Imagine being 3 feet 7 inches tall, 65 pounds, and it is your first time ever at bat in a Major League Baseball game against a seasoned professional pitcher, with over 18,000 people watching. I know...crazy right? However, this is exactly what happened to Eddie Gaedel, who St. Louis Browns owner, Bill Veeck, described as, "By golly, the best darn midget who ever played big-league ball. He was also the only one."
Gaedel was born on June 8, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois to parents of normal height. Gaedel was sensitive about his small stature since he suffered ridicule and mistreatment due to his appearance. His height opened up other doors for him though, and he was able to make a living. During World War II he worked as a riveter because he was able to crawl inside the wings of airplanes. Gaedel also did promotional spots for circuses, rodeos, and record labels.
In July of 1951 Bill Veeck had purchased the St. Louis Browns. At that time in the season the Browns were averaging less than 4,000 fans per game, while the St. Louis Cardinals were averaging around 12,000. Veeck, who was known as the "Barnum of Baseball", began a bunch of promotional activities to draw a crowd to Browns games. One of these promotions was Eddie Gaedel.
Veeck was an avid reader, and at some point had come across a story by James Thurber, in which the main character was a baseball playing dwarf who virtually had no strike zone. Inspired by this story Veeck secretly contacted a booking agent in search for "a midget who is somewhat athletic and game for anything". Gaedel at first was apprehensive to play professional baseball, in fear of getting hit by horrid pitch, but he knew that playing in the big-leagues would garner him recognition and fame, so on August 17, 1951 Eddie Gaedel signed with the St. Louis Browns.
His first and only game was on August 19, 1951, the second showdown against the Detroit Tigers in a doubleheader that day. It was the 50th anniversary of the American League and the Browns' chief sponsor Falstaff Beer. The whole event was a spectacle! Veeck had brought in acrobats, clowns, and even a live band featuring Satchel Paige. They then wheeled a giant cake to the infield that Eddie Gaedel jumped out of wearing a Browns uniform donning the number "1/8".
Gaedel began walking to the plate to pinch hit for Frank Saucier. The umpires were all of a sudden up in arms over a 3'7 player pinch hitting, thinking it was some kind of a joke. However, the St. Louis Browns had an official copy of Gaedel's American League contract at the ready, and with their hands tied the umpires allowed Gaedel to take the plate.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Bob Cain began laughing at the fact that he had to pitch to someone of Gaedel's stature. Veeck had trained Gaedel to assume a tight crouch at the plate, claiming that his strike zone would only be 3.8cm high. Although when Gaedel stepped up to the plate he assumed what was described as "a Joe Dimaggio classic style stance". Based on his stance at the plate everyone assumed Gaedel would try and swing.
Bob Cain threw four pitches in total to Gaedel. The first two were actual attempts at strikes, the last two were half-speed tosses. Gaedel did not swing at all and all the pitches were called as balls. Eddie Gaedel then took his base, stopping twice during his trot to first base to bow to the crowd, he was then replaced by a pinch-runner. The over 18,000 fans in attendance gave him a standing ovation.
Shortly after his first and only game, the American League office voided Gaedel's contract. Bill Veeck had this to say on the matter, "Oh I had some squawks from the league on that, but why the beef? There is nothing in the rules that specifies a player's height or weight." Gaedel never played Major League Baseball again, but did go on to make promotional appearances during future games.
In 1961 Gaedel was at a bowling alley in Chicago, his hometown, where he was then followed home and beaten. His mother found him lying in bed, dead the next morning, he was 36. The only Major League Baseball figure to attend Gaedel's funeral was Bob Cain, the Detroit Tigers player who had pitched to him during his only time at the plate.
Since his death, Eddie Gaedel has been immortalized throughout the sport of baseball. His autograph sells for more than Babe Ruth's, since it is so rare. His uniform which donned the number "1/8" is displayed in the St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Even Gaedel's grandnephew, Kyle, was selected in the June 2011 MLB draft by the San Diego Padres, and played minor league ball as high as the Double-A level. Eddie Gaedel's legacy shows that even the smallest person can make a huge impact upon the world!
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