The tragic story of Eddie Gaedel

If you’ve had an interest in baseball for a while, you surely know the story of Eddie Gaedel. For those of you who haven’t heard of him and don’t know the story, Gaedel was a midget, all three feet eight inches tall, who played a Major League Baseball game.

Much is known about that day, August 19, 1951. Gaedel, 26, stepped up to the plate for the St. Louis Browns against the Tigers as the leadoff hitter in Game 2 of a doubleheader. Wearing number 1/8, he walked on four consecutive pitches by Bob Cain. He was hired by Jim Delsing and his career ended as abruptly as it began.

Of course, Eddie was not a career baseball player. He appeared in the game as a promotion invented by Browns owner Bill Veeck.

Normally, the story would end there. Stories about former major leaguers playing in only one game are not newsworthy, not even the story of one tiny player. Nobody bothered to find out much about Gaedel after his fifteen minutes of fame. Nobody could tell you about Eddie the man instead of Eddie the ballplayer who is forever inscribed in the annals of the game.

But the story of Eddie Gaedel the man is worth telling.

After his famous game, St. Louis baseball writer Bob Broeg found him and started asking him questions. The first questions were routine and Gaedel gave routine answers. Broeg then told him that he was what he always wanted to be, a former major leaguer. Then Eddie felt very proud of himself. The men shook hands and that was it.

Bob Fishel was the Browns’ publicist and spent a few days with Eddie before the game, the only baseball player who had the opportunity to meet him personally. “Veeck was looking for a dwarf, not a dwarf. When we saw him, there was no doubt he was right. I didn’t think much of him though,” without elaborating.

Eddie appeared on various television shows in the following weeks earning $17,000, a very large amount for those days. His gambling deal had been for $100.

Three weeks after the game, on September 2, Eddie was arrested in Cincinnati for yelling obscenities. He tried to convince a police officer that he was a major league player. He was arrested for disorderly conduct and released on $25 bond. According to an interview with his mother Helen in 1971, Eddie’s diminutive size had gotten him into trouble for much of his life.

Born in Chicago, his growth was stunted from the age of three by a thyroid condition. He was molested as a child according to his mother. He finished high school and was an errand boy for Drover’s Daily Journal, a Chicago newspaper. He worked as the shoemaker Buster Brown who appeared at store openings in Chicago and St. Louis. He also worked at the Ringling Brothers Circus in the ’50s and as a promoter for Mercury Records, but refused to go with the company in California because he was afraid to leave.

In 1961, Veeck, now the owner of the White Sox, hired Gaedel and other midgets as box salesmen. This was due to fans complaining that vendors were blocking their view.

However, the end was near. Eddie suffered from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. On June 18, 1961, he was robbed on a Southside Chicago street corner for the $11 he had with him. After the assault, he apparently staggered to his house and died in his bed of a heart attack because paramedics were unable to revive him. The coroner reported that he had bruises on his face and knees.

His mother, penniless and without contact with her other children, was devastated. To add insult to injury, a man claiming to represent her Hall of Fame Museum scammed her out of Eddie’s bats and Browns uniform. All that remains of her Hall of Fame are photos of her from her brief career with catcher Bob Swift on his knees to catch a high pitch.

Gaedel’s death attracted little attention. The only baseball-related person to attend his funeral was Bob Cain. “I didn’t even meet him, but I felt compelled to go,” said Cain, who by then was retired from baseball after a six-year career. “I was taken aback that there weren’t any other baseball people there.”

Cain summed up Eddie’s life: “It was a pretty sad situation. It’s a shame he had to die the way he did, but I guess he got into some trouble from time to time. He ended up with the wrong crowd.”

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