June 20, 1948
It is hard to believe it has been just two years today that Bill Veeck walked through League Park and took ownership of the Cleveland Indians.
The jubilation circling the anniversary of his assumption of the leadership role in Cleveland is not because he is the charismatic and recognizable face of the franchise, but more due to the slew of changes implemented within the organization that seem to have drastically changed the future of the team.
Under Veeck this season, the Indians hope to return a winning record for a second straight season after finishing 68-86 and in sixth place in the American League in 1946. The Indians, at best, have been a middle-of-the-road team, routinely finishing third, fourth, or fifth in the division. Only three times since winning the World Championship in 1920 have they finished in second place, and not since 1940.
Veeck started on the field in making changes to his franchise. Now, nearly two-thirds of the team are newer faces to the city of Cleveland, not present when he took over the reins of the ball club.
It started with skipper Lou Boudreau. Last October 4, Veeck returned from the World Series to speak with Cleveland fans about the prospects of trading Boudreau. His response was thousands of letters pouring in urging the retention of the Cleveland player-manager. Boudreau was signed to a new two-year contract, which seems to be paying off on the field this season as he continues to be a fan favorite and one of the better players in the American League. His Indians are in first place and in the heat of the pennant chase.
The Indians over the last two years have added many important names to the ball club that have contributed consistently on the diamond. These names include second baseman Joe Gordon; reserves Johnny Berardino, Ray Murray and Joe Tipton; outfielders Allie Clark, Larry Doby, Wally Judnich, Bob Kennedy, Dale Mitchell, Hal Peck and Thurman Tucker; and pitchers Gene Bearden, Russ Christopher, Bob Muncrief and Sam Zoldak.
Veeck brought in Doby, the first African-American player in the American League.
Coaches Bill McKechnie and Muddy Ruel joined the coaching staff. Former ballplayer Hank Greenberg, after joining the Indians in the offseason and participating in spring training events in Arizona, joined the ownership group with Veeck and is now a vice president and stockholder with the club.
All of the changes, coupled with the accessibility of Veeck, have drawn record crowds through the gates at the stadium this season. The Indians trail only the New York Yankees in attendance and are beginning to threaten their attendance records.
During Veeck’s time in ownership, the Indians have seen their largest Cleveland crowd in attendance, with 78,431 on May 23 of this season. It was aided by the use of a controversial fence at the stadium, which enabled additional overflow crowds in a fenced-in area in the outfield.
The sportsman Veeck knows how to pack the seats. Throughout his ownership, he has used such devices as fireworks, music and singers, acrobatic acts, clowns and tricksters, and midget auto car races to bring fans down to the lakefront.
Veeck does not hide from the public eye. He is a public relations expert, spending countless hours at public appearances that have made him one of the more recognized figures across the state of Ohio. He shies away from suits and ties and instead appears comfortable without hat or tie and will chat up the fans in the seats and seems to value their input.
After posting a fourth-place 80-74 record last season, the Indians seem to be well on their way to another winning season and a wild playoff pursuit, if their good fates continue. Their early success, and their hopeful future, all are thanks to the efforts of one of the hardest working men in baseball, Bill Veeck.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project