Eddie Gaedel, all 3 feet 7 inches of him, is the shortest person ever to play in a major league baseball
It was August 15, 1951, in Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, when a 26-year old Gaedel made his major league debut, popping out of a wooden birthday cake set up at home plate between games of a doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers. The cake was part of a promotion by the St. Louis Browns' colorful owner, Bill Veeck, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Falstaff Brewers, the Browns' sponsor. (Free beer for every fan helped explain the season-high attendance of 18,000 for a doubleheader between the last-place Browns and the second-to-last-place Tigers.)
Gaedel, wearing the number "1/8" on the back of his tiny Browns uniform (borrowed from the team's bat boy), took a bow, and then ambled over the the St. Louis dugout and took a seat on the bench. Not even the Browns' players knew what was yet to come.
In the bottom of the first inning, Browns manager Zach Taylor called Gaedel up to pinch hit for the leadoff hitter, outfielder Frank Saucier. Gaedel walked to the plate carrying a toy baseball bat, to hoots and cheers from the crowd. The Detroit manager appealed to Umpire Ed Hurley to have Gaedel removed from the game, only to have Taylor pull an honest-to-goodness contract for Gaedel from his back pocket. (The contract never mentioned Gaedel's height, but, just to be safe, Veeck had filed it with baseball officals at the close of business on Friday, knowing that it would not be reviewed until Monday morning.) Hurley relented, and Gaedel dug in at the plate.
Pursuant to Veeck's instructions, Gaedel scrunched down in his stance so as to present a 1.5 inch high strike zone to Detroit Pitcher Bob Cain. Cain talked with his catcher, Bob Swift, about lying down behind the plate to give him a lower target to pitch to, but Hurley, already recognizing the absurdity of the situation, refused to permit it. Swift kneeled down behind the plate, but even then, his glove was over Gaedel's head. A laughing Cain then proceeded to walk Gaedel on four pitches. As mikemoto points out, Veeck had told Gaedel that he would be up on the roof with a rifle and "if you so much as look as if you're going to swing, I'm going to shoot you dead."
Gaedel slowly trotted down to first base on his tiny legs, stopping midway to doff his cap and bow to the cheering crowd. Upon reaching first, he was pulled from the game and replaced by pinch runner Jim Delsing. Giving Delsing a pat on the behind, and having earned not only $100 from Veeck for a day's work, but also a place in the record books, Gaedel disappeared into the Browns' dugout, never to appear in another ball game again. (Veeck did bring him back to St. Louis, dressed as a Martian and emerging from a helicopter landing on field to "capture" two Red Sox players, in a skit prior to a 1959 game.) Although Delsing eventually reached third base, the Browns went on to lose the game, 6-2.
There was some fallout from the stunt. At first, league officials sought to fine Veeck for his antic and have Gaedel's name stricken from the record books. Later, they relented, but quickly barred Gaedel from baseball forever, and passed a rule requiring all contracts to be approved prior to a player taking the field. In later years, other team owners, partly in response to Veeck's antics, refused to consent to Veeck's request to move the Browns to Baltimore unless he sold the team. In addition, some people believe that Saucier was so humiliated by the stunt that he quit the game. There may be some truth to the rumor, as Saucier retired two games later. However, despite showing promise in the minor leagues, Saucier came to the Browns with a severe case of bursitis and other maladies, and wasn't long for the big leagues. He reitred with a single solitary hit in 18 at bats, for a major league batting average of a whopping .071, not to mention two errors in his four games in the outfield. Obviously, Gaedel's tiny shoulders can only carry so much guilt for driving Saucier out of baseball.
Gaedel died of a heart attack in Chicago at age 36. Cain attended his funeral, but nobody else from baseball showed up. Gaedel's uniform now hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
(For the curious, a famous photo of the momentous occasion can be found at www.baseball-almanac.com/boxscore/08191951.shtml)