60 Years Ago Today – The Strangest At-Bat In Baseball History
By Eddie Deezen
Tens of thousands of games have been played in the history of Major League Baseball. But on August 19th, 1951, the strangest baseball at-bat ever recorded took place in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. It was on that day, sixty years ago, that a 3′7″ player came to bat.
Edward Carl Gaedel was born on June 8, 1925. His parents and siblings were all of normal stature, but Eddie, for some unknown reason, just stopped growing sometime during his term in elementary school. According to his sister, “He cried a lot because people used to bother him. He’d come home swearing.”
As an adult, Eddie found work as a mascot for Mercury Records and during World War II Eddie had found employment as a riveter (his stature made it easy for him to crawl inside the wings of planes). By 1951, Eddie was working as a bartender at “The Midget Club,” a bar in Chicago that employed only little people.
In 1951, Bill Veeck was the colorful owner of the St. Louis Browns, the worst team in baseball. Veeck was known for thinking up wild publicity stunts to help draw crowds in to come and watch the pathetic, perennial cellar-dwelling Browns.
The original idea of a little person batting in a baseball game had been used in a 1941 short story (no pun intended) by James Thurber called “You Could Look It Up” (Veeck always denied the story was his inspiration).
In mid-August of 1951, Bill Veeck gave his car keys to the Brown’s public relations man, Jay Edson. Edson was told to go to the given address in Chicago and pick up a guy called Eddie Gaedel. “He’s a midget,” said Veeck.
“A midget?” inquired Edson, slightly surprised.
“Yes,” intoned Veeck.
Gaedel was picked up at his Chicago address, driven to St. Louis, and smuggled into the Chase hotel, wrapped in a blanket. A double-header was scheduled between the Browns and the Detroit Tigers the next day. The crowd of 18,369 had been promised “a festival of surprises” by Veeck.
Between games, Eddie popped out of a giant plastic cake, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the American League and in celebration of the Falstaff brewery. Gaedel’s appearance brought happy laughter from the crowd, who at the time had no idea of the strange baseball history soon to be made. In the bottom of the first inning of game two, the surprised crowd looked on as St. Louis manager Zach Taylor sent Eddie Gaedel up to pinch-hit for lead-off batter Frank Saucier.
Eddie came to the on-deck circle swinging three toy bats. He tossed two to the side and walked to the plate carrying his toy bat, the smallest bat ever to be used in a Major League baseball game. Gaedel wore a borrowed batboy’s uniform which sported the number 1/8. The crowd, at first surprised, was quiet, then burst into raucous laughter.
Ed Hurley, the home plate umpire, was duly shown Gaedel’s contract (legally signed a few days earlier and wired to Major League offices) and Eddie stood at the plate, in a slight batter’s crouch. Before he came to the plate, Gaedel had been warned solemnly by Bill Veeck that he’d have a rifle aimed at his head and if he dared swing, he’d pull the trigger. (In Thurber’s short story, the LP had swung on ball four and grounded out, ending the game.)
Bob Swift, the Tiger catcher, went to the pitcher’s mound and told pitcher Bob Cain to “keep it low.” Swift walked behind the plate and got down on his knees. Pitcher Cain was cracking up and, according to Swift, they were both “laughing so hard they could hardly go through the motions.”
Gaedel walked on four straight pitches. He ran down the first base line, stepped on the bag, tipped his hat to the roaring crowd, and ran off the field.
“Man, I felt like Babe Ruth,” Gaedel recalled, in a touching memory of his immortal moment. Jim Delsing ran onto the field to pinch-run for the departing Gaedel. The Tigers won the game 6-2.
The next day, American League president Will Harridge declared that Eddie Gaedel’s plate appearance would never be repeated and that his name would be stricken from baseball’s record book. He was right on the first count, but wrong on the second. Edward Carl “Eddie” Gaedel is immortalized in baseball’s record book: “1951, pinch-hitter, St. Louis Browns- 1 game, 1 plate appearance, 1 walk, and a perfect on-base percentage of 1.000.”
At 3′7″ and 65 pounds, he is both the shortest and the lightest ever batter in Major League history. Eddie was paid $100 for his brief but unforgettable at-bat, but he made $17,000 on TV appearances resulting from it. Eddie could have made a lot more money from his historic at-bat; the offers poured in, but he hated to travel, preferring to stay in Chicago.
In 1951, the Tigers finished the season in fifth place, while the Browns finished in their customary slot -dead last. In 1959, Eddie made his last public appearance, dressed as a Martian and appearing out of a flying saucer at Comiskey Park in Chicago. He presented his Martian ray gun to White Sox players Nellie Fox and Minie Minoso. The owner of the 1959 White Sox? Bill Veeck- who else?
Sadly, Eddie was brutally beaten up in a mugging/robbery two years later. (For most of his adult life, he had a chronic drinking problem and was known for getting into severe bar fights.) On June 8, 1961, he was found dead in his room by a family member. Somehow, after his savage beating, he had managed to make it back to his home. The Chicago Police Department refused to investigate the crime any further because of Eddie’s notorious reputation.
Bob Cain drove 300 miles to Chicago to make it to Eddie’s funeral. For the last ten years of his life, Eddie and Bob had exchanged Christmas cards. Cain was the only Major League player to attend the funeral. Bill Veeck didn’t make it, saying he was “too busy.”
In 1999, the sporting news voted Eddie Gaedel’s plate appearance as #1 on their list of “Unusual and Unforgettable Moments” in baseball history. Eddie Gaedel’s St. Louis Browns unforgettable number 1/8 uniform is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His autograph now sells for more than Babe Ruth’s.