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Saturday, April 9, 2022

Mike Veeck got his start in bigs, then came disco, success in minors

After a decade in the baseball wilderness, Mike Veeck finally got his chance to return to the game - with the Miami Miracle, an independent club trying to compete in the high-A Florida State League.

Veeck, the son of baseball promoter Bill Veeck, had worked for his father with the White Sox and had been credited - or blamed - for the infamous Disco Demolition Night of 1979. But the Miracle offered him a chance back.

"My 4-year-old son Night Train (a.k.a. William) even said it was a bad career move," Veeck told The Tampa Bay Times in June 1990 of his move from his own advertising company - and an apparent big pay cut - to Miracle team president. "But I had no choice. It was baseball."

Once he returned, Veeck hasn't left again. From the Miracle, Veeck soon moved on to Minnesota, and the St. Paul Saints, where he has remained since, as president and co-owner. 

He's also continued to be identified with off-the-wall baseball promotions - whether it be a baseball-fetching dog, haircuts at the park or a baseball-fetching pig.

Veeck's first career in baseball began years earlier, in the 1970s, behind his father. 

By 1976, the he was selling season tickets for his father's team, the White Sox, and working public relations. But, at 24, he'd also helped out at a racetrack, run a restaurant and even played in a soft rock band, The Chicago Daily News wrote in February 1976.

"Right now, it's a real kick ... working in the Sox office ... watching the operation start to tighten up, like gears in a machine, as the start of the season gets closer," Veeck told The Daily News. "But a career in baseball? Well, it's a bit too early to tell, isn't it?"

By 1979, Veeck had become director of promotions for the White Sox - and he helped hatch the idea for what became a riot of thousands of fans, Disco Demolition Night, and a White Sox forfeit.

Veeck soon went into advertising, not because he wanted to, but because he had nowhere else in baseball to go, Veeck told The St. Paul Pioneer Press years later.

"That disco thing made me untouchable," Veeck recalled to The Pioneer Press in 2016. "I got offers from soccer teams, because as you know, soccer teams like riots, it's good business for them; business ass usual. And radio stations offered me jobs. But boy, in baseball, there was nothing. I wrote letters, I applied for positions."

Then came the Miracle. After working to bring the franchise back to life. After his work there, he soon arrived in St. Paul with the new independent Saints. 

Of his approach to the game, and his similarity with his father, Veeck told The Minneapolis Star Tribune in June 1993 of his prime motivation.

"I just want to make people happy," Veeck told The Star Tribune then. "We live in a pretty sick world, and people need to come to the ballpark and enjoy themselves. If they spend $15 at the ballpark, we should at least make it user-friendly."

In the years since, Veeck even briefly reached the majors again, working with the White Sox, Rays and consulting with the Marlins in 2001.

But he's maintained his strong ties to independent baseball and, now, the minor leagues as the Saints have become the AAA club of the Twins.

"It is a name synonymous with fun at the ballpark," his 2022 Saints bio reads. "Veeck continues to blaze new trails every baseball season. After all, who else would hire a dog or pig to deliver baseballs to the umpire, a Roman Catholic nun to give massages, mimes to perform instant replays or lock fans out of the stadium to set an all-time attendance record for fewest people at a game."

(Also, Mike Veeck isn't identified on this Miami Miracle "office personnel" card, a sixth person, trainer Seth Fogler, is ID'd. But Fogler isn't in the photo on the front. Instead, a comparison with a different card from 1990 appears to indicate that's Veeck top left.)

1990 Minor League Tally 
Players/Coaches Featured:3,889
Made the Majors:1,298-33.4%-X
Never Made Majors:2,591-66.6%
5+ Seasons in the Majors:528
10+ Seasons in the Minors:325