Story of the Week
BILL VEECK & THE ST. LOUIS BROWNS
When I was a kid growing up in St. Louis, we had two major league teams, the Cardinals in the National League and the Browns in the American League. The Cardinals were serious baseball; the Browns were sad. When Bill Veeck, the greatest innovator and showman in sports history, bought the Browns in 1951, they were the proverbial doormats of the American League. In fact, since the Browns’ inception in 1902, they won only one pennant, finished second just twice, and were a consistently terrible franchise.
Bill Veeck knew that he couldn’t make the Browns a contending team, but he sure made it fun. He owned the team for three years, 1951 through 1953, and when the Browns were in town, I was right there at Sportsman’s Park with them. During those three years, their record was 170-292, but I loved every minute of it. I loved the Browns, and I loved Bill Veeck. Why?
Veeck employed one Eddie Gaedel to pinch-hit for the Browns on August 19, 1951. Gaedel was 43 inches tall and weighed 65 pounds. The number on his uniform was 1/8 as in one/eighth. Detroit’s Bob Cain walked Gaedel on four straight pitches. Bill Veeck loved it. So did I; I was there.
Leroy "Satchel" Paige was born in 1904. He was a legend as a flame-throwing pitcher in the Negro Leagues. (Remember, no black players in the major leagues until Jackie Robinson in 1947.) Veeck owned the Cleveland Indians before he bought the Browns, and in 1948, he employed Paige to pitch for Cleveland; Satchel, still regarded by many as the greatest pitcher of all time, was then 44 years old. He helped the Indians win the pennant and the World Series that year.
Veeck sold the Indians, and then bought the Browns in 1951, and he and Paige teamed up again. Satchel, now 47, relaxed in his own personal rocking chair in the bullpen when not in action. It was a sight, and vintage Veeck. Satchel Paige is in the MLB Hall of Fame.
Max Patkin, the "Clown Prince of Baseball" was another member of the Browns. His number was ?; yes, a questionmark. His goofy slapstick antics in his oversized uniform made him a baseball tradition and comic legend. Who better to coach first base for the St. Louis Browns than Max Patkin? Max stars as himself in the movie classic, "Bull Durham."
After the 1953 season, Bill Veeck sold the Browns, and the franchise was moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. Mr. Veeck eventually bought the Chicago White Sox. He also is in the MLB Hall of Fame. I moved to Los Angeles. We all split up, but thanks for the wonderful memories.
Last Week’s Trivia
Who is the only pro basketball coach to win league championships in the ABL, the ABA, and the NBA?
Bill Sharman did it with the ABL Cleveland Pipers, the ABA Utah Stars, and the NBA Los Angeles Lakers.
Trivia Question of the Week
What player holds the NFL single-season record for points scored?
See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.