Joliet Slammers owner Mike Veeck talks baseball, Disco Demolition and more

Veeck speaks at monthly Joliet Chamber luncheon

Joliet Slammers Co-Owner Mike Veeck enjoys the May Member Luncheon presented by the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the Renaissance Center on May 23, 2024.

New Slammers co-owner Mike Veeck on Tuesday entertained a Joliet audience with stories about his family’s colorful experience in baseball while promising an “open-door policy” for the local team.

The Slammers have gotten off to a good start, showing up second in attendance in the Frontier League with an average crowd of 3,800 per game, Veeck said at a luncheon for the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Veeck said the new owners want to “earn your respect” and “be part of this community.”

“A community doesn’t need a ballpark, but a ballpark can’t exist without a community,” he said.

Veeck interspersed comments about the Slammers with a ranging look back at his own experience as the man behind the ill-fated Disco Demolition Night promotion in 1979 at old Comiskey Park, his baseball comeback with the St. Paul Saints minor league franchise, and his parents’ ownership of the White Sox and old St. Louis Browns in the major leagues.

Joliet Slammers Co-Owner Mike Veeck speaks during the May Member Luncheon presented by the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the Renaissance Center on May 23, 2024.

Veeck devoted much of his talk to the legendary Disco Demolition Night, which captured an anti-disco attitude of the time and seemed to be a great promotion with Comiskey Park packed, fans surrounding the stadium, and others trapped in interstate traffic trying to get to the ballpark with disco records that would be blown up on the field in between games of a twi-night doubleheader.

The first sign of trouble, however, was when he got a call from the late Mayor Jane Byrne, Veeck said.

“When the mayor calls you and says, ‘Mr. Veeck,’ you know you’re in trouble,” he said. “She said, ‘Mr. Veeck, the city is in gridlock.’ I thought, ‘That is so cool.’”

Byrne warned that she would send riot police if things went bad. They did, and the riot police came, Veeck said.

He described the blowing up of disco records as “the most beautiful explosion you’ve ever seen – 250 feet in the air, albums everywhere, and on the top of it was my career.”

Veeck was fired from the White Sox the next day, despite his parents’ ownership interest in the team, as Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn threatened to bar the team from holding anymore promotional events for night games.

“That’s how I got into the minor league baseball business,” Veeck said.

Veeck went to the St. Paul Saints in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the success of his 30-year career there was chronicled in the 2023 documentary film “The Saint of Second Chances.”

The chamber showed a trailer for the film before Veeck’s presentation.

The Veeck family baseball history, related in the film and by Mike Veeck to the chamber, started with his grandfather, William Veeck Sr., a Chicago newspaper reporter who became president of the Cubs in 1919.

Mike Veeck’s father, familiar to Chicago baseball fans as Bill Veeck, was a lead owner of the White Sox from 1959 to 1980 and an executive with other major league franchises, including the St. Louis Browns.

Bill Veeck, while owner of the Cleveland Indians, signed Larry Doby, the first Black player in the American League. That legacy lives on with the Slammers, whose ownership includes Doby’s son, Larry Doby Jr.

The Slammers ownership group includes 29 people, Mike Veeck said.

Along with the most famous of the group, actor Bill Murray, they include Jon Berg, producer of the “Wonder Woman” movies, and Kevin Millar, a former major leaguer who came up to the big leagues through the St. Paul Saints.

“It’s the most wonderful collection of people,” Veeck said. “I’m so proud to be here.”

Mike Veeck throws out a ceremonial first pitch during the Joliet Slammers home opener Friday May 10, 2024 at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet

Slammers management includes Executive Vice President Night Train Veeck, who is Mike Veeck’s son and also was involved with the St. Paul Saints.

Veeck shared with the audience how Night Train got his name, telling how he grew up moving from town to town and never got picked to play on a baseball team when sides were chosen because he always was the new kid.

The kids who didn’t get picked always had ordinary names, he said.

“If you have a Night Train,” he said, “they don’t even care if you can play.”

Night Train Veeck and Mike Veeck chat during the May Member Luncheon presented by the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the Renaissance Center on May 23, 2024.

It’s that kind of sense for promotion that the Veecks bring to the Slammers.

Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy, who was in the audience, said the Veecks’ influence on the team and on Joliet already has been “huge.”

“They are really making a difference in the community,” D’Arcy said. “They brought some of that positive energy we’re looking for, and it’s going to intensify.”