for the American League pennant, published on September 3, 1907, soon after he joined the paper. (7)
A byline normally would not warrant any mention, but Veeck changed his on March 3,1908, to "Bill Bailey," a pseudonym that lends more mystery to the intrigue surrounding the sportswriter's early career. (8) What led him to make this decision? The Chicago Evening American did not publish any articles by Veeck during the two weeks prior to the appearance of Bill Bailey, though in the same period the newspaper included various unsigned baseball pieces that read like the journalist's works. Did the Chicago Evening American have a policy concerning signed articles or the types of articles that warranted bylines? Perhaps Veeck wanted some sort of name recognition for his writings, even if that name was not his own. (9)
But if so, why did he pick Bill Bailey? Bill Veeck Jr. writes in his autobiography that Bill Bailey was the Chicago Evening American's "stock sports byline." However, I could find no other Chicago Evening American sports reporter with this name. Paul Dickson, author of Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick, …
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Publication information: Article title: "It Was His Fairness That Caught Wrigley's Eye": William L. Veeck's Journalism Career and His Hiring by the Chicago Cubs. Contributors: Bales, Jack - Author. Journal title: Nine. Volume: 20. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2012. Page number: 1+. © 2009 University of Nebraska Press. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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