Four generations of Veecks in baseball

ByJohn Owens Localish logo
Monday, June 3, 2024
Four generations of Veecks in baseball
For over 100 years, the Veeck family has been an instrumental part of Chicago baseball. Now the youngest Veeck -- Night Train Veeck -- is running a minor league team in Joliet, Ill

CHICAGO -- Back in 1917, a Chicago American sportswriter named William Veeck got an unlikely promotion.

Veeck, known in the Hearst-owned newspaper under the pseudonym "Bill Bailey", was hired by Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley to become vice-president of the team that the chewing gum magnate had bought into a year earlier.

Since that time, the name Veeck has been synonymous with Chicago baseball.

Of course, Bill Veeck is the most famous representative of this baseball dynasty. Veeck started with the Cubs in the 1930s, working under his father before Williams untimely death in 1933


And Veeck stayed with the Cubs through the early 1940s, where he oversaw the renovation of the bleachers and planting of the outfield ivy. After owning the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns, Veeck returned to Chicago, where he owned the White Sox twice, from 1958 to 1961 and from 1976 to 1980.

Bill Veeck's son, Mike, worked under his father during his second ownership stint in the 1970s, where he was responsible for planning the notorious "Disco Demolition" night, where shock jock Steve Dahl blew up disco records in between games of a doubleheader, an act which instigated a fan riot. He then became a pioneering owner of independent minor league teams throughout the U.S., a journey that has been detailed in the acclaimed Netflix documentary "The Saint of Second Chances."

Now Mike Veeck is joining forces with his son, Night Train, as a fourth generation of Veecks takes over a Chicago baseball team.

This time, the Veecks and actor/comedian Bill Murray have taken over ownership of the Joliet Slammers, an independent minor league organization that competes in the Frontier League, along with Chicago-area teams in Schaumburg, Gary and Crestwood.

"It's pretty crazy -- I think my dad and I were totaling it up the other month and it was over 100 years of baseball between the four of us," said Night Train. And, yes, thats his real name Mike named his son after Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick "Night Train" Lane, the defensive back who starred for the old Chicago Cardinals and Detroit Lions.

Night Train is the Executive Vice President of the Slammers the front office representative who will handle day-to-day activities with the team. He just finished a stint running a cricket team in Melbourne, Australia.

"It feels nice to be back in Independent League Baseball," Night Train Veeck said. "Joliet is a great community with blue collar fans who work hard and want to have some fun at the ballpark when theyre done. We want to be the front porch for the community of Joliet."

"Its a really active and involved fan-base," adds Slammers manager Mike Pinto, who played for the Joliet team when they were known as the Jackhammers back in 2002. "But the best thing about playing independent minor league baseball is that there are no politics. Our players are professionals, but we dont care what round they were drafted. Were just here to win games for the fans."

While the Sox and Cubs play at Wrigley Field this week in the first Crosstown Classic series of the year, the Slammers will be at home at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet playing the Trois-Rivières Aigles, a Quebec squad which competes with Joliet in the 16-team Frontier League. And one thing is for certain about this season in Joliet - if a Veeck is involved, innovative promotions are not that far behind.

After all, the Veeck have based their brand on promotions. Bill was responsible for some legendary ones, like the time he invited 3-foot-7 inch performer Eddie Gaedel to pinch hit in a St. Louis Browns game. He also had promotions like "Grandstand Managers Night," where fans voted on in-game decisions, and giveaways featuring unusual items like a live Black Angus bull.

Mike has continued that tradition for his various minor league teams in St. Paul and Charleston, including a pig which retrieves baseballs for umpires; staging the worlds largest pillow fight at a game; and other events like "Mime-O-Vision" night.

The Slammers already have some off-beat promotions planned, including a "(Taylor) Swifty Night" coming up later this summer, along with "A.I. Takes Over the Ballpark" night and 'Field of Memes",

"Well probably avoid a 'Disco Demolition Night, since some stuff happened with that the last time, so were gonna probably stay away from that," Night Train said with a chuckle.

One thing is for certain the Veecks influence on baseball, both in Chicago and nationally, is unquestioned.

"Going back to Willam Veeck, Sr., the Veecks have been extremely important to baseball," said veteran sports journalist, George Castle. "William Veeck, Sr. was responsible for the Cubs dynasty in the '20s and '30s and he also expanded Wrigley Field, started Ladies Day and was the earliest supporter of widespread broadcasting of baseball."

"Bill Veeck was Baseball's Barnum, a man who believed in bringing fun and not solemnity to the ballpark," Castle added. "But he also integrated the American League with Larry Doby, his first big achievement with the Cleveland Indians in 1947. And he brought the White Sox their first pennant in 40 years (in 1959)."

Castle said being back in the Chicago area will be an incentive for the Veecks to pull out all the stops in their attempt to revitalize interest in minor league baseball in Joliet.

"This is the area where both Mike and Night Train grew up," Castle said. "So I think they'll going to be really, really motivated, even more so than Mike has been for his other innovative minor league teams that he's owned all over the country."