If you’ve 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, three feet eight inches tall, who played a Major League Baseball game.
Much is known of that day on August 19, 1951. Gaedel, 26, came up to the plate for the St. Louis Browns against the Tigers as the leadoff hitter in the second game of a doubleheader. With the number 1/8, he walked four pitches in a row from Bob Cain. Jim Delsing replaced him as a pinch-hitter and his career ended as abruptly as it had begun.
Eddie, of course, was not a career baseball player. He appeared in the game as a promotion invented by Browns owner Bill Veeck.
Normally, the story would end there. Stories about former Major League Baseball players who played in just one game are not newsworthy, not even the story of a tiny player. Nobody bothered to find out much about Gaedel after his fifteen minutes of fame. No one could tell you about Eddie the man instead of Eddie the baseball player who is forever inscribed in the annals of the game.
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 questions were routine and Gaedel gave routine answers. Broeg later told him that he was what he always wanted to be, a former Major League Baseball player. Then Eddie was very proud of himself. The men shook hands and that was it.
Bob Fishel was Brown’s publicist and spent a few days with Eddie before the game, the only baseball player who had the opportunity to meet him personally. “Veeck was looking for a dwarf, not a dwarf. When we saw him, there was no doubt that he was right. However, I did not think of the world of him” without elaborating.
Eddie appeared on various television shows in the following weeks and made $ 17,000, a very large sum for those days. His gambling contract had been for $ 100.
Three weeks after the game, on September 2, Eddie was arrested in Cincinnati for yelling obscenities. He tried to convince a cop that he was a Major League Baseball 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 small size had gotten him into trouble for much of his life.
Born in Chicago, his growth was stunted from the age of three by a thyroid disease. He was molested as a child according to his mother. He passed high school and was the errand boy for Drover’s Daily Journal, a Chicago newspaper. He worked as shoemaker Buster Brown appearing at store openings in Chicago and St. Louis. He also worked at the Ringling Brothers Circus in the 1950s and as a promoter for Mercury Records, but refused to go with the company to California because he was afraid to leave.
In 1961, Veeck, now the owner of the White Sox, hired Gaedel and other dwarves as box clerks. This was due to fans complaining about vendors blocking their view.
However, the end was near. Eddie suffered from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. On June 18, 1961, he was mugged on a Southside Chicago street corner for the $ 11 he had with him. After the robbery, he apparently staggered home and died in his bed of a heart attack because paramedics were unable to revive him. The coroner reported that he had bruises on his face and knees.
His mother, penniless and without contact with her other children, was devastated. To add insult to injury, a man scammed him out of Eddie’s bats and the Browns uniform that he claimed represented the Hall of Fame Museum. The only remains in the Hall of Fame are images of his brief career with catcher Bob Swift on his knees to receive a high pitch.
Gaedel’s death attracted little attention. The only baseball-related person to attend his funeral was Bob Cain. “I didn’t even meet him, but I felt compelled to go,” said Cain, who was retired from baseball by then after a six-year career. “I was puzzled that there were no other baseball players 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 into some trouble from time to time. He ended up with the wrong people.”