This Day in History: Eddie Gaedel, the Shortest MLB Player Ever

San Diego Padres minor leaguer Kyle Gaedele has a interesting claim to fame: he is the grandnephew of Eddie Gaedel, the shortest MLB player ever, who made his one and only Major League Baseball appearance 64 years ago today.

It happened in the second game of a doubleheader on August 19, 1951. The event was kept heavily under wraps by team owner Bill Veeck. According to an ESPN article from 2001:

Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians before buying the St. Louis Browns in 1951, had been toying with the idea of bringing “a midget” to the plate. He got the idea from New York Giants manager John McGraw, who told Veeck’s father he always wanted to put his good luck clubhouse hunchback up for an at-bat.

In the bottom of the first inning, the 3’7″, 65-pound Gaedel strolled to the plate as a pinch hitter for Frank Saucier. The initial reaction was from the home plate umpire, Ed Hurley, who called out the Browns manager to explain. Zach Taylor, the manager, presented Gaedel’s contract, and the umpire resumed the game.

The catcher stood on his knees as Gaedel took the first two pitches. “(Bob) Cain is laughing so hard that he’s practically falling off the mound with each pitch,” Bill Christine, a Browns fan in attendance during the game, told ESPN.

The next two pitches were also called balls, and Gaedel went to first base. When he got to first base, he was removed for a pinch runner.

“When he sat down between Zack and me, I said, ‘Eddie, you really hammed it up out there,'” Frank Saucier, the player who was replaced, said to ESPN. “And he said, ‘Man, I felt like Babe Root” in a nasally southside Chicago accent.”

While most people laughed about his appearance, American League president Will Harridge voided his contract two days later, citing the best interest of baseball. His stats were also struck from the official MLB records, although they would be restored a year later. In protest, Veeck threatened to request an official ruling on whether Phil Rizzuto was a short player, or a tall midget.

Despite his contract being voided, Gaedel still was able to get $17,000 out of it from various appearances he made on TV and radio. He would appear a couple of other times for Veeck, most notably when he and a few other little people were hired to be vendors so they would not block the view of the fans.

Gaedel was very combative, and on June 18, 1961, he was at a bowling alley and got drunk. Either at the alley, or on the way home, he got in a fight and was severely beaten. His mom found him in his room, dead. He died of a heart attack that was brought on by a combination of the fight and the alcohol. Bob Cain, the pitcher who pitched to him in his appearance, was the only one from baseball to attend his funeral. Gaedel was buried at Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum in Cook County, Illinois.

To this day, Gaedel is the one of only five players to draw a walk in their first at-bat and never play in the field. The first three all played in the 1900s, including Dutch Schirick, who did it in 1914 with the Browns, the same team Gaedel made his appearance with. On June 24, 2007, Kevin Melillo of Oakland did it for the first time since Gaedel did.

Gaedel’s autograph is worth six thousand dollars — more than a Babe Ruth autograph.

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