Today, 65 years ago, Eddie Gaedel had his only at bat for the St. Louis Browns as part of a publicity stunt of Browns owner Bill Veeck
In a time in which the St. Louis Browns were a cellar dwellar and political correctness was still unknown to the world, Browns owner Bill Veeck looked for a way to draw more fans to the stadium. Bill Veeck was hated by other baseball owners. In their eyes he did not take the game serious enough. Veeck was owner of several teams and most of all a promoter in MLB.
The 1951 St. Louis Browns were dead last in the American League once again, but not only in winning percentage but also in fans passing the turnstiles. In 1951 only 293,790 fans paid a visit to Sportsman’s Park. The tenant of Sportsman’s Park, the St. Louis Cardinals, drew 1,013,429 fans.
Veeck loved staging publicity stunts. Next to hiring Gaedel, his most famous stunt may have been Disco Demolition Night in 1979 at Comiskey Park.
Eddie Gaedel was an American with dwarfism. He was three feet and seven inches (109 cm) tall. Gaedel was a professional performer, belonging to the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). During WWII he was a riveter as he was able to crawl inside the wings of airplanes. After the war Gaedel would be the promotional mascot of Mercury Records. Bill Veeck found Gaedel through a booking agency. He signed the little man secretly. Gaedel was put on a uniform with number 1/8 on the back. Veeck sneakyfiled Gaedel’s contract late on Friday August 17, knowing that the contact would not be checked by Monday August 20.
As part of festivities because of the 50th anniversary of the American League, Gaedel came out of a paper-mache cake between two games of a double header against the Detroit Tigers. The fans were promised a festival of surprises and Gaedel was one of them. He entered the second game of the double header in the first inning when replaced leadoff hitter Frank Saucier.
Gaedel had strict orders not to move the bat from his shoulder. Gaedel took a pose that, according to Veeck, was a good imitation of Joe DiMaggio’s stance. Tigers’ Bob Cain had to laugh that he really had to pitch the little man. His catcher offered Cain the advice to keep the pitches low. But you man guess that Cain wasn’t able to hit the tiny strike zone and walked Gaedel with four pitches. Gaedel trotted towards first base, stopping twice to bow to the public and was replaced by pinch runner Jim Delsing. The 18,369 fans that showed up to the games, gave Gaedel a standing ovation.
At first Major League Baseball scratched Gaedel’s at bat from the record books as it never happened but one year later he was relisted later, as a right-handed batter and left-handed thrower (even though he did not play the field). Gaedel finished his MLB “career” with an on-base-percentage of 1.000. He earned a meager $100 with the at bat, which was the price of an AVGA appearance.
Later, as owner of the White Sox, Veeck hired Gaedel more often for non-playing promotions. One of them was as vendor so he would not block the view of the fans.
Gaedel is one of only five Major League players who drew a walk in their only plate appearance and never played the field.