The Guy Who Sent a Midget Up to Bat

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Filed under: Publicity Stunts

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Bill Veeck knew he would go down in baseball history as the Guy Who Sent a Midget Up to Bat. But that didn't stop him from pulling off the greatest publicity stunt in the history of the game.

According to Veeck in his autobiography, Rhymes with Wreck, sending 3' 7" Eddie Gaedel to the plate for his lowly St. Louis Browns was the ultimate punchline in day filled with entertainment and just plain weirdness.

Veeck's vehicle for his stunt was a dual birthday party to celebrate the 50th Anniversaries of both the American League and Falstaff Brewery. The master marketer tied in the statewide beer company as a way to distribute tickets to the celebration, as the Browns weren't exactly filling up seats that season. Veeck also kept his plan to place Gaedel in his lineup as a bona-fide member of his team top secret.

"Instead of bringing the contract to his room, [Browns PR man] Bob Fishel set up a meeting on a street corner a block or two from the hotel. Bob drove up in his old Packard and Eddie slid into the front seat, scribbled his signature on two contracts and jumped back out," Veeck wrote in his bio.

Once his star was signed, Veeck taught the lil hitter how to crouch and create a strike zone of just over an inch and he made it clear to him that he was on the team to take an at bat for a walk and not to swing. Veek claims he said to Gaedel, -Eddie... I’m going to be up on the roof with a high-powered rifle watching every move you make. If you so much as look as if you’re going to swing, I’m going to shoot you dead.”

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On August 19, 1951 Eddie was scheduled to step up to the plate in the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. He'd be introduced to the crowd in between games during the huge Anniversary show Veeck and his team put on that featured Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige playing drums, men and women roaming the stands in "Gay Nineties" costumes, and a three ring circus around the bases featuring a balancing act, a trampoline artist and a "team of jugglers" at third base. Browns clown Max Patkin danced with fans in the stands.

A huge birthday cake was wheeled out onto the field and Gaedel popped out from inside, wearing his official Browns jersey. His number: 1/8. According to Veeck, the Falstaff people who he had been pumping up for weeks about this big stunt were not impressed. One of them called it "lousy". What the beermen didn't realize is that the team's "brand new Brownie" was a legitimate roster member of the Browns.

Eddie Gaedel at bat

When Gaedel led off the bottom of the first inning for the Browns pinch hitting for center fielder Frank Saucier, his authenticity as a major leaguer was instantly questioned by the home plate umpire. A Browns exec ran out onto the field to show him Gaedel's contract and baseball history was made as he took four pitches and became the first "midget" to play major league baseball.

The aftermath of Veeck's stunt is predictable – some press railed against him for desecrating the game and American League President Will Harridge unsuccessfully tried to have the Gaedel's at-bat expunged from all Major League records.

Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum in Cooperstown, NY

Gaedel went on to appear in a few other stunts for Veeck. He died in 1961. Veeck, after taking time off from the game due to illness returned to the game in the 1970s as owner of the Chicago White Sox. His final stunts ran from the brilliant – activating 54 year old Minnie Minoso for one game so he could claim to have played in 5 decades – to the dangerous – greenlighting Chicago radio legend Steve Dahl's infamous "Disco Demolition" which basically caused a riot and a Sox forfeit.

Links:

Wikipedia on Bill Veeck

ESPN Classic on Bill Veeck

Baseball Hall of Fame: Bill Veeck

Bill Veeck as in Wreck

Pics of Gaedel

© Homer Fink