The Major League Midget

At 3 foot 7 Eddie Gaedel was the shortest person to ever play major league baseball. Here’s the story of his one and only at bat.

Only one midget has ever played in a major league baseball game, and his name was Eddie Gaedel. Three foot seven and weighing in at just 65 pounds, Gaedel was a surprise pinch-hitter in a St. Louis Browns double header, wearing a uniform with the number 1/8.

Bill Veeck was the owner of the Browns, and he was always on the look out for great publicity stunts. He had concocted one hell of a stunt for the American League’s 50th anniversary in 1951, but kept it so secret even the sponsoring company, Falstaff Brewery didn’t know what was happening. Veeck had little Gaedel jump out of a papier mache birthday cake during the first game of the double header, wearing his Browns uniform, and everyone was thoroughly unimpressed. The folks from Falstaff were downright pissed, thinking that Veeck’s stunt was a bust.

But he saved the best for game two. At the bottom of the first inning Veeck brought Gaedel out as a pinch hitter. The umpire called the Browns’ manager to the plate to complain, but it was all legit - Veeck had snuck a contract through for Gaedel and had left room for him on the team roster. And so Eddie stood at the plate, with strict orders to not swing at the ball, no matter what happened.

According to his own autobiography Veeck said to 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?”

Veeck had done some measuring and realized that Veeck’s strike zone was impossibly small - just over an inch. The pitcher, Detroit Lion Bob Cain, laughed but threw the ball. The first two pitches went high, and then Cain essentially gave up, just tossing the last two. Gaedel made a triumphant walk to first base, where he was immediately replaced by a pinch runner.

The Browns ended up losing the game, and the American League changed its rules so that all contracts now have to go past the Commissioner of Baseball. Gaedel was originally left out of the league’s official history but was eventually put back on the books; his jersey now hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Gaedel became a heavy drinker and died in 1961 of a heart attack, at only 36 years old. Bob Cain was the only baseball player to attend Gaedel’s funeral. Said Cain, “I never even met him but I felt obligated to go. It kind of threw me for a loop that no other baseball people were there.”

Gaedel has one very special distinction - his autograph is now valued more highly than Babe Ruth’s thanks to its scarcity. There’s no word on whether Peter Dinklage is interested in making The Eddie Gaedel Story.

Thanks to @emmaspan and Baseball Almanac.