baseball hall of fame
As baseball looks at getting started again, it seems like a good to talk about the time when Major League Baseball became Little League Baseball. Ok, not exactly, but nevertheless, little league it was to a certain degree. The year was 1951, and the Saint Louis Browns were sporting their smallest player in history…probably in the history of baseball. His name was Edward Carl “Eddie” Gaedel, and he stood just 3 feet 7 inches tall. He weighed 65 pounds. Gaedel was born on June 8, 1925, in Chicago. He was the second of the three children of Carl and Helen Gaedel. Carl Gaedel was born in Lithuania and immigrated to the United States in 1902, settling in Chicago before starting his family. The family name may have been changed to Gaedel from Gaedele at the time of his immigration.
Gaedel was the smallest player ever to appear in a Major League Baseball game. He gained recognition in the second game of a Saint Louis Browns doubleheader on August 19, 1951. Gaedel’s major league career was shorter than he was in the end. He made a single plate appearance and was walked with four consecutive balls before being replaced by a pinch-runner at first base. Nevertheless, his jersey, bearing the uniform number “?1?8,” is displayed in the Saint Louis Cardinals Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Sometimes, it isn’t the length of the career that matters, But rather it is what makes the career unique that really matters. Never before had the major leagues had such a player. It was like putting a child on the major leagues, except that he could play…at least well enough to be chosen to play on the Saint Louis Browns in the first place. The world will never know if he could have been great, because he only played the one time.
Gaedel was well liked. The Saint Louis Browns owner, Bill Veeck said of Gaedel in his 1962 autobiography said, “He was, by golly, the best darn midget who ever played big-league ball. He was also the only one.” Both statements were true, and Gaedel would go down in history as the midget who combined the Major League with the Little League.
Prior to his career in baseball, and due to his size, Gaedel had worked as a riveter during World War II. He was unique in his job, because he was able to crawl inside the wings of airplanes. He was also a professional performer, belonging to the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). After the war, Gaedel was hired in 1946 by Mercury Records as a mascot to portray the “Mercury Man.” He sported a winged hat similar to the record label’s logo, to promote Mercury recordings. Some of the early Mercury recordings featured a caricature of him as its logo. Then, the Browns’ owner Bill Veeck, who liked a little bit of the outrageous, and a showman who enjoyed staging publicity stunts, found Gaedel through a booking agency. He secretly signed him to the Browns, he was added to the team roster and put in uniform…with the number “?1?8” on the back. The uniform belonged to current Saint Louis Cardinals managing partner and chairman William DeWitt, Jr. who was a 9 year old batboy for the Browns at the time. It may have been a stunt, but it made Eddie Gaedel famous.
Unfortunately, after his baseball career ended, things did not go well for Gaedel. On June 18, 1961, and having just turned 36, an unemployed Gaedel, was at a bowling alley in Chicago. 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, who’d pitched to Gaedel, was the only Major League Baseball figure to attend the funeral. Gaedel was buried at Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum in Cook County, Illinois. His tombstone indicates that his family name may actually have been Gaedele, not Gaedel. The person or persons who killed Gaedel were never found. The police speculated that Gaedel, who had become known as a hot-head, probably got into an argument with someone at the bowling alley, and the person followed him and beat him. Because of Gaedel’s reputation, the Chicago Police Department declined to investigate the matter further. It was such a tragic end for a Baseball Hall of Famer.
Since I was a kid, I have liked the game of baseball. Our parents, Allen and Collene Spencer, figured that with five girls, they had enough for a makeshift game of baseball whenever we went camping, and we all usually liked to play. That was really my first experience with baseball and with sports of any kind, I guess. I was not destined to become some great player, nor did I have any big aspirations in that area, because my interests went a different direction as I grew up. Nevertheless, I still enjoy watching a good game of baseball, and my favorite team is the Colorado Rockies. I suppose my dad…a Yankees fan to the core…probably wondered what I saw in the Colorado Rockies. Still, that was and is my team, and the team of my husband, Bob Schulenberg too. To many baseball fans, I suppose I would not be considered a die hard fan, because I don’t watch every game the Rockies play, but I watch enough to know who I like.
The really die hard fans have their heroes I’m sure, and that makes sense. Every sport has the spectacular players that people follow no matter what team they move to. They are just that good. I suppose that is what originally made baseball fans or the heads of the MLB decide that baseball needed a place to recognize their great players. The idea of a Baseball Hall of Fame began gathering steam in 1935, when members of the Clark Foundation in Cooperstown sought to revive business and tourism after the Depression. The idea took hold, and as most people know, every year new and amazing players are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While the Clark Foundation told a “white lie” to get things started, by saying that U.S. Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown. The story was a phony, and they had a hard time living down the lie. The baseball officials were eager turn the idea into a reality. They backed it…so we have the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Of all those people who have entered into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s my guess that none were more exciting than the first ones. In fact, on January 29, 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame elected its first members in Cooperstown, New York. The first inductees were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson. In preparation for the dedication of the Hall of Fame in 1939 which many people thought was the centennial of baseball, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America chose the five greatest superstars of the game as the first class to be inducted. Ty Cobb was the most productive hitter in history. Babe Ruth was both an ace pitcher and the greatest home-run hitter to play the game. Honus Wagner was a versatile star shortstop and batting champion. Christy Matthewson had more wins than any pitcher in National League history. And, Walter Johnson was considered one of the most powerful pitchers ever to have taken the mound. Today, there are 225 players, 17 managers, 8 umpires, and 28 executives and pioneers who have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it hosts 350,000 visitors per year. It’s all about baseball.