Along with ill-conceived promotions that have backfired over the years, baseball has also been the home to many strange gimmicks, used either to hype the game or simply to gain an advantage over an opponent. None is better remembered than the one engineered by Bill Veeck when he owned the old St. Louis Browns in 1951. The Browns were floundering in last place as usual, and Veeck decided to create a little excitement.
The Browns were hosting the Detroit Tigers for a Sunday doubleheader in late August. The first game was uneventful. Then… in the nightcap, the Browns came to bat in the bottom half of the first inning. Frank Saucier was due to lead off against the Tigers’ Bob Cain. Suddenly, a pinch hitter was announced, and the fans couldn’t believe their eyes. It looked as if the Browns were sending a little boy up to the plate.
Pitcher Cain looked down at a batter who was just 3 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 65 pounds! He had the number 1/8 on his back. Umpire Ed Hurley quickly called time and demanded to know what was going on. The Browns’ manager, Zack Taylor, came out of the dugout and showed Hurley a legal Major-League contract. It identified the batter as twenty six year old Eddie Gaedel, who happened to be a midget. With the contract legal and Gaedel an adult, Hurley had no choice but to let him hit. The fans cackled in glee.
Gaedel got into the batter’s box and went into a deep crouch. Not surprisingly, pitcher Cain couldn’t find the tiny strike zone, and Gaedel walked on four straight balls. The Browns then sent in a pinch runner to take his place. No one will ever know whether Veeck intended to use Gaedel in the future when his team needed a walk. The next day the American League president, Will Harridge, announced he would not approve Gaedel’s contract. It was ruled that the signing of Gaedel was considered a “conduct detrimental to baseball.”
As for Eddie Gaedel, who is officially credited with a single at bat in the Major Leagues, it was an experience he would never forget.
“I felt like Babe Ruth when I walked out on the field that day,” he declared proudly.