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Veeck-As In Wreck
The Autobiography of Bill Veeck, with Ed Linn
By Bill Veeck, with Ed Linn
University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2003
University of Chicago
All right reserved.
A Can of Beer, a Slice of Cake-and Thou, Eddie Gaedel
In 1951, in a moment of madness, I became owner and operator of a
collection of old rags and tags known to baseball historians as the St.
The Browns, according to reputable anthropologists, rank in the annals of
baseball a step or two ahead of Cro-Magnon man. One thing should be made
clear. A typical Brownie was more than four feet tall. Except, of course,
for Eddie Gaedel, who was 3'7" and weighed 65 lbs. Eddie gave the Browns
their only distinction. He was, by golly, the best darn midget who ever
played big-league ball. He was also the only one.
Eddie came to us in a moment of desperation. Not his desperation, ours.
After a month or so in St. Louis, we were looking around desperately for a
way to draw a few people into the ball park, it being perfectly clear by
that time that the ball club wasn't going to do it unaided. The best bet
seemed to be to call upon the resources of our radio sponsors, Falstaff
Brewery. For although Falstaff only broadcast our games locally, they had
distributors anddealers all over the state.
It happened that 1951 was the Fiftieth Anniversary of the American League,
an event the league was exploiting with its usual burst of inspiration by
sewing special emblems on the uniforms of all the players. It seemed to me
that a birthday party was clearly called for. It seemed to me, further,
that if I could throw a party to celebrate the birthdays of both the
American League and Falstaff Brewery, the sponsors would be getting a nice
little tie-in and we would have their distributors and dealers hustling
tickets for us all over the state. Nobody at Falstaff's seemed to know
exactly when their birthday was, but that was no great problem. If we
couldn't prove it fell on the day we chose, neither could anyone prove
that it didn't. The day we chose was a Sunday doubleheader against the
last-place Detroit Tigers, a struggle which did not threaten to set the
pulses of the city beating madly. Rudie Schaffer, the Browns' business
manager, and I met with the Falstaff people-Mr. Griesedieck Sr., the head
of the company, Bud and Joe Griesedieck and their various department
heads-to romance our project. "In addition to the regular party, the acts
and so on," I told Bud, "I'll do something for you that I have never done
before. Something so original and spectacular that it will get you
Naturally, they pressed me for details. Naturally, I had to tell them that
much as I hated to hold out on them, my idea was so explosive I could not
afford to take the slightest chance of a leak.
The Falstaff people, romantics all, went for it. They were so anxious to
find out what I was going to do that they could hardly bear to wait out
the two weeks. I was rather anxious to find out what I was going to do,
too. The real reason I had not been willing to let them in on my
top-secret plan was that I didn't have any plan.
What can I do, I asked myself, that is so spectacular that no one will be
able to say he had seen it before? The answer was perfectly obvious. I
would send a midget up to bat.
Actually, the idea of using a midget had been kicking around in my head
all my life. I have frequently been accused of stealing the idea from a
James Thurber short story, "You Could Look It Up." Sheer libel. I didn't
steal the idea from Thurber, I stole it from John J. McGraw.
McGraw had been a great friend of my father's in the days when McGraw was
managing the New York Giants and my daddy was president of the Chicago
Cubs. Once or twice every season he would come to the house, and one of my
greatest thrills would be to sit quietly at the table after dinner and
listen to them tell their lies. McGraw had a little hunchback he kept
around the club as a sort of good-luck charm. His name, if I remember, was
Eddie Morrow. Morrow wasn't a midget, you understand, he was a sort of
gnome. By the time McGraw got to the stub of his last cigar, he would
always swear to my father that one day before he retired he was going to
send his gnome up to bat.
All kids are tickled by the incongruous. The picture of McGraw's gnome
coming to bat had made such a vivid impression on me that it was there,
ready for the plucking, when I needed it.
I put in a call to Marty Caine, the booking agent from whom I had hired
all my acts when I was opening in Cleveland, and asked him to find me a
midget who was somewhat athletic and game for anything. "And Marty," I
said, "I want this to be a secret."
I never told Marty what I wanted him for. Only five other people knew.
Mary Frances, my wife; Rudie Schaffer; Bob Fishel, our publicity man; Bill
Durney, our traveling secretary; and, of course, Zack Taylor, our manager.
Marty Caine found Eddie Gaedel in Chicago and sent him down to be looked
over. He was a nice little guy, in his mid-twenties. Like all midgets, he
had sad little eyes, and like all midgets, he had a squeaky little voice
that sounded as if it were on the wrong speed of a record player.
"Eddie," I said, "how would you like to be a big-league ballplayer?"
When he first heard what I wanted him to do, he was a little dubious. I
had to give him a sales pitch. I said, "Eddie, you'll be the only midget
in the history of the game. You'll be appearing before thousands of
people. Your name will go into the record books for all time. You'll be
famous, Eddie," I said. "Eddie," I said, "you'll be immortal."
Well, Eddie Gaedel had more than a little ham in him. The more I talked,
the braver he became. By the time I was finished, little Eddie was ready
to charge through a machine-gun nest to get to the plate.
I asked him how much he knew about baseball. "Well," he said, "I know
you're supposed to hit the white ball with the bat. And then you run
Obviously, he was well-schooled in the fundamentals. "I'll show you what I
want you to do," I told him.
I picked up a little toy bat and crouched over as far as I could, my front
elbow resting on my front knee. The rules of the game say that the strike
zone is between the batter's armpits and the top of his knees "when he
assumes his natural stance." Since Gaedel would bat only once in his life,
whatever stance he took was, by definition, his natural one.
When Eddie went into that crouch, his strike zone was just about visible
to the naked eye. I picked up a ruler and measured it for posterity. It
was 11/2 inches. Marvelous.
Eddie practiced that crouch for awhile, up and down, up and down, while I
cheered him on lustily from the sidelines. After a while, he began to test
the heft of the bat and glare out toward an imaginary pitcher. He sprang
out of his crouch and took an awkward, lunging swing.
"No, no," I said. "You just stay in that crouch. All you have to do is
stand there and take four balls. Then you'll trot down to first base and
we'll send someone in to run for you."
His face collapsed. You could see his visions of glory leaking out of him.
All at once, I remembered that the twist in the James Thurber story was
that the midget got ambitious, swung at the 3-0 pitch and got thrown out
at first base because it took him an hour and a half to run down the
"Eddie," I said gently, "I'm going to be up on the roof with a
high-powered rifle watching every move you make. If you so much as look as
if you're going to swing, I'm going to shoot you dead."
Eddie went back to Chicago with instructions to return on Saturday, August
18, the day before the game. In the meantime, there were details to be
attended to. First of all, there was the question of a uniform. No
problem. Bill DeWitt Jr., the seven-year old son of our vice-president,
had a little Browns' uniform hanging in the locker room. Rudie stole it
and sent it out to get the number 1/8 sewed on the back. Scorecards are
traditionally printed up on the morning of the game, so listing him would
be no problem at all.
Just for the heck of it, I took out a $1,000,000 life insurance policy to
protect us in case of sudden death, sudden growth or any other pernicious
act of nature. Somehow no opportunity to tell anybody about that policy
ever came up, no great loss since the whole thing cost me about a buck and
We were hiring Eddie for one day at $100, the minimum AGVA scale for a
midget act. Still, if he was going to play in an official game he had to
be signed to a standard player's contract, with a salary set on an annual
basis and a guaranteed 30-day payment upon termination. That was no real
problem, either. We computed the salary on the basis of $100 a game and
typed in an additional clause in which Eddie agreed to waive the 30-day
I must admit that by the time Eddie came back to St. Louis we were playing
the cloak-and-dagger stuff a bit strong. Eddie went directly to a hotel
suite we had hired for him about ten blocks from the park. Instead of
bringing the contract to his room, Bob Fishel set up a meeting on a street
corner a block or two from the hotel. Bob drove up in his old Packard and
Eddie slid into the front seat, scribbled his signature on two contracts
and jumped back out. One of the contracts was mailed to league
headquarters on Saturday night, which meant that it would not be delivered
until Monday morning. The other contract was given to Zack Taylor, in case
our promising rookie was challenged by the umpires. The morning of the
game, I wired headquarters that we were putting player Edward Gaedel on
our active list.
On Sunday morning, we smuggled Eddie up to the office for further
instruction on the fine art of crouching. That was a little dangerous. I
have always taken the doors off my office and encouraged people to walk
right in to see me. We posted a lookout and from time to time either Mary
Frances or Bob or Rudie would have to hustle Eddie out to the farm-system
offices in the back. Always they'd come back with the same story. As soon
as Eddie got out of my sight he'd turn tiger and start swinging his little
bat. "He's going to foul it up," they all told me. "If you saw him back
there you'd know he's going to swing."
"Don't worry," I'd tell them, worrying furiously. "I've got the situation
well in hand."
Don't worry.... Just as I was leaving the office to circulate among the
customers as they arrived at the park, Eddie asked me, "Bill ...? How
tall was Wee Willie Keeler?"
"Eddie," I said, "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,
As I was going out the door, I turned back on final time. "Wee Willie
Keeler," I told him, "was six-feet-five."
Falstaff came through nobly. We had a paid attendance of better than
18,000, the biggest crowd to see the Browns at home in four years. Since
our customers were also our guests for the Falstaff Birthday Party, we
presented everybody with a can of beer, a slice of birthday cake and a box
of ice cream as they entered the park. I also gave out one of Falstaff's
own promotional gimmicks, salt-and-pepper shakers in the shape of a
Falstaff bottle. The tie-in there was that we were giving the fans midget
beer bottles as souvenirs of the day, a subtlety which managed to elude
The most surprising thing to me, as I moved through the crowd during the
first game, was that nobody seemed to have paid the slightest attention to
the rather unique scorecard listing:
Harry Mitauer of the Globe-Democrat did ask Bob Fishel about it up in the
press box, but Roberto was able to shunt the question aside. (The next
day, we had a hundred or so requests from collectors, so I suppose there
are quite a few of the Gaedel scorecards still in existence around the
Every baseball crowd, like every theatre audience, has its own distinctive
attitude and atmosphere. You can usually tell as they are coming into the
park whether it is going to be a happy, responsive crowd or a dead and
sullen one. With the Birthday Party and the gifts and the busfuls of
people from the outlying towns, the crowd arrived in a gay and festive
mood. Not even the loss of the first game could dampen their spirit.
We went all out in our between-games Birthday Celebration. We had a parade
of old-fashioned cars circling the field. We had two men and two women,
dressed in Gay Ninety costumes, pedaling around the stands to entertain
the customers. Our own band, featuring Satchel Paige on the drums,
performed at home plate. Satch, who is good enough to be a professional,
stopped the show cold.
In our version of a 3-ring circus, we had something going on at every
base-a hand-balancing act at first base, a trampoline act on second and a
team of jugglers at third. Max Patkin, our rubber-boned clown, pulled a
woman out of the grandstand and did a wild jitterbug dance with her on the
Eddie Gaedel had remained up in the office during the game, under the care
of big Bill Durney. Between games, Durney was to bring him down under the
stands, in full uniform, and put him into a huge 7-foot birthday cake we
had stashed away under the ramp. There was a hollowed-out section in the
middle of the cake, complete with a board slab for Eddie to sit on. For we
had a walk-on role written in for Eddie during the celebration; we were
really getting our $100 worth out of him. As a matter of fact, the cake
cost us a darn sight more than Eddie did.
As I hustled down the ramp, I could hear the crowd roaring at Patkin.
Eddie could hear it too. And apparently the tremendous roar, magnified
underground, frightened him. "Gee," I could hear him saying. "I don't feel
so good." And then, after a second or two, "I don't think I'm going to do
Now, Bill Durney is 6'4" and in those days weighed 250 lbs. "Listen,
Eddie," he said. "There are eighteen thousand people in this park and
there's one I know I can lick. You. Dead or alive, you're going in there."
I arrived on the scene just as Bill was lifting him up to stuff him
inside. Eddie was holding his bat in one hand and, at that stage of the
proceedings, he was wearing little slippers turned up at the end like
elf's shoes. Well, it is difficult enough, I suppose, for anybody to look
calm and confident while he is being hung out like laundry. Nor do I
imagine that anybody has ever managed to look like a raging tiger in elf's
shoes. Taking all that into consideration, you could still see that Eddie
was scared. He wanted out. "Bill," he said piteously, as he dangled there,
"these shoes hurt my feet. I don't think I'll be able to go on."
We weren't about to let him duck out this late in the game. Durney dropped
him in the cake, sat him down and covered the top over with tissue paper.
Up on the roof behind home plate we had a special box with a connecting
bar and restaurant for the care and feeding of visiting dignitaries.
Excerpted from Veeck-As In Wreck
by Bill Veeck, with Ed Linn
Copyright © 2003
by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
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