Opening Day: Bill Veeck’s Signs of Spring

“I have discovered in 20 years of moving around a ballpark that the knowledge of the game is usually in inverse proportion to the price of the seats.”
—Bill Veeck

It’s opening day at Wrigley Field and the Cubs will play the first game of their 100th season at Wrigley. To celebrate we have a video of legendary baseball owner Bill Veeck in the stands at Wrigley on opening day 1985.

As a fan and an owner Bill Veeck offered a view of baseball which was romantic and practical all at once. Though never an owner of the Cubs (Veeck ended his career after being an owner of the White Sox) Veeck had grown up as a fan, working odd jobs and learning about team management in Wrigley stadium where his father worked as President of the Cubs.

He was able to transform teams and enhance the whole experience of seeing a baseball game. As a major league owner he consistently pushed the boundaries in spite of criticism from other owners, and was always creating new ways to fill the seats, strengthen teams and value the fans. “I try not to break the rules but merely to test their elasticity,” said Veeck. His most resounding impact came when he began the integration of the American League by signing Larry Doby, the first African American player in American League history.

Bill Veeck retired in 1981 to Chicago and the Cubs he had grown up with. Veeck is famed for saying, “The most beautiful thing in the world is a ballpark filled with people. And the second most beautiful thing in the world is a ballpark half full of people.” Here we see him, with his wife Mary Frances, in the stands on opening day 1985, shortly before his death.  As they join in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” surrounded by the smiling faces he had gathered around them, we hear Bill say, “This is the epitome of pleasure.”

This footage is taken from Veeck: A Man For Any Season, the 1985 documentary by Jamie Ceaser and Tom Weinberg. You can watch the whole documentary on mediaburn.org.

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Below are a few photos and memories from photographer Jerry Pritikin. Pritikin, who was once called “The #1 Cubs fan” by broadcaster Harry Caray, is also known as the “Bleacher Preacher” and has generously shared with us his memories of Veeck and several photos from his collection.

Bill Veeck last bleacher game-1985

(c) Jerry Pritikin

“I took the last picture of Veeck at Wrigley in ’85. He boycotted the season going only to 2 games. His reason, that the Tribune Co were selling tickets to the cheap-seats and all games starting in February, and thus making it almost impossible to buy tickets on the day of the game. Thus creating scalpers and making seats selling at many times the price printed on the face of the ticket. I boycotted in 1991 when they raised the price from $4 to 6 bucks. One of his quotes no longer holds true. He said ‘after roaming the ballparks for over 20 years by inverse proportions of what a fan pays for a ticket was their knowledge of the game.'”
-Jerry Pritikin

Veeck & Pork Chop

(c) Jerry Pritikin

Bill eating one of his Pork Chop sandwiches, that he usually brought with him to the game.

Mary Veeck -87

(c) Jerry Pritikin

Bill’s wife, Mary Frances came to a few games after Bill died.

 

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