|Here's the transcript from Show 73 of weekly Outside The Lines - At Bat - Eddie Gaedel
Announcer - August 19th, 2001.
Bob Ley, host - There are a handful of historic at-bats in baseball history.
Announcer - I don't believe what I just saw.
Ley - The Babe calls his shot. Bobby Thompson...
Announcer - The Giants win the Pennant! The Giants win the Pennant!
Ley - Bill Mazeroski wins the World Series. And 50 years ago today, yet another.
Bob Broeg, "St. Louis Post-Dispatch" sportswriter - ... for the Browns No. 18, Eddie Gaedel.
Unidentified Male - When Eddie came out to the batter's box, there was a type of silence, and then it just broke out into laughter.
Ley - But the little man lived a life that included pain and ended in tragedy.
Gayle Esposito, Eddie Gaedel's niece - He was a happy-go-lucky guy on the outside, but I think he was really sort of crying on the inside.
Ley - Today on "Outside the Lines," Eddie Gaedel's historic at-bat in the Major Leagues.
Announcer - "Outside the Lines" is presented by State Farm Insurance. Joining us from ESPN studios, Bob Ley.
Ley - Last Sunday people as diverse as Henry Kissinger, Dan Rather, and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani offered their solutions for Major League Baseball's problems on the front page of the Business Section of "The New York Times," ideas and initiatives to help an industry that's battling declining TV ratings and flat attendance.
Baseball may be a $3.3 billion industry, but its most famous promotion, its most historic stunt, occurred exactly 50 years ago today and it cost $100. That's what Bill Veeck paid Eddie Gaedel to come to bat for the St. Louis Browns against the Detroit Tigers. It's a stunt that modern sensitivities, political correctness and the economic stakes would never allow today. Like all good yarns, it's best passed down by word of mouth. And in this case, that's by necessity. No known footage exists of Gaedel -- a 3 foot, 7 inch little person -- batting in a Major League game.
Still, a half-century later, Gaedel's autograph sells for more than Babe Ruth's. The story of his at-bat is part of Americana. You will see and hear that with first-hand accounts, as well as the bittersweet story of Eddie Gaedel's life, which achieved its finest hour 50 years ago today.
Ley - Eddie Gaedel stopped growing when he was in elementary school. His parents were of normal stature, as were his siblings, but Gaedel, born in Chicago in 1925, developed as a little person. No one knew exactly why. Perhaps it was a thyroid problem or a reaction to an injection. But as a little person Eddie Gaedel often encountered cruel treatment.
Pearl Rosa, Eddie Gaedel's sister - He cried a lot because the people used to bother him. And he'd come home swearing.
Ley - But his lack of stature lead to opportunities during World War II, when he worked as a riveter inside the wings of Allied airplanes.
Wally Rosa, Eddie Gaedel's brother-in-law - He could get into a little tiny space that a normal person wouldn't.
Ley - After the war, the cherubic Gaedel made appearances for Mercury records.
Al Klak, Eddie Gaedel's uncle - He was a perfect midget. He was a -- his face and everything was just as perfect as it could be.
Ley - He also worked at the locally famous Midget Club on Chicago's Southside.
Richard Czub, Eddie Gaedel's first cousin - He liked to be around people that would admire him, and people that went into a midget bar were not normally midgets, just the bartenders.
Ley - Bill Veeck learned of the 26-year old Gaedel through a talent agent. With the St. Louis club struggling mightily at the gate in the summer of 1951, Veeck was quietly planning a special stunt for a Sunday double-header.
Jay Edson, St. Louis Browns public relations assistant - He gave me the keys to his car and said -You go to Chicago and you go to this address. And he hands me a piece of paper with an address. And he says, you bring back the person who you're going to see, Eddie Gaedel. He's a midget. And I remember, I looked at him in amazement, and I said, "Midget?" "Yes."
Ley - Veeck revealed nothing of his plan, but his instructions were carried out. Since Gaedel weighed only 65 pounds, he was smuggled in a blanket up to a room in the Chase Hotel in St. Louis.
Edson - I picked up the phone, called Mr. Veeck. I said, "We're here; he wants to go down to the club, to the showroom."
"Absolutely not. Put him on the phone."
I gave the phone to Eddie. I could hear Bill's voice saying - "Stay where you are. Stay where you are. This is too important."
Ley - The next day, the secrecy and intrigue continued getting Gaedel to Sportsman's Park.
Edson - I wrapped him in the blanket, and all the way from the hotel garage to the place, about a 15-minute drive. I made him stay down (Unintelligible), because if he sat up or stuff the blanket would move, and I was a nervous wreck because of what Bill told me.
Rudie Schaefer, St. Louis Browns business manager - We had him come in early that morning to the ballpark and got the batboy's uniform ...
Bill DeWitt Jr., St. Louis Browns batboy - I had a No. 6 on the back of my uniform, and they said they're going to change it to a 18.
Bill Christine, attended game as a fan/later became sportswriter - First thing we noticed, we bought a scorecard, and we noticed a No. 18, Gaedel, in the scorecard. We figured, well, this was some young guy maybe from A or AA that they had brought up and the printer messed up the numbers.
Ley - Between games of a double-header, a large replica of a birthday cake was brought on to the field to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American League.
Roy Sievers, St. Louis Browns outfielder - Just before the game, here comes this big cardboard cake. You know, and everybody says, what's going on?
Dick Haber, friend of Bill Veeck - This Eddie Gaedel pops up out of the cake, you know, like a stag party, (Unintelligible) was Eddie Gaedel...
Sievers - And everybody just died. Oh, here's one of Veeck's tricks.
Broeg - Now, the midget ran off the field. Everybody applauded and thought that was cute, not knowing the punchline.
Ley - And the punchline is part of American history. And when we continue, the story of Gaedel wearing uniform No. 18, stepping in as the Major League pitcher 50 years ago today.
Christine - ... is laughing so hard that he's practically falling off the mound with each pitch.
Hal White, Detroit Tigers pitcher - We all stood up on top of the dugout, our team. The Brown players all stood up on top of the dugout. And then there was silence.
Ley - That was the scene at Sportsman's Park at St. Louis as Eddie Gaedel was announced as a pinch-hitter for Bill Veeck's Browns. That was 50 years ago today.
Before we get back to the eyewitness accounts of Gaedel's at-bat, let's welcome in Mike Veeck, who joins us from Cooperstown, New York. Mike Veeck is Bill's son. He's a Minor League owner and a promoter, in the vein of his father.
Mike, good morning.
Mike Veeck, Bill Veeck's son - Good morning.
Ley - How bad were the Browns in 1951, that your dad was driven to try a stunt like this?
Veeck - I think when you consider that it was the Cardinal's town, that they were in big trouble from the get-go. And anybody who was familiar with their players that year knows that you weren't necessarily seeing a Major League game in Sportsman's Park when the Browns were playing.
Ley - There were only 18,000 people there that day. It was the largest crowd in -- what? -- four years for your dad's team?
Veeck - Yeah, when you say only 18,000, you know, you've got to qualify that. Only 18,000 was the difference between making payroll for a week and not making it. So I'm sure that my dad was thrilled with only 18,000.
Ley - But there were some people who weren't thrilled at this point in the story. Your dad had promised a major promotion for the fall (Unintelligible). Gaedel had jumped out of the cake. Now between games of the double-header, up in your father's box, they weren't happy, the sponsors, were they?
Veeck - No, one of the wonderful things about suits and people who lack a little imagination is that instantly, upon jumping out of the cake, one of the marketing people turned to my dad and said, "Is that all there is?"
And it must have been a delirious moment for my dad to realize that the real punchline was coming. So it was almost a drama within a drama, if you'll allow my not getting too literate. I think it must have worked on three or four different levels. And the irony is certainly not lost.
Ley - All right, we'll get back to you in just a second, Mike. Your dad is trying to keep a straight face, but now let's get back to Sportsman's Park. It is 50 years ago today, in the bottom of the first inning. The Brownies and the Tigers. Eddie Gaedel is in uniform.
Frank Saucier, St. Louis Browns outfielder - I sat down on the bench, and I noticed that there was a midget there. Of course I didn't know his name at the time.
Broeg - He's going up to hit, and the announcer said, "For the Browns, batting for Frank Saucier No. 18, Eddie Gaedel.
Joe Ginsberg, Detroit Tigers catcher - We were laughing so hard nobody could say anything. I mean, you can't -- you can't believe it. There's a little tiny guy, just taking little baby steps up to the on-deck circle. And then swinging those three little bats.
White - We all stood up on top of the dugout, our team. The Browns players all stood up on top of the dugout. And then there was silence.
Broeg - Ed Hurley, the big Irish, Boston Irishman umpire, was at home plate. And he looks straight ahead, and with his right hand beckoned Zack Taylor, the Browns manager, who came out of the third base dugout.
Saucier - Zack announced to the umpire that this was going to be a pinch hitter for me.
Dick Kryhoski, Detroit Tigers 1B - Zack had a contract in his back pocket, and he showed it to the umpire.
Christine - Veeck had been smart enough to file a contract with the league office late on a Friday afternoon, knowing that the office would be closed on Saturday and Sunday, and nobody would be in the office to review this contract.
Broeg - So Hurley looked at it and he paused. And I'm sitting in the press box. I said - Oh, Ed, don't be a stuffed shirt, don't be a stuffed shirt. Finally he said, "Pitch."
Saucier - When Eddie came out to the batter's box, there was a type of silence, and then it just broke out into laughter.
White - And he looked around in the stands, and like he had been in baseball for years, and he's a Babe Ruth hero or something.
Haber - Bob Kane was pitching for Detroit and Bob Swift was catching.
Christine - He got down on both knees to try to give Kane a target.
Saucier - And Bob Kane threw the first pitch, and it was over Eddie's head; and the second one was over it, and the third one was over it.
Christine - Kane is laughing so hard that he's practically falling off the mound with each pitch.
Kryhoski - He was afraid of hitting him, you know, because I'm sure Gaedel couldn't get out of the way.
Saucier - And after the 4th ball, Eddie tossed his bat aside and trotted down toward first base. About a third of the way down, he stopped, took his hat off and bowed to the crowd over on the first-base side. And about another two-thirds of the way down, he stopped and bowed again to the crowd.
Haber - The crowd was a little crazy, and they took him out for a pinch runner.
Saucier - I said, Eddie, you kind of hammed it up going down to first base, didn't you? He said, "Man I felt like Babe Ruth."
Sievers - That was the last time we saw him. We didn't see him no more. That was it.
Broeg - I said, gee whiz, you know what you are, you little guy? "What?" Well I said, you are what the rest of us want to be. "What do you mean?" I said, "You are now an ex-big league ballplayer."
Ley - Baseball was not amused. American League President Will Harridge ruled that Gaedel's appearance was not in the best interest of the game and no such stunt would ever be allowed again.
Bill Borst, St. Louis Browns historian - Immediately Major League Baseball tried to expunge him from the record book. And for one year, in the official Major League Record Book, Eddie Gaedel's name does not show up.
Haber - True baseball fans were upset that Bill was making a travesty of this. But he lived it down, and Eddie Gaedel's name is in the Baseball Encyclopedia.
Christine - and its bats right and throws left. Now how they found out that Gaedel was a left-handed thrower, I'll never know. I guess they asked him, because, you know, he never had a chance to throw the ball. He didn't even have a glove.
Ley - But Gaedel returned to a Major League field in 1959, when Veeck owned the powerful Chicago White Sox. In another classic Veeck stunt, Gaedel dressed up as a Martian, invading Comiskey Park, hoping to capture future Hall of Famers Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio.
Jerome Holtmann, Chicago sportswriter and baseball historian - These four guys dropped out of the sky from wherever they came from, and Aparicio and Fox were already at second base. And I supposed they tried to bring them back to Mars or wherever it was they were going.
Ley - Gaedel continued working, mostly as a messenger, but in the wake of his famous at-bat, also fielded numerous requests for appearances.
Klak - I know he had a Hollywood opportunity.
W. Rosa - He didn't like traveling.
Klak - He felt he wouldn't have no protection if we would go away from home.
W. Rosa - Oscar Meyer, whoever was in charge of the advertisement, knew about Eddie and wanted him desperately to sign the contract with Oscar Meyer.
Klak - They wanted him to work for Buster Brown, and he didn't want to travel. So naturally, that faded away.
Ley - Gaedel turned down many public appearances, but turning down a drink was another story. He was often in taverns, and in trouble.
Esposito - He was a happy-go-lucky guy on the outside, but I think he was really sort of crying on the inside.
Czub - I think his size bothered him when he drank. You know, he realized that he's just a little guy in a world of big people, and he don't fit in too well.
Esposito - We would get phone calls late from my grandmother saying that she was concerned that my uncle wasn't home and hadn't been home. He would often be drunk when we would find him. He was a little guy who had beer muscles, as they say, and he would get in fights with people.
Czub - He'd ask for it.
He didn't figure anyone would hit him, because he was so small, you know.
Esposito - Somebody wanted to take a pop at the little guy, and they often did.
Ley - On June 18th, 1961, Gaedel was found dead at home at the age of 36. He appeared to have been in a fight.
Esposito - My mother and I went over to the apartment. I remember my grandmother saying that he had died in their bed. And then she also held up his clothes, and showed us his clothes, and they were all bloody. So it was apparent that he had taken a beating.
Klak - He was banged up pretty bad. A small person like that can't take much punishment.
Czub - He had gotten pretty well snockered up at this bowling alley. And he got in an argument, and they followed him. And in his hallway -- they lived on the second floor, and you had a little vestibule and then stairway. They got him in there, and I guess they just worked him over pretty good. And his mother found him.
Esposito - There's a couple of different stories out there. They told me he died of an enlarged heart. The real cause of death, was it really because of the enlarged heart? We really don't know.
Klak - And his father wasn't alive, and his mother was not very capable. That's probably some of the reasons there wasn't a thorough investigation.
Esposito - I don't think there was really any conclusion to it. I think they just sort of closed the books and said, maybe, you know, he caused it himself.
Ley - Bill Veeck was unable to attend Gaedel's funeral. The only baseball person who did attend was Bob Kane, the pitcher who issued that memorable walk. Kane drove over 300 miles to attend the services, and until he died, four years ago, kept alive their shared moment by including it on his Christmas cards. This weekend, Kane's daughter, Judy, joins with members of the Gaedel and Veeck families to re-enact baseball's most renowned stunt. That re-enactment at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
This weekend's re-enactment of the Eddie Gaedel at-bat has been criticized by the group, Little People of America. The support group for little people said that - "To think that the Baseball Hall of Fame would re-enact a stunt that was demeaning and in poor taste sends a terrible message. It was a stunt, a sideshow that happened 50 years ago, but to honor it is a horrible thing for our children to see. How are they going to feel when they see people laugh at the stunt? Gaedel was not a baseball player. He was a side-show."
The Hall of Fame responded to the LPA's criticism saying - "Their event commemorates Eddie Gaedel's official Major League at-bat and the anniversary of his willing participation in baseball history. The re-enactment pays respect to the value Bill Veeck placed on people of diverse statures and abilities."
And we are back once again from Cooperstown with Mike Veeck, who is Bill's son, a baseball man in his own right. Let me ask you to address people who might feel that this was out of step, to do that yesterday, to re-enact at the LPA criticism.
Veeck - I think any time that you have a promotion that makes people think there's going to be two sides to it. And the way to answer it is very simple. It was a joyous occasion. I was at the re-enactment. And people enjoyed it, people laughed. And the fact is that laughter is in short supply, and causes are in too long a supply sometimes.
There were people who felt the same way about Lawrence Doby, when dad signed him. So to them I say, find something to write a letter about that's more important.
Ley - That's right, Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League. Let's get back to that day 50 years ago today. Your dad had a pretty strenuous warning for Gaedel to not swing the bat, didn't he?
Veeck - Yeah. People -- my dad being a four-time PFC in the Marine Corps -- some would love to believe it, and others, of course, think it's apocryphal. But the fact is that Eddie was told that there was an ought-30 aimed right at his forehead if he were to take the bat off his shoulder, which, of course, could turn this -- a pretty good gag into a disastrous event, shall we say.
Ley - Yes. Now this almost didn't happen, because the league president, Will Harridge, who later, of course, came down with an iron fist on this entire concept, just happened to be in his office that day and looked at the Teletype and saw the player transaction.
Veeck - Yeah, I think that Mr. Harridge had a problem the following day on trying to decide with Phil Rizzuto who was a tall midget or just a very short Major League ball player. But there's no question that it was discriminatory when Mr. Harridge took his action. He'd never get away with that today.
Ley - At one point before the game, your dad had Gaedel, and he was schooling him in how to crouch. And your dad claims that he measured his strike zone at an inch and a half.
Veeck - Well, my dad on occasion could embellish a little bit. But I'm sure that my mom kept him honest about it. So if he was off by a quarter of an inch, I mean, who's to know?
Ley - One of the great ironies, of course -- there are several ironies here -- let's get into the first one -- that it is baseball's best-known promotion, but it was kept a secret until it happened.
Veeck - Yeah, my dad was a great believer in gags that presented themselves and unfolded. You had to be there to see it so that it would stimulate attendance. People never knew what was going to happen. And unfortunately, over the years, we've lost the ability to build that kind of secrecy.
But the fact is the people came to a Veeck ballpark because they never really knew what was going to happen. And I -- I regret that that's kind of passed us by.
Ley - Well, at least to the other irony, baseball now is a $3-billion plus business, but as I mentioned at the top of the show, the best-known stunt cost 100 bucks.
Veeck - Well, you know, there's another thing - is that business and baseball have always been hand in hand. The difference is now that there is more coverage. It's more Dunn & Bradstreet coverage of baseball. But the fact is, at least in our family, we've always made our living running ball clubs. It's always been a medium-sized business to us, I guess.
Ley - Well, you work in Minor League ball. We see great promotions in Minor League ball, and maybe something akin to the Gaedel stunt could be tried in the Minor Leagues. What about the Major Leagues? You were part of that "New York Times" Business look at how to solve baseball's problems. You talked about contraction and autographs.
But is there room for outlandish promotion at the Major League level?
Veeck - Absolutely. I don't accept at all the idea that there is Major League laughter or Minor League laughter. The fact is that people, we are a joyous species. And we should be allowed to enjoy ourselves at the games.
Does it mean that you can step over the line, as I've done, you know, in Tampa Bay, with some frequency? Of course. You can't do the same things. But I look for a time that gags will be Major League, Minor League. We have a great deal to learn from our brethren in the Minor Leagues. There is some wonderful promotion going on, and they do understand fun.
Ley - In about 10 seconds, did a day ever go by that your dad was not reminded about this later in his life?
Veeck - He used to say that if everyone who said they were there that day had been there he'd still be operating in St. Louis.
Ley - And he would have had no trouble meeting the payroll. Mike Veeck, thanks a great deal from joining us from Cooperstown.
Veeck - Thank you so much.
Ley - All right, Mike Veeck. And a reminder that tonight is an ESPN classic day in history, with "SportsCentury's" look at Bill Veeck, 11:00 p.m. Eastern, 8 Pacific on ESPN Classic on this, the 50th anniversary of Eddie Gaedel's at-bat for Bill Veeck's St. Louis Browns.
And next, the reaction, including plenty of freshly cleaned closets to last week's look at the unreal market in the Tiger Woods trading cards.
Ley - A Tiger Woods Card cut from a 1996 edition of "Sports Illustrated for Kids" has been transformed from a keepsake into a surreal prize. Last week, we showed you how much cards, if they are in mint condition, can fetch, about $100,000. Just about all the e-mail in our in-box this week echoes this viewer from Battle Creek, Michigan.
"I have always saved the color photos from SI and discovered that I had also saved the Tiger Woods card, although it is part of the nine-card ensemble. It's in perfect shape. I can't believe this could happen, and to top it off, today is my birthday. My question is - What is my first step?"
That is a common question. As we showed last week, removing the card from the original page is a critical and delicate operation, and then the card has to be graded by a recognized and reputable grading service. If we can believe the number of cards that we have been told have surfaced in the past week, it is an open question right now how the price of the Tiger Woods card will be affected.
If you missed that program or any Sunday "Outside the Lines," you can check our library of streaming video at espn.com/otlweekly. And our e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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BROADCAST OF SUNDAY, AUG. 19, 2001
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Guest: Mike Veeck, Bill Veeck's son and minor league baseball owner.