Mike Veeck and I weren’t exactly tight when he brought an independent baseball team to St. Paul’s Midway Stadium in 1993. I’m not an admirer of silly, and way too much of the Saints’ appeal was based on silliness.
In my opinion.
It was not an opinion shared by a faction of the Twin Cities’ sporting public, or a couple of Star Tribune editors, for that matter.
I took the cheap shots and the Veeck supporters fired back, and it was deemed by some to be a feud.
I didn’t see it that way. I saw myself as a media member providing needed perspective to the Veeck publicity machine.
More than once, I heard the theory that my usual spin on the Saints and Veeck had to be based on some lingering dislike for Bill Veeck, Mike’s father, and a controversial baseball man.
Now that was a beauty since Bill Veeck was responsible for three of my greatest moments in a ballpark. Namely:
*The Twins were in Comiskey Park for a series in the summer of 1977. The wonderful old park was full and rowdy. Veeck had the South Side Hitmen and the Twins had what I termed the Rod and Gun Club – Rod Carew and other big guns such as Lyman Bostock and Larry Hisle.
Those teams were fighting for first place in the AL West in mid-summer. A fight erupted in the second deck, in front of the press box. Veeck grabbed an usher and went hobbling through the seat rows to try to break up the fight.
Next thing we saw in the press box was Veeck disappearing into the melee, except for his wooden leg upright and towering above the combatants.
*The White Sox lost Richie Zisk, Oscar Gamble and other “Hit Men’’ to free agency after the 1977 season. They went in the tank. Veeck decided to fire Bob Lemon on June 30, 1978 and replaced him with Larry Doby.
Veeck had integrated the American League by signing Doby for the Cleveland Indians in 1948, and now he was naming Doby as the second black man to manage in major league baseball.
Lemon’s firing took place at Met Stadium. Veeck and Lemon were close friends from Cleveland, when Bill was the owner and Lemon was a star pitcher.
There was a hospitality area at the Met known as the Twins Room. The alcohol flowed freely there, as I can verify first-hand.
While Doby managed his first game, Veeck stayed in the Twins Room and drank with his pal Lemon. There were reports of them singing tunes together by mid-game. I saw the pair after the game – the ex-manager and the owner who had fired him late that afternoon – and they were sitting, shoulder-to-shoulder, and keeping one another upright in their chairs.
*In 1983, I went to Chicago to write a long piece on Bill Veeck for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He was out of baseball. We met on a sunny afternoon at Wrigley Field and sat in right-center field bleachers.
Veeck was shirtless and wearing shorts. I believe there was a sentence written that Veeck was displaying one leg that was tan and the other varnished.
That was as grand of a three hours as I’ve spent in my sports-writing life, watching baseball in Wrigley and hearing Bill Veeck’s stories.
So, that was it. I loved Mike’s dad in my meetings with him.
The Saints’ phenomenon waned. Mike went his way and I went mine. I might have mentioned him in a column a couple of times in the decade of the 2000s, but I’d have to check to make sure.
Maybe five years ago, he started pushing the idea of a new ballpark for the Saints. I thought he had less chance to win this battle than his one-legged father had to win his controntation years earlier against Comiskey ruffians.
I had Mike on the radio a couple of times to talk about this pipedream. What the heck? I had Tim Brewster on the radio a couple of times after he left the Gophers, and that dust-up had been more serious than anything that took place between Veeck and me.
As it turned out, I very much underestimated Mike Veeck. He was able to get St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman strongly on his side, and they found a perfect place for a tidy, minor league ballpark in the Lowertown area of St. Paul.
Basically, legislative approval of the Saints’ ballpark became the nod to St. Paul for needed votes for the Vikings’ stadium in Minneapolis.
However it came about, Mike Veeck’s vision of a ballpark for his independent baseball team officially became a reality on Thursday night with the American Association opener vs. the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks.
It was an outstanding night for a game. The ballyard was bursting. The beers consumed per capita had to be spectacular, including a long line for the “Thirsty Thursday’’ promotion featuring a stand with $1 cups of beer.
CHS Field is anexcellent addition to the Twin Cities’ expanding list of sports facilities. Congratulations, Mr. Veeck, I didn’t think you could pull it off.
Your dad would be proud.