That Time A 3-Foot-7 Dwarf Had A Major League Plate Appearance
It's not often a big leaguer can leave an impression with one career plate appearance, but 65 years ago today Eddie Gaedel did just that.In the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers on August 19, 1951, the woeful St. Louis Browns (now Baltimore Orioles) pinch-hit for leadoff hitter Frank Saucier, and the 3-foot-7-inch, 65 pound Gaedel strolled to the plate, wearing a uniform with the number "1/8."
Eddie Gaedel tips his hat to the crowd as he walks back to the dugout. (Courtesy of the Baseball Reliquary)
Angelenos can celebrate Eddie Gaedel Day tonight at 7 p.m. at Timmy Nolan's Tavern & Grill in Toluca Lake. The Los Angeles Chapter of Eddie Gaedel Society and the Monrovia-based Baseball Reliquary will be throwing the event, which includes drinks, a $2 Eddie Gaedel trivia contest, and a special appearance by Gaedel's jockstrap.Although the home plate ump was initially confused by the move, after being presented with Gaedel's official American League contract (submitted just two days prior), he called for the game to resume.
After a strategy meeting with his catcher, Tigers lefty Bob Cain proceeded to walk the batter on four pitches, being unable to locate Gaedel's diminutive strike zone. According to the Society for American Baseball Research, Cain had a good sense of humor about it, laughing as he threw balls three and four.
When Gaedel took his base, he was immediately pulled for a pinch runner, and Gaedel walked back to the dugout to a standing ovation. After the game, Gaedel said to reporters, "For a minute, I felt like Babe Ruth."
The Browns would lose the game 6-2. Gaedel remains in the record book with a career on-base-percentage of 1.000.
The stunt was the brainchild of then-Browns owner Bill Veeck, who had also hired Gaedel to jump out of a birthday cake in between the doubleheader games to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American League. Veeck, in his long, storied career as the owner of (in chronological order) the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox, was a consummate showman and was known for his flashy promotions. Only five days later he would have "Grandstand Manager's Day," where Browns fans in the stands could determine the team's in-game strategy.
Major League Baseball, however, was not impressed. Gaedel's contract was voided two days later ("in the best interests of baseball"), and to this day all contracts must be approved by the commissioner before the player can appear in a game.
Despite his stunts, Veeck was also an innovator. In 1947, after buying the Cleveland Indians, Veeck broke the color barrier in the American League by signing Negro Leagues star Larry Doby. A year later he signed the legendary Satchel Paige, and the two became the first black players to win a World Series in 1948. Later with the White Sox he was the first to put the players' names on the back of their jerseys and introduced what was then-known as an "exploding scoreboard," one that shot fireworks and played electrical and sound effects after a player hit a home run. When Curt Flood challenged baseball's reserve clause, thus opening the gateway for player free agency, Veeck was the only owner to testify on his behalf.
Gaedel's career with Veeck would continue in the years to follow, as Veeck would hire him for further promotions. Sadly, though, Gaedel's life came to a tragic end at the age of 36. On June 18, 1961, he was found dead in his bed by his mother after being followed home and badly beaten. Struggling with unemployment and a heavy drinker, Gaedel got drunk at a bowling alley earlier that night.
The only person from baseball to attend Gaedel's funeral was Bob Cain, the same pitcher he faced during that fateful plate appearance. Cain drove 300 miles to attend.
In his autobiography, Veeck—As In Wreck, Veeck wrote, "He was, by golly, the best darn midget who ever played big-league ball. He was also the only one."
So why not celebrate Gaedel tonight? As the Baseball Reliquary says, "All are invited for a memorable evening of small talk, short speeches, and half-pint beers, and to join in the Gaedel Society's mantra, 'Take a walk, Eddie!"
Timmy Nolan's Tavern & Grill is located at 10111 Riverside Dr. in Toluca Lake. (818) 985-3359.