If there’s one thing this country so desperately needs right now, it’s another excuse to go into a bar and drink.
So let’s tip our caps to Tom Keefe, Spokane lawyer and founder of the Eddie Gaedel Society.
The meeting was called to order in O’Doherty’s Irish Grille and Pub on Sunday afternoon – 61 years from the day Gaedel became one the most successful major leaguers to ever play the game of baseball.
The word “play” is admittedly a stretch.
Eddie Gaedel, who died in 1961, did leave the game with a perfect on-base percentage.
It’s also true he only came to bat but once.
Gaedel drew four straight balls due to the fact that he stood 3-foot-7 and weighed 65 pounds, probably with his cleats on.
St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck had signed Gaedel in secret and put him into his lineup for one historic at bat, knowing the wee man’s strike zone would be tinier than a termite’s toenail.
Gaedel made the most of his moment, dressed in a full Browns uniform with the number 1/8 on his back.
Although Veeck had ordered him to crouch, Gaedel struck a fearless stance at the plate a la Joe DiMaggio.
Bob Cain, who was pitching for the last-place Detroit Tigers, reacted with good humor.
Which may have spared Eddie’s life.
I can name a score of ornery big league hurlers who would have delighted in decapitating the diminutive batter.
Cain, however, threw for the zone – and missed.
What happened on Aug. 19, 1951, went down as one of baseball’s most memorable stunts.
As a result, Keefe has embarked on a mission to rekindle the public’s memory of Gaedel, whose autograph sells for more than Babe Ruth’s.
But an Eddie Gaedel Society?
“Eddie was it. He made the mold. He broke the mold,” said Keefe, who added defensively, “They laughed at the lady who said we should have a Father’s Day.”
You don’t have to sell me, Tom.
I think giving this little person his due is a grand notion.
And what a swell gathering it was.
A dozen or so of us hoisted appropriate half-pints of beer in Gaedel’s honor.
Speeches were given. An Eddie Gaedel banner was unfurled. Club T-shirts were distributed.
We sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Member Bryan Harnetiaux recited “My At Bat, by Eddie Gaedel,” a poem he wrote especially for the occasion:
Veeck paid me to give the fans some fun,
Please the crowd, help get a run.
I’d walk, an’ then they’d take me out,
This was all it was about.
Bill said he’d shoot me where I stood,
If I dared wave that stick of wood.
But once inside the box, it seems,
It all gives way to boyhood dreams.
See, I stared the pitcher in the eyes,
An’ brought him down to half my size.
Now the press said all the pitches were alike,
Each way too high to be a strike.
Truth is, the first was a bit inside,
The second one a little wide,
The third, not my style, the ump, he missed the call.
The fourth most definitely a ball.
So, to this day, the tenor of the accounts still astound me.
The simple fact – they pitched around me.
I could definitely see this getting out of control.
Keefe even intends to raise money to commission a life-sized Eddie Gaedel statue, which, even if the sculptor charges by the inch, would still be a bargain.
“Where would you put it?” I asked incredulously.
Keefe pointed to a spot above the O’Doherty’s bar.
That could work.
Keefe said he became enamored with the Gaedel yarn after reading Bill Veeck’s autobiography, “Veeck as in Wreck.”
In the book Veeck tells how he hired Gaedel, who had a performance background, and taught him what to do.
“Well, Eddie Gaedel had more than a little ham in him,” wrote Veeck.
“The more I talked, the braver he became. By the time I was finished, little Eddie was ready to charge through a machine-gun nest to get to the plate.”
The story stuck with Keefe, who last year decided to form the society. He convinced pub owner Tim O’Doherty to become sergeant at arms and provide his downtown venue.
“I want it to read in my obituary,” Keefe told me with a laugh. “ ‘Tom Keefe, founding member of the Eddie Gaedel Society, Chapter One.’ ”
And that’s the long and short of it.
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