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On This Date in Sports August 19, 1951

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Tigers Catcher Bob Swift catches a ball thrown to Eddie Gaedel of the St. Louis Browns who was walked in his only plate appearance.

Tigers Catcher Bob Swift catches a ball thrown to Eddie Gaedel of the St. Louis Browns who was walked in his only plate appearance.

Eddie Gaedel who was born with dwarfism is the shortest player in MLB history at three feet seven inches tall. Signed by Bill Veeck Owner of the St. Louis Browns, Gaedell pinch hits for Frank Saucier to lead off the second game of a double header against the Detroit Tigers at Sportsman’s Park. Wearing a fraction as a number, Eddie Gaedel walks on four pitches as pitcher Bob Cain could not find his tiny strike zone.

Mired in last place in the American League, the St. Louis Browns looking for a way to break the monotony of the dog days of August. The team was struggling to find fans in the shadow of the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League. Existing for 50 years the Browns were hardly ever a factor in the pennant chase, having only played in one World Series. Prior to the season, Bill Veeck who previously owned the Cleveland Indians purchased the Browns, hoping to turn their fortunes around.

Things did not go well for the Browns, in the first season of Veeck’s Ownership as they were mired in last place with a record of 36-77 entering a double header against the Detroit Tigers at Sportsman’s Park. Looking to draw some publicity to his team, Bill Veeck signed Eddie Gaedel to make one appearance. After the Browns lost the opener of double header 5-2, Veeck had Gaedel get ready for his memorable plate appearance.

Eddie Gaedel was born June 8, 1925, in Chicago. He worked as a riveter during World War II, due to his size as he was able to crawl inside the wings of airplanes. After the war, he went into show business working as the mascot for Mercury Records. Looking for a midget to make an appearance for the Browns, Bill Veeck found Eddie Gaedel through a booking agent. Gaedel made his first appearance between games of the doubleheader emerging from a cake that was used to celebrate the American League’s 50th season. Before the game, Veeck had promised a stunt that would create national attention, but when they first saw Gaedel most were underwhelmed.

That was until Eddie Gaedel strolled to the plate wearing 1/8 on his uniform. The uniform was normally used by a Browns batboy named William DeWitt. His father was one of Veeck’s business partners in the Browns ownership. The Browns had signed Eddie Gaedel late Friday Night, knowing the league would not scrutinize the contract until Monday, allowing the stunt to take place during the Sunday Doubleheader. Eddie Gaedel’s would lead off the second game of the double header pinch hitting for Frank Saucier. When Umpire Ed Hurley questioned Browns Manager Zack Taylor he had a copy of Gaedel’s contract in his pocket. With his place on the team confirmed, Eddie Gaedel stepped in the batter’s box to face Bob Cain of the Detroit Tigers. Gaedel was under strict orders not to swing as he walked on four pitches. Throughout the at-bat, laughter was heard throughout the ballpark. Reaching first base, Gaedel was lifted for pinch runner Jim Delsing, as he reached a standing ovation from the 18,369 fans. The Browns would go onto lose the game 6-2.


Eddie Gaedel stepping up to the plate after the umpire reviewed his contract

Following the Eddie Gaedel stunt, the American League and the Commissioner’s office was not amused. AL President William Harridge chided Bill Veeck for making a mockery of the game and voided Gaedel’s contract. Commissioner Ford C. Frick announced all contracts must be approved by the commissioner before a player can appear in a game, ending the chance of another surprise appearance. They also passed a height requirement, to which Bill Veeck wondered would that also bar New York Yankees Shortstop Phil Rizzuto, the reigning MVP.

For his one at-bat, Bill Veeck would receive $100, but out of the fame, he was able to make $17,000 in television appearances. Veeck was unable to save the Browns as they moved to Baltimore after the 1953 season. Four decades later, William DeWitt, the bat boy who gave up his uniform would purchase the St. Louis Cardinals. Bill Veeck later brought the Chicago White Sox, and employed Eddie Gaedel again, to make an appearance as a spaceman with a laser gun with two other little people. Sadly Eddie Gaedel died just two years later, suffering a heart attack in his sleep after being beaten up after visiting a bowling alley.