Lazzeri, Veeck blazed trails to Cooperstown
An innovative executive and the second baseman of one of the greatest teams in history were both elected to the Hall of Fame on Feb. 26, 1991.
Neither was there to witness it – but plenty of baseball’s best were on hand to commemorate the moment, as Bill Veeck and Tony Lazzeri were both elected by the Veterans Committee.
“We put two good people in who unfortunately are no longer around to smell the roses,” Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, a member of the Veterans Committee electorate that year, told the Daily News.
The committee, which included Hall of Famers Irvin, Al López, Stan Musial and Ted Williams, former executives Buzzie Bavasi and Gabe Paul, broadcaster Ernie Harwell and former player, manager and executive Birdie Tebbetts, among others, convened in Tampa, Fla., to vote on the ballot.
Lazzeri, who passed away in 1946, was the second baseman for the Yankees dynasty of the 1920s and ‘30s. He took over second base for the Yankees to begin the 1926 season and didn’t relinquish the spot for over a decade, winning five World Series titles in his 12 years with New York.
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Lazzeri closed out his career with brief stints for the Cubs, Dodgers and Giants, playing his last big league game in 1939. Over his 14-year career, he batted .292 with 1,840 hits and an .846 OPS.
No one could forget Veeck – he of the many outrageous promotional schemes – who served as owner of the Indians, Browns and White Sox. Despite his notoriety around the game, his election came as a surprise to some.
“I don’t know, it just kind of happened,” Harwell said. “We just started talking about Veeck and all of a sudden there was a groundswell of support for him. I think we were all a little surprised.”
Veeck, whose father served as president of the Cubs, grew up around the ballpark, working various jobs for the team and learning the ins and outs of the game. In 1941, he partnered with former Cubs star Charlie Grimm to purchase the Triple-A Milwaukee Brewers, where he got his first crack at using promotions to drive fans to the ballpark.
Following a stint with the Marines in World War II, during which he lost his right leg, Veeck became owner of the Indians in 1946. There, he made history by bringing Larry Doby to Cleveland to integrate the American League. He also signed Satchel Paige and helped lead the club to its 1948 World Series title.
After selling his stake in the Indians in 1949, Veeck bought the Browns two years later. In St. Louis, some of his most creative promotions came to life, including Eddie Gaedel’s famous plate appearance and Grandstand Managers Day.
Veeck sold the Browns in 1953 – but his work wasn’t done yet. He later bought a controlling interest in the White Sox, with whom he’d lead to the 1959 AL pennant before selling and repurchasing them – eventually staging the famous Disco Demolition Night.
“I’m glad he’s in,” Tebbetts said of Veeck, who passed away in 1986. “He was a great guy. I was a very dear friend of his. He brought everything to baseball and everything he brought was clean.”
Lazzeri and Veeck would be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 21, 1991, along with BBWAA electees Rod Carew, Fergie Jenkins and Gaylord Perry.
Janey Murray is the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum