Results tagged ‘ Sportsman's Park ’

A little anniversary: Veeck sent Gaedel to bat 58 years ago

Bielefeld_90.jpgBy Bridget Bielefeld

Bill Veeck always found ways to lure fans to the ballpark, using elaborate giveaways and exploding scoreboards.

Yet perhaps the most well-known stunt of his career as baseball executive could hardly be seen by the fans in the upper deck. The memory of that promotion, however, will live forever in baseball lore.

Veeck, then the owner of the St. Louis Browns, sent 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat 58 years ago today.

8-19-09-Bielefeld_Veeck.jpgThe American League was celebrating its 50th anniversary in 1951, and Veeck wanted to do something memorable. He partnered with a local brewery to deliver a big crowd, and they came through. The Browns recorded their highest attendance mark in four years, as 18,369 fans crammed into Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis for an August 19 doubleheader between the last place Detroit Tigers and the eventual cellar dwellers, the Browns.

He also hired Gaedel -a 26-year-old stunt performer. To keep his plan a secret, Veeck sent the contract to the league office late on Saturday, Aug. 18 – knowing it would not be delivered until Monday.

Between games Gaedel – sporting No. 1/8 – jumped out of a large papier-mch cake and scurried into the Browns dugout. Little did the fans know at the time – nor did anyone from the league office – that Veeck had discretely signed Gaedel to a major league contract. Gaedel, given strict orders from Veeck not to swing the bat, swapped his elf-like shoes for a pair of cleats.  

“When he heard what I wanted him to do, he was a little dubious,” Veeck wrote in his autobiography, Veeck – As in Wreck.  “I had to give him a sales pitch.  I said, ‘Eddie, you’ll be the only midget in the history of the game. You’ll be appearing before thousands of people. Your name will go in the record books for all-time. You’ll be famous, Eddie. You’ll be immortal.’”

Gaedel waited in the Browns tunnel until the bottom of the first inning, he heard public address announcer Bernie Ebert boom, “Batting for Frank Saucier, No. 1/8, Eddie Gaedel.”

8-19-09-Bielefeld_Keeler.jpgAs he approached the batters’ box, home plate umpire Ed Hurley summoned Browns manager Zack Taylor. Prepared by Veeck, Taylor brought with him a copy of Gaedel’s contract and a roster – proving they had room for him on the team. Appeased, Hurley called for play to resume.

“When Eddie went into that crouch, his strike zone was just about visible to the naked eye,” Veeck wrote. “I picked up a ruler and measured it for posterity. It was 1.5 inches.” 

Tigers pitcher Bob Cain walked Gaedel on four pitches – all high. At first base, Gaedel was lifted for pinch runner Jim Delsing and left to a roaring ovation from the crowd.

“For a minute, I felt like Babe Ruth,” Gaedel said after the game. 

American League president Will Harridge was not amused. He banned Gaedel from Major League Baseball and implemented a rule stating that all player contracts must be approved by the president prior to that player appearing in a game.

Gaedel’s walk also was expunged from the record books in 1951, but was later restored. His career stat line reads one game, one plate appearance, one walk and an on-base percentage of 1.000.

Veeck would own the Browns for two more seasons before selling. In 1959, he purchased the White Sox and would have two separate stints as the team’s owner. He passed away in 1986 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Bridget Bielefeld is the 2009 public relations intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Colorful Browns memories

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

Bill Purdy was born and raised in St. Louis. But last week, he and his wife, Mary Beth, experienced what felt like a homecoming in Cooperstown.

For a few days at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Purdy relived a youth spent as close to the big leagues as you can get without being listed in a box score.

5-28-09-Hayes_PurdyHornsby.jpgPurdy grew up a fan of the St. Louis Browns and by the time he entered high school, they were his obsession. As a catcher during his teen years, Bill was a fan of Les Moss, who caught for the Browns from 1946-53. They shared a similar trait aside from catching.

“He was about as slow as a turtle running the bases, and I wasn’t fast either,” said Purdy, who supports the Hall of Fame as a Member of the Museum’s development program. “But I sure could hit the ball.”

It was Purdy’s catching ability, however, that dictated his baseball life after 1952. Bill Veeck, who purchased the Browns in 1951, was working to create greater interest in the team. So in 1952, the future Hall of Fame executive held a promotional contest to work as a bat boy for the Browns. Purdy won the contest.

During the middle of the season, the Browns needed someone to catch batting practice, so Purdy started doing that. For the rest of the season, he was the team’s bat boy and batting-practice catcher. In 1953, he served as just the batting-practice catcher and also traveled with the team.

As the bullpen catcher, he caught many legends, including the seemingly ageless Negro league great and future Hall of Famer Satchel Paige; an aging Virgil Trucks, who won 177 big league games; Harry Brecheen, who won three games in the 1946 World Series with the Cardinals; Don Larsen, who threw the only perfect game in World Series history; Bob Turley, who went on to win four World Series games, two rings and five pennants with the Yankees; Ned Garver, who won 20 games for the last-place Browns in 1951; and Tommy Byrne, a left-hander and part of the Yankees dynasty in the 1940s and ’50s.

5-28-09-Hayes_PurdyMug.jpgPurdy also has one great memory from a trip to Yankee Stadium in 1952. Like the players, Purdy kept his uniform, catcher’s mitt and the rest of his equipment in a trunk. The trunks were unloaded from the team’s train and taken straight to the clubhouse at the ballpark. Just before the team went to New York, the Browns were carrying three catchers, something the Yankees apparently knew. St. Louis’ third-string catcher, however, was sent to the Minors before the team arrived and another catcher wasn’t called up — something the Yankees apparently didn’t know.

“I’m assuming that the clubhouse man from the Yankees saw my stuff in there and thought I’d been activated,” Purdy said. “So they printed the scorecard with my name and number on it. I have it to this day, and it will baffle any historian here, because you won’t find my name on the list of active players. But my name is on the scorecard from Yankee Stadium — it’s the same scorecard that had Mantle, Berra and Casey Stengel on it.”

That scorecard, along with autographed balls and other artifacts — including seat frames from old Sportsman’s Park with original Busch Stadium seats in it — are among the memorabilia Purdy still has from his days with the Browns.

But the stories are what he treasures most.

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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