By Jeff Merron
Page 2

Watch out, Major League baseball. Mike Veeck, who makes headlines everywhere he owns a team (and that's a lot of places), is on the prowl. He wants to own a Major League club -- soon. And when he gets that team (Milwaukee is No. 1 on his short list), you can bet that he's going to make some smug owners very, very uncomfortable. But that's OK -- he's going to make lots of fans very, very happy at the same time.

Veeck, as a partner in The Goldklang Group, owns five minor-league teams and consults for another.

On the 25th anniversary of his most legendary (and unsuccessful) promotion -- Disco Demolition Night at the old Comiskey Park in Chicago -- we thought we'd sit him down for 10 Burning Questions. Our ears are still burning.

1. How do you manage owning five teams? You must be on the road all the time.

Mike Veeck
Mike Veeck worked in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' front office at one time.

Actually, it's down. Obviously, the first quarter of the year is always pretty hectic with spring training and getting ready for the season. But other than writing most of the advertising for all of the clubs and some other clients, I have great people. And they like it because I stay out of their hair and let them do what they want, and I get a good product that I get to hog all the credit for. [Laughs]

2. Who's doing the best marketing in Major League baseball today, aside from the Tigers?

I think Toronto currently does the best in terms of advertising. I think Jim Bloom (the Blue Jays director of consumer marketing) is really creative. He walks the line. He's very irreverent. Remember last year they got into a beef -- I think it was Opening Day -- when the Yankees were coming to town, with the bird droppings on the Yankee hats. I just think that Bloom pushes the envelope.

I think you have to tip your hat to Lucchino (Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox president and CEO) when he got to Boston, and John Henry. John Henry will provide the heart; Lucchino will provide the marketing smarts behind that. The A's are always a contender, kind of puckish. And I love McDonough (John McDonough, Cubs vice president of marketing and broadcasting.)

3. You testified in ESPN's "Trial of the Yankees" earlier this year. So are they the "evil empire"?

Oh, of course. They took years off my father's life. There are people that say that hating them actually gave him vitality. In 1960, when Mazeroski hit that home run, we stayed home for a week -- and there were nine kids. I mean, that was like the holy day of obligation. (Laughs). There was so much celebration. My mother was from Pittsburgh, which paled in comparison to the fact that the mighty Yankees had been felled.

I'm sure I was there to testify that even with all that winning, even with 26 championships, they sure aren't much fun. The curse of the Bambino was that you won't have fun until I come back. Those guys have hated Veecks as long as there've been Veecks. You know, for making a travesty of the game.

4. What do you think they should be doing besides what they're doing for the fans?

I'm a Chicago guy, and the quickest way to spot a phony in Chicago is somebody who says, "Oh, I like both teams." You never want to deal with that.

Here's an example about Yankee fans. In Chicago, a guys says, "I'm going to Wrigley" or "I'm going to take my mom out to Comiskey." In New York, they say "We're going to the Stadium." You know, it ain't the Parthenon. [Laughs] You think they live their whole lives going, "Let's listen to the Boss, we'll go down to the Stadium, we'll have some green tea." You know, it makes you want to vomit. There's just this arrogance that life starts in New York.

My partner, Marv Goldklang, the man who's responsible for getting me back into the game years after the disco thing, is a limited partner in the Yankees! It's the only flaw in his otherwise-perfect character.

I went so long being a White Sox fan, and I listen to these Cub guys whine. First of all, there are no professional White Sox fans. There are enormous numbers of professional Cub fans. There are no professional Mets fans, but there are professional Yankee fans who come out Sept. 1 if the running's good. And it's "Oh, I love the Yankees; oh, I love the Cubs." Makes you want to vomit.

5. What's been your biggest thrill in baseball?

Oh, Ila Borders, when she walked out to pitch the first time (for the St. Paul Saints), and everyone in the ballpark stood up. It was 1997, and I had heard about this woman who was pitching out in California, and that she could throw the ball 75-to-80 miles an hour. Left-handed. Had great mechanics. It just became a grand experiment. And, in hindsight, now that all her stuff is enshrined in Cooperstown, it seems like a much more popular decision. She was a really gutsy woman, but you're never sure how people are going to behave. It was the most amazing thing -- 97 percent of the people, whenever she took the mound, stood up. Men and women. It just shows you about baseball fans.

Ila Borders
Veeck will never forget seeing Ila Borders pitch in a professional game.

I have more fun with irreverence. But that was the one moment ... I mean, men and women stood up and applauded this gallant woman. I thought it was very cool. I'll never get over it.

6. What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?

I would love to have one more shot at a Major League team, to bring the things that I think we do very well at the minor league level. That's kind of what wakes me up in the middle of the night. Milwaukee would be a wonderful town to operate for me because ... obviously because of the influence of my dad. And he did it because of the influence of his dad. I have no problem with a chain like that; I'm proud of it. But he started in Milwaukee.

7. Who did you sit on during your seat-cushion night -- Fehr or Selig?

[Laughs]. It was the commissioner all the way. I'm a players' guy, through and through.

But I think he (Selig) is in an impossible situation. I just don't think you can come from the ownership ranks, and I don't care if you were Solomon. There are just basic inherent flaws in that. I don't like consensus. I don't trust consensus.

I think the game, to be fair, has made some important strides under his watch, but I still believe that you need a Giamatti. Giuliani would be a great commissioner. (You need) someone with dictatorial power who rules truly in the best interest of baseball, whether it's unpopular or not. You know, (like) when Ueberroth stood up and said, "You guys are headed toward financial disaster."

Do you think that the Brewers have fleeced Milwaukee fans? What's going on there?

Towns grow tired of ownership. It has nothing to do with whether a person is a wonderful person. In order to inject the kind of energy and excitement you need, you should limit your bursts. You know, come in, run a club for four or five or six years, build it up, then leave it in good shape and get out for the next guy. Dynasties make them tired, and that's what I think has happened in Milwaukee.

I think what you're seeing is not so much a reaction to how much it cost to build Miller Park, or whether there's an investment in the team. I think everybody's like, "All right already. Let's turn it over to the next (owner)."

I think the Twins would draw another half a million people if the Pohlads announced that, you know, you were going to buy them. I think that people want their sports entities to be energetic and fresh and to be new and exciting. And like the (team) rosters, the front office rosters should change, too.

8. Who's your biggest hero?

Bob Dylan. I find it incomprehensible that someone who jotted down three songs at a time could impact generations and will continue to impact generations the way that he has. And he seems not to care. You talk about a guy marching to a different drum.

John Kennedy (also) had a huge impact on my life, because I was just old enough to remember the vitality. You know, my mom and dad, from a huge distance, were excited about this man.

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan -- a personal hero of Mike Veeck's.

And personally, Larry Doby was a hero -- not so much because of the reasons everybody knows, but because he was never bitter. And I thought that was remarkable. You know, to be second -- to be the second manager, to be the second black man, to be historically, for so long, just a footnote.

There's always the talk of baseball being a dying sport. Do you agree? Is it now dying?

No. I think that participation is at an all-time high. The problem is that for the last generation and a half, we haven't marketed the game. And this year's marketing campaign ... what is it, "I love this game" or something? Where are the fans?

You know, I'm thrilled that Derek loves it. I think that once again, we've missed the point; and it's the fans who provide the lifeblood of the game. If I say "755," you know what I'm talking about. All fans are like that, and I think that we need to market to the fans.

So have we done a good job? No. There's always a need to return to that pastoral, no-clock thing that baseball represents. Anytime you've got enough kids playing, it will rejuvenate itself. But we're guilty as charged. You know, David Stern just picked our pocket for years.

9. What are the NFL and NBA doing right that baseball isn't?

I think that they market in staccato bursts. It's not enough to say, "We're the national pastime," or "Historically, this is why we're important."

I think it's important to market to kids using avenues they understand. Internet advertising, which for kids is like television and radio was to us. I think you need 20-year-old women and young men building Web sites. Not middle-aged white guys like me, who are telling kids what they should know. Guerrilla marketing becomes more important.

Look at NASCAR. If you ask any NASCAR fan, they use Tide because their hero uses Tide. There's this relationship that they perceive to be personal. You can go down into the pits, you can talk to these guys, they're accessible. So we have the answer right in front of us. Spring training is baseball at its best. But why can't we continue that?

Last year in Detroit, we did a wonderful thing. And when you lose 119 games, you get no credit because it's not the story. But after almost every Tigers home game, there were two Tigers at the end of the dugout, signing autographs after the ballgame. On their time. Players have to be accessible.

We had concierge service in Detroit. You know what that was? It was very cool. It wasn't, you know, come up here and you can fax something. Or I can get you tickets. We started our list of season ticket customers and we called them. All season long. A to Z. So when we go to the M's, we'd go, "Hi, Jeff. Is there anything we can be doing for you?" So we'd have six or seven times during the season when we'd talk to a season-ticket holder.

10. What are your thoughts on steroids. Is it an epidemic in the major leagues?

No. If it were an epidemic, the players would be policing themselves. They could say, "We're all in this together." But because there's relatively few, it looks like they're ganging up, so I think they have some problems in terms of policing themselves.

I think this is a perfect example of ... if the relationship is improved between the players association and ownership, this is one where we have to move very quickly. We don't want to get the politicians involved. We can take care of our own. And we need something approaching zero tolerance.

There's no greater civil libertarian than I am. But the fact is that at the moment, the fans -- the people for whom we all are employed -- the fans, once they begin to have questions, then we are duty-bound to provide answers. And we all have to be accountable to the fans. Not to the record books, not to the commissioner's office, not to one group or the other. This is about fans.