This is an eyewitness account of the story of Eddie Gaedel as told by Detroit Tigers pitcher, Virgil “Fire” Trucks. “I was sitting in the Detroit dugout when a midget popped up off the St. Louis Browns bench and walked up to home plate to pinch hit for Tigers outfielder Frank Saucier, at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, Missouri. Twenty-six year old Eddie Gaedel was swinging four miniature bats in the on-deck circle, the kind they give away on bat day at the ballpark for kids,” said Trucks. Eddie was 3 feet 7 inches tall and he had instructions from St. Louis owner Bill Veeck to hold the bat on his shoulder. “Do not swing,” instructed Veeck.
The date was August 19, 1951, and Eddie was the first batter for the St Louis Browns against the Detroit Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader. He was wearing a jersey with the number 1/8 written on the back. “Nobody thought he was really going to get in the batter box. When he did step into the batter’s box, our manager “Red” Rolfe called timeout and went out to the home plate umpire and said, ‘They can’t put that guy in to hit,’” said Trucks. “That’s when Zack Taylor, the Browns manager ran up and handed the umpire a contract signed by Will Harridge, the President of the American League,” explained Trucks.
Sure enough, Eddie Gaedel had been signed to a Major League contract by the Browns. So Gaedel stepped back in the box and Detroit pitcher Bob Cain got ready to throw. “That’s when Eddie yelled at Cain, ‘Just get the ball over; I’m gonna murder it.’ Detroit catcher Bob Swift called timeout and went to the mound and said to Cain, ‘His strike zone is only an inch and a half; keep it low.’ Cain started laughing so hard he almost fell off the mound. After Cain collected himself, he threw four straight pitches that would have been called strikes on anybody else, but were called balls on Gaedel, because they were too high. So Gaedel went to first base where he was replaced by a pinch runner, Jim Delsing. That was the end of his professional baseball career; his one and only at-bat,” laughed Trucks.
Cain later admitted that he had feared for Gaedel’s life if he had hit him, so he took it easy on him. Eddie reaped the benefits of his 15 minutes of fame by appearing on several TV shows in the following weeks. In fact, he earned over $17,000, a large sum of money in those days. His playing contract with Veeck had only been for $100. It’s a funny story with a sad ending. Eddie Gaedel spent the next ten years boasting he had been a Major League baseball player. He was constantly in and out of scraps and drank to excess on most occasions. Eddie Gaedel died in his room of a heart attack on June 18, 1961, at the age of 36, after suffering from a terrible beating by an unknown assailant. The mugger robbed Eddie of his life and the $11 he had in his pocket. The fisticuffs left him bruised up with whelps on his face, chest, and knees. He had suffered earlier in his life from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. It was classified as a murder, but the case was never solved.
Only one guy from Major League baseball attended Eddie’s funeral. Detroit Tigers pitcher, Bob Cain, drove 300 miles to be there. Cain was shocked that no one else from baseball attended.
To add insult to injury, Eddie’s mother was down and out and broke. She claimed she had been swindled out of Eddie’s bats and his St. Louis Browns uniform by a man claiming to be representing the Baseball Hall-of-Fame Museum. The only items that the Hall of Fame now has are the pictures of Eddie Gaedel at bat during that game.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him atwww.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.