The tragic story of Eddie Gaedel
If you’ve had an interest in baseball for a while, you probably 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 dwarf, all three feet eight inches tall, who played in a Major League Baseball game.
Much is known about that day, August 19, 1951. The 26-year-old Gaedel stepped up to the plate for the St. Louis Browns against the Tigers as the leadoff batter in the second game of a doubleheader. Wearing the number 1/8, he was 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 promo concocted by Browns owner Bill Veeck.
Normally, the story would end there. Stories about former major leaguers who played in only one game are not newsworthy, not even the story of a diminutive player. Nobody bothered to find out much about Gaedel after fifteen minutes of fame from him. No one could tell you about Eddie the man instead of Eddie the ballplayer who is forever enrolled 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 began asking him questions. The first few 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. So Eddie was 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 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 that 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 contract 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 policeman that he was a big leaguer. He was arrested for disorderly conduct and released on $25 bail. 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 Ringling Brothers Circus in the 1950s 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 about providers 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.
Her 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 conned her out of Eddie’s bats and the Browns uniform. All that remains of the Hall of Fame of her are photos of her from her brief career with catcher Bob Swift kneeling to catch a high pitch.
Gaedel’s death attracted little attention. The only person associated with baseball who attended 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. “It baffled me that there were no 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 people.”