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Saucier seemed destined to be remembered in baseball history for his own accomplishments. Saucier had won two minor league batting crowns, including a .446 mark for Wichita Falls of the Class B Big State League in 1949. A lucrative oil business had him ready to retire at 25, but St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck signed him to a $10,000 contract that was twice the league minimum.
Eddie Gaedel said he felt like Babe Ruth after his only plate appearance in the major leagues.
Soon after his July debut, however, Saucier developed acute bursitis, which limited his range in the field. Blood blisters on his hands also made it difficult for him to swing the bat. But thanks to Veeck’s most famous promotion, Saucier isn’t remembered for a major league career stat line of only one hit in 14 at bats.
Instead, he became a footnote to history on Aug. 19, 1951 as the player who was replaced by 3 foot 7 Eddie Gaedel, the shortest player ever to play in the major leagues.
Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians before buying the Browns in 1951, had been toying with the idea of bringing “a midget” to the plate. He got the idea from New York Giants manager John McGraw, who told Veeck’s father he always wanted to put his good luck clubhouse hunchback up for an at bat.
Veeck had learned of Gaedel through a Cleveland talent agent and agreed to pay him $100 for a day’s work.
“Eddie, you’ll be the only midget in the history of the game,” Veeck, in his autobiography, “Veeck as in Wreck,” recalled telling Gaedel. “You’ll be immortal.”
“When he was first given the idea to go to St. Louis he was very hesitant,” said Gayle Esposito, Gaedel’s niece who was 5 years old when Gaedel died in 1961. “But the more (Veeck) talked, the more he stuck out his chest and the prouder he became. He really wanted to be a special person and not be picked on all the time.”
In order to ensure the legitimacy of Gaedel’s plate appearance, Veeck said he purposefully wired a signed contract right after the American League office closed.
“We knew that when (American League president) Will Harridge went to lunch on Friday that meant that he finished work for the week,” Veeck’s wife, Mary Frances, said. “So we wired it along and it wasn’t like they weren’t going to approve it his size wasn’t printed anywhere on that contract.”
‘I was licking the cream off my whiskers’
Veeck let only a few people in on his secret. One was former owner Bill DeWitt, who in turn told his 9 year old son, Bill Jr., one of the team’s honorary bat boys. He framed it with autographes of Bob Swift, the Detroit Tigers catcher, and the umpire Ed Hurley, as well as a ticket and box score from the game.
Swirsky said he was offered $15,000 for the Gaedel autograph alone. A scorecard from the game, with Gaedel and his No. 1/8 listed on the roster, reportedly sold for $2,000 in an auction in 1999.
Jersey manufacturer Mitchell and Ness has been selling replica Eddie Gaedel jerseys for the past 10 years. An average of 15 jerseys, which cost $225 each, are sold each year.
“A week before the stunt occurred, my father said, ‘We’re doing this midget batter and you can’t say anything about it. We have to use your uniform, since no other one will fit him,’ ” said DeWitt, now 59 and the principal owner of the St. Louis Cardinals. “They changed the number from 6 to 1/8 and I somehow kept my mouth shut.”
Not many of the 18,369 fans, the largest crowd in four years to see a Browns game, expected to see a great doubleheader between the Browns and Detroit Tigers. They came for the 50th anniversary of the American League and Falstaff Brewery day. They received free beer and cake, and were entertained by a band led by Satchel Paige, whom Veeck had signed to play for the Browns earlier that season.
Little did they know that the same little guy who jumped out of a 7 foot papier mache cake after the first game of the doubleheader would make baseball history.
“The beer sponsor was sitting up in the box with me and when (Gaedel) popped out of the cake, the look on their face said, ‘This is the big surprise Bill had for us?'” Mary Frances said. “And knowing what was coming, I was licking the cream off my whiskers.”
‘I knew something was going to happen’
“After Eddie Gaedel popped out of the cake, he sat between (manager) Zack (Taylor) and me. He was pretty edgy and never said what he was going to do,” Saucier said. “So there’s Gaedel, in between both of us, and Taylor’s tying his shoes. I knew something was going to happen, but I wasn’t quite sure what.”
The leadoff spot was normal for Saucier, except he was injured and didn’t expect to play. But Veeck was also using Saucier to sell more tickets that day. A week before, Veeck notified Saucier’s hometown newspapers in Washington, Mo., that Saucier would be in the starting lineup, and several busloads of people traveled to the game.
“I couldn’t swing a bat or throw a ball and here I was in right field. Bobby Young, the second baseman, said that if the ball was hit to me, he would run out and I should throw it underhand to him.” With a runner on first in the top of the first, Vic Wertz ripped a single to right. Saucier threw to third and stopped the lead runner from advancing. “That was the last throw I made until the following March,” said Saucier, who remembers feeling his shoulder pop out on the throw.
“I go over to the bat rack and pick up my Louisville Slugger, model K44, and I step up to the plate. And I hope (Tigers pitcher) Bob Cain walks me because I sure can’t swing the bat,” Saucier recalls.
“When the announcer called Eddie, I was thinking this is both the greatest act of show business I’ve ever seen, plus it’s the easiest money I’ve ever made,” Saucier said.
Umpire Ed Hurley questioned Gaedel’s ability to play, but Taylor came out with Gaedel’s contract in hand.
Like the fans in the stands, Bob Cain found humor in pitching to Eddie Gaedel. He was ‘laughing so hard that he’s practically falling off the mound with each pitch,’ one fan recalls.