A quick glance at the box score of the Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Browns game on Aug. 24, 1951 would suggest that nothing was out of the ordinary. It seemed to be a typical Friday game, between two teams who were far out of playoff contention.
But with Bill Veeck at the helm of the St. Louis Browns, that game was anything but typical.
On that day, Veeck orchestrated “Grandstand Managers Night,” a promotion which allowed fans to vote on key decisions during the course of the game, using placards which read “yes” or “no.”
Over 1,000 “grandstand managers” sat in a special section behind the Browns dugout, while Browns manager Zack Taylor relaxed in a rocking chair in the next box over, in casual clothing and a pipe in his mouth, as he enjoyed his night off.
The fans began their short-lived managerial careers by deciding the lineup of the game. They wrote their choices on lineup cards, delivered to the Browns prior to the game. After tallying fan responses, a lineup was decided on.
Philadelphia Athletics’ manager Jimmy Dykes was far from amused, telling the Associated Press that Veeck was “making a farce of the game.”
But the controversial Veeck saw his promotions as a way to raise fan experience to a whole new level. He would later explain to Sports Illustrated that, “the fan comes away from the ball park with nothing more to show for it than what’s in his mind, an ephemeral feeling of having been entertained. You’ve got to heighten and preserve that illusion. You have to give him more vivid pictures to carry away in his head.”
Just five days earlier, on Aug. 19, 1951, Veeck had stunned the baseball world and delighted fans by sending 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel up to bat in a game against the Tigers.
It’s safe to say that the “grand stand managers,” as well as the 6,000 other fans who watched on as the fate of the game was decided by spectators, walked away with vivid pictures.