In keeping with tradition, it was a day of small talk, short speeches and half-pint beers. On Sunday, Aug. 19 at downtown Spokane’s O’Doherty’s Irish Pub, an overflow crowd chanted, “Take a walk, Eddie!” to celebrate the eighth annual Eddie Gaedel Day.
“O’Doherty’s Pub is where it all started, eight years ago,” Eddie Gaedel Society founder and president Tom Keefe said. “Now it’s an international movement.”
The society traces its roots to a bar trivia game. Because of its relative scarcity, Gaedel’s autograph sells for more than Babe Ruth’s. When Keefe offered up this bit of trivia, a patron blurted out, “Who the hell is Eddie Gaedel?”
Keefe was aghast.
“Bill Veeck promised Eddie immortality,” he said, referring to the former St. Louis Browns owner who signed the 3-foot-7 Gaedel as a publicity stunt and dressed him in a jersey with the number 1/8. “And this room full of knowledgeable baseball fans had never heard of him.”
Keefe set to work, choosing Aug. 19 – the anniversary of Gaedel’s only major-league appearance, in 1951 – as the date for Eddie Gaedel Day. There are now 11 Eddie Gaedel Society chapters, including one in Clondalkin, a hamlet north of Dublin, Ireland.
“Irish pubs are the natural habitat for Eddie Gaedel Society chapters, simply because little people hold a special place in Ireland,” Keefe said.
The society’s most prominent local member is former Yankee great Don Larsen, owner of the only perfect game in World Series history. Despite recent back surgery that limits his mobility, the 89-year-old Larsen and his wife of 60 years, Corrine, came from their home in Hayden Lake to tip a half-pint in Eddie’s honor.
“He’s a delight,” society member Jeff Barlow said. “He’s made for this.”
Larsen said that he never met Gaedel, who walked on four pitches in his only plate appearance, but they had a connection.
“I was with the St. Louis Browns,” Larsen said. “Veeck was our owner also when I played in 1953, my first year.”
The Larsens retired to Hayden Lake in 1994.
“We wanted to get out of California and find somewhere where there was fishing, so we took a chance … and we’re still there,” he said.
Sister Paula Mary Turnbull, who died July 20, was inducted into the society’s Hall of Fame. Turnbull’s unique metal-welded sculptures can be seen all over Spokane. Her most famous piece, the whimsical goat, was displayed at the 1974 World’s Fair.
“Sister Paula was a proud and active member of this organization over the years,” Keefe said. “Her statue of Eddie Gaedel at O’Doherty’s pub is the centerpiece of our shrine.”
Three of Chicago native Gaedel’s cousins appeared at this year’s event. Carole Ronek flew in from Kansas and Tom Klak from Maine – but the third cousin’s appearance might have been the most unlikely.
Paulette Julaura, who had nothing to do with the society and didn’t even know it existed until two months ago, actually lives in Spokane.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Julaura said. “I thought, ‘Why would there be an Eddie Gaedel Society in Spokane?’ ”
Julaura discovered the society two months ago, ironically during a conversation about Sister Turnbull’s sculptures. A friend mentioned that one of her sculptures was of a tiny ballplayer.
“I said, ‘Was it Eddie Gaedel?’” she said. “She said it was, so I told her, ‘That’s my cousin!’”
Two months later, the three cousins were sitting together in O’Doherty’s Irish Grille, listening to Larsen tell stories about his playing days.
Keefe said that the next step for the society will be to petition Major League Baseball to designate Aug. 19 as Eddie Gaedel Fan Appreciation Day.
“Eddie was the only fan who ever played Major League Baseball,” Keefe said. “Now that we’ve got enough chapters and enough geographical spread, we’ll start an online petition.”
Gaedel died when Klak was a toddler, but Klak’s father told him all about his tiny cousin.
“The legacy of Eddie is that everybody appreciates the underdog,” he said.
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