Wrigley and Veeck Sr.
After Charles Weeghman and his associates purchased the Chicago Cubs at exactly 2:31 p.m. on January 20, 1916, his telephone rang with congratulatory calls from his friends. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, “The one call most appreciated by the new Cub boss was a call from little Dorothy Jane Weeghman, his 3 year old daughter, who rang him up to say: ‘Daddy, I’m glad you’re a Cub.'”
Alas, little Dorothy’s pleasure was short-lived. Just before World War I, Weeghman took out substantial bank loans to finance some of his business enterprises. As the Sporting News reported upon Weeghman’s death: “Business slumped, rents piled up, as did taxes, and Weeghman was not popular with his bankers.” When he needed ready cash, William Wrigley Jr., one of his investors, was happy to lend him money, receiving Cubs stock as collateral.
He could certainly afford it. The Sporting News said that he was reportedly “the country’s biggest individual advertiser.” A friend on the Chicago Daily Tribune, reminiscing exactly twenty years after he died, wrote that “William Wrigley Jr. was out of Horatio Alger. At 11 he left his home in Philadelphia to seek his fortune in New York. Back home a short time later he showed such a distaste for school his father put him to work stirring soap vats in his factory. At 13 he was a soap salesman. In 1891, at the age of 30, he came to Chicago with $32 in working capital. From this start he built his chewing gum empire and at his death his holdings in Illinois were listed at $30,000,000.”
As William Wrigley acquired more Cubs stock, his interest in the team grew. He and Charles Weeghman regularly discussed administrative details, and soon Wrigley began asserting his authority. In fact, as the Sporting News recalled upon Weeghman’s death, when Wrigley offered to lend his friend money during his time of financial distress, he first told him: “If I help you out, you must retire from baseball and devote all your time to business.”
It was largely through Wrigley’s influence with Weeghman that the Cubs abandoned their Tampa spring training site for Pasadena, California, where Wrigley had a winter home (left). As the Tribune reported, a “special train” set out on February 20, 1917, from Chicago for the coast, with 28 players on board, 60 other guests, and 7 “war scribes.”
One year later, one of those reporters would be William Veeck Sr., who under the pseudonym “Bill Bailey” covered sports for the Chicago Evening American. Veeck, like Wrigley, started working at an early age. Born in 1877, he was a telegraph messenger boy at age ten and began his journalism career while still a teenager, working as a pressroom helper and printer’s apprentice for his hometown paper in Boonville, Indiana. “After working there six years and having a brief career as a traveling photographer,” the Sporting News wrote, “Veeck went to Louisville, where he became a reporter on the Courier-Journal.” In 1900 he married his childhood sweetheart and moved to Chicago, where he worked on a variety of newspapers, ending up on the Chicago Evening American.
In 1917 Veeck followed the White Sox during spring training, while his colleague Harry Neily had the North Siders. In 1918, Veeck boarded the Cubs train, as his by-lined columns in the Chicago Evening American indicate. According to Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown, Wrigley became acquainted with Veeck during the spring that year when the Chicago baseball writers were invited to dinner at the Wrigley palatial Pasadena home. “The club’s affairs,” wrote Brown, “artistic and financial, were getting a good going over by the baseball writers–who never have pulled any punches in dealing with the Cubs. Wrigley took it all in, but seemed most interested in Veeck’s criticisms.
“‘Could you do any better?’ inquired Wrigley.
“‘I certainly couldn’t do any worse,’ said Veeck.
“And thereby he moved himself into the Wrigley empire to become, before his death, one of the most important front-office men in that part of it known as the Chicago Cubs.”
This story has been repeated countless times over the years, and though parts of it may be true, Veeck actually never gave the Cubs a “good going over.” As an experienced journalist and professional sports reporter, he instead offered constructive criticism whenever he thought it was needed. And in 1918 not that much was needed, for reporters as early as May predicted that the Cubs would have a successful season (which they did indeed have, one that culminated in their winning the National League pennant).
William Veeck, Sr., joined the Chicago Cubs organization in December 1918. At a meeting of the directors that month he was elected Vice President and Treasurer, succeeding William Walker. In July the following year he was elected president. He stayed with the Cubs until his death on October 5, 1933.
Below is part of one of William Veeck’s articles for the Chicago Evening American (under his pen name Bill Bailey), written in late March 1918 as the Cubs were preparing to leave their spring training session in Pasadena: