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8/19/1951 - Eddie Gaedel walks into history

Eddie Gaedel's one-game stint in Major League Baseball produced nothing of statistical importance: 0-0, 1 walk. Yet the conditions surrounding his at-bat were so preposterous that his appearance in the batter's box is now a part of baseball lore.

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of both the American League and the Falstaff Brewery, St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck concocted the idea of putting a midget on the baseball field. Veeck masterminded numerous promotions to boost attendances for the bottom-dwelling Browns -- many of them down right comical -- yet this was the stunt that defines him.

Following the first game of a double-header against the Detroit Tigers, a paper-mâché cake was wheeled in front of the largest crowd of the season (who were treated to free cake, beer, and ice cream). Popping out of the dessert was none other than 26-year old, 3-foot-7-inch Eddie Gaedel. The little person was clad in elf shoes and a Browns jersey with the number "1/8" on the back. The crowd loved it, though they had no clue there was an encore to the spectacle.

In the bottom of the first inning, the public address announcer reported that "number one-eighth, Eddie Gaedel" would be leading off in place of center fielder Frank Saucier. Waddling out of the Browns dugout was the midget himself, wielding three bats and grinning widely as he stepped to home plate.

Tigers catcher Bob Swift and pitcher Bob Cain bemusedly turned to home plate chief Ed Hurley, who began a conference with the other umpires. Browns manager Zach Taylor, who was in on the gag, left the dugout and showed Hurley the $100 contract Gaedel signed earlier in the week. Veeck knew the league office wouldn't review the contract until Monday (the game was on a Friday), so using a little person was fair game. Hurley acquiesced and allowed Gaedel to step to the plate.

The crowd roared with laughter and applause. Even the players on both dugouts couldn't help but enjoy it. "We Tigers laughed it off, because we figured we were going to win," said third baseman George Kell. Bob Cain was laughing so hard he could barely stand up straight. Gaedel had been ordered not to swing under any circumstances. And with a strike zone only one-sixth the size of a baseball, Gaedel easily walked on four pitches.

Eddie then trotted to first base, tipping his cap and bowing to the crowd along the way. He was then replaced by Jim Delsing, who would later tell the Chicago Sun-Times, "A lot of people say Maris hit 61, but I'm the only one who ran for a midget." Delsing got to third base before the inning came to an end. Detroit won 6-2 in what was the first, and last, game of Eddie Gaedel's big league career.

AL President Will Harridge was not amused and unsuccessfully tried to purge Gaedel's at-bat from the record books. Harridge then voided Eddie's contract. From then on, all baseball contracts had to be approved by the commissioner before they could be signed.

"I've never felt bad about being pinch-hit for by a midget because I probably should never have been with the Browns to begin with," Saucier later said. He had been playing with bursitis and struggled to throw and swing. Like Gaedel, he never made it back to the Major Leagues. "I talked to him later. Oh, he was happy to see me, an old teammate, you know. I asked how he was getting along. 'Well,' he said, 'it ain't baseball, but it's a livin.' "

Gaedel was offered several endorsements and made a few television appearances. He would make two returns to the baseball field, both by the request of Bill Veeck. In 1959, he and several midgets dressed as spacemen jumped out of a helicopter and captured Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio with ray guns. In 1961, Gaedel and other little people served as vendors for a White Sox game after Veeck received complaints that the vendors were blocking the fans' view.

Gaedel's life came to a melancholy end later that year. A frequent visitor to bars, Gaedel was mugged one night after entering a darkened alley. He staggered back to his apartment where he died in his bed. He was 36.

The only Major Leaguer to come to his funeral was Bob Cain, whose career became tied to Gaedel's. "I never even met him but I felt obligated to go. It kind of threw me for a loop that no other baseball people were there."

Eddie Gaedel now has an exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame devoted solely to his at-bat. The Little People of America see the display as a mockery and were furious at its commemoration for the 50th anniversary of the stunt. Additionally, because of the rarity of his memorabilia, Gaedel's autograph typically fetches a higher price than Babe Ruth's -- not bad for someone with one career at-bat.

Three years after Gaedel's appearance, the fruitless Browns moved to Maryland where they became the second incarnation of the Baltimore Orioles (the first became the New York Yankees).

Further reading:

At Bat - Eddie Gaedel [Outside the Lines]

Short on size, long on history [ESPN]