Wreck of the day: Bill Veeck and Comiskey Park’s exploding scoreboard


From Sean’s nationwide baseball journey — the Comiskey Park scoreboard in 2002. Photo: Sean Sylver

In a college public speaking class, a nervous student stood before his peers and presented a review of the book Veeck – As In Wreck. Except he continually pronounced the name as in “weak.” Bill Veek.

“It’s Veeck, you idiot,” the professor exclaimed when the student wrapped up his presentation. “Just look at the title of the book!”

The student turned red.

About five years later, I took a stab at Bill Veeck’s first foray into biography (among the others, The Hustler’s Handbook and Thirty Tons a Day, the latter about running Suffolk Downs). It’s of the best books I’ve read about baseball; the “incorrigible maverick” Veeck profiles the peaks and valleys of his career as intermittent baseball owner, constant pain-in-the-ass and one of the great all-time personalities of the game.

BSI’s Rick McNair, in his profile of Comiskey Park that ran yesterday afternoon, described Veeck as:

"Both an innovator and establishment agitator. Veeck would make Charlie Finley appear to be baseball normalcy. With Veeck it was all about the experience."

Indeed, Veeck was ahead of his time when it came to the stadium experience — sometimes so much so that his ideas fell flat, like Marty McFly playing Van Halen at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance. Many of his innovations (like allegedly moving the fences in and out depending on the caliber of power hitters boasted by the opposition) were frowned upon by the league. But in today’s age of high definition, pulsing at-bat music, and constant crowd prompts (“Everybody clap your hands”), Veeck rests as one of the first to recognize the importance of a great scoreboard.

From the book:

"It had seemed to me for a long time that the home run, which had once been the single most exciting and spectacular event in a ball game, had become so commonplace that it was being greeted not with cheers but with yawns…I could not see why it should not be possible to put the kick back into the home run by having it trigger something else.…We built a scoreboard at Comiskey Park with 10 mortars bristling from the top for firing Roman candles. Behind the scoreboard, the fireworks crew shot off bombs, rockets and anything else they happened to think of. Nor was shooting rockets and bombs all out talented scoreboard could do."

And there you have it: Bill Veeck, baseball’s beloved pyromaniac, on the genesis of Comiskey Park’s exploding scoreboard. If you ever go to U.S. Cellular Field, check out the successor to Veeck’s creation. To this day, it’s truly one of a kind.