Bittersweet Memories of Only One Game in the Majors
by Richard Tellis
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From the Introduction
The best-known "player" with a one-game major-league career is not included here [in this book], but let me remind you of him.
He was Eddie Gaedel, the three-foot-seven, 65-pounder who, on Sunday, August 19, 1951, pinch hit for the eighth-place St. Louis Browns in the second game of a doubleheader against the fifth-place Detroit Tigers as part of a stunt cooked up by Browns' owner, Bill Veeck.
Veeck positioned the two teams differently on game day. In his autobiography, Veeck -- As In Wreck, the former owner of the Browns says, "The day we chose was a Sunday doubleheader against the last-place Detroit Tigers, a struggle which did not threaten to set the pulses of the city beating madly ... The press, for the most part, took the sane attitude that Gaedel had provided a bright moment in what could easily have been a deadly dull double-header between a 7th and an 8th place ball club ..." The emphasis is mine.
The stunt was quintessential Veeck. He and sponsor Falstaff Brewing, supposedly celebrating its birthday on that date, had attracted more than 18,000 to the doubleheader -- the largest crowd to see the Browns at home in four years. Upon entering the stadium, everyone received a can of the sponsor's beer, a slice of birthday cake, and a box of ice cream, along with salt-and-pepper shakers in the shape of Falstaff beer bottles.
Although the Browns lost the first game, the fans were treated to a festive Falstaff Beer birthday party between games, so they were still in a good mood when the second game started. The between-games festivities featured a parade of old-fashioned cars circling the field, men and women dressed in Gay Nineties costumes pedalling around the park on old-fashioned bicycles, and troubadours roaming through the stands. A band, featuring Satchel Paige on drums, played at home plate. A hand-balancing act took place at first base, a trampoline act was at second, and a juggler was on third. On the mound, the baseball clown-contortionist, Max Patkin, jitterbugged madly with a woman who had joined him from the grandstand, according to Veeck's account.
Finally, a seven-foot birthday cake was rolled out, shepherded by a hefty actor in Elizabethan costume representing Sir John Falstaff. At this point, public address announcer Bernie Ebert reported that "a brand-new Brownie" was being presented to the Browns' manager, Zach Taylor. Sir John put his sword to the cake and, on cue, out popped the tiny Gaedel, wearing a miniature Browns uniform. The crowd laughed, but it appeared to be an anticlimax.
Then came the second game -- the one game of Eddie Gaedel's career. After Detroit was retired in the top of the first inning, Ebert announced over the loud speaker system that Gaedel would pinch hit for the scheduled leadoff batter, center fielder Frank Saucier. "For the Browns," Ebert told the unsuspecting crowd seriously, "number 1/8, Eddie Gaedel, batting for Saucier." Suddenly the park went wild as Gaedel, waving three Little League bats and wearing the number 1/8 on the back of his uniform, bounced out of the Browns' dugout and strode to the plate.
A fifteen-minute delay ensued, during which the Browns had to convince plate umpire Ed Hurley that Gaedel actually was on the team's current active list and had a legitimate contract, and that league headquarters had been properly notified (by telegram that morning). Hurley waved Gaedel into the batter's box and shooed away the photographers who had rushed out for pictures. After the Tiger battery, pitcher Bob Cain and catcher Bob Swift, held a brief conference on the mound, Swift returned to his position behind the plate and got down on both knees. The stadium was in an uproar.
Cain, hardly able to believe this was happening, actually tried to pitch to Gaedel's strike zone (with Gaedel bent over, it was measured by Veeck earlier at one and a half inches). After two failed attempts, Cain softly tossed in the third and fourth balls about three feet over Gaedel's head. Gaedel trotted down to first base accompanied by the roar of the crowd. When Jim Delsing, the Browns' regular center fielder, came out as a pinch runner to replace him, Gaedel, imitating what he had seen, patted Delsing on the rump, waved to the wildly cheering crowd, and slowly returned to the Browns' dugout, stopping to bow and wave his hat happily every step of the way.
For his services that day, including jumping out of the cake, Gaedel was paid $100, according to Veeck. Oh yes, his pinch runner, Delsing, got to third base with one out that inning, but was left stranded and the Browns lost, 6-2.
Gaedel died ten years later at the age of thirty-six. Cain attended his funeral, although the two had never formally met. Cain was quoted as saying he "felt obligated to go." But no one else from the baseball world was there. And, according to Gaedel's mother, a man claiming to represent the Hall of Fame swindled her out of her son's bats and Browns' uniform.
From Once Around the Bases by Richard Tellis.
Copyright © 1998 by Triumph Books and Richard Tellis. Reprinted with permission.