You could look it up: Jack Schnedler remembers Eddie Gaedel and Bill Veeck

April 3, 2012

“Eddie (Gaedel) I’ve got your life insured for a million dollars. I’ve got a gun stashed up on the roof. But don’t you let any of that bother you. You just crouch over like you’ve been doing and take four pitches, huh?”

– Bill Veeck, Veeck as in Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck (1962)

By Jack Schnedler

When a 69th birthday lurks just over the horizon, as is the case for me (Jack Schnedler, former Democrat-Gazette colleague of blog-meister Philip Martin), there’s a lot more to remember than to anticipate.

When a nearly lifelong link to a baseball team (in my case, the St. Louis Cardinals, whom I watched Warren Spahn of the BOSTON Braves shut out in the first major-league game I saw live, courtesy of an aunt and uncle at age 6 in 1949, at old Sportsman Park in. St. Louis, which then had segregated seating in a right-field pavilion for black fans), the looming new season stirs a dugout full of ghosts.

In August 1951, when I was a chubby eight year old in St. Charles, Mo., my father took me to a Sunday double-header at Sportsman’s Park between the perennially pathetic St. Louis Browns and the Detroit Tigers. The Browns (who became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954) had been recently purchased by Bill Veeck, a legendary showman with a wooden leg derived from a World War II injury.

Before the first game of the double-header, I went below the stands and got two autographs. One was from a marginal Browns’ first-baseman, Hank Arft. (You could look him up.) The other was from Veeck himself, who was seated on an equipment locker under the shabby third-base stands.

My father had bought lower-deck tickets on the first-base side of Sportsman’s Park. He purchased a scorecard, whose listings for the Browns included, as I recall, “No. 3/8 Gaedel.” That didn’t register with an 8-year-old until the second game of the doubleheader began, and the Browns came up to bat in the bottom of the first inning. Then the public-address voice announced a pinch-hitter for Browns’ lead-off man Jim Delsing: “No. 3/8: Eddie Gaedel.” (Note from the monkey: The actually number Gaedel wore was, according to the Baseball Almanac, 1/8. But 3/8 would have been more on point and memoriues are memories. I saw Stan Musial’s jersey — I even touched it — hanging in the Hall of Fame when I visited it as a toddler around 1962. The only trouble is, Musial was still an active player at the time. )

Gaedel was a midget from Chicago whom Veeck had hired just for laughs at this occasion celebrating the 50th anniversary of the American League. The Tigers’ manager protested, but Gaedel was allowed to bat and was walked on 4 pitches by Detroit hurler Ted Grey, even though the Tigers’ catcher Bob Swift got down on his knees.

Next day, the humorless commissioner of baseball Ford Frick banned midgets from the game, and none has batted ever since.

The occasion played off a jolly James Thurber story, “You Could Look It Up,” in which the manager of a big-league team employs a midget for the season, figuring that at some crucial point he can send this short person up to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th and win the game on a walk.

All season long, the midget sits on the bench and begins to think of himself as a big-leaguer. Then his team is tied for first place on the last day of the season and playing its opponent for the title. The bases are loaded in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs in a tie game, and the manager sends up the midget to bat, reminding him that a 4-ball walk will win the game.

The midget takes the first 3 high pitches, but is convinced he can play with the big boys. The fourth pitch comes in high, but the determined midget swings and hits a slow ground ball to the second baseman’s left. A normal-height runner would have beaten out the grounder to win the game, but the midget’s legs are too short and he’s thrown out. The other team wins in the 10th inning.

As Thurber ended his story, “You could look it up.”

Somewhere along the way, my scorecard from the Eddie Gaedel game vanished, so I can’t prove that I was there. But I’m sure I was, and I’m geared up for yet another baseball season, which my beloved St. Louis Cardinals (defending world champions!) open Wednesday evening at Miami’s splendiferous new ballpark.

Over the past six decades, I’ve spent uncounted thousands of hours watching baseball live and on TV, not to mention all the radio play-by-play of earlier years (under the covers at age 10 and 11 with a portable radio) and today’s manifold online delivery systems.

Perhaps I could have won a Nobel Prize with some creative endeavor during all that time spent tuned in to Harry Carey and a host of other blatherers. But I’m pretty sure that our National Pastime (baseball’s well-worn sobriquet) still beats reality by a long home run. If you have any doubts, consider the current Republican primary campaign as an alternative.

1 Comment

  • Comment by Philip Martin — Apr 3,2012 at 3:01 pm

    Jack Schnedler adds:

    Jolly touch to top the posting with the quote from “Veeck as in Wreck.” I meant to include, but forgot, the sad end of Eddie Gaedel — as summed up in his Wikipedia entry:

    Gaedel had a reputation for combativeness, especially after he had been drinking. On June 18, 1961, the unemployed Gaedel, who had just turned 36, was drinking at a bowling alley in Chicago, which was his birthplace and hometown.

    As usual, he became combative, with either some fellow patrons or others he came across on his way home. Either way, Gaedel was followed home and beaten (he might have been mugged as well). His mother discovered Eddie lying in bed dead. He had bruises about his knees and on the left side of his face. A coroner’s inquest determined that he also had had a heart attack.

    Bob Cain, saying he felt obligated, was the only person from Major League Baseball to attend the funeral. Gaedel was interred at Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum in Cook County, Illinois (plot: section G, gravestone number X-363B)

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