Eddie Gaedel: August 19, 1951
Eddie Gaedel is potentially the most widely-known "cup of coffee" player in major league history and made his one and only major-league appearance on this date 68 years ago. Gaedel, a Lithuanian immigrant, is also the shortest player in MLB history, standing just 3' 7". It is precisely that height (or lack thereof) that led him into his unlikely spot in big-league lore.
St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck was nothing if not creative and the addition of Gaedel to his Browns roster was among the (many) controversial stunts he pulled as an owner and a showman. Bob Fischel, who handled publicity for Veeck, was sent out to find a true "midget" to help the team with a stunt to attract fans to the stadium in the year St. Louis was celebrating 50 years of the American League.
After much searching, Veeck finally decided Gaedel would be the man for the job and sent Fischel to Chicago to get him and bring him back to St. Louis. Gaedel was hidden underneath a blanket to ensure the plan remained a secret. Though he was initially given No. 6 on his jersey, Veeck deftly changed it to ⅛, to reflect the size of the individual wearing the uniform.
When the time came, the Browns wheeled out a seven-foot high birthday cake in between doubleheader games and Gaedel came jumping out of it. The crowd was delighted and was even more on the edge of their seat when Gaedel was sent in as a pinch hitter in the first inning. With a strike zone less than two inches tall, he predictably walked on four pitches and was removed for a pinch runner.
Just two days after Gaedel's lone appearance, American League president Will Harridge voided his contract with the team. Gaedel whined about the decision, but capitalized off the instant fame he gained from his lone MLB appearance. He began making other appearances and making extremely good money.
Gaedel once again worked for Veeck when he and three other little people were dropped off in a helicopter at Comiskey Park dressed as martians armed with ray guns to "capture" infielders Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio in 1958. Unfortunately, as Gaedel continued to tour as a celebrity, his habit for drinking got stronger. He would often drink too much and get in bar fights. He also had high blood pressure and an enlarged heart.
One night, less than 10 years after his lone major-league appearance, Gaedel got drunk and became involved in a fight at a bowling alley. It didn't end there. He was followed home and beaten badly. When his mother found him lying in bed, he was already dead. The savage beating he had taken spurred on a heart attack and at just 36 years old, Gaedel was gone.
Gaedel's story is unique, unlike any other "cup of coffee" player before or since. In the coming days and weeks, you will hear more stories about "real" ballplayers and their tough and interesting roads to their short time in the show. For a more in-depth look at Gaedel's life story, check out SABR, who has an excellent write up on his rise and fall.