His name was Eddie Gaedel. He is the answer to one of baseball’s great trvia questions: Who is the only major league baseball player to retire with a 1.000 on-base percentage? The answer is Eddie Gaedel.
An even tougher trivia question is who then replaced Eddie as a pinch runner following the walk Eddie drew? The answer is Jim Delsing.
This past August 19 was the 66th anniversary of the most famous walk in all of baseball history. Yet it reinforces one of the great features that seperates baseball from other professsional sports such as football and hockey - one doesn’t have to be a big man to play the game.
One of baseball’s creative owners, a salesman and marketeer named Bill Veeck, owned the St. Louis Browns who in the summer of 1951 were mired in last place in the American League. It was also the 50th birthday of the American League’s founding. The challenge for Veeck was to draw a crowd for his last place team was also last in attendence.
Veeck did the usual, offering free beer for the adults and free ice cream and hot dogs for the kids. However, he also had a surprise for the fans - during the break between the first and second games of this Sunday doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers he had a seven foot high birthday cake carried onto the field.
Some fans undoubtedly expected to see a scantily clad and sexy looking female pop out but instead out popped Eddie Gaedel, all 3’7” of him. He was wearing a Brown’s uniform, but the Detroit team thought little about it until the Brown’s manager brought his line-up card to home plate to present to the umpires with Gaedel pencilled in as a pinch-hitter for the lead-off hitter.
The manager also had a valid major league contract properly prepared and signed, so the umpires decided the game had to go on with the first “little person” (some reporters and writers use the politically incorrect term of dwarf or midget) to appear coming to the plate.
Veeck instructed Gaedel not to swing at anything, but instead to hunch over creating a strike zone of about 1 and ½ inches. Detroit pitcher Bob Cain started laughing so hard there was no way he could throw a strike.
Four straight high and outside pitches and Eddie Gaedel walked to first and into baseball history. The ensuing uproar only served to cement his immortality and the reputation of Veech. Two days later the American League president, Will Harridge, voided Gaedel’s contract which called for him to be paid $15,400. In 1951 that was a decent salary for a major leaguer.
Three years later Veeck sold the Browns who promptly relocated to Baltimore to become the Orioles.
Gaedel was no fool and in years to come capitalized on his notoriety through appearances wth the Barnum & Bailey Circus as well as playing the role of Buster Brown in their shoe ads.
In later life he faced challenges due to his notoriety, developed a chip on his shoulder and became combative and aggressive especially when he drank. Despite his dimnutive size he’d take on average sized adults.
On June 18th, 1961 his life came to an end the result of a beating he received outside a Chicago bar. Having been born in Chicago of Lithuanian heritage on June 8th, 1925 he was only 36 years old. He is interred in the St. Mary Cemetery and Mausoleum in Cook County, Illinois.
The only person from baseball who attended his funeral was the pitcher who had walked him that famous day in baseball history, Bob Cain.
Gaedel’s memory lives on in part because of the ingenius marketing and p.r. skills of a retired Kamiah attorney, Tom Keefe. The son of a Seattle judge, the former administrative assistant to the legendary Washington Senator Warren Magnuson , a former deputy mayor of Seattle, Keefe is married to Joann Kaufman, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe, and the owner of a phenomenally successful Native American Health Care consulting business.
Keefe is the founder of Club #1 of the Eddie Gaedel Society. For seven years now he hosts a celebration at O’Doherty’s Irish Pub in downtown Spokane around the famous date.
The club is growing exponentially because everyone loves stories of underdogs and the exploits of the “little people” around us. Keefe can be reached at the offices of Kaufman & Associates in Spokane. Call him and join the society.