SI Vault
Bill Veeck
March 15, 1976
In which a one-legged showman, abetted by a cast of thousands, slays a dragon, returns to baseball—and orders up some clamdigger threads
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March 15, 1976

Back Where I Belong

In which a one-legged showman, abetted by a cast of thousands, slays a dragon, returns to baseball—and orders up some clamdigger threads

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The lights went on again at 7:40 p.m., on Dec. 10, 1975, when I stepped out of the elevator at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., surrounded by Lee MacPhail, the president of the American League; James Garner, the league attorney; and a group of my own lawyers and associates. At the end of the long corridor the photographers were waiting, and, as we proceeded down the even longer corridor that led to the conference room where the flower of the American League had gathered to welcome me, halfheartedly, back into the most exclusive men's club in America, we were suddenly moving in a pool of light. Which only proves once again, kids, that if you set your eyes upon a distant star and keep plugging away, every once in a while you can buy the Chicago White Sox. For those who may not be fully acquainted with my career in baseball, I had the Sox from 1959 to 1961. At one time or another I also owned the St. Louis Browns and Cleveland Indians.

I had known for some time that the White Sox were available again, because a couple of the people who had talked to Owner John Allyn about buying the Sox had contacted me about operating the team for them. But even if I had been interested in operating for somebody else, I wouldn't have been interested, because I was already committed to buying the Baltimore Orioles from Jerry Hoffberger. By November 1974 the deal was set, and we thought it was only a matter of drawing up the papers. We thought wrong. After seven maddening months of drawing and redrawing the papers to meet a succession of new conditions, Hoff berger announced that the negotiations were off.

During the time that the Baltimore deal was on I had been hearing indirectly from Leo Breen, the vice-president and treasurer of the White Sox. Breen's message was that Allyn not only wanted to sell, but that he was going to have to sell. I say indirectly because Leo felt that even though a sale was clearly in Allyn's best interests it would be wrong to call me directly. The conduit he used was a close friend of mine from the old days, Andy McKenna. McKenna, who runs a paper and printing business in Chicago, is the kind of dyed-in-the-wool fan who counts the day lost when he is unable to watch a ball game.

Early in July last year, shortly after Hoffberger had pulled the plug on me, I received word through McKenna that the situation had deteriorated to the point where Allyn was convinced that the quicker he got out the better.

I went to Chicago. John picked me up at the airport and we drove to a borrowed apartment on Lake Shore Drive. His proposition was that he would sell the club for $10 million, without the ball park and other real estate, or for $13.5 million with the park and the additional property.

"John," I said, "I have no interest at those prices." The syndicate I had put. together for Baltimore was $10 million, and that was all I had. "It's not a bargaining price," I told him. "It's the maximum I can offer."

That's the way we left it. I suggested that he get in touch with me if he ever became interested at that figure. John didn't feel that time was ever going to come.

Just then the White Sox had gone on a little winning streak, the crowds had begun to improve and everybody was looking forward to a big August and September. But the team reverted back to form, and once again the games were being played in virtual secrecy.

Late in September, when we were having almost daily conversations, Leo sent word through Andy that things had got so bad that they weren't going to be able to make the final payroll. A very dangerous situation. If the payroll was missed, every player on the roster could become a free agent.

I had been planning to fly into Chicago anyway, to see my sister Peg, who was in the hospital. And so I called John and told him that if he was available I would stop in. "I wish you would," he said. "Things are moving faster than I had anticipated."

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