The Saint of Second Chances, a new documentary now streaming on Netflix, traces Mike Veeck’s professional implosion and resurrection. The implosion was caused by Disco Demolition Night, an infamous disaster that Veeck staged in 1979 while serving as promotions director for the Chicago White Sox (a team then owned by his father, Bill Jr.). The resurrection came more than a decade later, when Veeck entered the world of Minor League Baseball and made a name for himself via his innovative and often absurd promotions.
Veeck began his Minor League journey with the Miami Miracle, joining an ownership group that included Bill Murray (a co-conspirator of Veeck's over the years). In 1993 Veeck established the influential and highly successful St. Paul Saints (originally an independent team, now the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins). After his time in St. Paul he worked with a variety of teams under his ownership group’s umbrella, including the Charleston RiverDogs (High-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays) and the independent Brockton Rox.
• Watch 'The Saint of Second Chances,' now streaming on Netflix
What follows are 10 of Veeck’s most memorable ballpark stunts and promotions. Many of them were featured in The Saint of Second Chances, while others were provided by Veeck himself during an interview with MLB.com.
The First Bat Dog
In 1979, the same season in which Disco Demolition Night occurred, the White Sox had a Frisbee-catching dog named Mary Jane perform on the field.
“The big part of the show was her pooping on third base,” said Veeck. “I never forgot that when I got to Pompano [Beach, where the Miami Miracle played in 1990-91]. “There was a dog who used to take bags of groceries out in a quick store. You know, you’d pull through and the dog would bring you three items in a draw sack.”
Veeck’s memories of Mary Jane, combined with Pompano Beach’s grocery-delivering canine, inspired him to bring a bat dog to Pompano Beach Municipal Stadium. The idea caught on, and bat dogs are now a common sight throughout Minor League Baseball.
The First (and still only) Ball Pig
After Pompano Beach, Veeck moved on to Minnesota and brought the St. Paul Saints to life. Beginning with their inaugural 1993 season and continuing to this day, the Saints have employed a ball pig to deliver game balls to the umpires. How did this come about?
“I go out to have a cigarette on the bridge over the Mississippi, in St. Paul,” Veeck recalled. “There’s this little plaque that says ‘Pig’s Eye Station.’ That was the original name [of what is now St. Paul]. My wife collects pigs. The next day [the Saints] ran an ad: ‘Wanted: Pig.’ I was a desperate man. I had a lot of work to do. That’s how the best ideas come in.”
The Saints introduce a new ball pig every season, as they grow too quickly to be used for years at a time. The first was simply dubbed Saint, but the names got more ridiculous over the years. Memorable monikers have included Little Red Pork-ette, Notorious P.I.G. and 867-530Swine.
Midway Stadium, home of the St. Paul Saints from 1993-2014, was what one might kindly call a “no-frills” facility. One of the (many) things that the ballpark didn’t have was a videoboard, but Veeck came up with a solution: Mime-O-Vision. In lieu of instant replay, a troupe of silent performers would instead re-enact the play atop the dugout.
“I think the mimes are so quintessentially Saints,” said Veeck. “You know, people in Minnesota hate mimes. I don’t get that. I mean, they’re safe in New York City.”
Once again: No videoboard, no problem. Instead of a Jumbo-Tron the Saints had a Mini-Tron. In other words, they had a television.
“A TV set on the outfield wall, a six-inch black and white. I think those things are funny,” said Veeck. Sometimes that’s all the justification one needs.
Free Massages (From a Nun!)
Sister Rosalind Gefre, often known simply as Sister Roz, was banished from her parish for giving massages. The Saints welcomed her with open arms, and she quickly became a habit-ual presence at the ballpark. Sister Roz has gone on to give free massages to thousands of Saints fans, impressing them with her forceful yet loving approach.
In The Saint of Second Chances, Veeck mentions that one of his greatest “hustles” was the Charleston RiverDogs’ Nobody Night in 2002. The team set the record for the lowest attendance ever recorded at a professional ballgame, which was pretty easy to do since no fans were allowed inside until the game became official. Veeck and company committed to the bit, operating within the ballpark as if it was a normal game. Vendors wandered the aisles selling to nobody, while ushers showed nobody to their seats. As for the fans who showed up anyway, they were able to watch the action while peering over the outfield fence.
Bill Veeck Bobble-leg
Mike Veeck’s father, Bill Jr., was a pioneering executive who owned three Major League teams over the course of his wild and unpredictable career. One of Bill’s most defining characteristics was his wooden leg, which he was fitted with after suffering grievous injury while serving in the Marines during WWII.
Bill, never one to take life too seriously, once threw a party in honor of his wooden leg (into which he had carved an ashtray). With the RiverDogs in 2014, Mike honored his father with a lighthearted Bill Veeck bobble-leg giveaway. Not everyone responded positively.
“They complained when I gave away the bobble-leg of my father,” he said. “That one really got me because I’m like, ‘He’s my dad. He’d have loved this. I can do whatever I want with my father, and you can do whatever you want with yours.'"
The Mannequin Race
When asked to name his favorite promotions over the years, the first one that Veeck mentioned was the Mannequin Race he staged while running the Miami Miracle. “The dumbest idea in the history of the world,” he enthused. “Mine!”
There really wasn’t much to it: Fan vs. mannequin in an on-field race.
“It must have been my Sartre-esque period. I thought it was this existential thing happening around me,” he explained. “The first day was great. The guy got it. He must have studied Heidegger or something because he took off running. The second lady didn't get it, or didn't think it was funny, and threw the mannequin down.”
Inventors Night Seance
The Miami Miracle moved to Fort Myers in 1992, where they remain (the team, Single-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, is now named the Mighty Mussels). Thomas Edison and Henry Ford both had winter estates in Fort Myers, and the two had been friends. Could they be summoned from the afterlife during a Fort Myers Miracle game? Veeck decided to give it a try.
“I thought, ‘We'll have a séance to reach the spirits of Edison or Henry Ford,” he said. “We brought a lady out, who was kind of a famous psychic in the Fort Myers area. And ball fans really are wonderful creatures, they get it. She started opining, and suddenly she was channeling, I guess they call it. From left field she hears [fans yelling] ‘Over here, Henry! We're over here, Thomas!’ Well, she endured that for about 40 seconds and then threw down the microphone, took off her shoes, got in her limo and drove right off the field.”
Brockton Rox Rocks
Veeck’s daughter, Rebecca, passed away in 2019 at the age of 27 from Batten Disease. Her battle with this rare genetic condition, which caused her to slowly lose her eyesight, is chronicled with depth and compassion in The Saint of Second Chances. Rebecca was a chip off the old block. Take, for example, the hustle she developed while Veeck was running the independent Brockton Rox.
“Rebecca would go out and pick up 25 or 30 stones from the driveway, bring them in and write ‘Rox’ on them, and then we would sell them for a buck,” he said, laughing. “That’s innovation.”
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.