Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Eddie Gaedel: The Little Guy Who Won't Go Away

Posted By on Wed, Aug 12, 2015 at 6:00 AM

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The attendance on August 19, 1951, was 18,369, a monster crowd for the sad-sack Browns, who lost 102 games that year. The day before, they drew fewer than 2,000 for a game against the Tigers, and their average for the season was about 3,500 -- far below Veeck's break-even point. (The Cardinals, in the same ballpark, drew more than three times as many.)

The Gaedel appearance was sub rosa. By Veeck's count, only five others knew about the stunt. Had word leaked out, the American League surely would have cold-watered the caper posthaste.

As it was, Will Harridge, the stuffed-shirt president of the league, proclaimed that Gaedel in particular, and midgets in general, were banned from batting. Veeck wondered what height would make a player a non-midget. "Does that mean that Phil Rizzuto can't play anymore?" Veeck asked. Rizzuto, the star shortstop for the New York Yankees, was five-foot-six.

The cover of the August 13, 2015, Riverfront Times. - ILLUSTRATION BY COREY MONTERO.
  • Illustration by Corey Montero.
  • The cover of the August 13, 2015, Riverfront Times.

Veeck had hyped attendance on August 19 by promoting the doubleheader as the 50th anniversary of both the American League and Falstaff Brewery, which was the Browns' radio sponsor. The anniversary of the league was legit, but Veeck had fudged a little about Falstaff. Well in advance -- but not knowing one scintilla about Gaedel -- Falstaff distributors aggressively pushed tickets all over Missouri and Illinois.

August 19 was a Sunday. Late Friday, Veeck had wired a copy of Gaedel's contract -- $15,200 for the season, but broken down to only $100 per game -- to Harridge's office, which was closed on weekends.

As my friend Marvin and I settled into our seats for the first game, we noticed, in small type, "1/8 -- Gaedel" leading off the numerical listing of Browns' players in the scorecard. "What's this?" Marvin asked.

"Must be a printing mistake," I said. "They left his position off, too. Never heard of that guy. They must have just called him up from the minors."

After the Browns lost the first game, during the 30-minute intermission we saw Gaedel for the first time. Brandishing his little bat, he popped out of the top of a seven-foot-high papier mache anniversary cake that filled the infield.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Bernie Ebert, the public-address announcer, "as a special birthday present to manager Zack Taylor, the management is presenting him with a brand-new Brownie." Never mind that Taylor's birthday was actually three weeks before. Gaedel, 26, had been flown in from Chicago, where he worked as an entertainer. Veeck found him through a Cleveland talent agency. After popping out of the cake, he hammed it up, and about an hour later he became a big-leaguer.

In the bottom of the first inning, Gaedel pinch-hit for Saucier, the Browns' rookie right fielder. Red Rolfe, the Tigers' manager, bolted from the dugout to ask Hurley what was going on.

Hurley turned in the direction of the Browns' dugout. Zack Taylor met him with a copy of the Gaedel contract in hand. Hurley had no choice but to let Gaedel bat.

The little guy crouched, reducing his strike zone to just a couple of inches. "Stand up!" somebody shouted from the Tigers' dugout. Swift went out to Cain and said with a straight face, "Keep it low."

Back behind the plate, Swift went to his knees, trying to give Cain a low target. Laughing, Cain almost fell off the mound as he made four pitches, all well high of the zone. Gaedel went to first base.

When Jim Delsing, a pinch-runner, arrived, Gaedel playfully patted him on the rear, and trotted to the dugout, waving his cap as the crowd cheered. Later that inning, Delsing was left on base. The Browns ultimately lost the game, 6-2. What else was new?

But Saucier was furious, as batboy Fred Buchholz would relate years later in an interview with Bob Costas. Saucier was from Washington, Missouri, and his family and friends were in the stands. He threw his bat, sore that he had been replaced by a midget.

His pique subsiding, Saucier sat down beside Taylor, the manager, and Gaedel.

"What were you thinking out there?" Saucier said.

"Man, I felt like Babe Root," Gaedel said.

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