It's the bottom
of the sixth inning on a recent Tuesday in municipal Stadium, home of the
Miracle, an independent Class A team based in Pompano Beach, Fla. Jericho, a
golden retriever, is ambling onto the diamond. He's wearing a Miracle jersey
and cap, and toting Gatorade and towels to the umps. In the rightfield stands,
a local beautician is snipping the hair of a customer seated in a barber chair.
Out in centerfield, the game's celebrity look-alike is about to appear. Will it
be Zsa Zsa Gabor or Charlie Chaplin this time?
nobody in the stands seems to mind that the Miracle is on its way to its 56th
defeat in 72 games. On a club that has singer Jimmy Buffett and actor Bill
Murray as minority owners, it's not surprising that offbeat happenings are part
of the regular package. However, it's not those stars but a less renowned, if
familiarly named, fellow who has worked the promotional miracle.
After barely five
months on the job as Miracle president, Mike Veeck, 39, has improved the team's
average home attendance from 40 per game in 1989 to this season's 500, a
respectable figure for the Florida State League. In the process, Veeck has
rekindled memories of his father, Bill, who was a baseball Barnum as owner, at
one time or another, of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago
White Sox. Exploding scoreboards, bat days and a 3'7" midget batter named
Eddie Gaedel—they were just part of the legacy that Bill Veeck left when he
died, in 1986. "He had this tremendous sense of the absurd, and he gave
that to me," says Mike.
Veeck started out
as a singer in a rock 'n' roll band after graduating from Loyola College in
Baltimore, in 1972, but four years later he took a job with his father in the
White Sox business office. While with Chicago, Mike's reputation was tarnished
by one ill-fated promotion: Disco Demolition Night. To mark the end of disco
music in 1979, Veeck let anybody with a disco album into Comiskey Park for 98
cents. The records were dynamited on the field between games of a White
Sox-Tigers doubleheader, igniting a stampede of rowdy fans onto the diamond and
forcing Chicago to forfeit the nightcap.
A year later,
Veeck left baseball for a marketing career. But he leaped at the chance to
return to the game in February. So far, his promotional stunts have included
Babes in Toyland Night (during which kids pick two toys apiece from 1,000
spread across the outfield grass) and the Blue Review (in which three obnoxious
season-ticket holders receive flash-card ratings from fans who judge their
insults of umpires and opponents). And when one such event ends, Veeck often
works well into the night, conjuring up that next Miracle gag. For guys named
Veeck, it's always show time.