Bill Veeck isn’t exactly a GM. Nor is he exactly an owner-operator. At some times he was an owner-operator (part of the time in Cleveland and all the times in St. Louis), and at other times he was just the owner but had a lot of input into the baseball ops side of things. One famous story has him set up shop at the winter meetings at a table in the lobby of the hotel sitting with his GM Roland Hemond to make swaps. It’s hard to disentangle Veeck from his GMs, so for the purpose of determining whether he’s a good HoME candidate, we are treating every transaction made during his ownership tenures as his. This will get us a long way toward whether he should get a plaque from us.
Also, I’m taking this opportunity to present the GM info differently. So far, I’ve gone into excruciating levels of detail. No one’s asking for it, no one needs it, and it’s easier to write up. So I’m going to present a pithier synopsis in more of a baseball-card stat line form for each guy, though I still to use two tables because our screens just aren’t wide enough, and I’m not that good at coding. If you really really want the nitty-gritty details, email me, and I’ll pass them along.
- NAME: * = member of the Hall of Miller and Eric
- RECORD: Won-Loss record while GM was in office
- PCT: Winning percentage
- vs EXP: An adaptation of the expected wins formula Bill James introduced in his managers book. Except we use pythagenpat records instead of actual records to calculate it.
- OCT: Postseason apperances (starting in 1969).
- OCT v EXP: Measures postseason appearances against the basic probability of any random team making it.
- WS APP: World Series appearances
- WS APP v EXP: Similar to OCT v EXP
- WS WINS: Championships won
- WS WINS v EXP: Ditto
- MGR PYTH: This is the team’s variance against its Pythagenpat record as a measure of how much value the GM’s manager brought to the team.
|NAME||RECORD||PCT.||VS EXP||OCT||OCT VS EXP||WS APP||WS APP VS EXP||WS WINS||WS WINS VS EXP||VS PYPAT|
Analysis? What’s there to say. His record is under .500, he’s in the negatives for both wins versus expectation and wins versus Pythagenpat, and the his lone World Series win came with the 1948 Indians, a team comprising players only 39% of whom were his acquisitions. While it is certainly the case that Larry Doby, Joe Gordon, Gene Bearden and others put the team over the top, it’s not as though we can squarely call it Veeck’s team. The rest of the stars (Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau, and Ken Keltner) were his. Worse yet for Veeck are the 1959 Go-Go White Sox that he took to the World Series. Players he acquired contributed a whopping -4% of the WAR earned by the team. The 1954 Indians were much more his team, 53% of the value earned by the team was from Veeck’s acquisitions, including Doby, Bobby Avila, Early Wynn, Al “Fuzzy” Smith, Don Mossi, and Ray Narleski, but he had by then burned through two teams (Cleveland and the Browns) and was five years away from rejoining the ownership ranks. In his final stop in Chicago, he added enough talent to chip in 36% of the WAR of the division-winning 1983 White Sox. Overall, his record is quite mixed but ultimately not one that compares well to someone with a comparably long career such as Dick O’Connell, even though O’Connell never won a World Series. Among Veeck’s chronological contemporaries, that is those GMs who emerged in the post-war era, he neither lasted as long nor tasted as much success as Chub Feeney, George Weiss, or John Quinn.
Now let’s look at how the GMs themselves did at constructing competitive clubs.
- med% GOAL CONT: In a typical season, how close did the value he acquired get him to a contending team (defined as a .550 winning percentage)?
- med% GOAL WS: In a typical season, how close did the value he acquired get him to a contending team (defined variably across time based on the typical winning percentage of the World Series entrant with the lower winning percentage)?
- WAR IN: Inbound WAR from transactions (WAR always means BBREF WAR)
- IN/162: How much WAR (current or future) acquired per season
- WAR OUT: Outbound WAR from transactions
- OUT/162: How much WAR (current or future) given away per season
- IN/OUT: Ratio of Inbound WAR to Outbound WAR
|NAME||med%GOAL CONT||med%GOAL WS||WAR IN||IN/162||WAR OUT||OUT/162||IN/OUT|
Veeck’s numbers are pretty bad when we get into the nitty-gritty. He was not very good at actually assembling great teams. Early adoption of integration supported strong Cleveland teams, but he inherited a strong talent base. In St. Louis, he inherited a terrible talent base and did little to improve it. In Chicago, he inherited a pretty good team and didn’t do a ton to improve it. In Chicago the second time around, he again innovated to create the Southside Hit Men, a collection of free-agents to be that contended for one season, as designed. The fact that Veeck essentially broke even with the league in the exchange of talent says much about his eye for talent, his impatience to change things up, and his recklessness. Here are the best and worst moves he made.
Amateur free agents Veeck signed who provided at least 10 WAR to the team
- 1948: Ray Narleski (12)
- 1959: Joe Horlen (23), Don Buford (17)
Players Veeck bought who provided at least 10 WAR to the team
- 1960: Floyd Robinson (19)
Free agents Veeck signed who provided at least 10 WAR to the team
- 1947: Larry Doby (42)
- 1948: Bobby Avila (28), Al Smith (11)
Draftees who returned at least 10 WAR to Veeck’s team
- 1977: Harold Baines (22)
Trades Veeck won by at least 10 WAR
- 12/14/1948 (+28): Received Mickey Vernon and Early Wynn (39) for Joy Haynes, Ed Kliemann, and Eddie Robinson (11)
- 12/15/60 (+14): Received Cal McLish and Juan Pizarro (16) for Gene Freese (2)
Players Veeck sold who earned 10+ WAR post-sale
- 1951: Dale Long (11)
Trades Veeck lost by at least 10 WAR
- 12/6/46 (-24): Received Gene Bearden, Al Gettel, and Hal Peck (6) for Sherm Lollar and Ray Mack (30)
- 12/7/46 (-16): Received Al Lopez (0) for Gene Woodling (16)
- 8/11/49 (-11): Received Lum Harris, Anse Moore, and George Byam (0) for Jim Wilson (11)
- 11/27/51 (-24): Received Joe DeMaestri, Gordon Goldsberry, Dick Littlefield, Gus Niarhos, and Jim Rivera (2) for Sherm Lollar, Tom Upton, and Al Widmar
- 8/14/52 (-11): Received Don Lenhardt, Dick Littlefield, Marlin Stuart, and Vic Wertz (6) for Bud Black, Jim Delsing, Ned Garver, and Dave Madison (17)
- 6/13/53 (-16): Received Darrell Johnson and Lou Kretlow plus $75,000 (-1) for Bob Elliott and Virgil Trucks (15)
- 12/6/59 (-61): Received Dick Brown, Don Ferraresse, Minnie Minoso, and Jake Striker (4) for Norm Cash, Bubba Phillips, and John Romano (65)
- 12/9/59 (-35): Received Gene Freese (3) for Johnny Callison (38)
- 4/4/60 (-34): Received Roy Sievers (7) for Earl Battey, Don Mincher, and $150,000 (41)
- 12/12/75 (-10): Received Larvell Blanks and Ralph Garr (3) for Ken Henderson, Ozzie Osborn, and Dick Ruthven (13)
- 12/5/77 (-14): Received Bobby Bonds, Thad Bosley, and Richard Dotson (18) for Brian Downing, Dave Frost, and Chris Knapp (32) [and then shortly after lost 4 WAR by dealing Bonds for Rusty Torres and Claudel Washington!]
Players Veeck left unprotected in an expansion draft who returned 10 WAR post-draft
- 1960: Dick Donovan (10)
In particular look at the series of three trades after the 1959 World Series wrapped up. Coming off an AL pennant, Veeck (and Hank Greenberg his GM) “crafted” three trades that lost the Chisox 130 WAR going forward. While Ed Short, who took over a few years later as GM was terrible and further destroyed any hopes the Pale Hose had to contend for years, it was Veeck’s reckless wheeler-dealing that cost the franchise most dearly. The White Sox were a good team for a couple more years, but several key players (Nellie Fox, Billy Pierce, Minnie Minoso, Earl Torgeson, Sherm Lollar, Dick Donovan, Turk Lown, Early Wynn, and Gerry Staley) were on the wrong side of 30. The team had several talented young players, some in the majors, some getting cups of coffee, some close the majors. These included
- Luis Aparicio (25): All-Star shorstop
- Jim Landis (25): Exciting centerfielder with power and speed who finished 7th in the 1959 MVP voting
- Bob Shaw (26): 3rd in the Cy Young voting in 1959 after an 18-6 record and a 2.69 ERA
Players Getting Their First Exposure to MLB
- Gary Peters (22): The lefty moldered in AAA for the duration of Veeck’s tenure. In 1963, he burst onto the scene as a 26 year old and won Rookie of the Year honors
- John Romano (24): Hard-hitting catcher with nothing left to prove in AAA who became an instant All-Star with playing time in Cleveland.
- Earl Battey (24): Battey had usually hit well in the minors (especially for a catcher). In the bits of seasons with the Sox, he’d hit for low averages and shown some good secondary skills. They dealt him, whereupon he won several Gold Gloves and finished eighth in the 1960 MVP voting.
- J.C. Martin (22): As we’ve seen the Sox had several young catchers of note, Martin among them. They chose the wrong one, and Martin was worth -2 WAR for the next several years. Earl Battey and John Romano were both players with MLB-ready or close bats. Martin’s not so much.
- Norm Cash (24): Crushed the III league as a a 20 and 21 year old, missed 1957 for military service, returned a little rusty in 1958 but made the Sox in 1959, then in the offseason won MVP of the Caribbean Series during winter ball. But hitting .240 in 130 PAs wasn’t good enough, they traded him, and Stormin’ Norman immediately emerged as a star
- Ken McBride (23): The righty had shown flashes of brilliance in minors but had in consistent record. They left him exposed to the expansion draft, and he popped out 7 WAR for the Angels.
- Johnny Callison (20): He was overmatched as a 20-year old in MLB. They traded him despite excellent minor league performances. He blossomed immediately into one of the best players in the NL.
- Claude Raymond (22): The kind of pitcher scouts love to hate. Became a reliever in the minors, had some good seasons and one bad one. Veeck dealt him away, and Raymond went on to rack up 82 saves.
Players on the Farm
- Don Mincher (21): Killed the III league (.330 with 23 homers) in 1958, then .272 with 22 homers in the Sally league in 1959, a tough place to hit. He never appeared for the Sox. Like Cash he hit lefty.
- Mike Hershberger (19): Hit 12 homers and 21 triples in the III league in his first minor league season
- Joe Horlen (21): Signed in 1959, struggled that year but was on the radar.
- Al Weis (21): Slick fielding young shortstop. Couldn’t hit but the glove might play.
Veeck’s 1959 White Sox had all the players they needed in their system to field strong teams for years to come. They chose to deal away many of those options for pennies on the dollar. Looking at it lineup-wise, we see what Veeck faced
- C: Battey/Romano/Martin/Lollar
- 1B: Torgeson/Cash/Mincher
- 2B: Fox
- 3B: Bubba Phillips
- SS: Aparicio
- LF: Al Smith
- CF: Landis
- RF: Callison
He had a glut of lefty swinging first basemen, and he had three exciting young catchers, among whom, only Martin hit left-handed. The players he should have traded were Lollar and Torgeson to start with. Sherm was coming off a great year and was 34. He might bring a little something-something. Torgeson was on the downslope, clearly, and had little value, but there’s little point in keeping him on the roster at all. So either sling him for a live arm or cut him. Then you’ve made the room you need . Maybe you see if Cash can play LF in sprint training and look for a deal on Fuzzy Smith? Anyway, Veeck impulsively committed to a plan that not only didn’t work but that didn’t seem so hot in the moment.
Bill Veeck is in the Hall of Fame. Mostly for his innovations for the fans. Things like sending a small person to the plate, exploding scoreboards, Disco Demolition Night, Five-Cent Beer Night, and things like that. [I think there’s also some credit in there too for integration, rightly so.] But I don’t feel like fan shenanigans are something worth honoring him for. I’m as much a friend of the little guy as the next guy. Heck, I am the little guy. But Veeck’s actual performance as an exec around player acquisition is far, far from good enough that any silly marketing gimmick could make up for it. I like that he stuck it to the Lords of the Realm. I’m not voting for him in our little realm.