When James Thurber wrote “You Could Look It Up” for the Post in 1941, he probably thought of it as merely a short story — a distraction from the sobering realities of a world at war. His work certainly achieved that goal (who wouldn’t be entertained by the story of a cigar smoking, beer drinking, trash-talking dwarf on a big league baseball team?)
But his story (illustrated by Norman Rockwell) might have achieved more: it probably inspired one of the most bizarre events in the history of baseball, and in doing so forever changed the rules of the game and the record books.
In 1951, St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck signed 3’7” Eddie Gaedel as an amateur free agent. The little person appeared for only one at bat, and, despite catcher Bob Swift’s futile advice for his pitcher to “keep it low,” was walked in four throws. Gaedel was replaced by a pinch runner and received a standing ovation as he returned to the dugout.
The gimmick permanently changed baseball, as it created the rule that nobody can appear in a game until the commissioner approves his contract. Gaedel also holds two Major League records that will probably never be broken: one for being the shortest player ever, the other for the highest on-base percentage (1.000).
Veeck never admitted that the Post story inspired his publicity stunt, but it’s hard to believe it was just a coincidence.
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