Eddie Gaedel

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Eddie Gaedel
Gaedel.jpg
Gaedel batting in August 1951,
in his only plate appearance in baseball
Pinch hitter
Born:(1925-06-08)June 8, 1925
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died: June 18, 1961(1961-06-18) (aged 36)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Batted: RightThrew: Left
MLB debut
August 19, 1951, for the St. Louis Browns
Last MLB appearance
August 19, 1951, for the St. Louis Browns
MLB statistics
On-base percentage 1.000
Batting average
Plate appearances 1
Base on balls 1
Teams
Career highlights and awards
  • Shortest player in Major League Baseball history
  • Shares record for highest career on-base percentage (unofficial due to insufficient plate appearances)

Edward Carl Gaedel (June 8, 1925 – June 18, 1961) was the smallest player to appear in a Major League Baseball game. [1]

Contents

Gaedel gained recognition in the second game of a St. Louis Browns doubleheader on August 19, 1951. [2] Weighing 65 pounds (29 kg) and standing 3 feet 7 inches (109 cm) tall, he became the shortest player in the history of the Major Leagues. Gaedel made a single plate appearance and was walked with four consecutive balls before being replaced by a pinch-runner at first base. His jersey, bearing the uniform number "18", is displayed in the St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck, in his 1962 autobiography Veeck – As in Wreck, said of Gaedel, "He was, by golly, the best darn midget who ever played big-league ball. He was also the only one." [3]

Appearance

Due to his size, Gaedel had worked as a riveter during World War II, as he was able to crawl inside the wings of airplanes. [4] He was a professional performer, belonging to the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). After the war, Gaedel was hired in 1946 by Mercury Records as a mascot to portray the "Mercury Man". He sported a winged hat similar to the record label's logo, to promote Mercury recordings. [5] [6] [7] Some early Mercury recordings featured a caricature of him as its logo. [8] [9]

Browns' owner Bill Veeck, a showman who enjoyed staging publicity stunts, found Gaedel through a booking agency. Secretly signed by the Browns, he was added to the team roster and put in uniform (with the number "18" on the back). The uniform was that of current St. Louis Cardinals managing partner and chairman William DeWitt, Jr. who was a 9-year-old batboy for the Browns at the time.

Gaedel came out of a papier-mache cake between games of a doubleheader at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis to celebrate the American League's 50th anniversary. [10] The stunt was also billed as a Falstaff Brewery promotion. Falstaff, and the fans, had been promised a "festival of surprises" by Veeck. Before the second game got underway, the press agreed that the "midget-in-a-cake" appearance had not been up to Veeck's usual promotional standard. Falstaff personnel, who had been promised national publicity for their participation, were particularly dissatisfied. Keeping the surprise he had in store for the second game to himself, Veeck just meekly apologized.

Although Veeck denied the stunt was directly inspired by it, the appearance of Gaedel was similar to the plot of "You Could Look It Up", a 1941 short story by James Thurber. Veeck later said he got the idea from listening to the conversations of Giants manager John McGraw decades earlier when Veeck was a child. [11]

At the plate

Gaedel entered the second half of the doubleheader between the Browns and Detroit Tigers in the bottom of the first inning as a pinch-hitter for leadoff batter Frank Saucier. Immediately, umpire Ed Hurley called for Browns manager Zack Taylor. Veeck and Taylor had the foresight to have a copy of Gaedel's contract on hand, [12] as well as a copy of the Browns' active roster, which had room for Gaedel's addition.

The contract had been filed late in the day on Friday, August 17. Veeck knew the league office would summarily approve the contract upon receipt, and that it would not be scrutinized until Monday, August 20. Upon reading the contract, Hurley motioned for Gaedel to take his place in the batter's box (as a result of Gaedel's appearance, all contracts must now be approved by the Commissioner of Baseball before a player can appear in a game). The change to that day's St. Louis Browns scorecard, listing Gaedel and his uniform number, had gone unnoticed by everyone except Harry Mitauer, a writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat . The Browns' publicity man shunted Mitauer's inquiry aside. [11]

Gaedel was under strict orders not to attempt to move the bat off his shoulder. When Veeck got the impression that Gaedel might be tempted to swing at a pitch, the owner warned Gaedel that he had taken out a $1 million insurance policy on his life, and that he would be standing on the roof of the stadium with a rifle prepared to kill Gaedel if he even looked like he was going to swing. [11] Veeck had carefully trained Gaedel to assume a tight crouch at the plate; he had measured Gaedel's strike zone in that stance and claimed it was just one and a half inches (3.8 cm) high. [11] However, when Gaedel came to the plate, he abandoned the crouch he had been taught for a pose that Veeck described as "a fair approximation of Joe DiMaggio's classic style", [11] leading Veeck to fear he was going to swing (in the Thurber story, the player with dwarfism cannot resist swinging at a 3–0 pitch, grounds out, and the team loses the game).

With Bob Cain on the mound—laughing at the absurdity that he actually had to pitch to Gaedel [11] —and catcher Bob Swift catching on his knees, Gaedel took his stance. [1] The Tigers catcher offered his pitcher a piece of strategy: "Keep it low". Cain delivered four consecutive balls, all high (the first two pitches were legitimate attempts at strikes; the last two were half-speed tosses). Gaedel took his base (stopping twice during his trot to bow to the crowd) and was replaced by pinch-runner Jim Delsing. The 18,369 fans gave Gaedel a standing ovation.

Baseball reaction

Veeck had hoped that Delsing would go on to score in a one-run Browns victory, but he ended up stranded at third base and the Tigers won the game 6–2. [13] American League president Will Harridge, saying Veeck was making a mockery of the game, voided Gaedel's contract the next day. In response, Veeck threatened to request an official ruling on whether Yankees shortstop and reigning American League MVP Phil Rizzuto, who stood 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 m), was a short ballplayer or a tall dwarf.

Initially, Major League Baseball struck Gaedel from its record book, as if he had not been in the game. He was relisted a year later, as a right-handed batter and left-handed thrower (although he did not play the field). [14] Eddie Gaedel finished his major league career with an on-base percentage of 1.000. His total earnings as a pro athlete were $100, the scale price for an AGVA appearance. However, he was able to parlay his baseball fame into more than $17,000 by appearing on several television shows.

Later life

Gaedel's major league career lasted just the one plate appearance, but with Veeck's 1959 acquisition of the White Sox, the native Chicagoan once again found some high-profile, albeit non-playing, ballpark employment. On May 26, 1959, a helicopter carrying Gaedel and three other dwarfs dressed as spacemen "invaded" Comiskey Park, its apparent mission being the delivery of "ray guns" to two of the White Sox' smallest players, Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio, [15] to whom Gaedel reportedly confided, "I don't want to be taken to your leader. I've already met him." [16] On April 19, 1961, Veeck hired several dwarfs, including Gaedel, as vendors, allegedly due to "some complaints" from fans regarding hitherto blocked sight lines. [17]

Death

On June 18, 1961, the unemployed Gaedel, who had just turned 36, was at a bowling alley in Chicago, his birthplace and hometown. Gaedel was followed home and beaten. His mother discovered him lying dead in his bed. He had bruises about his knees and on the left side of his face. A coroner's inquest determined that he also had suffered a heart attack. Bob Cain, who'd pitched to Gaedel, was the only Major League Baseball figure to attend the funeral. Gaedel was interred at St. Mary Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum in Cook County, Illinois. [18] His tombstone indicates that his family name may actually have been Gaedele, not Gaedel. [19]

Legacy

Gaedel is one of only five Major League players who drew a walk in their only plate appearance and never played the field. The first three all played in the 1910s: Dutch Schirick (Sep 17, 1914 with the Browns), Bill Batsch (Sep 9, 1916 with Pittsburgh) and Joe Cobb (April 25, 1918 with Detroit; although recent research shows that Cobb may have actually struck out in his only plate appearance). On June 24, 2007, Kevin Melillo of the Oakland Athletics, became the first player in over half a century to walk in his only plate appearance without taking the field, against the New York Mets. Other than Gaedel, the other four players pinch-hit for pitchers; all five appeared in games their teams ultimately lost.

Gaedel's one-day career has been the subject of programs on ESPN and MLB Network. He was mentioned by name in the lyrics of Terry Cashman's homage to 1950s baseball, "Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey, and the Duke)." His at-bat was the No. 1 choice on a 1999 list of "Unusual and Unforgettable Moments" in baseball history published by the Sporting News . [20]

In 1994, Veeck's son Mike Veeck owned the minor league St. Paul Saints team. He brought the then 69-year-old Bob Cain to the park to "reenact" the at-bat, by pitching to the 10-year-old son of the Saints manager. [21]

Due to its scarcity, Gaedel's autograph now sells for more than Babe Ruth's. [5]

Gaedel's grandnephew, Kyle Gaedele, was drafted in the 32nd round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 out of high school. [22] The 6-foot-3-inch (1.91 m) Gaedele chose instead to attend Valparaiso University; he was selected in the June 2011 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres and he played minor league baseball as high as the Double-A level. [23] He was released by the San Antonio Missions in 2015 and last played with independent American Association's Chicago Dogs in 2018.

Related Research Articles

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References

  1. 1 2 "Veeck's latest gimmick - a midget big leaguer". Youngstown Vindicator. (Ohio). AP photo. August 20, 1951. p. 8.
  2. "Browns hit all-time low; use 3-foot 7-inch player". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. August 20, 1951. p. 7.
  3. Veeck, Bill. Veeck – As in Wreck. University of Chicago. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  4. "ESPN.com - Page2 - Outside the Lines: At Bat - Eddie Gaedel". Espn.go.com. Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  5. 1 2 "The Only Eddie Gaedel Signed Photograph Known To Exist". Robertedwardauctions.com. Archived from the original on May 13, 2013. Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  6. Billboard - Google Books. June 8, 1946. Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  7. Billboard - Google Books. May 27, 1972. Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  8. "Image: merc9.jpg, (400 × 400 px)". nugrape.net. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
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  12. Numbelivable!, p.92, Michael X. Ferraro and John Veneziano, Triumph Books, Chicago, Illinois, 2007, ISBN   978-1-57243-990-0
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  14. "Eddie Gaedel Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  15. "Veeck's Latest Stunt: Midget Spacemen Invade Comiskey Park". Chicago Tribune. (Chicago, Illinois). Tribune Photos. May 27, 1959. p. 68.
  16. "Veeck Science Fiction". Binghamton Press. (Binghamton, New York). AP Wirephoto. May 27, 1959. p. 52.
  17. "Veeck Employing Midgets Again". The Pittsburgh Press. (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). UPI. April 20, 1961. p. 42.
  18. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/2915/edward-carl-gaedel (plot: section G, gravestone number X-363B)
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  21. "Short Hitter, Long Memory Bob Cain is Best Known as the Pitcher Who Walked Midget Eddie Gaedel".
  22. "Baseball - 2010-11 Roster - Official Athletic Site of the Valparaiso University Crusaders". Valpoathletics.com. Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  23. "Kyle Gaedele Minor League Statistics & History". Baseball-Reference.com. November 1, 1989. Retrieved April 2, 2013.