At a recent White Sox game in Kansas City, an old guy says to me in the restroom: “Do you remember Turk Lown? He’s my uncle.”
Perhaps it was my Cooperstown old-time 1959 Chicago White Sox jersey, itself older than half the fans at the game.
Good baseball years for the Chicago White Sox are fairly rare, though not compared to the Cubs. But White Sox fans still get upset when they lose and don’t consider it “romantic” or “loveable.” That’s for quiche eaters, not polish sausage guys. Given that 2012 has been among the best, it seemed like a good time to read some White Sox books.
“Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick” by baseball historian Paul Dickson, featured this summer in the Wall Street Journal, is great writing.
“Sox and the City,” released in 2007 by Richard Roeper, focused exclusively on the White Sox as does “Strength Down the Middle: The Story of the 1959 White Sox” by Larry Kalas.
Bill Veeck (whose autobiography is titled “Veeck as in Wreck”) is a sports variation of Teddy Roosevelt in this sense: It is almost impossible to write a boring book about him.
His dad was a Cubs executive, so he grew up in baseball. He began ownership in minor league baseball where promotions reign. Attending a TinCaps game you hope to see some good baseball, but it is still a great time even if you don’t.
Veeck brought this concept to stuffy Major League Baseball. When I think of Veeck I think of the 1959 White Sox team he owned featuring my first real baseball hero, Hall of Fame second basemen Nellie Fox, as well as Turk Lown, a relief pitcher, and outfielder Jim Rivera, founder of Captain’s Cabin on Crooked Lake near Angola.
Luis Aparicio, Fox’s keystone partner (the shortstop), is featured with the other 1959 stars prominently in “Strength Down the Middle” and somewhat in “Sox and the City.”
What I remember most growing up was not follow-up White Sox pennants after 1959 (the next was 1983) but Veeck’s most famous attraction: the exploding scoreboard.
He made players like David Nicholson (who couldn’t hit anything but when he did, wow) and Ron Kittle (a Hoosier who hit a little more but also walloped it when he connected) heroes because, while you might not win, you got to see the scoreboard explode.
Veeck was more than just a promoter. One of his crusades was to break down the racial barriers, which he did at Cleveland and Chicago. For another decade they were the only American League teams with African-American ballplayers.
Ironically, one of his biggest crusades was against the “reserve clause” that bound a player to one team forever unless the team released him. When this was overturned, baseball ownership became trophies for the super-wealthy. No one like Veeck has ever again owned a team.
Veeck brings back many fond memories, and so did this year’s White Sox.