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FROM THE NOSEBLEEDS

A TRUE FAN VIEW PRODUCTION

Eddie Gaedel: The shortest baseball career (pun intended)

Bill Veeck was a Major League Baseball owner and promoter during the 1940s through the 1970s. Called a baseball “maverick” for the innovations (read: publicity stunts) he brought to baseball. He was behind things such as:

  • A proposal to buy the Phillies in 1943 (four years before Jackie Robinson) and stack the team with All Stars from the Negro Leagues. The Phillies were officially taken over by the NL and sold to another buyer.
  • Breaking the color line in the AL by signing Larry Doby in 1947. As Doby was introduced to his teammates by the manager, all but three players shook his hand. Those three were quickly traded by Veeck.
  • After purchasing the St. Louis Browns, he tried to run the St. Louis Cardinals out of town by hiring ex-Cardinal greats to manage and announce for the team, as well as decorating the two teams shared stadium exclusively with Browns memorabilia.
  • “Grandstand Managers Day” allowed thousands of fans in the crowd to vote on in-game strategy by holding up signs. The Browns won 5-3.
  • The “exploding scoreboard” which had light and sound effects, and let off fireworks every time his team would hit a home run.
  • Installing a blower to clean off home plate, and a machine that rose out of the ground to bring fresh baseballs to the home plate umpire.
  • Conducting trades in a hotel lobby, in full view of the public walking by (which really pissed off MLB officials).
  • “Rent-a-player” which involved acquiring other teams’ star players in their option year, leading to baseball’s free agency years later.
  • Disco Demolition night, which led to a riot at Comisky Park, and a forfeit to the visiting Tigers.

But his most famous “promotion” was using pinch hitter Eddie Gaedel in the second game of a double header in 1951.

On Sunday, August 19, 1951 the St Louis Browns were playing the Detroit Tigers. It was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the American League and promoted by Falstaff Brewery, who were told it would be a “festival of surprises” by Veeck.

The first game of the double header came and went without anything noteworthy happening. Between games, a paper mâché cake was rolled out onto the field to celebrate the anniversary and a “midget” (according to Veeck) jumped out of it. Both the press and Falstaff (who had sponsored the promotion) were highly dissatisfied with the event, claiming that they were promised “national headlines.” Veeck simply apologized quietly, knowing what was to come.

As the second game commenced the Browns, being the home team, batted in the bottom of the first inning. Their leadoff batter was immediately pulled for a pinch hitter: Eddie Gaedel, the 3’7″ “midget” that had jumped out of the cake just moments ago. Complete in a Browns uniform with the number “1/8” on his back.

Instantly, the enraged home plate umpire Ed Hurley called the Browns manager Zack Taylor to the plate for a conference. Veeck had foreseen this, and had provided Taylor with a copy of Gaedel’s contract as well as their roster, which showed an available place for him. (Gaedel’s contract was signed on Friday in secret and submitted to MLB offices at the end of business that day, knowing it would be summarily approved and not scrutinized until the following Monday. The double header was held on Sunday.)

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Gaedel at the plate taking a ball high.

The umpire had no choice but to motion Gaedel into the batter’s box. Veeck had trained Gaedel to crouch down in his stance, effectively giving him a strike zone of about one and a half inches high. He had also instructed the batter not to take the bat off his shoulder.  (When Veeck thought Gaedel had intentions of taking a swing he stated that he had taken out a $1M insurance policy on his life, and he would be on the roof of the stadium with a rifle pointed at his chest).

Tigers catcher Bob Swift went to the mound to chat with pitcher Bob Cain (who couldn’t control his laughter at the absurdity of the situation) and told him to “keep it low”). Gaedel was quickly walked on the next four pitches – all high. He was replaced by pinch runner Jim Delsing at first base to a standing ovation.

American League president Will Harridge voided Gaedel’s contract the next day, stating that Veeck was making “a mockery of the game.” Veeck responded by threatening to request an official ruling on whether reigning MVP and New York Yankees short stop Phil Rizzuto (who was 5’6″) was a “tall midget.”

Because of Gaedel’s “secret” contract, all MLB contracts must be approved by the commissioner before a player can play in a game.

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Gaedel in the dugout with his teammates during the game.

Gaedel’s total earning as a professional athlete were $100, and he was technically a “professional” baseball player for three days, having only one plate appearance, no official at-bats due to the walk (an OBP of 1.000), and he never played defense.

Bill Veeck stated in his autobiography that “He was, by golly, the best darn midget who ever played big-league ball. He was also the only one.”

By the way, an Eddie Gaedel autograph commands a higher price than a Babe Ruth autograph.

DJ Fiterman

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