|Thursday, August 16
Updated: August 19, 12:05 PM ET
Short on size, long on history
By Darren Rovell
The date forever will be ingrained in Frank Saucier's mind.
Saucier seemed destined to be remembered in baseball history for his own accomplishments. Saucier had won two minor-league batting crowns, including a .446 mark for Wichita Falls of the Class B Big State League in 1949. A lucrative oil business had him ready to retire at 25, but St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck signed him to a $10,000 contract that was twice the league minimum.
Soon after his July debut, however, Saucier developed acute bursitis, which limited his range in the field. Blood blisters on his hands also made it difficult for him to swing the bat. But thanks to Veeck's most famous promotion, Saucier isn't remembered for a major-league career stat line of only one hit in 14 at bats.
Instead, he became a footnote to history on Aug. 19, 1951 as the player who was replaced by 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel, the shortest player ever to play in the major leagues.
'You'll be immortal'
Veeck had learned of Gaedel through a Cleveland talent agent and agreed to pay him $100 for a day's work.
"Eddie, you'll be the only midget in the history of the game," Veeck, in his autobiography, "Veeck as in Wreck," recalled telling Gaedel. "You'll be immortal."
"When he was first given the idea to go to St. Louis he was very hesitant," said Gayle Esposito, Gaedel's niece who was 5 years old when Gaedel died in 1961. "But the more (Veeck) talked, the more he stuck out his chest and the prouder he became. He really wanted to be a special person and not be picked on all the time."
In order to ensure the legitimacy of Gaedel's plate appearance, Veeck said he purposefully wired a signed contract right after the American League office closed.
"We knew that when (American League president) Will Harridge went to lunch on Friday that meant that he finished work for the week," Veeck's wife, Mary Frances, said. "So we wired it along and it wasn't like they weren't going to approve it -- his size wasn't printed anywhere on that contract."
'I was licking the cream off my whiskers'
"A week before the stunt occurred, my father said, 'We're doing this midget batter and you can't say anything about it. We have to use your uniform, since no other one will fit him,' " said DeWitt, now 59 and the principal owner of the St. Louis Cardinals. "They changed the number from 6 to 1/8 and I somehow kept my mouth shut."
Not many of the 18,369 fans, the largest crowd in four years to see a Browns game, expected to see a great doubleheader between the Browns and Detroit Tigers. They came for the 50th anniversary of the American League and Falstaff Brewery day. They received free beer and cake, and were entertained by a band led by Satchel Paige, whom Veeck had signed to play for the Browns earlier that season.
Little did they know that the same little guy who jumped out of a 7-foot papier-mache cake after the first game of the doubleheader would make baseball history.
"The beer sponsor was sitting up in the box with me and when (Gaedel) popped out of the cake, the look on their face said, 'This is the big surprise Bill had for us?'" Mary Frances said. "And knowing what was coming, I was licking the cream off my whiskers."
'I knew something was going to happen'
The leadoff spot was normal for Saucier, except he was injured and didn't expect to play. But Veeck was also using Saucier to sell more tickets that day. A week before, Veeck notified Saucier's hometown newspapers in Washington, Mo., that Saucier would be in the starting lineup, and several busloads of people traveled to the game.
"I couldn't swing a bat or throw a ball and here I was in right field. Bobby Young, the second baseman, said that if the ball was hit to me, he would run out and I should throw it underhand to him." With a runner on first in the top of the first, Vic Wertz ripped a single to right. Saucier threw to third and stopped the lead runner from advancing. "That was the last throw I made until the following March," said Saucier, who remembers feeling his shoulder pop out on the throw.
'Man, I felt like Babe Root'
But before Cain could throw the first pitch, the P.A. announcer introduced a pinch-hitter, No. 1/8 -- Eddie Gaedel.
"When the announcer called Eddie, I was thinking this is both the greatest act of show business I've ever seen, plus it's the easiest money I've ever made," Saucier said.
Umpire Ed Hurley questioned Gaedel's ability to play, but Taylor came out with Gaedel's contract in hand.
Gaedel got in his crouch. Veeck, in his autobiography, said he had instructed Gaedel to make his strike zone as small as possible -- about 1½ inches -- but Gaedel was excited and stood up a bit.
Gaedel did follow the other important instruction, though. "Eddie, I'm going to be up on the roof with a high-powered rifle watching every move you make," Veeck wrote. "If you so much as look as if you're going to swing, I'm going to shoot you dead."
"(Bob) Cain is laughing so hard that he's practically falling off the mound with each pitch," Bill Christine, a Browns fan in attendance during the game, told ESPN.
All four pitches sailed over Gaedel's head.
"About a third of the way down he took his hat off and bowed," recalled Saucier, who estimated that Gaedel's trot from home plate to first base took about a minute. "Two-thirds of the way down he stopped and took his hat off again and bowed again.
"He touched first, was replaced by (Jim) Delsing, Gaedel patted him on the behind and shook the hand of Max Patkin, who was the first-base coach." Patkin, the legendary "Clown Prince of Baseball," was another of Veeck's stunts that day.
"When he sat down between Zack and me, I said, 'Eddie, you really hammed it up out there,' Saucier said. "And he said, 'Man, I felt like Babe Root" in a nasally southside Chicago accent.
"When (Eddie) came out of the ballgame, that was the last we ever saw of him," said Browns player Roy Sievers.
And for many people, that was the last they saw of Frank Saucier, who was called back into the Navy in 1952.
"Everything went wrong for Frank," Veeck wrote. "And all he has to show for his great promise is that he was the only guy a midget ever batted for."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org. ESPN producer Willie Weinbaum contributed to this story.