Saturday, May 13, 2006

Baseball Is Too Dull These Days. Bring Back Showman Bill Veeck, Who Once Sent a 3-Foot 7-inch, 65-Pound Midget To the Plate In St. Louis

A few things of interest have been happening both in and out of the sporting scene lately, and one of them doesn't involve Kerry Wood throwing 85 not-very-impressive pitches in a Triple-A game at No-Name Ballpark last night.

The way I look at it, no more time should elapse without me mentioning Jim Delsing.

Jim Delsing?

Yes, household name Jim Delsing.

Jim Delsing, who died recently at the age of 80, was an outfielder who played 10 years of baseball in the American League.

But the thing that made Delsing famous happened Aug. 19, 1951 at old Sportsman's Park in St. Louis.

He had a role in a stunt pulled off by baseball's master showman, Bill Veeck.

In 1951, Veeck owned the St. Louis Browns. On Aug. 19, the Browns were playing the Detroit Tigers in a doubleheader.

The Browns weren't drawing many fans, so Veeck decided to insert a circus atmosphere into the day.

He sent Eddie Gaedel, a 3-foot 7-inch, 65-pound midget, into the game to pinch-hit [top photo]. Gaedel walked and Delsing was put into the game to pinch-run for him.

"A lot of people say Roger Maris hit 61 home runs," Delsing once said, "but I'm the only one who ran for a midget."

Between games of the doubleheader, Gaedel popped out of a cake to celebrate the American League's 50th anniversary.

Veeck [middle right] fixed up Gaedel with a tiny uniform that had the number 1/8 [middle left] on the back.

When Gaedel -- somewhat of a showman himself -- said he might be tempted to swing at a pitch while at the plate, Veeck told him he'd better think twice about that because he had a sniper stationed in the grandstand.

In his 1962 autobiography, Veeck wrote, "Eddie [Gaedel] I've got your life insured for a million dollars. I've got a gun stashed up on the roof. But don't you let any of that bother you. You just crouch over like you've been doing and take four pitches, huh?"

Gaedel was the first, and only, midget ever to appear in a major league game.

When he came to the plate, umpire Ed Hurley talked with Browns manager Zack Taylor. Taylor and Veeck had Gaedel's contract with them.

Bob Cain pitched to Gaedel, who had a strike zone measuring 1 1/2 inches After Gaedel was walked, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. The Tigers won the game, 6-2, and afterward American League president Will Harridge said Veeck was making a mockery of the game.

Harridge voided Gaedel's contract the following day.

Although Gaedel's major league career was over, Veeck continued to use him in off-the-field promotions. In 1959, Gaedel and three other midgets dressed as spacemen presented ray guns to Chicago White Sox players Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio at Comiskey Park.

Some critics later said such stunts harmed Gaedel, who became a heavy drinker and died of a heart attack after being mugged in Chicago in 1961. He died at 36.

Actually, it's too bad the clowns who run the Chicago Cubs don't do something similar to what Veeck pulled off more than a half-century ago.

All they've got to impress fans are manager Dusty Baker, general manager Jim Hendry and a dugout full of bad, overpaid players

Talk about boring.

* * *

Kerry Wood's latest performance at No-Name Ballpark was so-so at best.

Many of the pitches he threw in the cold and wind last night at No-Name would have been clobbered out of a number of parks in the nation, including Yellowstone.

Wood's body is beaten the battered, and hitters know it.

Any similarity between the very ordinary Wood [lower right] of 2006 and the Wood who once struck out 20 Houston Astros in a game is purely in Ron Santo's imagination.

He's never been willing to change his mechanics, and eventually will retire as a stubborn overhyped pitcher who couldn't match his potential.

The only difference between Wood and the rest of the Joe Six-Packs hanging around minor league parks, rehab games, surgeons' offices and training rooms is that he'll have lots of money in the bank when he quits, which could be sooner than you might think.

Meanwhile, National League hitters are frothing at the mouth awaiting Wood's return to Dusty Baker's pitching rotation.

Dusty there's another guy without a clue.

* * *

Nice going, Mediacom.

Excellent job with the telecast of last night's game.

The shut-ins appreciated it, as did the smart folks who refuse to be gouged by the ridiculous prices at No-Name.

Play-by-play announcer Larry Morgan again showed his versatility. Morgan does equally well behind the microphone at football, basketball and baseball games, and I always enjoy his work.

* * *

People have been saying for several years that Greg McDermott is a good basketball coach.

I guess we'll be finding out if that's true next season at Iowa State.

It looks to me like he'll be going to war with a bunch of tin soldiers.

* * *

Meanwhile, McDermott's former boss at Northern Iowa -- athletic director Rick Hartzell -- continues to be an embarrassment.

Not only does Hartzell persist in running all over the country every winter, officiating major-college basketball games while he's supposed to be managing UNI's athletic department, he makes his name available for all athletic director openings in the country.

* * *

In 1986, a suburban man was told that -- because of other medical problems -- his coronary bypass surgery would probably be good for only 8 to 10 years.

"He can have more bypass surgery then," a cardiologist told the man's family.

Coronary bypass -- or the more dramatic term "open-heart surgery" -- is the kind of procedure where they slice open the breastbone, do what they have to do and, if the guy is still breathing afterward, he tells his buddies, "It hurts more where they took the veins out of my leg than where they opened up my chest."

On May 2, the man celebrated 20 years with the original bypass grafts still in place.

Needless to say, the man takes his Vytorin and the rest of his pills every day, tries to do everything his doctors tell him, and he prays a lot.

* * *

There are always a lot of interesting rumors and true stories making the rounds in Iowa City.

When it comes to Iowa City, the truth is usually better and stranger than the rumors.

One of the latest stories concerns outgoing University of Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby.

Longtime Hawkeye booster Barry Crist forwarded me a story that Pat Harty and Ryan Suchomel wrote for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The story detailed a report that had been carried on Iowa City radio station KCJJ.

The Press-Citizen story, said in part:

"University of Iowa officials are denying a radio report that a deal to keep Bob Bowlsby as the UI athletic director was quashed by Iowa state Board of Regents President Michael Gartner.

"Gartner also denied the report, but the owner of KCJJ, the station that aired the news, said it was standing by the story....."

"The KCJJ report:

"KCJJ has learned that an attempt last month by outgoing University of Iowa president David Skorton to keep UI athletic director Bob Bowlsby at the school was apparently rejected by Iowa Board of Regents chairman Michael Gartner.

"According to sources with close ties to the Iowa athletic department, Skorton had worked out a deal in principle with Bowlsby to remain at Iowa, which would then match the offer that was made last month by Stanford.

"Well, that deal was nixed by Gartner, who showed no interest in keeping Bowlsby at the UI. Gartner was apparently upset that Bowlsby had hired former wrestling coach Dan Gable as an assistant under new head coach Tom Brands without clearing the deal with the regents first."

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: If the story was on KCJJ, it must be true. I believe everything I hear on KCJJ. Frankly, I wish Bowlsby was staying at Iowa. He's been good for the university, which needs him more than Stanford needs him. As for Gartner, I have no idea who he is. As I have said often, a case of severe, sudden-onset memory loss prevents me from remembering who he is or was -- something I stressed to an eager-beaver reporter from the Press-Citizen who contacted me twice a while back to ask about Gartner. A number of my friends tell me I am a very fortunate man to have such unique memory features. Of course, I already knew I'm a very fortunate man].

* * *

And, oh, yes, if you're interested in living in the same house Bowlsby lived in, Iowa Realty in Iowa City will be glad to talk to you.

But bring your wallet.

And your checkbook.

And everything else you've got in this world.

It'll cost you, my friend.

Bowlsby's 7,965-square foot home at 2594 Johnsons Crossing NE in Solon is on the real estate market at more than $1.4 million.

The actual cost is $1.450,000.

The house is on 24.57 acres. It has six bedrooms, five baths, two fireplaces, a three-car garage, a swimming pool and just about everything else you'd expect in a $1.4 million house.

* * *

[Ron Maly is a four-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and also is the best-selling author of "Tales from the Iowa Sidelines," which is in its second printing as both a hardback and softback book. The book is about the rich football tradition at the University of Iowa. Maly has a heck of a lot of fun doing what he's doing. Ron's columns about sports, newspapers, his family, medicine, travel, the people he knows, the people he doesn't know, a few people he'd like to know better, a few people he once knew and is trying to forget, a few people he has already forgotten, and anything else that trips his trigger appear regularly at and].

* * *

[Photos courtesy of Eddie Gaedel's family, Bill Veeck's family, Kerry Wood's family, Baseball Hall of Fame, St. Louis Browns, Iowa Realty, Charlie Neibergall, AP, UPI, INS, Reuters, Google, Stars and Stripes, Pravda, Vytorin, Zetia, Ezetimibelsimvestatin, Merck/Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals, MSC Singapore Company].