SI Vault
Short Hitter, Long Memory
Mark Mandernach
September 02, 1996
Bob Cain is best known as the pitcher who walked midget Eddie Gaedel
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 02, 1996

Short Hitter, Long Memory

Bob Cain is best known as the pitcher who walked midget Eddie Gaedel

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Bob Cain remembers warming up before the bottom of the first inning of a game between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Browns on Aug. 19, 1951. It was the second game of a doubleheader in St. Louis, and Browns owner Bill Veeck had arranged between-games entertainment for the 18,369 fans who showed up at Sportsman's Park that day.

Veeck had promised the fans something they would never forget. That something was Eddie Gaedel. In between games, a trailer carrying a large papier-m�ch� cake was rolled onto the field near the Browns' dugout. Out jumped Gaedel, a 3'7", 65-pound midget wearing a Browns uniform with the number ? on the back. He waved a miniature bat, then trotted into the dugout. "I kept thinking it was another promotion," says Cain, now 71. "Who knew what was going on? Frank Saucier started in centerfield for the Browns that day, and we knew he had a sore arm, but who would imagine the little guy would be brought in as a pinch hitter?"

St. Louis manager Zack Taylor produced Gaedel's contract, which had been sent to the league office the night before. Umpire Ed Hurley hollered, "Play ball!" and Tigers catcher Bob Swift trotted out to the mound. "We laughed a little, and I asked Swift if I should pitch to him underhanded," Cain says. "It was one of those moments that I knew would be remembered for a long time, and I wanted to handle myself properly. So we decided to pitch to him. Unfortunately, Eddie had a strike zone about the size of a baby's bib."

Four pitches later Gaedel was skipping to first base. Jim Delsing came out to pinch-run for Gaedel, who waved to the roaring crowd as he returned to the dugout. "My teammate Dizzy Trout told me that if he'd been pitching, he would have plunked Gaedel right between the eyes," Cain says. Cain and the Tigers won the game 6-2, but the outcome was overshadowed by Gaedel's unforgettable base on balls.

Cain is philosophical about his link to Gaedel and, through him, to baseball history. "But sometimes I wish I was remembered a little more for some of the other things I did in baseball besides pitching four balls to a midget," he says.

Cain was called up by the Chicago White Sox in 1949, and in his first appearance he pitched in relief against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The first batter he faced? Ted Williams. "Ted worked the count to 3 and 2, and I had a feeling he was looking for a fastball," Cain says. "So I threw him a curve for a called strike three. He went back to the dugout, and I stood on the mound in shock."

There were other highlights in Cain's five-year major league career with the White Sox, the Tigers and, finally, the Browns. In Cain's first big league start, in 1950, the White Sox beat the Yankees 15-0 at Yankee Stadium. In 1952, pitching for the Browns, Cain outdueled Bob Feller and the Cleveland Indians 1-0. Both pitchers threw one-hitters. "Two years later I hurt my wrist, and my career went with it," says Cain, whose lifetime record was 37-44.

Cain never spoke with Gaedel after that Tigers-Browns game, but when Gaedel died in 1961, at age 36, from injuries suffered in a mugging, Cain and his wife, Judy, went to Chicago for the funeral. There was only a handful of people there, and Cain was the only one with a baseball connection. "We saw Eddie's mother, Helene, and I know it meant a lot to her that Judy and I were there," Cain says.

In 1994 Cain, who lives in Euclid, Ohio, reenacted the Gaedel at bat at a St. Paul Saints minor league game, pitching to the 10-year-old son of the Saints' manager. The Saints are owned by Bill Veeck's son, Mike, who said, "The fans enjoyed the recreation. My dad used to say that if as many people who told him over the years they were there to see Eddie Gaedel had actually been at the ballpark that day, he'd still own the St. Louis Browns."

Afterward Mike Veeck complimented Gaedel's one-time straight man. " Bob Cain is a delightful guy," he said. "Baseball needs more people like him." The game also needs more owners like Veeck's dad.