Ahhh, Mother’s Day. What better way to show your love to Mom than treating her to a baseball game?
Well, my mother would appreciate the thought, but not necessarily the game. In fact, she was the first to admit it, which is why I can count on one hand the number of baseball games to which she accompanied us.
But at least she never left a game on a stretcher. Bob Feller can’t say that. He brought his parents up from Iowa, to Comiskey Park on Mother’s Day 1939, who watched from the front row down the first base line as the Heater from Van Meter was firing bullets. But in the third, Marv Owen fouled off a fastball into the first base stands – hitting Lena Feller in the face. Her glasses were broken and she needed eight stitches. Before she was taken out of the stands, she told her son not to worry – despite the blood on her face. She ended up spending two weeks in the hospital.
Feller pitched a complete game for the win, which he dedicated to his mother. “I went the full nine innings, but Mom didn’t,” he said later.
The following year, he invited his parents and sister to watch another game at Comiskey Park, this one on opening day, as Feller pitched what remains the only Opening Day no-hitter.
Six years later, the Indians were bought by a syndicate headed by former Milwaukee Brewers owner Bill Veeck. A student of the game, Veeck was literally raised on a baseball field, but he knew that he needed more than baseball fans to come to games. “If you depend on people solely who know and love the game, you’ll be out of business by Mother’s Day,” he said. There might have been people who believed that a woman’s place might have been in the home in the 1940s and 50s, but Veeck wasn’t one of them. He believed their place was at the ballpark. He was an equal opportunity hustler, and women made turnstiles click the same as men did.
Veeck did everything possible to make the game more accessible to women. One of his first acts as Indians owner was to rip out all the women’s bathrooms at Municipal Stadium and have them remodeled and expanded. He had nurseries at the ballpark where children could play as Mom and Dad watched the ballgame. And he always gave out flowers – sometimes Hawaiian orchids – to women on Mother’s Day, from Milwaukee to Cleveland to his days as owner of Suffolk Downs racetrack near Boston.
Ultimately, a woman forced Veeck to sell the team, to settle the terms of his divorce. And the team’s fortunes on the field started to trend downward – as did their promotions. Ten-cent beer night in 1974 has become notorious as an example of what not to do, but three years earlier, the Indians came up with what Sports Illustrated called “the most tactless promotion in all of sports” for Mother’s Day: Each woman who came to Municipal Stadium got a can of Right Guard deodorant (paid attendance for the game, a 4-1 win over the Angels, was 4,288).
Veeck, meanwhile, was able to buy the White Sox in the 1970s, and introduced a uniform including shorts and the fiasco known as Disco Demolition Night. So nobody was immune to bad ideas at the time.
Cleveland Press photo courtesy of Cleveland Memory Project