His Wooden Leg

The man who was baseball


I once sat with the legendary Bill Veeck, for an hour, in a pub in Chicago, and though I cannot say that we conversed much, per se, I can say that I met him, and shook his hand, and said thanks for the way he brought humor and the jolt and zest of change to hidebound Baseball Incorporated, and I did get to hear him in the full flow and flower of his legendary discourse, which covered, in the hour that I sat with him amid many cans of beer, his wooden leg propped up on the table, his service in the Marines (in which an accident had eventually cost him his leg—I didn’t even get it shot off or anything heroic, I just screwed up, he said, laughing), his eight kids (greatest accomplishments of my life by far), his role in integrating baseball (any idiot would have done the same, especially by God with Larry Doby—that guy could play ball), his brief career at Kenyon College, his idea for planting ivy along Wrigley Field’s walls (my only horticultural accomplishment), how many wooden legs he had (three at the moment, and there may be one in the car), how many of the stories told about his ideas and innovations in baseball were true (about half), signing Satchel Paige (that guy could have pitched until he was 400 years old), sending 3.55-foot-tall Eddie Gaedel up to bat for the Saint Louis Browns (that’ll be the first line in my obituary), the infamous Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park (I hated disco, but that was probably a poor idea), and why he was sitting in a pub outside Wrigley Field even though he had never owned the Cubs and had twice owned the White Sox (I love baseball and I love Wrigley and I love beer and I love pubs and I love talking in pubs).

Finally it was time for me to go home, but as soon as I stood up another guy plopped down in my chair and Veeck warbled on as if he could tell stories all night, which probably he could have and maybe he did. He died seven years later. By then I was living in Boston (where he had once owned a horse track), and I remember picking up the newspaper and seeing his obituary and feeling a sudden twist of sadness that a guy who had so much fun being alive wasn’t, anymore. I don’t remember if Eddie Gaedel was in the first line of his obituary but all the rest of my life I will remember, with a smile, his wooden leg plopped on a back table amid beer cans in Ray’s Bleachers pub in Chicago, just outside the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field, which he loved.

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Brian Doyle, an essayist and novelist, died on May 27, 2017. To read Epiphanies, his longtime blog for the Scholar, please go here.


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