Sixty years ago today, baseball witnessed its most famous one-game career of all-time. Yes, even more famous than Moonlight Graham of Field of Dreams fame. The guy who played 60 years ago didn’t need any Hollywood production to make him one of the most easily remembered players of his era.
In the second game of a Browns-Tigers doubleheader in St. Louis on Aug. 19, 1951, Browns manager Zach Taylor announced a surprise pinch-hitter—the newly acquired Eddie Gaedel would bat for St. Louis. At three feet, seven inches, Gaedel is easily the shortest player in baseball history. With a frame that small, it’s no surprise he walked on four pitches. When he crouched down at the plate, his strike zone was only 1.25 inches tall. The team gave him the uniform number 1/8.
The pinch-hit was the brainchild of Bill Veeck, who had purchased the Browns less than two months earlier. He knew St. Louis could no longer afford two teams, and that there was no way he could make the struggling Browns as successful on the field as the powerhouse Cardinals. Thus Veeck adopted another strategy to drive them out of town: win local goodwill and attract fans through a series of zany promotions.
Nothing was zanier or more unlikely than the Gaedel game. Veeck went through a lot of secretive cloak and dagger stuff to pull it off because if the league offices found out about it in advance, they’d ban Gaedel from playing as a stunt not suited to the best interests of baseball.
Despite keeping Gaedel hush-hush, Veeck still attracted a crowd of 18,369 (which was huge for the Browns) with a series of other publicized promotions, including giving every fan a slice of cake when they came to the park.
Before the double header, the team had Gaedel hop out of a cake, announcing he was the newest St. Louis Brown. Most people thought that was the end of the stunt. They didn’t think anyone would actually have a midget play in a game. They forgot they were dealing with Bill Veeck.
After a normal first game, the Browns announced their lineup for the second game. Leading off for St. Louis in the bottom of the first would be Frank Saucier, normally a reserve outfielder. There’s a reason why a reserve was due to leadoff: He was never going to bat.
Instead, the Browns had Gaedel come up, much to the crowd’s delight. Since he had an official contract, home plate ump Eddie Hurley had to allow it. Tigers pitcher Bob Cain then walked him. The fans howled with joy.
The only person in the stands not tickled was Veeck himself. He was afraid Gaedel was actually going to swing. In the lead-up to this Gaedel clearly wanted to take a swing, and Veeck talked him out of it by lying to Gaedel there would be a gunman on the roof with orders to open fire if Gaedel moved the bat.
It made Gaedel famous and helped put Bill Veeck in Cooperstown, and it happened 60 years ago today.
Other events also celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. The better ones are in bold if you just want to skim.
5,000 days since the Yankees sign free agent Chili Davis.
15,000 days since Billy Williams ruins a perfect game for Phil Niekro. The Atlanta knuckleballer fans nine in a complete game shutout, allowing only two hits—both by Williams. Niekro retires the other 27 batters he faces. Niekro’s Game Score of 91 ties his career high.
1897 Silver King, 1880s pitching phenom, plays his last game.
1899 Ned Hanlon and Frank Selee, two Hall of Fame managers who are the best skippers of their era, manage against each other for the 100th time.
1900 Patsy Tebeau manages his last game after a decade in the dugout.
1900 Rube Waddell posts two complete game victories in one doubleheader. He’s pitching for Milwaukee in the AL, which will become a major league the next year. In the first game, he tosses a 17-inning complete game for the win, and then throws another five shutout innings in an abbreviated second game.
1902 Orioles outfielder Kip Selbach commits four errors in one game.
1905 The Tigers spend $900 to purchase a minor league prospect named Ty Cobb.
1907 Speedy outfielder Clyde Milan makes his big league debut.
1911 The Braves sign Cy Young, who was just cut by the Cleveland Indians.
1911 The Reds beat Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants. Previously, Cincinnati had lost 22 straight decisions to Mathewson.
1912 The A’s purchase Bullet Joe Bush from Missola in the Union Association.
1913 Max Carey enters the day with four homers hit over the fence in his career (begun in 1910). So you can imagine how surprising it is when he does it twice in one game on this day.
1917 New York authorities arrest John McGraw and Reds manager Christy Mathewson for trying to play a professional baseball game on Sunday, in violation of city ordinances.
1917 Ty Cobb is playing third base coach for the Tigers on this day—and his actions cause a rule change. When base runner George Burns holds up at third at one point, Cobb physically shoves him toward home. A new rule soon passes: Coaches can’t touch players.
1921 Ty Cobb belts his 3,000th hit. It took 2,135 games to do that.
1925 Philly finally beats Cincinnati starting pitcher Pete Donohue. Previously, he’d beaten the Phils 20 times in a row.
1930 The Chicago White Sox purchase Luke Appling from Atlanta in the Southern Association.
1930 Goose Goslin has perhaps the best game of his career, belting three homers in a game for the second time, and setting a personal record with 13 total bases in one game. He’s 4-for-5 with five RBIs, and three runs for the Browns’ 7-0 win over the A’s.
1931 Lefty Grove wins his 16th straight game, a personal best. His line during the stretch: 16-0, 14 GS, 13 CG, 137 IP, 133 IP, 45 R, 34 ER, 32 BB, 78 K, 2.23 ERA. His season record is 25-2 at this point.
1931 Lou Gehrig plays in his 1,000th consecutive game.
1935 Bobby Richardson is born.
1939 Boston rookie Ted Williams belts his first grand slam. He’ll retire with 17.
1941 Hal Newhouser walks 10 batters in a game for the only time, but wins anyway: Tigers 12, Yankees 3.
1945 The Phillies have a Hall of Famer take the mound for the start against the Reds: Jimmie Foxx. That’s right—the first baseman. And he does pretty well, too—gets the win and everything. His line: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 5 K for a Game Score of 59. The Phillies win, 4-2.
1945 6,000 attend the funeral for Babe Ruth at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
1950 Gilette safety razor company pays $800,000 for TV rights to the World Series, and an additional $175,000 for radio rights.
1952 Robin Roberts sets a personal best with his ninth straight win. His line in that time: 11 G, 9 GS, 8 CG, 84.1 IP, 84 H, 29 R, 29 ER, 10 BB, 34 K for a 3.09 ERA.
1954 There is a bizarre end to the White Sox-Orioles game. Chicago leads 4-3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a full count to Clint Courtney, the last batter. Suddenly, a torrential rainstorm erupts, and the umpires stop the game for a 45 minutes rain delay. When it ends, Courtney takes one pitch for strike three, ending the game.
1955 Harry Walker plays in his last game.
1955 The St. Louis Cardinals sign bonus baby Lindy McDaniel.
1957 The board of directors for the New York Giants votes 8-1 to move to San Francisco.
1958 In a minor league game, all starters for the Douglas Copper Kings homer in a 22-8 win over the Chihuahua Dorados of the Arizona-Mexico League.
1958 Gary Gaetti is born.
1960 Ron Darling is born.
1960 The Dodgers lose 1-0 to the Cardinals in a heartbreaking bottom of the ninth, in which St. Louis scores without getting a hit and barely getting the ball out of the infield. After a leadoff walk, a sacrifice hit advances the runner to second, then there’s an intentional walk someone to set up a force. After a fly out advances the winning run to third, an error by the third baseman lets the game’s only run score.
1961 Reds manager Fred Hutchinson tries something new. He sends signals to his third base coach via short wave receiver. It backfires when the press box and stadium PA pick it up in the first inning.
1962 Mickey Mantle sets a personal best with seven RBI in one game. He’s 3-for-4 with a double, homer, and two stolen bases. (It’s the ninth and last time he steals two bases in one game).
1965 Cincinnati stud Jim Maloney tosses his first no-hitter. He walks 10, hits a batter, and has one batter reach on error, but also fans 12.
1966 Veteran skipper Birdie Tebbetts manages his last game.
1966 Birth of pitcher Woody Williams.
1967 Leo Durocher becomes the eighth manager to win 1,500 games: 1,500-1,250 record.
1968 Bob Gibson wins his 15th straight game. His line: 16 G, 15 CG, 146 IP, 89 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 25 BB, 124 K, and a 0.68 ERA.
1968 Jerry Koosman has possibly the best game of his career, but doesn’t get the win. He pitches 12 shutout innings for the Mets, but they lose in 17 frames to the Giants, 1-0.
1969 The White Sox sign amateur free agent Brian Downing.
1969 Juan Marichal posts a Game Score of 104, which is only the third best of his career. His line: 13.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 13 K. Despite his brilliance, he gets stuck with the loss when Tommie Agee belts a walk-off homer for a 1-0 Mets win over the Giants.
1969 Ken Holtzman throws a no-hitter despite fanning zero batters. This is the only time that’s happened in a full nine-inning no-hitter since Sad Sam Jones did it in 1923. Hank Aaron belts a fly to left in the seventh inning, but the wind holds it up. Cubs beat the Braves, 3-0.
1969 Swede Hollison, the last pitcher to have worked from the pitcher’s box, dies at age 99. He threw four innings with Chicago in 1892.
1970 The Senators release Johnny Roseboro.
1973 Big Daddy Rick Reuschel fans 13 in one game, his personal high.
1974 Joe Morgan drives in a personal best seven runs in one game, which Cincinnati wins 15-2 over Philadelphia.
1974 Jim Rice makes his big league debut.
1975 Houston hires Bill Virdon to manage. He’s still the only manager to last more than 1,000 games with the team.
1978 Jim Rice plays center field for the only time. He starts the game there and lasts six innings before moving over to left. The left fielder he replaced? Carlton Fisk. That must have been one heckuva defense performance by the Red Sox that day.
1978 For some reason the Phillies have Mike Schmidt batting leadoff, and he responds with his only leadoff home run.
1980 Eddie Murray belts his 100th home run.
1980 Darrell Evans hits his 200th home run.
1981 Sabermetric darling Bobby Grich has his best batting streak max at 21 games. He’s 33-for-75 and a .440/.517/.787 in that stretch.
1981 Terry Francona makes his big league debut.
1982 Rickey Henderson steals his 300th career base. It’s his 475th career game.
1982 Birth of infielder J. J. Hardy.
1982 Pascual Perez is supposed to start for Atlanta, but is late because he misses the highway’s exit for Fulton County Stadium three times. The expressway goes all around the city, so he thrice drives around before finally exiting.
1983 Jerry Koosman wins his 200th game, with a record of 200-188.
1983 The Dodgers trade Dave Stewart, a player to be named later, and $200,000 to Texas for Rick Honeycutt. Stewart and Honeycutt will both achieve their most lasting success as teammates with Oakland in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
1986 The Royals beat the Rangers 9-8 in extra innings in a wild game. Texas blows a 7-1 lead, but comes back after Kansas City leads 8-7.
1986 Seattle trades Dave Henderson to the Boston Red Sox.
1988 Carlton Fisk enjoys his only five-hit game, going 5-for-5 with two RBI and a triple. He’s a 40-year old catcher, but he still hits a triple.
1988 Jay Buhner, a former Yankees prospect traded to the Mariners, plays in his first game in Yankee Stadium. The Seattle slugger becomes the first righty and only fourth player overall to homer into the center field stands.
1990 Jose Offerman makes his major league debut, and homers in his first at-bat.
1991 Tim Raines has his worst game, according to WPA at least. He goes 1-for-5 as the Tigers top the White Sox 3-2. Raines’ WPA is –0.330 on the day.
1992 Edgar Martinez belts the first of nine career grand slams.
1992 Florida signs Luis Castillo as an amateur free agent.
1992 Von Hayes plays in his last big league game.
1992 Bret Boone makes his big league debut, making his family baseball’s first three-generation clan.
1992 Tom Glavine wins a career-best 13th consecutive decision, making him 19-3 on the year. Glavine’s line during his winning streak is: 16 GS, 4 CG, 118.1 IP, 96 H, 33 R, 28 ER, 36 BB, 63 K, and a 2.13 ERA.
1995 Andre Dawson connects for his 500th career double.
1996 Kevin Brown wins his 100th game, for a 100-83 career record.
1996 Paul Molitor hits a career-best four extra base hits in one game: two doubles and two homers.
1998 The Cubs sign free agent Gary Gaetti.
1999 Ramon Ortiz makes his big league debut.
2000 Jeff Bagwell belts his 300th home run.
2001 Manny Ramirez hits his 14th career grand slam, exactly one year after No. 13.
2001 Tony Armas Jr. pitches 8.2 innings. In his 167 career starts, this is the closest he ever comes to that elusive complete game. He has the most starts by any pitcher without a completion. Second place is Shawn Chacon, with 134 starts. Scott Olsen leads active pitchers, with no CG in 110 GS.
2002 Texas trades Ismael Valdez to the Mariners.
2003 Barry Bonds hits the eighth of his 10 walk-off home runs.
2003 Seattle comes as close as it ever does to digging itself out of its expansion hole. A win this day puts the Mariners 212 games under .500 (2,000-2,212). Yes, it’s also the franchise’s 2,000th win.
2004 Chicago Cubs sign Neifi Perez.
2004 Larry Walker has his worst WPA game: -0.513 WPA by going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and two GIDP. Yeah, that does suck. The Pirates edge the Cardinals, 3-2.
2005 The Red Sox release Mark Bellhorn.
2005 WPA’s favorite Jim Edmonds game: 0.695 WPA. He’s 2-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs in a 5-4 Cardinals win over the Giants.
2006 Felipe Alou loses his 1,000th game, making him 1,016-1,000 for his career.
2006 Mariner no more: Seattle trades Jamie Moyer to the Phillies.
2007 Johan Santana sets a Twins record by fanning 17 batters in one game, which Minnesota wins 1-0 over Texas. Santana allows two hits and no walks in eight innings.
2008 The Padres trade Greg Maddux to the Dodgers.
2009 St. Louis signs free agent John Smoltz
2010 Authorities indict Roger Clemens on six counts of perjury for allegedly lying to Congress during his PED testimony.