It is, to this day, likely the most famous stunt in Major League Baseball history: On Aug. 19, 1951, as the anemic St. Louis Browns limped toward the fall of another failed season against the Detroit Tigers, owner Bill Veeck – a Hall of Fame owner and the greatest showman in the history of the game – sent 3’ 7” tall Eddie Gaedel to the plate, with the number “1/8” on his jersey and to the hysterical laughter of fans. The Eddie Gaedel bat? An 18″, locally made stick that looked more like a baton.
It was the bottom of the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader and Gaedel took four straight balls and headed to first base and into baseball history, stopping twice to tip his hat to the fans as the crowd of 18,000 roared. Gaedel was immediately lifted for a pinch runner and his big league career was over.
On Aug. 1, as part of Heritage Auctions’ Platinum Night Sports Auction in Rosemont, IL, taking place in conjunction with The National Sports Collector’s Convention, the bat that sat perched atop Gaedel’s shoulder for those four pitches will appear for the very first time at auction. It is expected to bring $100,000+.
“Veeck was behind some of the most famous, and infamous, ballpark stunts in the history of America’s pastime,” said Chris Ivy, Director of Sports at Heritage Auctions, “including Cleveland Municpal Stadium’s disastrous 10 cent beer night in 1974. It was his 1951 stunt with Gaedel as the smallest batter in league history, however, that he is most remembered for.”
The bat has been consigned to auction by Gaedel’s nephew, Bob Gaedele, a Chicago-area resident who was given the bat by his father when he was around 10 years old. Bob’s father, Eddie’s younger brother, received the bat from Eddie after the game.
“Eddie and my dad were real close, said Gaedele. “Even though Dad was younger than Eddie, he always looked out for him, because kids would pick on Eddie. They were always close and I think Eddie really appreciated my dad for it and gave him the bat because of that. I know I always thought that it was pretty cool that dad stuck up for Eddie.”
While Gaedele kept the bat for many years among his trophies “on top of his dresser,” and then packed away when he left for college, his memory of his infamous uncle consists mostly of what his father related to him. In fact, Gaedele only has one vague memory of Eddie which, appropriately enough, revolved around baseball.
“I was only four when he died, so I don’t remember Eddie very well,” said Gaedele. “The only thing I can remember vaguely is one day when my cousins and I were messing around in the backyard and Eddie came out and threw a few pitches to us.”
Gaedele never played with the bat, as any child would have been tempted to do. Instead, it remained untouched in his possession. Gaedele began to gain awareness of his Eddie’s place in baseball history in his late teen years, when people would question him about his uncle, though it wasn’t until the 50th anniversary of the stunt at the Hall of Fame in 2001 (where Gaedel’s jersey is on display) that he began to realize just what a famous wrinkle the episode was in the grand history of the national pastime.
Now, with his own son playing in the Minor Leagues – for a farm team associated with the San Diego Padres – and having put a couple of children through college, Gaedele is ready to turn the prize over to a collector or an institution that can preserve and present the diminutive bat for the future and help his family out financially at the same time.
“This seems like the right time to do it,” said Gaedele. “The bat can be cared for in the right way and my family can benefit from it.”
While Eddie Gaedel’s brief major league career ended after four pitches and a walk to first base, where he stopped twice to tip his hat to fans as the crowd roared its approval, his enduring fame was instantly assured.
“This is a truly fascinating and intriguing piece of baseball history,” said Ivy. “The story has big drama, grand pathos and broad entertainment value – everything you could want from a baseball artifact – all contained in this captivating little bat.”
As of Tuesday night, early bidding on the bat is over $29,000.