When Bill Veeck “bought” the Raiders

The Raiders’ talks with San Antonio officials are one of the great dog-bites-man stories of the season. This is the franchise, after all, that divorced Oakland in 1982, shacked up with Los Angeles for 13 years, Lost That Lovin’ Feeling and remarried Oakland. And now, of course, the Raiders want a nice, new stadium, just like the 49ers have, and are hoping for a Public Handout to accomplish this objective. The San Antonio flirtation is supposed to expedite things, but we’ll see how badly the city wants to keep this shipwreck of a football team.

Forgotten fact: In January 1961, after their very first season in the AFL, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Raiders had been sold to a group headed by White Sox owner Bill Veeck, who planned to have them play at Comiskey Park. The stadium had lost its football tenant when the Cardinals moved to St. Louis the year before, and Veeck and his partners were looking for another renter.

On Jan. 14, this headline topped the front page of the Chicago Tribune sports section:

Tribune Veeck headline

Here’s the gist of the story:

Tribune Veeck story

The story made sense on many levels, not the least being that the Raiders had lost an estimated $270,000 in their inaugural season and had major stadium issues. They’d played their first four home games at Kezar Stadium, home of the NFL’s 49ers, and their last three at Candlestick Park, home of the baseball Giants.

A day later, everybody was denying everything. Raiders owner Wayne Valley said, “It’s the first I’ve heard of it, and it’s completely untrue. It’s a shot in the dark.” And Veeck said, “We would like to have a tenant for Comiskey Park in the offseason, but I wouldn’t go as far as buying Oakland to get one.”

The Oakland Tribune began its story thusly:

Making one of the quickest trips on record, the Oakland Raiders of the American Football League today moved to Chicago and within a couple of hours were back in Oakland.

How did the Chicago paper get it wrong? Well, the reporter either jumped the gun, had unreliable sources or . . . there was one other possible scenario, suggested by United Press International: When AFL owners, meeting in Houston, first heard the report, “a spokesman said they ‘appeared to be amused by it — especially its origin in Chicago on the same day the Chicago Bears lost one of their key players to the AFL,’” the wire service reported. (Translation: George Halas, or one of his operatives, planted the story to rile the rival league.)

The player was receiver Willard Dewveall, who had played out his option with the Bears and signed with the AFL’s Oilers. Dewveall wasn’t a superstar, but he’d totaled 804 receiving yards in 1960, seventh best in the league, and was the first recognizable NFL player to jump to the AFL.

It would have been fun to see what would have happened if Veeck had gotten hold of the franchise. This was the iconoclast, after all, who once sent a midget up to bat for the St. Louis Browns, the guy who gave us the exploding scoreboard. But the Raiders managed all right under Valley and Al Davis in Oakland, even if they have always had an eye out for greener pastures.

Better Gaedel