Browns Fan Manager Day in 1951

Connie Mack of the A's and Bill Veeck of the Browns shake hands on "Fan Manager Night" at Sportsman's Park in St Louis on August 24, 1951.

Connie Mack of the A’s and Bill Veeck of the Browns shake hands on “Fan Manager Night” at Sportsman’s Park in St Louis on August 24, 1951.

 

Thank you, Tony Cavender for sending us that wonderful summation of  1951, the year in which showman-owner Bill Veeck threw down the second of three circus rings in one of the final faltering seasons of the St. Louis Browns. With Bill Veeck acting as the Barnum and Bailey world “ringmaster”, the Browns were ready to try outlandish stunts in a fading attempt to shock the fans of a horrible baseball team into buying more game tickets, or else. – run the risk of missing out on the next big surprise. 1952-53 would be their last final two seasons in St. Louis prior to their sale and transitioning into the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, but everything of greatest importance to their demise as the Browns got done and said during and after the 1951 American League season. In 1951, those two futile actions and one statement of inaction were to provide the death rattle for the American League in St. Louis- even as one inadvertently established little Eddie Gaedel as a historical figure.

These three items filled the field in St. Louis with a three-ring circus of amusement and confirmation: The St. Louis Browns were hoping to survive, but with amusements, and not by rewarding their best player in 1951 for his incredible accomplishments that year against all odds. Here they are:

The Three Rings in the Brownie Farewell Circus

  1. August 19, 1951: Eddie Gaedel Day. Of the three, the first ring was the most famous. That was the day that Bill Veeck managed to legitimately sneak a 3’7″ vertically challenged person named Eddie Gaedel into a game at Sportsman’s Park as lead off batter against the Detroit Tigers. Eddie drew  walk for Tigers pitcher Bob Cain and was then replaced with a pinch runner at first base, retiring from baseball with a perfect 1.000 On Base Percentage. Gaedel’s “retirement” was followed by an official ban from baseball of all players of his exceptionally small size. We are not sure how specific that “You Must Be This High To Bat in the Big Leagues” sign specified, but we Astros fans are glad it doesn’t apply today. We wouldn’t want to lose Jose Altuve over some kind of pejorative against short people when he he’s batting .366 in late August. Plus, such a ban today just smells like a civil rights violation. Don’t you think? – No matter now. Bill Veeck’s first ring of amusement was absolutely the most unforgettable thing he ever actually did.
  2. August 24, 1951: Browns Fan Manager Day. This second ring would no doubt be more memorable today had it not been timed to follow the first ring Veeck threw only five days earlier with Eddie Gaedel, but it too is still a remembered as a major rattle to the little box where all the baseball purists lived. It wasn’t quite the same as someone passing gas in church with all the ferocity of a trombone, but many baseball purists took it that way. This was the time that Bill Veeck allowed 1,000 Browns fans to manage the game from an area behind the Browns dugout during an official game against the “also going nowhere fast” Philadelphia Athletics. Alex Cofey has written a very nice article on what happened that very special ordinary Friday in baseball season history: http://baseballhall.org/discover/inside-pitch/grandstand-managers-night
  3. The Winter of 1951-52: No Raise for a 20-Game Winner on a Last Place Team. The last ring wasn’t what Veeck did, but what he didn’t do. And what he said. It is one of those most remembered stories in baseball. – Browns pitcher Ned Garver won 20 games for the last place 102-loss 1951 Browns, but owner Bill Veeck wouldn’t give him one when he asked for a raise for next year in the off-season. Veeck’s answer? It’s one miserly line that has been  expropriated and attributed to Ralph Kiner and his dealings with the Pittsburgh Pirates a few times, but it really originated with Garver and Veeck. Veeck told Garver he wasn’t getting a raise for winning 20 games. Why not? “We could have finished last without you.” Veeck told Garver.

____________________

Fan Manager Day Addendum, 8/23/2016, by Bill Hickman of SABR

Mitze and Hughes were the fans chosen to coach the base runners by Bill Veeck, nut they were banned at game time by AL President WIll Harridge because Veeck had not sought his permission to use them on the field.  ~ Photo from the St. Louis Post-Dsipatch contributed by Bill Hickman of SABR. ,

Mitze and Hughes were the fans chosen to coach the base runners by Bill Veeck, but they were banned at game time by AL President Will Harridge because Veeck had not sought his permission to use them on the field.
~ Photo from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch contributed by Bill Hickman of SABR.

 

Part of this fan management story is that Bill Veeck had chosen two fans, Clark Mitze and Charles E. Hughes, to be co-managers or co-coaches for the game. He suited them up in Browns’ uniforms and intended for them to be stationed along the baselines. However, American League President Will Harridge nixed the idea on the grounds that the contracts had not been approved by his office. So Hughes and Mitze “were awarded king size trophies acclaiming them as ‘the best coaches ever banned from the coaching lines,’ and sat next to (real Browns manager) Zack Taylor in a front row box.” The last sentence is a quote from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of August 25, 1951. ~ Bill Hickman

Thanks, Bill Hickman for shedding an even broader light on the detailed plans of Bill Veeck for Fan Day. As always, The Pecan Park Eagle appreciates another of your quality contributions to our efforts here.

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eagle-0range
Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

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3 Responses to “Browns Fan Manager Day in 1951”

  1. Rick B. Says:

    Veeck never lost his flair. As owner of the White Sox in 1979, he gave the fans Disco Demolition Night, a fiasco as monumental as Cleveland’s Ten-Cent Beer Night against the Rangers in ’74.

  2. Tom Keefe Says:

    Don’t oversell Eddie’s size, or underestimate his vertical challenge. He was 3’7″ and tipped the scales at 65 pounds.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Thanks, Tom.

      It was my brain freeze on his actual height, as you probably really surmised. Remember the melody line in my “Ballad of Eddie Gaedel”, the one that describes Eddie as “inches short of four feet tall’? With your help, I’ve now made the correction in this column on Eddie’s more limited vertical climb from ground zero. 🙂

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