Here are some of the important, interesting, or just plain strange events that occurred this week in Tribe history.
June 22, 1946
Seventy-four years ago on this date, Bill Veeck purchased the Indians. Veeck was a baseball original, willing to challenge existing orthodoxies. Prior to his purchase of the Indians, he attempted to buy the Philadelphia Phillies in 1942. Per Veeck’s autobiography Veeck As In Wreck, he planned to purchase the Phillies and fill the roster with Negro League players. However, the MLB did not allow the sale to go forward. This account is in dispute, but it indicates the off-the-beaten-path thinking of his.
As for the Indians, Veeck moved the team to Municipal Stadium permanently in 1947. In the previous seasons, the Tribe split its home games between League Park and Municipal. Taking advantage of the stadium’s yawning dimensions, Veeck had a movable fence installed in the outfield. He had the fence moved in or out depending on how the distance favored the Tribe against an opponent. Unfortunately for him, the American League countered this strategy with a rule change that fixed the distance of an outfield wall for the entirety of the season. In July of 1947, he signed Larry Doby, making him the first black player in American League history. Veeck signed Satchel Paige during the 1948 season, making him the oldest rookie in MLB history.
Showing that he paid attention to the fans, Veeck stopped trying to trade star player Lou Boudreau after fans signed petitions and led mass protests. In fact, per Baseball Reference, he visited every bar in Cleveland in order to apologize for his mistake. The following year, Boudreau helped lead the Tribe to its first pennant and World Series victory since 1920. In 1949, when it became clear that the Indians would not repeat as champions, he buried the 1948 flag. In the offseason, Veeck sold his shares of the team in order to conclude an expensive divorce proceeding with his wife. Although his time in Cleveland was brief, it was quite memorable.
Veeck took his antics to St. Louis and Chicago where he was the owner of the Browns from 1951-1953 and the White Sox from 1959-1961 and 1975-1981. While owning the Browns, he famously had Eddie Gaedel, a 3’7 circus performer, pinch-hit. He walked on four pitches. Veeck’s time with the White Sox saw him introduce an “exploding scoreboard,” featuring lights, sirens, and multicolor pinwheels among other components. He was the first to have player names on the backs of jerseys.
Veeck was the only owner to testify in support of Curt Flood during the court case concerning Flood’s attempt to gain free agency. In response to Flood’s victory, Veeck created a “Rent-A-Player” model to help navigate the increased cost of player salaries. This model revolved around the idea of acquiring other teams’ star players in their option year. The acquired player was not expected to re-sign with the new team, thus he was a “rental.”
It was Bill Veeck who decided to have Harry Caray sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch. After leaving the White Sox, Caray continued this tradition with the Cubs. In one of his more infamous promotions, Veeck had the White Sox host a Disco Demolition Night. This resulted in a riot centering on the destruction of disco records on the field between games of a doubleheader. Because player safety could not be guaranteed, the White Sox had to forfeit the second game.
Bill Veeck entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
June 24, 1988
On his 31st birthday, Doug Jones set the MLB consecutive saves record at 14 as the Tribe defeated the Yankees 7-5. Jones pitched 2 1/3 innings picking up a strikeout. The streak reached 15 before coming to an end. Jones’s new mark broke the previous record of 13 held by Steve Bedrosian established the previous season. Many relievers have broken the record in the seasons that followed. Eric Gagne is the current record holder with 84.
Although he was by no means a fireballer, Jones was quite effective in his time with Cleveland. His most effective weapon was a devastating changeup that dipped down-and-away to lefties and down-and-in to righties. 1988 started a three-year run of dominance for Doug Jones. He made the All-Star team all three years and earned 112 saves, second only to Dennis Eckersley during that period.
He ended his time with the Tribe as its all-time saves leader with 129. Jones also held the Tribe record for most saves in a season with 43. Both records have since been broken.
June 26, 1916
The Cleveland Indians became the first Major League franchise to wear uniforms with numbers as they defeated the Chicago White Sox 2-0. Per The Plain Dealer:
“An innovation was sprung by the management when the Indians appeared with numbers upon their sleeves such as are worn by the drivers of race horses. It was the carrying out of an idea by Vice President Robert McRoy, and will, it is expected, be adopted by the league. Graney for instance, is №1, Turner, №2; Speaker No 3, and so on.”
The number was attached to the uniform sleeve only. The use of the number declined over the course of the season, finally disappearing altogether. However, in 1929, the Tribe became the first team in MLB history to wear a number on the back of the uniform.