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Taken For Granted: Remembering a ballgame renegade

March 04, 2011|By Pat Grant

A World Series championship banner will fly above Dodger Stadium on March 31. No, I’m not delusional; I sadly recall the Dodgers’ miserable finish last season.

The banner proclaiming the Giants World Series victory will be streamed overhead by an airplane as the Blue Crew takes the field against San Francisco on opening day. The flyover is the malicious brainchild of Bay Area fans who never miss an opportunity to stick it to the L.A. faithful.

The stunt is reminiscent of something the late Bill Veeck might have pulled. Veeck (as in “wreck”) was owner and general manager of several major league ball teams from the 1940s through the late ‘70s and was renowned for hokey promotions. Given the quality of the teams he owned, Veeck’s showmanship was necessary to put fans in the stands.

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He built the first exploding scoreboard, complete with fireworks, pinwheels and sound effects, and started fan appreciation day, giving away everything from bats to live animals, cupcakes and, on one occasion, raffled off an oil well. Putting player’s names on their uniforms was a Veeck idea, as was ivy on the walls of Wrigley Field and Harry Carey singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at White Sox games.

Jerome Joseph, owner of the Brand Bookstore and a St. Louis Browns stockholder at the time, fondly recalls sitting in the stands on Aug. 19, 1951, when Veeck pulled his most outlandish stunt — sending 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat for the Browns. A professional entertainer, Eddie wore elf shoes and a Browns uniform with the number “1/8” on his back. His strike zone, when in a crouch, was estimated to be about 11/2 inches.

Joseph remarked that “everyone thought it was a gag.” The crowd laughed and then became subdued when the somewhat bewildered home plate umpire ordered the pitcher to proceed. Holding a kiddie bat, which did not move off his shoulder, Gaedel walked on four straight pitches. After strolling to first base, a pinch runner was sent in and Eddie proudly crossed the diamond to the cheers of the fans.

The league office went bonkers, threatening to add a minimum height requirement to the rule book and unsuccessfully attempting to have the at-bat stricken from the record book. But Veeck had been careful to comply with league rules, signing Gaedel to a legitimate big league contract if only for one at bat.

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