Gaedel Proved A Little Humor Goes A Long Way
This year, the anniversary focus has been on 1941, 50 years since Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams matched massive feats, hitting in 56 straight games vs. hitting .406 for the season.
But this season also is the anniversary of another memorable piece of baseball history. Forty years ago last Monday, Eddie Gaedel broke into the big leagues.
For the record or for trivia buffs, Gaedel, the midget pinch-hitter for Bill Veeck's St. Louis Browns, was 43 inches tall, wore uniform No. 1/8 and carried a 17-inch bat. On Aug. 19, 1951, he batted for Frank Saucier in a game against Detroit. Bob Cain was the Tiger pitcher and Bob Swift his catcher. Ed Hurley was the umpire and Jim Delsing ran for Gaedel, who walked on four pitches.
It may have been pro sports' single funniest moment. Yet, outside of one memorable picture, showing Gaedel in a wide-legged imitation of DiMaggio's batting stance, there is no photographic record of it.
"Bill Veeck wouldn't allow any newsreel cameras in the park," said Max Patkin, who was there performing the Clown Prince of Baseball act he still does. "He never said why and I never remembered to ask him. I'll bet he missed the money he could have made."
Edward Carl Gaedel lived with his mother, Helene Gaedel, in Chicago, where he was a specialist welder at an aircraft assembly plant. He was assigned to crawl into tight places where normal-sized people could not go.
Veeck paid him $100 for his appearance and gave him some simple instructions. "Veeck told him he was a Marine sharpshooter during the war," Patkin said. "He said to him, `If you even look like you're thinking of swinging at a pitch, I'll shoot you.' "
Gaedel was issued a uniform, loaned by Bill DeWitt Jr., whose father had sold the team to Veeck. The elder DeWitt had a uniform made for his son when he was 9 years old. Browns Manager Zack Taylor coached Gaedel into making the smallest strike zone in baseball history.
"I've heard stories that the St. Louis players were surprised Gaedel was going to bat," Patkin said. "That ain't so. I was in their clubhouse before the game with the midget. Those players were telling him the Detroit pitcher was Denny Galehouse, who had a knuckleball that went everywhere and could bean him. They scared the hell out of the little guy. But he was a showman. He went out there."
As Patkin recalled it, the whole thing was a setup. Everyone knew it was coming, including plate umpire Hurley, who acted angered by the approach of Gaedel to the plate.
But Delsing, who was to run for Gaedel, told the Los Angeles Times otherwise. "He (Hurley) said something like, `Where do you think you're going?'
"Taylor knew there'd be a problem with Hurley, so he came out of the dugout as soon as Hurley started talking to Gaedel. He pulled Gaedel's official American League contract out of his pocket. Hurley started to read it as Detroit Manager Red Rolfe came to the plate."
Then, according to baseball historian Gerald Eskenazi, Hurley handed the contract back to Taylor, looked at Cain and Rolfe and said: "Play ball."
Cain did not come close to throwing a strike, and the crowd howled as the tiny Brown trotted down to first base. Taylor sent in Delsing to run for Gaedel, and as he left first base - and the major leagues - Gaedel did so with a flourish, smacking Delsing on the rump. The crowd howled again, then stood and cheered as he came off the field. Never to return. The next day Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that teams could not use midgets as pinch hitters.
Gaedel died June 18, 1961, shortly after he was beaten in Chicago by two muggers who stole $11 from him. He was 36.
Eddie Gaedel was buried in Evergreen Park, Ill. Veeck, who died in 1986, is in the Hall of Fame, and so is the picture of little Eddie Gaedel's only at-bat.
BETTER NOW THAN . . .
-- How about those die-hard Bosox. Led by player rep Matt Young, they asked Boston team officials not to schedule a makeup doubleheader Thursday since they had one Wednesday night. So with their club back in the race, only 5 1/2 games behind staggering Toronto, the Sox gave up a chance to meet Cleveland in Boston. Now the game, if needed to decide the pennant race, will be played the day after the regular season ends, in Cleveland.
Not that the Red Sox were gasping. They had two days off last week and their pitching was in good shape.
WHEN UMPS ARE THE STORY
-- Major-league umpires have been big news of late, starting with their union suing Cincinnati Reds Manager Lou Piniella for his criticism of umpire Gary Darling. Now Piniella has filed a countersuit.
Piniella was sued two weeks ago by the union for $5 million after saying that Darling is biased against his team.
Tuesday, word came out that two umpires were placed on probation for gambling. When the commissioner's office refused to name the umpires involved, Gene Orza, Player Association associate counsel, told the New York Times baseball treated umpires like "a sacrosanct community of monks."
Wednesday, umpire Joe West told the Mets if they did not shut off their stadium replay screen, which had re-run a routine play, he would make them forfeit a game.
YANKS LOSE TO LOUISBURG?
-- In another chapter in the tale of pitching-poor clubs, the Yankees apparently have lost their best chance to sign Brien Taylor, the Beaufort, N.C., left-hander who was the No. 1 pick in this year's baseball draft.
Louisburg (N.C.) College Coach Russ Frazier said that Bettie Taylor, Brien's mother, called Tuesday to confirm that her 19-year-old son would report for freshman orientation today.
Taylor is scheduled to begin classes at 8:40 a.m. Tuesday at the junior college, which Mariner Greg Briley attended. Under baseball rules, after Taylor attends his first class, New York is not allowed to sign him until after Louisburg completes its baseball season next spring.
Taylor, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound left-hander, throws a fastball that has been timed at 98 mph. He was the USA Today high school baseball player of the year after striking out 213 batters in 88 innings. He walked only 28 batters during the season and once threw back-to-back no-hitters.
Taylor reportedly has refused a contract offer worth about $650,000. He and his mother have been seeking a three-year $1.2 million deal.
The Yankees will have a brief period next spring to sign Taylor, but if they do not, then Taylor will be eligible for the draft again.
-- "He likes to complain a lot of not playing, but that's what he does best. Not play." - Blue Jays General Manager Pat Gillick, on often-injured Mike Marshall, released recently by the Red Sox. -- During their doubleheader with Texas, the Orioles used a major-league record-tying 13 pitchers and won both games and reliever Mike Flanagan said: "The only casualty was (bullpen coach) Elrod Hendricks, who answers the phone and got tendinitis of the ear." -- "I really know how to get on `SportsCenter.' " - Astros outfielder Mike Simms, after he made two errors on one play and later caused a five-minute delay because a moth flew into his ear.
-- San Diego's Jack Howell hit what might have been the longest home run in history a week ago. Not for distance, but for time.
He lined a ball into the Padres' bullpen in left field. Along came Atlanta Braves leftfielder Lonnie Smith, who found the baseball resting under a chair and threw up both arms, which he apparently thought was the signal for a ground-rule double.
The trouble was, it's supposed to be the umpire, not the leftfielder, who makes that signal. And when third-base umpire Charlie Williams arrived on the scene, he looked at the ball, then looked at Smith and shook his head.
So Howell, who had stopped momentarily at second, took off again and scampered home, a trip around the bases that was timed at 30 seconds.
The best quote came from Padres pitcher Larry Andersen: "The way Lonnie played that ball, I thought he was signaling that the extra point was good."
-- During their recent rough road trip to California, the Reds had a fistfight in the dugout (Chris Sabo vs. Jose Rijo), lost a 13-0 game in San Diego, got stuck on a freeway for 50 minutes because a produce truck had overturned, and had to observe a period of mourning for their owner's dog, the late Schottzie.
"We have reached the height," said Rijo, "of embarrassivity."
AROUND THE HORN
-- To work out despite a broken cheekbone, Dodgers shortstop Alfredo Griffin just borrowed a helmet and face mask from the local hockey team, the Los Angeles Kings. So teammate Roger McDowell was calling him "Alfredo Gretzky." -- Now that Astros owner John McMullen has been granted a license to build a thoroughbred race track in Houston, he will be forced to sell quickly to local interests. Look for a deal by the winter meetings. -- George Brett has been hitting about 50 points below his league-leading .329 average last year. Since 1900, only 16 percent of the AL and NL batting champions have improved their averages the year after they won the batting title. -- If Atlanta's Terry Pendleton wins the NL batting title, he will be the first player to hit .230 or less the season before he won a title.
Some of the material in this notebook was obtained from the LA Times, Baltimore Sun, Boston Herald, Lowell (Mass.) Sun, Knight-Ridder, Scripps-Howard and Associated Press news services. Bob Finnigan covers major-league baseball and the Seattle Mariners for The Times. --------------------------
3: Number of times Ron Kittle has been released by the Chicago White Sox.
4: Double plays in seven at-bats last week by the Cardinals' Bernard Gilkey.
25: Number of players selected in the June draft that the Boston Red Sox have signed. The Red Sox picked only 27 players in the draft.
Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.