With trained pigs, wacky nuns and Vasectomy Night, Mike Veeck is
teaching the sports world to give fans their funny's worth
Even if you've never heard of Mike Veeck, you probably know his
work. On July 8 the baseball impresario's Nobody Night made
something out of nothing. He generated a ballparkful of publicity
for his Charleston RiverDogs by locking the gates of Riley
Stadium, holding a party in the parking lot and not letting fans
in until the sixth inning--after the team had set a record for
lowest paid attendance (zero). Despite playing sub-.500 baseball
last season, the RiverDogs, who had promotions at 60 of 70 home
games, drew 242,000 fans, the most in team history.
The president of a South Carolina ad agency, Veeck is a
consultant for the Detroit Tigers and also oversees a consortium
of six minor league ball clubs that include the Evansville Otters
and the Sioux Falls Canaries. "He's the Grand Pooh-Bah of minor
league marketing," says Orlando Magic vice president Pat
Williams, a disciple of Veeck's father, Bill, the baseball
showman who dreamed up exploding scoreboards and sent 3'7" Eddie
Gaedel to bat for the St. Louis Browns in 1951. "Mike has a real
genius for drawing attention to his teams and increasing their
fan base," Williams says. "His hustles are the future of minor
league sports. When he speaks, everybody listens."
And not just baseball people. Williams was among 260 front-office
executives from every major team sport who came to Tampa last
week to hear Veeck bat around the marketing concepts behind some
of his successful promotions at a three-day seminar. Rally
Monkeys and ThunderStix are fine when your club's in the World
Series, but Veeck shows that good times are possible even when
your team is 20,000 leagues under the national radar. "My
philosophy is simple," he said. "Make 75 percent of the crowd
laugh, annoy 15 percent, and who cares about the other 10
November 25, 2002
Among Mike's brighter brainchildren are Call in Sick Day (fans
cut work; team faxes excuses to their bosses), Mime-O-Vision
Night (mimes re-create game action atop dugouts) and Race the
Mannequin Night (base path dash between spectators and department
store dummy--the joke being that the mannequin doesn't move). He
has had a pig deliver balls to the home plate ump, a nun give
massages atop the dugout and, before this summer's big league
strike deadline, seat cushions imprinted with the mugs of Bud
Selig and Donald Fehr. Fans were instructed to vote with their
Marriage Counseling Night was a symposium favorite. Spouses air
their grievances to the crowd, which sides with husband or wife
by holding placards aloft. "If the relationship can't be healed,"
Veeck explained, "the team pays for a divorce." Equally popular
were Fan Bobblehead Night (lucky customer gets doll made in his
image), a funhouse-mirror experiment (size-exaggerating mirrors
placed next to urinals) and Protest Night, in which each
spectator gets a sheet of cardboard glued to a tongue depressor.
By doubling as a fan and a picket sign, the giveaway provides
ventilation and hyperventilation.
Man Living at the Ballpark--Veeck brought in a law student to be
a squatter for the entire 2001 season at St. Paul's Midway
Stadium--inspired Vince Spinks of the Johnson City Cardinals.
"I'd like to stage Big Brother in one of our unused corporate
suites," he said. "We could show it on cable access."
Still, Veeck cautions that "even the canniest innovation can't
save a lousy team." He proved that last season in Detroit: The
Tigers lost 106 games, and despite such promotional wizardry as
Octopus Toss Night, attendance fell 20%.
Sadly, some of Veeck's canniest innovations never leave the can.
He most mourns Vasectomy Night, which the RiverDogs had planned
for Father's Day. "We'd hoped to give away a vasectomy," he
recalled. "Complications arose, and the idea got
snipped." --Franz Lidz
FOR THE RECORD
RETIRED From active batboy service, Darren Baker, 3, son of Dusty
Baker, the former Giants manager who last Friday signed a
four-year deal with the Cubs. Darren was a batboy during the
World Series, and in response to his near collision at home with
the Giants' David Bell during Game 5, Major League Baseball will
set a minimum age for batboys this week at its general managers'
meetings. The age is expected to be in the double digits.
ANNOUNCED By San Francisco Superior Court judge Kevin McCarthy,
that on Dec. 18 he'll decide who owns the baseball that Barry
Bonds hit into the Pac Bell Park bleachers on Oct. 7, 2001, for
his 73rd homer of that season. The ball, estimated to be worth $1
million, was caught by 38-year-old Alex Popov, but after a
skirmish Patrick Hayashi, 37, emerged with it (SI, July 29).
Popov sued, saying he's the rightful owner.
ENTERED The debate over Augusta National Golf Club's refusal to
permit female members, the Reverend Jesse Jackson. "It's an
insult to all that America stands for," said Jackson, who
challenged Augusta members and sponsors to cut ties to the club.
Jackson declared Augusta guilty of "gender apartheid" and said
he'll protest outside the gates of the club if there are no women
members by the time of the Masters in April.
DIED Of cancer, college football Hall of Famer Glenn Dobbs, 82.
Dobbs, an All-America tailback, safety and punter at Tulsa, led
the 1942 Golden Hurricane to a 10--1 record and the No. 4 ranking
in the AP poll. Dobbs played professionally for nine seasons in
the U.S. and Canada, then returned to Tulsa in '55 as athletic
director and later as an offensive-minded football coach who
relied on a short-pass-and-run game similar to the West Coast
offense. "Defense is simply something you play while the
offensive players rest," Dobbs said a few years before his 1968
Tulsa team lost to Houston 100--6, the most lopsided defeat in
Division I history.
REFEREED By veteran NAIA officials Erica Bradley, Mona Miller and
Leigh Anne Webb, a men's basketball game in Pulaski, Tenn. The
Nov. 12 matchup between Martin Methodist College and Atlanta
Christian College is believed to have been the first
regular-season men's college game worked entirely by female
officials. "They just called it like the rest of them," says E.L.
Hutton, commissioner of the TranSouth Conference. "I walked
through the crowd making comments like, 'Hey, look out there,
they got three woman refs.' And people would look at me and say,
"Well, I'll be darned.'"
SAVED By Utah defensive end Sione Pouha, his neighbor Brooke
Lewis, 22, from her smoke-filled apartment. After the 6'3",
296-pound sophomore was awakened in the middle of the night by a
fire alarm in his Salt Lake City apartment, he got Lewis's keys
from the building manager, opened her door and found her passed
out on the floor beneath thick smoke. Pouha carried Lewis out,
and she regained consciousness; police say a fire began after
Lewis fell asleep while cooking a pizza.
RETIRED After 17 years on the WTA Tour, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario,
30, who won four career Grand Slam events and held the No. 1
ranking in singles and doubles in 1995. Small for a top player at
5'6" and 125 pounds, Sanchez-Vicario was known as a giant on big
points, and her quick feet made her one of the best retrievers in
her era. Her $16,917,312 in career earnings ranks fourth. "She
gave so much to tennis [with] her competitiveness," says former
No. 1 Steffi Graf, "and always with that great smile."
A Rum Solution
Headed For a working vacation in Puerto Rico, the Major League
Baseball--owned Expos. While the franchise--which had looked like
a prime candidate for contraction at this time last year--will
stay in Montreal through at least 2003, baseball is close to
announcing a plan for the team to play 20 "home" games in San
Juan next season. (Owners were expected to approve the plan and
to set the Expos' 2003 payroll at meetings scheduled for Tuesday
and Wednesday in Dallas.) The proposal points up what an
albatross the Expos have become for baseball. The team, which
this season had the majors' lowest average attendance (10,031 a
game), has no chance of making money in Montreal, but no city has
emerged as a promising alternative. Washington, D.C., would love
to have the Expos, but until a new ballpark is built (RFK
Stadium, where the team would have to play at first, is a lousy
baseball facility), commissioner Bud Selig is reluctant to okay
Thus baseball will try to squeeze revenue out of the team by
scheduling two 10-game home stands at 25,000-seat Hiram Bithorn
Stadium in San Juan, where the Rangers and the Blue Jays played
the season-opener in 2001 and where the Expos are almost certain
to draw larger crowds than they do in Montreal. Even with the
extra income, the Expos, whose $39 million payroll was higher
only than the Devil Rays' last season, will be hard-pressed to
preserve last year's team, which finished at 83--79, second in
the National League East. Keeping intact a pitching rotation that
includes Bartolo Colon, Javier Vazquez and Tony Armas Jr. will
require an additional $15 million to $20 million, but MLB is not
expected to approve a salary increase of more than $5 million or
$6 million. Thus the other 29 teams will set their payroll, then
pick at the team's still-breathing carcass. "Is there a perfect
solution right now?" asks Sandy Alderson, MLB's executive vice
president of baseball operations. "I don't think anyone believes
there is." --Stephen Cannella
94 Career touchdowns for C.W. Post running back Ian Smart, two
more than the previous NCAA all-division record.
14 Players on the Grizzlies' 15-man roster who were born
after their new coach, Hubie Brown, 69, won the ABA title with
the Kentucky Colonels in 1975.
$1 billion Prize money awarded to George Kemp, 35, for winning
the World's Biggest Liar competition in Santon Bridge, England,
with a tale about riding a balsa wood motorcycle.
$39.49 Actual amount Kemp won.
13 Straight Gold Gloves for the Braves' Greg Maddux, a record for
12 Career overtime goals for Red Wings center Sergei Fedorov, an
NHL record he set by beating the Ducks last Friday.
14 Colleges that have dropped football since 1991, including
Division I-AA Canisius, which lost 42--7 to Stony Brook in its
final game last Saturday.
256 Adults who competed in the first International Rock, Paper,
Scissors Championships in Toronto.
781 Yards that College of Marin quarterback Geary Davenport
passed for in a 72--69 loss to Solano CC.
Why horses make no distinction between him, Bob Baffert and D.
Though hardly as well-known as those two, Lake, 37, wins more
than anyone else. In 2001 he became the second trainer to win
400 races in a year; in 2002 he's won 351 and is on his way to
leading the U.S. in victories for the third straight year.
Why he's a working-class hero in the sport of kings
Lake, raised in Harrisburg, Pa., fell in love with racing
when his father, a policeman, took him to the track. He started
working odd jobs at East Coast tracks in 1978 and has been a
licensed trainer since '87, running cheap to mid-price claimers
for owners who can't afford the colts you see on Derby Day. "I've
got great owners who let me run their horses where they belong,"
Why people wonder what he puts in his oats
Lake wins 32% of his races, a number so high that it has led to
rumors he doctors his horses with illegal drugs. Lake did, in
fact, serve 25 days in suspensions this year after two of his
horses tested positive for the anti-inflammatory banamine (Lake
blames the vet), but he says the criticism is nothing more than jealousy. "Put a security guard in my barn," he says. "I'll get
out of the business if they catch me."
Will he ever go big time?
Last month at Arlington Park, Lake had his first Breeders' Cup
starter, a colt named Thunderello, who finished second in the
Sprint. "I'd love to move in that direction," he says of running
in richer races, "but I'm not going to leave what I've got here."
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
SATURDAY 11/23 > ABC NOON > NO. 9 MICHIGAN AT NO. 2 OHIO STATE
A win here, and the Buckeyes play for the national championship
on Jan. 3. But the Wolverines loom large: They're 9-3-1 against
Ohio State since 1989.
SATURDAY 11/23 > HBO 9:45 PM > MICKY WARD VS. ARTURO GATTI
A junior welterweight rematch between Ward (38--11, 27 KOs) and
Gatti (34--6, 28 KOs). Many consider Ward's bloody 10-round
decision in May the fight of the year.
MONDAY 11/25 > ABC 9 PM > EAGLES AT 49ERS
The Eagles are 7--0 in prime time under coach Andy Reid, but
they're facing the 49ers without quarterback Donovan McNabb,
who's out with a broken ankle.
WEDNESDAY 11/27 > ESPN 7 PM > LAKERS AT MAGIC
It's nickname night in the NBA as T-Mac and G-Hill take on the
Big Aristotle, assuming Shaq's toe is healed, and Kobe (I Need a
THURSDAY 11/28 > FOX 4 PM > REDSKINS AT COWBOYS
It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without visions of Jerry Jones in
your living room. Food for thought: The Cowboys are 5--0 against
the Redskins on Turkey Day.
THURSDAY 11/28 > TNT 10 PM > NETS AT CLIPPERS
Two years ago you couldn't have given away tickets to this game.
Now it's a matchup between two of the most exciting teams in the
>> DON'T MISS
THURSDAY 11/28 > NBC NOON
The National Dog Show
Stay tuned after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as the Kennel
Club of Philadelphia sends out a parade of about 2,500 pooches in
140 breeds, and some well-coiffed handlers. The show's been held
annually for 861 years (or, if you're a human, 123).
Stewart's Bad Rap
As Tony Stewart ran the last few laps in Sunday's season finale,
wrapping up his first Winston Cup title, the topic of
conversation in the TV broadcast booth was the same one that had
been churned over ad nauseam in the six weeks since the
31-year-old first took the lead in the standings: What kind of
champion will Stewart make? Next month Stewart will hit the
talk-show circuit on a NASCAR-mandated goodwill tour, and well,
Stewart--best known to casual sports fans as the guy who punched
a photographer at the Brickyard in August--doesn't always ooze
goodwill. "If the [drivers] before him had treated the people as
he treats them today, then there wouldn't be no Tony Stewart
running Winston Cup, because there wouldn't be no Winston Cup,"
Richard Petty told USA Today last week. Stick Stewart on a
talk-show couch, people seem to think, and he'll tell Kelly Ripa
she looks fat, then take a swing at Regis.
The King makes a valid point, but by being asked to defend his
future behavior countless times in recent weeks, Stewart has been
given a raw deal. Cut the champ some slack. Stewart is a classic
hothead--get in his face as he's getting out of his car, and
you'll get snapped at or shoved. But put him in a situation where
he can use his head wisely, and Stewart can shine. In a roomful
of cameras on the day before the finale, without being asked, he
launched into a moving tribute to Mark Martin, the four-time
runner-up whom he nosed out for the championship. "He is one of
my heroes in the Winston Cup Series, so I couldn't think of a
better guy to come down to this battle with," said Stewart. His
words were sincere, but even if they weren't, it was still just
the kind of sound bite Regis will eat up. --Mark Bechtel
The Rangers won eight of their first 20 games for Bryan Trottier,
a Hall of Fame center who's one of five rookie coaches in the
NHL. Which Hall of Fame player had the most wins as a coach?
a. Sid Abel c. Toe Blake
b. Al Arbour d. Dick Irvin
Baptism by Fire
Who is the only current NHL head coach who had no assistant-or
head-coaching experience on any level before he was hired to guide
an NHL team?
This Week's Matchup Pair the current coach with the man he played
for as an NHL rookie.
1. Joel Quenneville a. Scotty Bowman
2. Lindy Ruff b. Emile Francis
3. Brian Sutter c. Eddie Johnston
4. Darryl Sutter d. Roger Neilson
Call to Order
Put these current NHL coaches in order of most seasons as a coach
in the minors, juniors and college ranks before becoming an NHL
a. Mike Babcock, Mighty Ducks
b. Bruce Cassidy, Capitals
c. Ken Hitchcock, Flyers
d. Dave Lewis, Red Wings
HALL MONITOR: c. Although he played only three NHL seasons, Dick
Irvin is widely considered one of the toughest players to lace up
skates. Irvin coached Blackhawks, Maple Leafs and Canadiens teams
to 692 wins between 1928 and 1956.
BAPTISM BY FIRE: Blackhawks coach Brian Sutter went from the end
of his 12-year playing career with the Blues in 1987--88 directly
to being St. Louis's head coach in 1988--89. He has since coached
Boston and Calgary.
THIS WEEK'S MATCHUP: 1. d; 2. a; 3. b; 4. c
CALL TO ORDER: Babcock (13 seasons); Hitchcock (nine); Cassidy
(five); Lewis (none)
"Put Tony Stewart in a situation where he can use his head wisely,
and he'll shine." --UNDER REVIEW, PAGE 32