Illinois “Boys of Summer” – Eddie Gaedel – Shortest Player in MLB History


Eddie Gaedel- Born June 8, 1925 in Chicago, Il. If you know baseball, then you have heard the story of Bill Veeck hiring a midget, Eddie Gaedel, to be a pinch hitter for his team. It all happened on August 19, 1951 as the St. Louis Browns were playing a doubleheader and it as the 50th anniversary of Falstaff beer. Veeck had promised a “variety of surprises” for Falstaff and all in attendance. As the first game ended the fans and others were disappointed with what they had watched for entertainment. Little did they know, nor did Veeck tell them, the biggest surprise was yet to come.

How did it happen?

Browns owner Bill Veeck loved to put on a show. He turned to a booking agency to help him find the right midget to put into the game. Gaedel was 3 foot 7 inches and weighed 65 pounds that produced a strike zone of one and a half inches when he crouched at the plate. Gaedel was a professional performer with the American Guild of Variety Artists and knew how to give the fans a show. The combination of Veeck and Gaedel had the recipe for a great performance.

Prior to this day, Gaedel was to portray “Mercury Man” for Mercury Records by wearing a winged hat that looked like their logo. Also, he worked during World War II as a riveter that would crawl into the wings of airplanes and work to repair team.  Gaedel was secretly signed(it happened after the league offices were closed for the weekend) by the St. Louis Browns and put in uniform (with the number “1/8″ on the back). The uniform was that of current St. Louis Cardinals managing partner and chairman William DeWitt, Jr. who was a 9 year old batboy for the Browns at the time. Gaedel came out of a papier-mache cake between games of a doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis to celebrate the American League’s 50th anniversary

In the first inning in the second game he came to pinch hit for leadoff batter Frank Saucier. The umpire, Ed Hurley,  wouldn’t allow the contest to go forward until he saw a contract had been signed. Once he was assured he allowed the game to continue. Meanwhile, the fan and players on the field were laughing uncontrollably see a 3’7” batter in the box. Gaedel had orders to not swing at a pitch or his contract would be void. Veeck told him he had taken out a $1 million life insurance policy on him and that someone was poised on the roof with a rifle to shoot him if he swung at a pitch (that part hasn’t been decided if it is fact or fiction).

After all the roaring died down it was game time and pitcher Bob Cain was laughing at  the absurdity of the situation and the catcher, Bob Swift, got down on his knees with a target and instructed the pitcher to keep them low. He tried to throw strikes on the first two pitches but couldn’t and then proceeded to lob two more in for ball four. Gaedel, the showman,  took his base (stopping twice during his trot to bow to the crowd) and was replaced by pinch-runner Jim Delsing. The 18,369 fans gave Gaedel a standing ovation.

Since that game, it is now a rule that all contracts have to have approval by the commissioners office before they can participate in a game.

On June 18, 1961, the unemployed Gaedel, who had just turned 36, was at a bowling alley in Chicago, his birthplace and hometown. Gaedel was followed home and beaten. His mother discovered Eddie lying dead in his bed. He had bruises about his knees and on the left side of his face. A coroner’s inquest determined that he also had suffered a heart attack. Bob Cain was the only Major League Baseball figure to attend the funeral. Gaedel was interred at Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum in Cook County, Illinois (plot: section G, gravestone number X-363B).
Gaedel’s autograph sells for more that Babe Ruth’s.

Eddie Gaedel: Shortest player in Major League Baseball history



This is a continuation of our research into major league players born in Illinois. Enjoy!