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Tuesday, August 21, 2007
 
Eddie Gaedel and the ADA

This past Sunday marked the 56-year anniversary of the debut of professional baseball's shortest player, 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel. As part of a publicity stunt, on the preceding Friday, St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck secretly signed Gaedel, a midget, to a big-league contact -- knowing full well that the commissioner's office would not review Gaedel's contract until the following Monday morning.

That Sunday afternoon, before Commissioner Happy Chandler reviewed Gaedel's contract, Veeck suited-up his newest player for the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers, giving Gaedel a jersey with the number 1/8. Gaedel was sent into the game as a pinch hitter and, as expected, he walked on four pitches. Gaedel was then lifted for a pinch runner.

The following Monday, Major League Baseball voided Gaedel's contract and changed its its rules, requiring that all contracts needed to be ratified by the commissioner before any player could appear in a big-league game. Implied in this rule change was a ban of midgets and other players uniquely suited to draw walks.

Although certain aspects of the Gaedel's appearance were socially insensitive (for example, Veeck had Gaedel enter the game by jumping out of a cake), from a strategic perspective, many baseball teams have game-related reasons for wanting to hire a player based on his small strike zone. When big-league rosters expand from 25 to 40 players on September 1, the legitimacy of signing a "walking specialist" becomes even greater.

That begs an interesting question -- in light of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), may a baseball commissioner legally refuse to ratify the contract of a prospective player merely because that player is a midget (or otherwise short)? Indeed, allowing a player of Gaedel's size would not require any special accommodations on the part of Major League Baseball.

Also, could baseball change its definition of "strike zone" to include a minimum size to the zone, removing any advantage of shortness beyond that of certain height (and arguably replacing it with a disadvantage)? Would this situation be viewed any differently if a public league (for example, a high-school baseball league) or a league involving children (for example Little League) sought to impose a minimum height requirement?

Finally, on the day after Major League Baseball voided Gaedel's contract, Veeck, in jest, asked the commissioner to also void the contract of the late Yankees shortstop, Phil Rizzuto, who at 5-foot-6 was one of the game's next shortest players. While Veeck's request was not serious, there is a serious slippery slope argument against contending that someone is too short to play big-league ball. If Gaedel at 3-foot-7 is too short, then what height is just tall enough?





9 Comments:

Great question. Some thoughts:

1) Is dwarfism a disability under the ADA? Would advocates for "little people" agree that it is a disability? It probably is, but if not, this conversation never gets anywhere.

2) The Court in PGA v. Martin already made clear that sports leagues may be required to alter those rules that do not go to the essence of the game to accommodate people with disabilities. So, is the size of the strike zone and the ability of, say, a 6'3" pitcher to have some minimally reasonable zone to throw to "essential" to baseball? MLB would argue that, at some point, the zone becomes too small and too low that it fundamentally alters what pitchers have to do and thus alters the game. It is, MLB argues, not just that the zone becomes small and thus difficult to throw to (see Patek, Freddie), but so small as to become unreasonable to throw to.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 8/21/2007 8:37 AM  


I'm going with the statement above, "...this conversation never gets anywhere."

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/21/2007 8:55 AM  


Dwarfism is not a disability. It does not substantially limit one or more major life activities.

Interesting post though.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/21/2007 9:35 AM  


Howard: Great follow-up. Regarding point no. 2, I think the one difference between this hypothetical and PGA v. Martin is that absent special accomodations, the disabled person in PGA v. Martin is disadvantaged in terms of his abiility to compete (Martin is placed at an inferior competitive position without a golf cart); however, here, the purported disabled person (a "little" batter) is actually at an advantage (smaller strike zone) if all of baseball's other regular rules are held constant. Then again, in baseball, certain players are at advantages for all diffferent reasons (obviosuly, the distance from first to second base was not increased for a very fast runner like Vince Coleman, even if genetics made him superior in that aspect of the game).

Major League Baseball historically has done an excellent job at accomodating disabilities, absent the need for any litigation. As some examples of baseball's leadership in this area, (1) legend explains that the umpire's "strike" signal was original created to accomodate a deaf Major Leaguer; (2) retired first baseman John Olerud was allowed to wear a helmet in the field to protect him against a seizure even though that helmet altered his team uniform; and (3) retired first baseman Brett Butler was allowed to bring water onto the field during the season in which he recovered from throat cancer.

The issue that I was discussing here, however, does not require any accomodation on the part of MLB but rather, at least arguably, requires treating everyone at a level playing field (at least in terms of enforcement of the rules).

Blogger Marc Edelman -- 8/21/2007 10:48 AM  


Can you imagine the insanity this would create in sports in the United States if the ADA were to be extended in this way? Too tall, too short, too strong, not strong enough, too slow, too fast, too smart (okay, well, maybe not that one).....maybe just adopt the principle that we won't keep score. Besides, the way the Supreme Court is shaped today, the Casey Martin's of the world will lose.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/21/2007 11:08 AM  


"Regarding point no. 2, I think the one difference between this hypothetical and PGA v. Martin is that absent special accomodations, the disabled person in PGA v. Martin is disadvantaged in terms of his abiility to compete (Martin is placed at an inferior competitive position without a golf cart); however, here, the purported disabled person (a "little" batter) is actually at an advantage (smaller strike zone) if all of baseball's other regular rules are held constant."

Only if we define his role as a pinch hitter, and even then the advantage (small strike zone) is perhaps outweighed by the inability to "hit" the ball with any meaningful degree of success.

I think you may be underestimating how bad off this hitter would be against even an 80 MPH fastball. If the pitcher can back it off and throw strikes, the hitter is in trouble.

Dwarfism is a disability protected under the ADA.
http://tinyurl.com/3cr6y5

Anonymous Jerome -- 8/21/2007 12:59 PM  


I've always wondered whether an ice hockey team could find a person so grotesquely fat that he could fill the entire goal just by standing still, rendering it impossible for opponent goals to be scored. I know the crease is wider than that, but you get the idea....

Anonymous Alan Schwarz -- 8/21/2007 5:45 PM  


At six feet wide, "grotesquely" doesn't seem to cut it. Maybe the Blue Jackets can sign that guy on "1000lb man" or whatever show on the "learning" channel.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/21/2007 10:13 PM  


Alan, your hockey question (and several similar "crazy sports questions") is answered in a book entitled
"Andy Roddick Beat Me With a Frying Pan". The author's name eludes me. But the short answer to the hockey question is yes and no. In an experimental game, a college hockey goalie was fitted with a "fat suit" that made home comparable in size to the world's largest man. He did fill the entire goal, but eventually the cumulative effect of being hit by the puck in un-padded areas (he still had to wear legally sized goalie equipment) eventually caused him too much pain to finish the game (even with the protection of the fat suit).

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/14/2012 11:59 PM  


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