CHICAGO -- The first question for Roger Bossard centered upon the famous shower hooked up for fans’ use in the outfield concourse at the old Comiskey Park.
By the end of the 15-minute interview with the White Sox head groundskeeper -- one of the most upbeat and energetic people in baseball -- he had provided a brief but entertaining primer of Bill Veeck’s second ownership of the team.
“There were a lot of things that happened when Bill Veeck was there,” Bossard said. “He was the greatest promoter that ever walked. Obviously, everyone will tell you that.”
Veeck originally owned the White Sox from 1959-61, before Bossard’s time with the organization. But Bossard -- who is approaching his 55th year in Major League Baseball, 50th Spring Training and who has been head groundskeeper since '83 -- was there when Veeck was owner from '76-80.
Bossard's first season was 1967 as an assistant groundskeeper to his father, Gene, and he is the only current employee who has worked through White Sox ownership of Arthur C. Allyn, Jr., John W. Allyn, Veeck and current chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Veeck did not have a huge amount of resources to spend, but with the assistance of general manager Roland Hemond, they made it work.
Their 1977 South Side Hitmen squad -- featuring Richie Zisk, Oscar Gamble, Chet Lemon, Lamar Johnson, Ralph Garr, Eric Soderholm, Jim Spencer and Jorge Orta -- won 90 games under manager Bob Lemon and had nine players hit double-digit homers. Veeck also brought into Comiskey Park the quirky sort of entertainment more commonly seen around Minor League games these days.
“What people don’t remember is Bill Veeck, when he got the team, he was really smart,” Bossard said. “He said he was coming in for five years, and he did. He doubled his money. That’s a pretty sharp business guy.
“I can remember we had a tractor on the infield, someone from the Toro company made a tractor for Bill Veeck and it had wings on it, sirens, whistles, bells, lights, and we would mat the field before the game with this machine. It killed my dad because it’s a heavy machine and the last thing we want is a tractor on your infield dirt compacting your dirt before the game. But these are the things that we did with Bill Veeck.”
Concerts also were more prevalent at Comiskey during the second Veeck era, including the Eagles, Aerosmith, the Beach Boys, Steve Miller Band and Foghat, among others. Those concerts were handled a little differently than in the present day, especially before Bossard’s patented drainage system -- now seen across baseball -- was in place.
“Back in the day, there was no flooring people put down. You took the chance of having it on the field,” Bossard said. “We had three concerts in one year and it rained every time and we literally ... rebuilt the whole outfield three times in one year. That wasn’t a good thing. I remember Bill Veeck looking me in the face one time, I’m laying sod, going, ‘Roger, it’s called Veeck’s hex.’ Every time he wanted to make a buck with a concert, it rained.
“The profit that he probably made went back into the field. When it rained, water would lay on the field for three days. Now if it rains, water goes right through, you replace 1,000 yards and you play ball. It was different back then.
“It was a little difficult with Bill. He had to do all the kind of stuff we were talking about, and it worked,” Bossard said. “I look back on those days, and they were fun days.”
Bossard spoke of his affinity for Reinsdorf, whom he referred to as “the best owner in baseball by far.” But he also liked the days when they had clowns on the field before the game, the infamous Disco Demolition Night in 1979 and even a valve hooked up where the umpire could hit a button and trigger a compressor to send up air through the valve and clean home plate.
“That’s something, it’s only a Bill Veeck thing,” Bossard said. “That’s Bill Veeck at his best.”
As for the outfield shower, the question beginning this whole Veeck topic, and a feature moving over to the ballpark currently known as Guaranteed Rate Field?
“It was just another gimmick. You know what? It worked. It worked,” Bossard said. “People went crazy for that kind of stuff.”