Live Wire Restrung
Ten years ago big league baseball's liveliest promoter sold out his interest in the Cleveland Indians at a profit of some $600,000, and local bleacher fans went into virtual mourning. In his three-and-a-half-year tenure, Bill Veeck, a fabulous, uninhibited, pink-haired exhibitionist of 35 who had wandered into town almost unknown, had turned the Indians from a rundown, spurned ball club into world champions and made himself the most talked-about character in baseball.
In the decade since then—as this magazine was arguing just the other day—big league baseball has grown no livelier. Veeck himself, having moved over into part ownership of the St. Louis Browns, was eventually forced out altogether. But all the time, it was said, despite his activities on multifarious fronts (he once tried to buy the Ringling circus), Veeck longed to get back to baseball's big time.
Last week he was back in baseball's vestibule, and the promise of livelier days ahead in the big league ball parks picked up.
March 2, 1959
The announcement was made to a group of reporters waiting patiently in Chicago's Sheraton-Blackstone Hotel with an un-Veecklike lack of flamboyance. Except for the fact that his neck, as always, was innocent of formal collar or tie and his coat was a floppy blue sports jacket, the putative new bossman of the Chicago White Sox seemed all business. "It is obvious," he told the sportswriters, "that we [a five-man syndicate of friends, including Hank Greenberg of the Hall of Fame] have exercised our option to buy 54% of the shares of the White Sox owned by Mrs. [Dorothy Comiskey] Rigney."
Since the shares were not yet actually his by purchase and since a large block of the team's stock would continue to rest in the hands of Mrs. Rigney's often contentious brother Charles (Chuck) Comiskey, Veeck declined to say more, but those who remembered his days in Cleveland had reason to hope for plenty of news in the future.
Bill Veeck, whose father was part of the Cubs' management, is a Chicagoan by birth. "This has always been my first choice of a city in which to operate," he said. As for the future: "Our aim is to make the White Sox as strong as possible and to make the games entertaining to the fans."
Even if this noble aim were not achieved, Veeck himself seemed certain to make up the lack. An ex-Marine who came out of the war with a badly mauled left leg, he had the leg amputated midway through his Cleveland career, and three days after leaving the hospital threw a party as a formal debut for the new artificial leg. The object soon became one of Cleveland's better-known debutantes. In trains, restaurants and press conferences thereafter, Veeck would whip it off before the eyes of horrified spectators with the casual remark: "This damn thing itches." Then, just as casually, he would massage the offending stump. Bill Veeck is perhaps the only man who has ever successfully wandered into Manhattan's "21" Club without a tie.
Staid Cleveland in the '40s had never seen anything like him. He was the most lavish tipper the town had ever known. His demands on local florists were so constant that they begged him to spread his trade around so that their stocks would not always be depleted. He picked fights with his field manager Lou Boudreau, got the team talked about, gave away free nylons and orchids on ladies' days, argued baseball with the bleacher fans while the games were going on, sprawling on an empty seat beside them and gorging popcorn like everyone else. In those days the irrepressible Veeck never bothered much with such formalities as stockholders' meetings. As chief stockholder, president and manager, he ran the Indians as he saw fit, paid his investors generous dividends and gave the fans their money's worth.
After a while he sensed even greater opportunities in St. Louis and, to the distress of the white-piped vests of Organized Baseball, took over the Browns for a time. Disillusioned, Veeck sent up a midget to pinch-hit one night (the midget walked), and Organized Baseball has never got over that.
Nobody can foretell what lies ahead for the Chicago White Sox. It's possible that Veeck may not bring off his option. But if he does, it seems inevitable that American League baseball—just say baseball—will liven up a lot.
War Between the States
Just when everybody was getting braced for the centennial of the Civil War, to be ushered in with ghostly echoes of the guns at Fort Sumter a year from now, comes news of fresh marchings, démarches and military mutterings between Nevada and California. You'll remember (SI, July 11, '55 et seq.) that Alec Cushing didn't really begin to get going on his plans to bring the 1960 Winter Olympics to California's Squaw Valley until after enterprisers around Reno were trying to get the Games for Nevada. Well, historians of wars between states may someday decide that Alec Cushing's Olympics Raid was the triggering cause of the 1959 war between Nevada and California, something like John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry 100 years ago this October.
Anyhow, by a vote of 26-6, the lower house of the Nevada legislature has whipped through a bill instructing the state's attorney general to take "legal action" to grab a 40,000-square mile slice of California (and all taxes paid into the California treasury on the land since 1865, plus compound interest), an area about the size of Kentucky, which slopes down the eastern range of the Sierra toward the Nevada frontier.
It is hard not to sympathize with Nevada, for if there is anything which that vast and dusty state really needs it is 40,000 square miles or so of forested mountain slopes, plunging trout streams, a glistening Lake Tahoe—and, for that matter, Squaw Valley. If its attorney general can bring off his task by this time next year, indeed, the 1960 Olympics will take place in Squaw Valley, Nev.
But the attorney general is not going to have an easy time. His pitch will be based on the historical fact that in 1861 the Congress of the United States assigned 40,000 acres on the eastern slope of the Sierra to the then territory of Nevada, provided Nevada could persuade the California legislature to approve. The California legislature didn't approve then, does not approve now, and presumably never will. "Those gamblers are just trying another gamble," said a California lawmaker last week, as some of his colleagues spoke of commissioning a navy for the defense of Lake Tahoe. "Let us remain cool and keep our powder dry."
Said another California legislator: "I'm willing to accept volunteers for an expeditionary force for the state line." Troops may not prove necessary; the Nevada senate has not yet voted for action. But if any shots are fired at Squaw Valley, for Squaw Valley or by Squaw Valley we'll be the first to let you know.
That disappointing horse we told you about last week, Finnegan, came up grandly from behind on Saturday to win the $56,000 San Felipe handicap at Santa Anita, thus bringing great confusion to the 3-year-old picture in California. The word from California on Saturday night was that the popular words and music for Finnegan—"F-I-double N-E/G-A-N spells bum again"—are being rewritten into a joyful, but still guarded, "Off again, on again, gone again, Finnegan!"
The Calumet Front
Meanwhile, in Florida, Calumet Farm sent out its old reliable 7-year-old, Bardstown, with instructions to win the $100,000 Widener Stakes. Bardstown won, as expected, and brought a satisfied smile to the broad face of Trainer Jimmy Jones. So far in the Hialeah season, Calumet had won mostly no-account races for nickel-and-dime purses, and Bardstown has been, astonishingly, Calumet's only major stakes winner this year. Jimmy Jones has been in the odd situation, for him, of accepting crocodile condolences from other trainers over the prospect that he may not have a "Derby horse" in his whole devil's-red barn.
Now hear Jimmy Jones himself on this subject. For a man who habitually says he has "nothing" for any Derby, Jones was quite frank early in the week: "I have only two horses who might make it, but their chances aren't bright at the moment. They could of course improve." The two: Torocuik, a son of Bull Lea, who has run four or five times without success, and On-and-On, a Nasrullah out of Two Lea—a mating which not only gives On-and-On "pretty good folks" but which also makes this handsome bay a half brother to Tim Tam.
"On-and-On," says Calumet's owner, Mrs. Gene Markey, "has always been what we call a 'don't care kid.' Jimmy tells me that if the colt has got it he can get him ready for the Derby. But the question is, has he got it?"
Until Saturday, a few hours before Bardstown took to the fast Hialeah track, On-and-On had never really had a chance to show whether he has it or not. He injured a hind leg in his stall at Chicago last summer, and since then a slow recovery has kept him relatively inactive. When he did get to the races he behaved like a blue-blooded young swell more interested in having a good time than in doing his Calumet homework.
This complete unconcern with important Calumet matters on the part of On-and-On qualified him perfectly for Saturday's second race at Hialeah: a maiden affair with a skimpy $3,500 purse. Well, On-and-On must have wanted to steal some of Bardstown's limelight, because he won in a romp, turning the seven furlongs in 1:24[3/5] and winning by four and a half lengths. Withhold your tears for Calumet a while longer.
Pixies in the Garden
The international Boxing Club, which doesn't have a president any more, began to fade last week like a Cheshire cat and could be discerned vaguely as a faint grin on the face of Cus D'Amato. Truman Gibson resigned as president of the IBC. All that remained of it to be swept out of Madison Square Garden were a few legal papers calling for deferred payments for past performances of such fighters as Rocky Marciano and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Federal Judge Sylvester Ryan, who had outlawed the International Boxing Club as a monopoly, approved the purchase of the Garden by Graham-Paige Corporation, but only after a clause had been added to the deal to prevent James D. Norris from sneaking in the Garden's back gate by buying Graham-Paige stock.
A few hours later the new owners—Rear Admiral John J. Bergen, USNR, and Irving Mitchell Felt, chairman and president of Graham-Paige, respectively—sat at a table in the sports-motifed rooms of the Madison Garden Club and dropped discreet hints about their plans. A couple of University of Penn men, they have for years teamed up as "specialists in special situations," by which they mean that they like to take over inefficient companies and modernize them into profitable concerns. They did it, for instance, with the Childs restaurant chain. Now, it would appear, they would like to do it with the Garden.
They gave immediate recognition, for instance, to the possibilities inherent in pay TV, and have already been talking with representatives of Skiatron and Telemeter, two concerns which would like very much to pipe sports events into your home TV set provided you would be willing to drop a quarter or a dollar into a slot they would provide for the purpose. Pay TV dreamers believe a $5 million gate could be realized from half dollars and a big prizefight. The pay idea is, of course, anathema to the TV networks, which have been lobbying against it.
Now, since the Garden has an expiring contract to supply Friday night fights to the National Broadcasting Company's highly anti-pay TV network, it must be assumed that Bergen and Felt were not acting lightly in announcing their interest in pay TV. They are either seriously considering the presentation of Garden sports events by the pay TV plan or they are seriously considering that the prospect of pay TV might lead to instant renewal of their NBC contract, which runs only until June 30. You could figure it any way you liked. Cards were being played close to the chest.
"I think," said Ned Irish, freshly instated as Madison Square Garden's new president, "that they [pay TV and free TV] are compatible." He smiled when he said it.
The fringe benefit, already old-hat to most football coaches, showed up at the University of Missouri last week with a stylish new twist. Departing radically from the démodé station wagon, the home on the campus or the lucrative Sunday evening TV program, Missouri alumni gave Coach Dan Devine a $150,000 life insurance policy. An ordinary life contract, the gift has an annual premium of $3,507, which will be paid from a trust fund nourished by alumni and "friends of the university." The trust is set up for 20 years, an oblique vote of confidence any coach could appreciate.
Devine, who began at Missouri last year with assets of an undefeated season at Arizona State (Tempe) and liabilities of a large mortgage and small bank account, is delighted with the policy. "I had started an insurance program," he said, "but it was only just a start for a fellow with a family as big as mine." (He has five children, with the sixth expected this week.) "I've moved three times in my coaching career, and lost a little money each time."
Devine need worry no more about moving expenses so long as he sits tight at Missouri. Even if he should be fired he would get whatever had accrued as equity in the policy. But if he quits, he would do well to look both ways before crossing a street. Under that condition, he gets neither equity nor insurance.
Missouri may have pioneered something here.
Just the Facts, Ma'am
As reporters of the Westminster Kennel Club show every year (SI, Feb. 23, for instance), we hear a good many dog stories that have to be checked out. Like this one last Thursday.
Phone rang at 9:35 a.m. and caller identified himself as New Jersey-Manhattan commuter. Said he'd heard on the train about the shocking business at the Westminster. Two dogs poisoned. One of them the Welsh terrier who went best in the terrier group—so shaky from the poisoner's work that he missed best-in-show. The other a Skye terrier—so done in that he couldn't get on his feet for the judgings.
9:40: Dog show reporter assigned to get out the dragnet.
9:45: Quick check of papers turns up nothing on poisonings.
9:50: Call made to American Kennel Club supervisors of Westminster show. "Heard something about a sick dog," AKC reported. "No official reports made. Will check further."
10:06: Director of AKC called back. No verification of story. "Sounds like another rumor."
10:35: Reached Hugh Chisholm, owner of winning terrier. "Dog in perfect health. No illness during show."
10:40: Checked Westminster Kennel Club. Had "heard about sick terrier." Not Welsh. Skye, owned by party on Long Island. No complaint filed.
10:45: Call made to owner of sick Skye. "Terrible thing," owner reported. "Took him home day after show. Noticed gums and eyes were red. Took him to hospital. He'll be home in a few days. You should come and see him."
"Heard he was poisoned," reporter interrupted.
"Poisoned! Goodness no. Absolutely not. Liver and kidney infection. Might happen to any dog."
11:00: Investigation completed. No story.
He climbed up the peak
To the manner born,
And claimed it was mind
DOROTHY COMISKEY RIGNEY
They Said It
Bill Rigney, broken-jawed (auto accident) manager of San Francisco's Giants, assessing his threat to umpires in early 1959: "I can still hiss at them."
Frank Leahy, onetime football coach at Notre Dame, paraphrasing William Tecumseh Sherman: "I have retired from coaching and have no intention of returning to it under any circumstances, anywhere in the country, for any reasons whatsoever."
Karol Fageros, Golden Goddess of Tennis and fifth-ranked U.S. woman player last year, announcing her retirement from tournament play: "From now on I'll play tennis just for fun and relaxation. Wearing golden panties was a cornball idea, I guess, but it turned out great for me."
Leroy (Satchel) Paige, 50, explaining that he asked the Miami Marlins for unconditional release: "I've retired from them, but they haven't retired from me."
John Bridgers, newly appointed football coach at Baylor University, to alumni of that Baptist school, which has not won a conference football championship since 1924: "I would like to remind you that patience is a Christian virtue."
COMISKEYS QUARREL OVER SALE OF WHITE SOX CLUB TO VEECK—News Item