Little did I know (pun intended) that writing about Tom Keefe’s obsession with pint-size Eddie Gaedel last year would lead me to a face-to-face meeting with one of my all-time Spokane heroes.
I’ll get to Sister Paula Turnbull in a moment.
First some background for those of you who are scratching your heads and wondering, “Tom Keefe and, um, who?”
Keefe is a Spokane attorney and former chairman of Spokane County’s Democratic Party.
Don’t let that scare you. Keefe is a first-class imp, a hilarious guy with a zany wit and enough time and resources to act on whatever crazy impulse might jump into his mind from time to time.
Take last St. Patrick’s Day, for example.
It wasn’t enough for Keefe, an Irish Catholic, to merely celebrate the holiday like normal folk.
Where’s the entertainment value in that?
So Keefe rounded up some authentic-looking green-and-gold papal vestments. Then he put them on and went to O’Doherty’s Pub & Irish Grille (Keefe’s favorite saloon), where he blessed the beery masses as St. Paddy himself.
Keefe doesn’t mind going a little overboard to pull a prank or to draw a laugh.
Which brings us to the man’s fascination (fixation?) with the aforementioned Eddie Gaedel and one of the funniest episodes in the history of baseball.
Gaedel, who died in 1961, was not your typical major leaguer.
That’s an understatement since Eddie stood 3-foot-7 and weighed 65 pounds.
A performance-enhancing drug to Gaedel would have been a stool.
Baseball would have never been in the cards for such a wee man, of course, were it not for Bill Veeck, owner of the St. Louis Browns and a bigger imp than Keefe.
Always looking to please the crowds, Veeck put Gaedel in a uniform that bore the number 1/8 and stuck him in the lineup for his one and only time at the plate on Aug. 19, 1951.
Gaedel drew a walk.
What’d you expect? The guy had the strike zone of a teacup.
But that one fateful appearance allowed Gaedel to retire with a perfect 1.000 on-base percentage.
Keefe fell in love with that story from the moment he read about it as a kid. Gaedel’s scarce autograph, Keefe will point out to anyone who’ll listen, sells for more than one of Babe Ruth’s.
But what really set Keefe in motion happened one night in O’Doherty’s when the mention of the pint-size player drew the following response:
“Who in the hell is Eddie Gaedel?”
Those seven words inspired Keefe to spread the Gaedel gospel. He began by making O’Doherty’s home to the first chapter of the Eddie Gaedel Society.
I’m proud to say I attended last year’s maiden meeting and hoisted a brew in Eddie’s honor.
I also assumed that this would pretty much be the end of it.
Wrong. I should have figured Keefe was only warming up in his effort to make Gaedel known throughout the land.
To that end, he is inviting the world to join him at O’Doherty’s at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, where he will formally enshrine an Eddie Gaedel statuette on a perch high above the bar.
And what a statuette it is.
Keefe commissioned none other than Sister Paula Turnbull to sculpt this wondrous piece of art in copper and brass.
When I heard Turnbull was involved, well, I was all-in once again. I’ve been a huge fan of Turnbull’s sculpting and I’m betting many of you out there are too.
Though the creator of many, many memorable works, the sculptor may be best known for that vacuuming critter known to millions who have passed through Riverfront Park since the days of Expo ’74.
Yes, I’m talking about …
The Garbage Goat.
“A lot of people like it,” said Turnbull modestly.
Hard to believe that Turnbull is 92 and still heating metal with a hot torch, bending and welding and manipulating the material into marvelous pieces like the ethereal “Cosmos,” a shimmering depiction of the universe, that hangs above the Holy Names sanctuary. Spry and full of humor, white-haired Turnbull is a civic treasure. And now that her name is attached to the Eddie Gaedel Society, well, who knows how big this tribute to a tiny man can get?
“It really bugged me that Eddie got lost in the fog of history,” Keefe said in a serious tone. “But he died a former Major League Baseball player. And he ought to be remembered.”