The tragic story of Eddie Gaedel, the shortest player in MLB history

Edward Carl Gaedel (June 8, 1925 – June 18, 1961) was an American with dwarfism who became famous for participating in a Major League Baseball game.

Weighing 65 pounds (29 kg) and standing 3 feet 7 inches (109 cm) tall, Gaedel became the shortest player in the history of the Major Leagues. Gaedel had worked as a riveter during World War II, using his size to crawl inside the wings of airplanes.

Eddie Gaedel

SEE ALSO: A tribute to Muggsy Bogues, the shortest player in NBA history

August 19, 1951 — The St Louis Browns were playing the Detroit Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader. The Browns’ owner at the time was a man called Bill Veeck, a showman who enjoyed staging publicity stunts – and from what I can see, an utterly disgusting human being on a good day.

Gaedel was secretly signed by Veeck and would start his career in the MLB by emerging from a papier-mache cake, a degrading debut we can all agree. Dressed in the uniform of current Cardinals owner William DeWitt, Jr., who was a 9-year-old batboy for the Browns at the time, Gaedel would take to the plate in the bottom of the first inning as a pinch-hitter for leadoff batter Frank Saucier.

Immediatley the umpire called for Browns manager Zack Taylo, who had preempted the challenge and sat with the necessary paperwork confirming Gaedel’s status. Upon reading the contract, Hurley motioned for Gaedel to take his place in the batter’s box.

Gaedel was given strict instructions not to move the bat from his shoulder, with Veeck reminding Gaedel that he had taken out a $1 million insurance policy on his life, and that he would be standing on the roof of the stadium with a rifle prepared to kill Gaedel if he even looked like he was going to swing.

Pitcher Bob Cain could not contain his laughter as he prepared himself on the mound. All Cain’s four pitches were high and Gaedel was told to walk, stopping to acknowledge the rapturous applause from the 18,369 fans in attendance.

Eddie Gaedel

Tigers would go on to win the game 6–2, and so ended Gaedel’s career. The following day the American League’s president, Will Harridge, would void Gaedel’s contract, accusing Veeck of making a mockery of the game.

Veeck, insatiable in his appetite to “put on a show,” would continue to use Gaedel for various stunts over the next few years. In 1961, Veeck hired several dwarfs and midgets, including Gaedel, as vendors, so as not to “block the fans’ view” of the game.

Eddie Gaedel performs in prematch entertainment.
Eddie Gaedel performs in prematch entertainment.

Commenting in his autobiography, Veeck said of Gaedel:

“He was, by golly, the best darn midget who ever played big-league ball. He was also the only one.”

On June 18, 1961, the unemployed Gaedel was walking home from a bowling alley in Chicago, his birthplace and hometown, when he was followed and beaten. His mother discovered him in his bead the next day, he was just 36. A horrific end to a man who was a victim of his times, exploited to the end.

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