Bill Veeck’s Veeck as in Wreck is one of my favorite baseball books, and one of my favorite passages is his hilarious, delighted description of the time he sent little person Eddie Gaedel up to bat as a publicity stunt. Obviously, the idea of exploiting a little person for entertainment sits less a bit less well with us these days, and there are a few parts of the story that make me cringe. But Veeck’s account is without malice – he is simply thrilled to be getting around baseball’s rules and upsetting the game’s more stuffy, self-serious types. There’s an excerpt online, and you should click as fast as your fingers can manage to read the whole thing if you haven’t already, but here’s the setup:
Eddie came to us in a moment of desperation. Not his desperation, ours. After a month or so in St. Louis, we were looking around desperately for a way to draw a few people into the ball park, it being perfectly clear by that time that the ball club wasn’t going to do it unaided. The best bet seemed to be to call upon the resources of our radio sponsors, Falstaff Brewery. For although Falstaff only broadcast our games locally, they had distributors and dealers all over the state.
It happened that 1951 was the Fiftieth Anniversary of the American League, an event the league was exploiting with its usual burst of inspiration by sewing special emblems on the uniforms of all the players. It seemed to me that a birthday party was clearly called for. It seemed to me, further, that if I could throw a party to celebrate the birthdays of both the American League and Falstaff Brewery, the sponsors would be getting a nice little tie-in and we would have their distributors and dealers hustling tickets for us all over the state. Nobody at Falstaff’s seemed to know exactly when their birthday was, but that was no great problem. If we couldn’t prove it fell on the day we chose, neither could anyone prove that it didn’t. 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. Rudie Schaffer, the Browns’ business manager, and I met with the Falstaff people—Mr. Griesedieck Sr., the head of the company, Bud and Joe Griesedieck and their various department heads—to romance our project. “In addition to the regular party, the acts and so on,” I told Bud, “I’ll do something for you that I have never done before. Something so original and spectacular that it will get you national publicity.”
Naturally, they pressed me for details. Naturally, I had to tell them that much as I hated to hold out on them, my idea was so explosive I could not afford to take the slightest chance of a leak.
The Falstaff people, romantics all, went for it. They were so anxious to find out what I was going to do that they could hardly bear to wait out the two weeks. I was rather anxious to find out what I was going to do, too. The real reason I had not been willing to let them in on my top-secret plan was that I didn’t have any plan.
What can I do, I asked myself, that is so spectacular that no one will be able to say he had seen it before? The answer was perfectly obvious. I would send a midget up to bat.
Actually, the idea of using a midget had been kicking around in my head all my life. I have frequently been accused of stealing the idea from a James Thurber short story, “You Could Look It Up.” Sheer libel. I didn’t steal the idea from Thurber, I stole it from John J. McGraw.
As Veeck had hoped, Gaedel’s strike zone was “just about visible to the naked eye.”
In the second game, we started Frank Saucier in place of our regular center fielder, Jim Delsing. This is the only part of the gag I’ve ever felt bad about. Saucier was a great kid whom I had personally talked back into the game when I bought the Browns. Everything went wrong for Frank, and all he has to show for his great promise is that he was the only guy a midget ever batted for.
For as we came up for our half of the first inning, Eddie Gaedel emerged from the dugout waving three little bats. “For the Browns,” said Bernie Ebert over the loudspeaker system, “number one-eighth, Eddie Gaedel, batting for Saucier.”
Suddenly, the whole park came alive. Suddenly, my honored guests sat upright in their seats. Suddenly, the sun was shining. Eddie Hurley, the umpire behind the plate, took one look at Gaedel and started toward our bench. “Hey,” he shouted out to Taylor, “what’s going on here?”
Zack came out with a sheaf of papers. He showed Hurley Gaedel’s contract. He showed him the telegram to headquarters, duly promulgated with a time stamp. He even showed him a copy of our active list to prove that we did have room to add another player.
Hurley returned to home plate, shooed away the photographers who had rushed out to take Eddie’s picture and motioned the midget into the batter’s box. The place went wild. Bobby Cain, the Detroit pitcher, and Bob Swift, their catcher, had been standing peacefully for about 15 minutes, thinking unsolemn thoughts about that jerk Veeck and his gags. I will never forget the look of utter disbelief that came over Cain’s face as he finally realized that this was for real.
I learned today (through Keith Law) that Gaedel’s great-nephew Kyle Gaedele is a 6’4″ junior outfielder at Valparaiso University. This made my day significantly brighter. He hit .373 last year and led the conference in hits and total bases, and while I don’t know what that really means in the “Horizon League,” it sounds pretty good to me. I wish Bill Veeck was around to sign the kid, because you know he wouldn’t hesitate for a second.