NEW TROY — Members of the Southwestern Michigan Chapter of the Eddie Gaedel Society No. 1/8 recently gathered together for their second annual meeting at the home of Garry and Liz Lange.
The late Gaedel, who at 3-feet, 7-inches and 65 pounds made history on Aug. 19, 1951, when he became the smallest player ever to make an appearance in a big league game. It was no surprise that when he faced Detroit pitcher Bob “Sugar” Cain for his one and only at bat he walked on four pitches and was quickly replaced by a pinch runner.
Lange explained that the stunt was the brainchild of the creative St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American League and to try to boost dwindling attendance at games.
“Nearly 20,000 fans showed up for the doubleheader against the Tigers, and as a band played a seven-foot birthday cake was wheeled onto the field, and to the delight of the crowd a diminutive figure in a Browns uniform jumped out of the cake, waved to the crowd, and disappeared into the home team’s dugout,” Lange said.
“The second game began, “ Lange continued, “and as the Browns returned to their dugout for the bottom of the first inning Sportsman’s Park announcer Bernie Ebert told the crowd: ‘For the Browns, number 1/8, Eddie Gaedel pinch hitting for Saucier.’
“As Eddie strode to the plate a brief haggle occurred between Browns manager Zack Taylor and home plate umpire Ed Hurley, but a valid American League one day contract was produced, and Hurley ruled the game proceed.
“Tiger’s catcher Bob Swift advised his pitcher to ‘keep it low,’ and word has it that Veeck instructed Gaedel: ‘Don’t take the bat off your shoulder, and if you do take a swing know that I have a rifle scoped-in on you at the plate.’ Four pitches later Eddie took his walk to first base and into baseball history.
“The sport’s first and only ‘designated walker’ was quickly replaced by pinch runner Jim Desling,” Lange related. “Eddie patted him on the butt, wished him luck, then trotted back across the field doffing his cap to the cheering crowd before disappearing back into the dugout.”
But Lange went on to say that wasn’t the only appearance Gaedel made on a major league field.
“That final appearance came in 1959 when Veeck, then the owner of the Chicago White Sox, had Eddie and three other little people dressed-up as Martians airlifted onto the Comiskey Park infield in a helicopter where they ‘abducted’ iconic Sox infielders Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio and made them honorary Martians,” he related.
“Thinking of his friend Bill Veeck, Eddie the Martian famously proclaimed: ‘I don’t want to be taken to your leader; I’ve already met him.’
“News of Gaedel’s death on June 18, 1961 earned a front page obituary in the New York Times, and the only person associated with the game of baseball to attend his funeral was retired Detroit pitcher Cain whose own baseball legacy is forever linked to the four pitches he threw to Eddie.
“The St. Louis Browns jersey number 1/8 that Eddie wore that memorable day is now enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.,” Lange concluded.
Attendees at the gathering included Jerry Schaffer, the legendary River Valley High School basketball coach who led the Mustangs to a state championship.
Fittingly, the refreshments included baseball fare such as hot dogs and Cracker Jacks.
Also, in the spirit of celebrating all things of a smaller size, the meeting featured short speeches, small talk, and half-pint beers.
By the way, as the baseball season begins to wind down it should be noted that Lange stepped up to the plate this year and had several big hits when it comes to spreading his passion for the great game he loves.
First, he opened his amazing and popular “Biggest Little Baseball Museum” on the second floor of the Three Oaks Township Public Library.
He also arranged a baseball game at Carver Park between his hometown team and the House of David Echoes. The home team came out victorious, thanks in large part to their pitcher Dave Gumpert, the former Major Leaguer who toed the mound for the Tigers, Cubs and Royals.
And on the first full day of summer he hosted “Denny’s Day” in Three Oaks; a special visit by Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain who led that team to a World Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968.
McLain had an eye-popping 31-6 record that season, and is the only Major League pitcher in the last 85 years to win at least 30 games.
That 1968 season became known as the “Year of the Pitcher,” and none stood taller on the mound than the mighty McLain.
Lange said that McLain has been in contact with him after that special event and is anxious to make another visit to Three Oaks and Harbor Country.
“He told me that he had a really good time visiting with fans and exchanging stories and memories with them at the library and the Acorn Theater, and he said that when he comes back he’d like to bring along his friend, Hall of Famer Darrell Evans,” Lange said
Evans played 21 seasons in the big leagues, including five with the Tigers.
With Lange continuing to be on the ball, look for baseball to have another big year here in 2020.