Mary Frances Veeck recalled the night in 1979 when her husband, former Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, returned from a particularly rough night in Comiskey Park.
An anti-disco promotion with local rock station and radio personality Steve Dahl had gone awry, with thousands of fans flooding the field and forcing the confiscation of Game 2 of a scheduled doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers.
Bill returned to their south side house in a bad mood.
“Bill was upset to forfeit the game,” Mary Frances told the Tribune in a 1989 interview. “He had never had anything that ever interfered with the play of a game, including the dwarf.”
She was referring, of course, to the famous 1951 stunt in which Veeck signed 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel for the St. Louis Browns and sent him home plate in a game. It was a weird moment that would forever be tied to baseball’s maverick just like Disco Demolition Night.
“I always made Bill believe that his epitaph would be about the dwarf,” said Mary Frances. “That night, before I went to sleep, I said, ‘Bill, you finally got rid of the dwarf. “”
Bill and Mary Frances Veeck were one of baseball’s most famous couples from their marriage in 1950 until her death at age 71 in 1986. She continued to live in Chicago after Bill’s death, and I have occasionally interviewed for the Tribune about a number of baseball games. -Related Topics.
So it was sad to read last week on freelance writer Dave Hoekstra’s blog that Mary Frances died on September 10 at age 102.
“Maryfrances life has been full,” the Veeck family wrote in an obituary, using the given spelling of her name.
In addition to raising six children, she hosted a radio show with Bill called “Mary Frances and Friend”, wrote a monthly column for four years for Northshore Magazine, served as a Chicago election judge for over two decades, taught adults to read through a program at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Hyde Park and helped raise funds for the Chicago Theological Union.
“Throughout her incredible journey in life, she has stood for fairness, empathy and kindness,” the family statement read. “She influenced many people of all ages with her positive approach to life, her enthusiasm for social change and her hope for our future. He was a magical person who will be missed by many, far beyond his large loving family.
Born Mary Frances Ackerman on September 1, 1920, near Pittsburgh, she met Bill while working as a publicist for the Ice Capades. He proposed a week after they met, and they married in 1950. She was more than just a sounding board for her famous husband, who was renowned for his offbeat ideas and an approach to baseball marketing that was years old. ahead of its time, like putting names on the back of Sox uniforms in 1960.
In his book ‘Veeck As In Wreck’ Bill called her a ‘skilled publicist and idea’ who co-hosted TV and radio shows with him and came up with the idea to send Browns a contract to newborns in Saint-Louis.
Mary Frances also designed the navy shorts the White Sox wore for three games in 1976 in a brief experiment that baseball purists greeted with disgust.
“They’re not garish,” Bill told reporters at a fashion show where the uniforms were modeled before the 1976 season. “As my wife, Mary Frances, said, they have an understated elegance. Basic blue for the road, while at home the traditional Sox colors. What have the White Sox been doing with red socks all these years anyway?”
Mary Frances narrated a documentary about Bill’s life for WTTW-Ch. 11 and sometimes sat with him in the center field bleachers at Wrigley Field after he sold the Sox in 1981. Bill Veeck, who in 1937 oversaw the construction of Wrigley’s bleachers and manual scoreboard and planted the ivy on the outside walls, began boycotting the Cubs in 1985 shortly after the team ended its decades-old policy of not selling bleacher tickets until game day.
“It bothered him,” Mary Frances told me. “But he was definitely a man of integrity and principle. Bill thought the bleachers were the last bastion of the common man and woman. It wasn’t just about picking a fight with the Tribune (Co.) I think he viewed (the new bleacher policy) as being a bit greedy, and he just didn’t like it.
Other teams eventually adopted many of Bill’s ideas, and Mary Frances told the Tribune in 2000 that it bothered him to see modern scoreboards urging fans to cheer on command.
“It drove him crazy when he heard the artificial clapping and clapping,” she said. “The first time he heard that, he looked at me and said, ‘What? Have we all gone dumb? We don’t know when to applaud? This is so fake, bogus and insulting.
Bill and Mary Frances have always been ambassadors for the game, despite its flaws. They also believed in developing relationships with the media that covered their team, as evidenced by Bill’s friendship with the late Tribune baseball writer Jerome Holtzman.
“You develop friendships in the game, and I think the thing between Bill and Jerome was that they could always rely on what the other was saying,” Mary Frances said after Holtzman’s death in 2008. had mutual respect, and when something happened and they wanted answers, they could rely on each other’s truth.
The White Sox honored Mary Frances during Friday’s game at Guaranteed Rate Field with a moment of silence. According to the family, a celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. on Nov. 12 at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, 5472 S. Kimbark Ave., Hyde Park.