Bill Veeck approached baseball the way one might approach running a circus: Try to have capable performers (so no one falls off the high wire or gets eaten by a lion), market the enterprise with a lot of gimmicks that add fun but do not interfere with the basic action, and always keep in mind that the point is to entertain the audience. Baseball, like the circus, is a pastime for “children of all ages,” who have the most fun when they are actively engaged. This approach ran counter to the way most owners viewed their business, but Veeck argued that the only really bad word he knew was “conformity.”
Bill Veeck grew up around baseball. His father was general manager of the Cubs, and the young Veeck worked at a hot dog stand in the Roaring Twenties and even planted the original ivy that remains a Wrigley Field hallmark. After working in the Cubs ticket office and later serving as treasurer, Veeck moved on in the early 1940s to the minor league Milwaukee Brewers to become a general manager himself.
Serving as a U.S. Marine in the South Pacific during World War II, he had his lower left leg crushed by a recoiling antiaircraft gun. The leg was amputated in 1946, the same year he bought the Cleveland Indians. Veeck won the pennant and World Series in 1948 with such stars as manager-shortstop Lou Boudreau and pitchers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and rookie Gene Bearden.
Also on that 1948 Indians team were two players who, along with Veeck, made history. In 1947 Veeck brought in outfielder Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League. By 1948, he was a star, on his way to the Hall of Fame, and Veeck was a hero of the effort to integrate the major leagues. In that championship season, famous Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige, although well past his prime, joined the Indians. Veeck’s addition of Paige, at least in his early forties, was criticized by some as just a publicity stunt, but Paige proved that he could still pitch. The Negro League immortal won six of seven decisions, compiling a low 2.48 ERA in 21 games. A record 2.6 million fans turned out to see the Indians play that year.