The Tragic Story of Eddie Gaedel
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If you have had an interest in baseball for a while, you surely know the story of Eddie Gaedel. For those of you who haven’t heard of him and don’t know the story, Gaedel was a midget, all of three feet eight inches tall, who played one game of Major League baseball.
Much is known of that day on August 19, 1951. The 26-year-old Gaedel stepped up to the plate for the St. Louis Browns against the Tigers as the first batter in the second game of a doubleheader. Wearing number 1/8, he walked on four straight pitches from Bob Cain. He was pinch-run for by Jim Delsing and his career ended as abruptly as it had started.
Eddie was not of course a career baseball player. He appeared in the game as a promotion concocted by Browns owner Bill Veeck.
Ordinarily, the story would end there. Stories about ex-major leaguers who played in only one game are not newsworthy, even the story of a pint-sized player. Nobody bothered to find out much about Gaedel after his fifteen minutes of fame. Nobody could tell you about Eddie the man instead of Eddie the ballplayer which is forever inscribed into the game’s annals.
But the story of Eddie Gaedel the man is worth telling.
After his famous game, St. Louis baseball writer Bob Broeg found him and started asking him questions. The first few questions were routine and Gaedel gave routine answers. Broeg then told him that he was what he always wanted to be, an ex-big leaguer. Eddie then became very proud of himself. The men shook hands and that was it.
Bob Fishel was the Brown’s publicist and spent a few days with Eddie before the game, the only baseball man to have a chance to know the man personally. “Veeck was looking for a midget, not a dwarf. When we saw him, there was no question that he was right. However, I didn’t think the world of him” without elaborating further.
Eddie appeared on several TV shows in the following weeks earning $17,000 a very large amount for those days. His playing contract had been for $100.
Three weeks after the game, on September 2, Eddie was arrested in Cincinnati for screaming obscenities. He tried to convince a policeman he was a big league player. He was arrested for disorderly conduct and released on a $25 bond. According to an interview with his mother Helen in 1971, Eddie’s tiny size had gotten him in trouble for a good part of his life.
Born in Chicago, his growth was stunted from the age of three by a thyroid condition. He was picked on as a kid according to his mother. He made it through high school and was an errand boy for Drover’s Daily Journal, a Chicago newspaper. He worked as the Buster Brown shoe man appearing at store openings in Chicago and St. Louis. He also worked in the Ringling Brothers Circus in the 50s and as a promotion man for Mercury Records but refused to go with the company to California because he was scared to go out.
In 1961, Veeck now the owner of the White Sox hired Gaedel and other midgets as salesmen in the box seats. This was because fans were complaining about vendors blocking their view.
The end was near however. Eddie was suffering from high blood pressure and enlarged heart. On June 18, 1961 he was mugged on a Southside Chicago street corner for the $11 he had with him. After the mugging, he apparently staggered home and died in his bed of a heart attack as paramedics were unable to revive him. The coroner reported he had bruises on his face and knees.
His mother, penniless and out of touch with her other children was devastated. Adding insult to injury, she was swindled out of Eddie’s bats and Browns uniform by a man claiming he was representing the Hall of Fame Museum. The only remnants the Hall of Fame has are pictures of his brief career with catcher Bob Swift on his knees to receive a head-high pitch.
Gaedel’s death attracted little notice. The only person connected with baseball who attended his funeral was Bob Cain. “I never even met him but I felt obligated to go” said Cain who was by then retired from baseball after a six-year career. “It kind of threw me for a loop that no other baseball people were there.”
Cain summed up Eddie’s life “It was a pretty sad situation. It’s a shame he had to die the way he did, but I guess he got in quite a bit of trouble off and on. He ended up with the wrong crowd.”