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Now that I've got the White Sox, I have an idea or two kicking around in my head for making a visit to the ball park as memorable as possible. I'm not going to tell you whether I have another midget hanging from my watch fob—I'm too old a hand at the pitchman's game to give a promotion away even 24 hours in advance. Our new uniforms, with the old White Sox colors, the old-fashioned lettering and the turn-of-the-century collars, are perhaps my little way of hinting that strange and wondrous things are going to be happening at old Comiskey Park. Just as the three styles of pants—shorts, clam-diggers and knickers—are a way of informing our fans that we are not necessarily going to be bound by tradition. How are they reacting? Well, ticket sales are up 40% over last year at this time. That's my kind of fan.
The first thing I did at the park was take off the door to my office and order that the opening be made about three times as large. If anybody wants to come to the park to see me, all he has to do is walk on in. The same thing with the telephone. You call Comiskey Park (WA 4-1000) and ask for Bill Veeck, and the switchboard operator isn't going to ask who you are or what you want; the next voice you hear is going to be mine.
The fans don't owe me a thing, of course, I owe them. They have given a 62-year-old, one-legged, can't-see, can't-hear guy a chance for a last hurrah. That's one of the reasons I wanted so desperately to get to spring training and get something started. Spring training, that wonderful time of dreams, is really for the fans. Especially the first two weeks. You haven't lost any games yet, all the kids look bigger and faster and stronger—because they are—and who can doubt that this year's phenoms are going to be the new Lynn and Rice.
That's what baseball is really offering, an escape from the problems of daily life. We're selling an illusion, that's all. The illusion that if the people come to the park and plunk their money down, they'll enjoy themselves for a few hours and, we hope, carry a happy memory away with them.
But instead of providing an escape from the hassling and the clawing of our troubled times, baseball seems determined to be identified with the troubles. Great! The fans aren't simply bored with us, they are annoyed with us. My nightmare is that if we keep it up, a certain number of them are going to look the other way and never bother to look back.
Right now the White Sox fans are looking just one way—and that's up. We've received more than 2,000 letters. A doctor who identified himself as a "serious Sox fan," wrote: "Overjoyed is too mild a word for my happiness in your acquiring the Sox. I never thought this day would come true, but sometimes daydreams do.... I can't wait for opening day."
A circuit court judge who had suffered a stroke but still mounts the bench "on a brace" every day: "I saw my first baseball game in 1917 when my father took me to the present Sox park to see them play the Washington Senators. I've been a White Sox fan ever since, unreconstructed and undismayed. Bully for you on all points and be assured that a host of us are with you."
You think I want those dreams to be frustrated? That's what keeps us going. My own secret dream—and please don't tell anybody—is that as the season is coming to an end I will be able to mount the podium and say to the people of Chicago and its environs, "I want to thank you for allowing me to smell the roses. I want you to come now and help us drink the champagne."
You don't think so, huh? Listen, we have these two phenoms....