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Gaedel made a big mark in his own small way Veeck's tallest tale is a walk in the park

August 18, 1991|By Don Markus

Saucier, a minor-league star who played briefly with the Baltimore Orioles in the International League, had signed with the Browns only weeks before. After hitting .446 with Wichita in 1949 -- the highest batting average in professional baseball that year -- and being named Dixie League Player of the Year with San Antonio in 1950, Saucier had retired to start an oil-and-gas-drilling business in Texas. But he needed money and signed with the Browns at Veeck's urging.

Sidelined with bursitis in his shoulder at the time, Saucier was surprised to find his name on the lineup card when he got to the ballpark on Aug. 19. He was even more puzzled to see that he was leading off and playing right field.

"It was a little unusual since I couldn't swing or throw," Saucier said last week from his home in Amarillo, Texas. "I also thought it was strange, because I only played left field."

After playing the field in the top of the first, Saucier went up to bat. But as he stepped out of the dugout, Browns manager Zack Taylor called him back. Out came Gaedel, and Saucier said the place convulsed in laughter. Veeck, whose team lost, 6-2, later FTC kidded Saucier, "It isn't every day a midget gets to bat for a .446 hitter."

"I thought this was one of the greatest acts of show business I'd ever seen, and still do," said Saucier, whose 18-game major-league career ended when he was called up by the Navy the next year. "But the umpire didn't. He said to Zack Taylor, 'You can't do this.' And Zack said: 'Yes I can. I have a contract right here in my pocket.' "

Though Hurley and Tigers manager Red Rolfe weren't amused, others were. And some, like Cain, were merely shocked. While Cain stood dumbfounded on the mound -- "His jaw dropped and his eyes almost popped out his head," Gaedel would say later -- Swift couldn't control himself. Cain reportedly asked Swift how to pitch Gaedel.

"Swift was laughing so hard, he couldn't answer," Gaedel was quoted as saying after the game. "I pretended that I was mad, and I told them to start playing."

After taking the four pitches, all of which were high, Gaedel was removed for a pinch runner, Jim Delsing. He doffed his cap and bowed to the crowd. He took a seat on the Browns bench next to Saucier.

"It was more like a circus or a carnival than a baseball game," said Saucier. "I said to Eddie, 'That was some show you put on.' He said, 'Man, I felt like Babe Ruth.' It was the high point in his life."

Within hours, Veeck heard from Harridge. A no-nonsense and obviously humorless Chicagoan who had been friends with Veeck's father, Harridge ruled that midgets weren't allowed to play in the major leagues. Veeck, who had estimated Gaedel's strike zone at 1 1/2 inches, wrote back: "Let's establish what a midget is. Is it 3 feet 6? Is it 4 feet 6? Is it 5 feet 6? If it's 5-6, that's great. We can get rid of [the New York Yankees' Phil] Rizzuto."

Those who knew him say that Gaedel couldn't handle his short-lived brush with fame. With the combination of a bad temper and a reported drinking problem, Gaedel found himself on the wrong end of fights. Two weeks after his appearance in St. Louis, he was arrested in Cincinnati for disorderly conduct and fined $25. He apparently had spewed obscenities after failing to convince a police officer that he was a major-league ballplayer.

"He [Gaedel] became quite a hero, so to speak, in his own mind," said Rudie Schaffer, Veeck's close friend. "He got to drinking, and his ego took over."

"Eddie just got full of himself," said Mary-Frances Veeck.

Saucier saw Gaedel once more, a year later, when Saucier was stationed with the Navy in Pensacola, Fla. He heard that Gaedel had taken a job as a clown with Ringling Bros. circus, and one night went with his wife to find his former teammate. He saw Gaedel tumbling from a barrel, and later sought him out.

"I asked him how he was getting along, and he said, 'It ain't baseball,' " Saucier recalled.

After making a few national television appearances shortly after his famous at-bat, including on "The Ed Sullivan Show," things deteriorated for Gaedel. He periodically would call Veeck, looking for work or money. There were to be other, less-celebrated moments for Gaedel, when Veeck hired him for a couple of one-day stunts in Chicago.

In May 1959, Gaedel came out of a helicopter with a group of midgets, dressed as aliens looking for the White Sox double-play combination of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox. Two years later, Gaedel was one of eight midgets Veeck used as box-seat vendors on Opening Day. It was to be Gaedel's curtain call in the big time. Two months later, he was badly beaten on a Southside Chicago street and went to his mother's house, where he died of a heart attack. Gaedel was 36.

His funeral attracted about 50 people. The only former ballplayer was Bob Cain.

"I never even met him, but I felt obligated to go," Cain said in a 1989 interview. "It kind of threw me for a loop that no other baseball people were there."

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