Doug Clark: Lunacy-based Gaedel Society boasts international reach
If the Nobel Foundation ever gets around to rewarding “inspired lunacy,” I know who deserves to be jetting to Stockholm to pick up that first award.
Tom Keefe – the man who gave Spokane (and beyond?) the Eddie Gaedel Society.
The society held its fourth annual gathering Tuesday night at O’Doherty’s Irish Grille.
We came in honor of Aug. 19, 1951. That’s the day Gaedel, a 3-foot-7, 65-pound “little person,” took his first and only at-bat for the St. Louis Browns.
Bill Veeck, the promotions-minded owner of the Browns, put Gaedel in his lineup, stuck him in a uniform with number 1/8th on the back and allowed the half-pint to go to the plate with orders to NOT swing – or else!
I probably don’t have to tell you that Gaedel drew a walk on four straight balls.
Gaedel’s strike zone, after all, was about the size of a macaroon.
The fact Gaedel, who died in 1961, had no mortal ties to Spokane matters not a whit to Keefe.
In fact, the sheer random nature of this only fuels the Spokane attorney’s efforts to legitimize what he sees as “the true intersection of humor with baseball.”
The Eddie Gaedel Society began with slick invitations and custom T-shirts.
Keefe then commissioned Sister Paula Turnbull, the artist who blessed us with the garbage goat, to sculpt a small (life-size?) statue of Gaedel that now perches high above O’Doherty’s bar.
This year’s Eddie antics expanded to …
• Keefe calling for Gaedel’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. “Has to happen,” he said.
• “The Eddie Gaedel Children’s Choir” singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
• Spokane Mayor David Condon proclaiming Tuesday as “Eddie Gaedel Appreciation Day.”
• Bryan Harnetiaux, the society’s “poet laureate,” delivering an original haiku:
“Cleated, framed by chalk.
“Four Pfftt-Thwap sounds of Summer.
“His cap scrapes the sky.”
That’s actually quite good.
In recapping Tuesday’s event, Keefe sounded more amazed than ever about the Eddie Gaedel potential.
“What’s truly miraculous here is that a bit of seemingly harmless lunchtime barstool banter at O’Doherty’s about baseball trivia … would lead to this national (now international) movement to recognize the greatest prank in the history of our national pastime.”
Keefe may be overstating the Gaedel groundswell a tad.
He counts Harnetiaux’s haiku, for example, as the society’s link to Japan.
That said, an Illinois bar really has signed on as the Eddie Gaedel Society’s second chapter.
It is likewise true that “barstool banter” was the genesis of all this.
It all began with Keefe flexing his baseball trivia muscles by announcing that a Gaedel autograph sells for more than a Babe Ruth signature.
To which some cad reportedly uttered …
“Who the hell is Eddie Gaedel?”
They were fighting words to Keefe, who made up his mind to tell the world about Eddie.
I know Keefe. He won’t stop until Eddie’s in Cooperstown and more recognizable than a Kardashian.
But there’s no denying it. Getting together each year to hoist a brew in honor of such a grand practical joke is the very definition of harmless fun.
Plus there’s always a surprise in store.
As in meeting Charles Brondos, a retired Spokane neurologist who was AT THE GAME!
Alas, Brondos doesn’t remember Gaedel or anything else about the Browns’ doubleheader that day against the Detroit Tigers.
“Give me a break, I was 9 1/2 years old,” he said with a chuckle.
Brondos does tell a revealing story about Veeck’s generosity.
Afflicted with polio as a child, Brondos went to East St. Louis, Illinois, for surgery. The boy’s father, Stephen, sent a letter to the Browns organization and the Browns responded by sending two players – Johnnie Bero and Bob Mahoney – to visit young Charles.
Sometime later, a letter containing tickets to the Aug. 19 games arrived from Veeck.
Lack of memories aside, Brondos said he was “honored” to be invited to the fourth annual Gaedel Society event and to learn more about the wee player with a perfect on-base percentage.
Same here, Doc.
“What I enjoy is that Eddie’s story gets bigger every year,” said Keefe. “And every person who hears it for the first time laughs and then retells it to someone else.”
Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.