Sunday, August 23, 2015

From midget to little person and beyond

Who knows how old I was when I first heard the story about Eddie Gaedel, a little person hired by Bill Veeck, the owner of the St. Louis Browns Baseball Team. In 1951, according to what I have read, the Browns were one of the worst teams in the history of baseball.  As a publicity stunt, Veeck signed Gaedel to a contract with the St. Louis Browns. First, Veeck had Gaedel jump out of a birthday cake that celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the American League. Then, Gaedel led off the second game of a double header. He immediately drew four balls from the pitcher, walked to first base, and was replaced with a pinch runner. That was the end of Gaedel's baseball career.

I've heard the story many, many times. At first, and probably for many years during my time, the story focused on Veeck and Gaedel was always referred to as a "midget."  Several years ago, someone from ESPN sent me an email, asking me about appropriate language to identify people with dwarfism. It's possible, the ESPN inquiry was part of a broader shift in language and a broader awareness about dwarfism. Today, an internet search of Eddie Gaedel yields plenty of references to the mword but the term little person is also used a good deal of the time.

Then last week, I can across an article on the ESPN Website about Gaedel's Grand Nephew, who plays professional baseball, Kyle Gaedele, proud relative of Eddie Gaedel, has full sized baseball goals.  I am not an Eddie Gaedel scholar, and have never done a search for stories that show the humanity behind the Bill Veeck gimmick. They probably were out there before this ESPN piece was published.  But for me, and probably thousands of others, Eddie was the vehicle for what is remembered as the biggest gag in baseball history.  I was happy to find the story about Kyle Gaedele, which portrayed Eddie as a beloved family member, much more than he had been before in my mind and probably the mind of millions of others.

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