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THE FANS' MAN

They finally elected Bill Veeck to baseball's Hall of Fame. I don't pretend to know how that honor would sit with him, though.

Even though he was an owner most of his years in the game, Veeck was always considered an iconoclast. While most owners have always thought a baseball team should be profitable, Veeck insisted that it first must be fun for the fans to watch.

Besides, Veeck never was much for hanging out with swells of any category. Away from the ballpark, he was a genuine intellectual who drank nothing but beer, preferably while bellied up to a bar in a saloon. Long before headwaiters let down the barriers, he refused to wear ties either to work or dinner.

When Veeck came back to run the Chicago White Sox for the second time during the 1970s, the first thing he did was to remove the doors and walls from his office. Each day, when the writers went up to have lunch in the Bard's room, there was Bill sitting at his desk, open to the crowd.

He loved being in Chicago. Rather than move into a house in the suburbs, Veeck and his wife and kids moved into an apartment on the South Side, overlooking Lake Michigan and only a ten-minute drive to the ballpark.

One snowy winter day when the lake was iced over, I went to see him to do a column. We spent most of the day hanging around the apartment, which was actually two apartments put together.

He had a genuine talent for telling a funny story with a straight face while listeners tried to control themselves. He seemed to read everything: newspapers, magazines, books. And he knew everybody, too, both in baseball and out.

That day, Bill played records from his jazz collection. I remember he liked Oscar Peterson. But he also liked classical music and he made a point of playing Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man."

We drank a few beers and talked mostly about music and books. Bill was an insatiable reader. He arose at 5 each morning and jumped into the bathtub to soak the pain-wracked stump of his amputated leg. He knew pain intimately but never complained about it. While in the tub, he was able to get in a couple of hours' reading.

I remember asking him one day how he liked Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove.
"There's just one trouble with it," Veeck said. "It ends." He began talking about the days when he still owned the Cleveland Indians. This was before there was any spring training in Arizona.

"I moved them to Tucson for spring training because I owned a ranch out there in the Rincon Mountains." Veeck leaned back in his chair and chuckled.

"Did I ever tell you about that ranch?" he asked. "It was called the Lazy V. I bought it for $300,000 in an effort to save my first marriage. All that happened was that my wife went off horseback riding every day.

"After the divorce, my wife ended up with the ranch and I had to pay an extra $100,000 to buy it back from her.

"Finally, I sold it at a loss of about $150,000. I think that up to that time I was the only man in Arizona who ever lost money in real estate." Then Veeck began talking about how he brought spring training to Arizona.

"The first club I called to ask them to move to Phoenix was the Chicago Cubs," Veecks said. "They turned me down. But they suggested I call the late Horace Stoneham, who then owned the Giants.

"I called Horace and we agreed to meet at the Westward Ho Hotel bar in Phoenix." I remember Veeck grinning at the memory.

"The mayor of Phoenix came along to meet with us," he said. "But by the time the mayor and I got to the bar, Horace was already totally bombed.

"But since I had to have somebody in Phoenix to play exhibition games with, there was no way to wait until a later day to settle the deal.

"I remember the Phoenix mayor and I just put the contract under Horace's nose at the bar and I put my hand on Horace's and signed his name for him." Veeck said he and the mayor then drove to the airport with Stoneham. Both Veeck and Stoneham were headed for Chicago.

"I was on crutches then and the mayor was only this high," Veeck said, indicating the mayor's tiny stature.

"Those were the days when you still had to climb the steps to get into the plane. We helped Horace up a couple of steps and then all three of us went down. Who's to know what anybody thought of us?" Veeck and the mayor finally got Stoneham into his seat and strapped in for the ride.

Veeck shook his head.
"When we finally got to Chicago," Veeck said, "Stoneham came to life. He seemed surprised to see me.

"`Hey Bill,' Stoneham said, `It's good to see you. Why don't we get together as soon as we can and work out a deal for me to come to Phoenix?'" Veeck grinned at the memory of one of his great hustles.

"`Horace,'" I told him. "`You and your Giants are all set in Phoenix. You've already met the mayor. You've signed the contract. You're really gonna love it there.'"

"I sold it at a loss of about $150,000. I think that up to that time I was the only man in Arizona who ever lost money in real estate." "You've already met the mayor. You've signed the contract. You're really gonna love it there.

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Tom Fitzpatrick