Eddie Gaedel: Not That Funny Anymore

On this date in 1951, the shortest man ever to play Major League Baseball, Eddie Gaedel, pinch hit for the St. Louis Browns.
He was 3’7″ and weighed 65 pounds.
Bill Veeck, the owner of the Browns was always trying to pull promotional stunts, and to him this was just another.
Gaedel wore the number “1/8.” He walked on four pitches, and was then pinch ran for. Major League Baseball pulled the plug on his career that night, saying that Veeck was “making a mockery of the game.”  So, Gaedel became one of 124 players in history who only had one plate appearance in their major league career.
In an article I found this morning, the event is referred to as “One of the funniest things ever to happen in major league sports.”
After learning more of the story, I’m not sure of that.
When he was young, because of his size, Gaedel was brutally picked on. He was mocked, taunted, and often beaten up. He managed to persevere and finished high school. After that, he bounced around from job to job including performing in rodeos, circuses, and other shows.
During World War Two he worked as a riveter, crawling into plane engines, wings, and other areas that no one else could get to to make repairs.
The night before he would make his big league appearance, Gaedel was smuggled into the hotel in blankets. Before the game started, he was wheeled onto the field inside of a seven foot cake. He popped out in his baseball uniform to the roar of the crowd.
After his appearance with the Browns, he spent the rest of life doing odd jobs and strange promotional appearances. He went back to working rodeos, circuses, movie openings, etc. Veeck hired him for a few more promotions, including one where Gaedel and other little people jumped out of a helicopter onto the field dressed as martians equipped with ray guns.
As he continued to bounce around over the years, he developed a severe drinking problem. He would become very combative when drunk, angry at the way people treated him.
In 1961 Gaedel was 36 years old. While drunk at a bowling alley in Chicago he got into an altercation with some other bowlers. They followed him out the door and beat him severely. Gaedel lived with his mother. When she went to check on him the next morning she found him dead. He died of a heart attack, with bruises and lacerations all over his face. The heart attack was probably caused by the trauma of being beaten.
Only one person came to his funeral, and that was Bob Cain. he was the Pittsburg Pirates pitcher who faced Mr. Gaedel in his only plate appearance. Cain drove 300 miles to the service.
I’ve seen that picture a thousand times and always thought it was kind of cool and funny. When I learned more of the story of the person in that picture, my feelings significantly changed.

Behind every picture is a story, quite often an interesting one.

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