Owner Was Called ‘The Barnum of Baseball’ – For a Reason

Copies of news reports about the Eddie Gaedel stunt, signed by Frank Saucier, went to auction in 2012.
The actual bat Eddie Gaedel used on Aug. 19, 1951 realized $44,812 at an August 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The shortest player to ever play Major League Baseball was Eddie Gaedel, who suited up for the St. Louis Browns.

Gaedel, 26, was 3-foot-7 and part of a promotional stunt by legendary Brown’s owner Bill Veeck (“As in Wreck” … the title of his autobiography).

On Aug. 19, 1951, in between games of a double-header with the Detroit Tigers, little Eddie – referred to as a “midget” by the press at the time – popped out of a giant birthday cake wearing an official St. Louis Browns uniform with the number 1/8 proudly on his back.

He then proceeded to pinch hit for the leadoff batter – right fielder Frank Saucier. When umpire Ed Hurley questioned manager Zack Taylor, Zack simply produced an official signed contract and Hurley allowed Gaedel to bat.

Eddie had been taught to hunch down, which reduced the strike zone … a lot. Pitcher Bob Cain walked him on four straight pitches and Gaedel was replaced by a pinch runner. The fans loved it and gave him a big cheer when they finally realized what the ploy was.

The following day, American League President Will Harridge refused to honor the contract: “Use of a midget is not in the best interests of baseball” … and that ended Gaedel’s career on the diamond.

However, 10 years later, Gaedel was back in the news … this time in Chicago with the White Sox, the next team Veeck owned. White Sox fans had been whining about the beer and hotdog vendors blocking their views while walking in the stands. So owner Veeck hired Gaedel and seven more people with dwarfism to work in the box-seat section peddling their wares on opening day 1961.

Veeck also asked “John F. Kennedy” to throw out the first ball … and Kennedy did! However, this JFK was a fan from suburban Oak Park with the same name, but not the president of the United States.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Bubbles, Tulips, Dikes, a Dutch Boy and Making Lemonade

This Tiffany Studios lamp featuring a tulip glass shade, circa 1900, realized $35,000 at a June 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1637, a tulip bulb called the “Viceroy” was advertised in a Dutch catalog for 3,000-4,200 guilders, or about 10 times the annual income of a skilled artisan. This was probably the apex of the “tulip mania” period that is generally thought to be the first of the economic bubbles that we’ve seen in the last 400 years.

The U.S. housing bubble peaked in early 2006, declined in 2007 and reached new lows in 2012. The credit crisis that followed was probably the primary cause of the 2008-2009 recession that required capital infusions by the Federal Reserve, followed by multiple quantitative easing actions to increase system liquidity and cheap money.

Tulips were not native to Holland and neither was the little Dutch boy, who saved his town by plugging a hole in a dike with his finger. This story first appeared in Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates, an 1865 novel by Mary Mapes Dodge, an American.

The Dutch had never heard the story until American tourists started asking about which dike was involved. Rather than being amused or annoyed, they simply erected a statue of the little boy near the Spaarndam lock, presumably to increase tourism and boost the economy.

They may not have been prudent about tulip prices, but the statue bears the following inscription: “Dedicated to our youth, who symbolize the perpetual struggle of Holland against the water.”

I’ve also seen the other statue at Madurodam near The Hague, which is a miniature city with a collection of Dutch landmarks.

Moral: If you inherit a lemon, think about opening a lemonade stand.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Germany’s Aggressive U-boat Tactics Pushed America into WWI

Cunard Line produced a tin advertising plaque to promote the RMS Lusitania’s New York-Liverpool route.

By Jim O’Neal

When World War I erupted, one unassailable fact was that the British Royal Navy was far superior to any of the other combatants. Germany recognized this significant British advantage and realized they would have to rely (heavily) on their fleet of U-boat submarines.

Then in February 1915, the German navy adopted a controversial policy of unrestricted warfare on all enemy ships, including merchant vessels. Their objective was to interrupt transatlantic trade, as well as prevent guns and ammunition shipments to the British Isles.

On May 7, 1915, at 2:12 p.m., the RMS Lusitania, en route to Liverpool, England, from New York City, was hit by torpedoes on her starboard. This was followed by an internal blast, suspected to be the boiler room. The ship sank in less than 20 minutes. All 1,200 passengers, including 128 Americans, were either killed or drowned. The German Embassy in Washington, D.C., had published warnings in several New York newspapers reminding prospective passengers of the dangers involved in transatlantic travel. One such notice, in fact, had appeared adjacent to a Cunard Line advertisement for the return trip of the Lusitania.

President Woodrow Wilson sent a strongly worded protest to the German government demanding an apology, but the Germans claimed they were justified since the Lusitania was secretly carrying armaments to the British. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigned because he believed Wilson was leading the country to war. The U.S. had maintained a strict policy of neutrality since Americans were leery of involvement in a foreign war.

However, on Feb. 1, 1917, the Germans resumed their aggressive policy of unrestricted U-boat warfare and two days later, Wilson announced the U.S. was breaking all diplomatic relations with Germany. The American liner Housatonic was sunk by a U-boat just hours later.

Finally, on Feb. 6, 1917, the United States formally entered World War I, “the war to end all wars” … except for all the other ones that would follow.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Audubon Devoted his Life to the Study of Birds and his Amazing Illustrations

A first octavo edition of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America sold for $65,725 at a June 2008 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The National Audubon Society is dedicated to the preservation of wildlife species and their habitats. It is the oldest environmental organization in the world and uses modern science, leading-edge education and broad grassroots advocacy to further its conservation mission. Founded in 1905, it is named for John James Audubon, the famous naturalist who was born in Haiti before immigrating through Europe to America.

Audubon (1785-1851) is considered the Father of American Wildlife, however, it would be more accurate to describe him as an ornithologist, naturalist and painter. Some mild critics point out that in order to get a close look at the subjects of his paintings, Audubon simply shot them … lots of them. At times, he shot as many as 100 birds a day since stuffed birds lost their lustrous colors and freshly killed ones were much better models. Sometimes he needed dozens of dead birds, freshly killed, to complete a single study.

He was also an avid animal hunter who shot more than his fair share of bison. He knew they were on the verge of extinction, but that didn’t bother him enough to stop shooting them. He had an active business selling and exporting the hides as they provided badly needed funds to finance his bird work.

That quibble aside, he devoted his life to the extensive study of birds and then creating amazingly detailed illustrations of them in their habitat. He had a unique technique using wires to simulate real-life conditions. He was such a perfectionist that he is known to have destroyed earlier works as his skill level progressed.

His truly major work is The Birds of America – a color plate book – that is an astonishing piece of art and undoubtedly the finest, most comprehensive collection ever compiled. It was published as a series (in sections) between 1827 and 1838 with each section containing one large bird, one medium and three smaller birds. The prints were issued in sets of five every four to eight weeks on a clever pay-as-you go subscription basis as a means for funding ongoing work.

The precise number of full-set books is a point of contention, but the best estimate is that 120 exist today, with 13 copies in private hands. Naturally, there is a great deal of interest when one comes to market and prices can range from $8 million to $10 million.

John James Audubon portrait by Alonzo Chappel.

Audubon also produced a smaller, more affordable octavo edition, issued to subscribers in seven volumes.

John Audubon was elected a fellow at London’s prestigious Royal Society. Sadly, his health started failing in 1848 (senility/dementia) and he died three years later in 1851, his work in the western part of the U.S. incomplete.

Since most will never have an opportunity to view his original work, there are several on-line sites you can browse. Bird-lover or not, you will find it more than worth the time and effort.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Washington Recognized the Chaos of Autonomous States

The bronze sculpture George Washington at Valley Forge by Henry Merwin Shrady, modeled in 1905, cast circa 1906, sold for $54,970 at an April 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

It had been a long war and George Washington was both tired and relieved to be returning to his plantation in Virginia for a well-deserved retirement. Mount Vernon was badly in need of his full-time attention and his finances were frayed.

However, he was apprehensive about a central government that consisted of a chaotic, ramshackle Congress considered by GW to be “wretchedly managed.” The legislature was a one-vote, one-state body that required a quorum of nine states to operate and a unanimous vote for major laws. This was no “United States,” but a loosely governed confederation of 13 states that were largely autonomous.

It seemed clear that the Articles of Confederation were impotent and in need of major revisions. However, it would probably require a crisis to force the changes and GW could sense that others would be looking to him (once again!) to provide the leadership needed, retirement or not.

He was right on both counts.

The crisis came when thousands of farmers in rural Massachusetts rebelled against tax increases on land the state had imposed to help pay off heavy debts. The farmers, many of whom had lost their land to foreclosure, swamped courthouses and threatened judges using their pitchforks.

They were led by Daniel Shays (hence “Shays’ Rebellion”), an ex-militia captain, and they finally marched on the Springfield arsenal intent on seizing muskets and powder. This anarchy was met by the Massachusetts militia, who fired point-blank into the crowd, and then by General Benjamin Lincoln, who arrived the next day with 4,000 soldiers to quell the rebels.

Washington was mortified by these events, since he feared disgrace from the Europeans who were still skeptical of American self-rule. More importantly, it galvanized him to join James Madison, James Monroe and Edmund Randolph to strengthen the Articles of Confederation they had fought so hard for.

Eventually, an executive branch was established and in February 1789, all 69 presidential electors chose GW unanimously to be the first president of the United States. In March, the new U.S. Constitution officially took effect and, in April, Congress formally sent word to Washington that he had won the presidency.

He borrowed money to pay off his debts and travel to New York again, this time to be inaugurated. After a second four-year term, he was finally able to resume his retirement. This time, it only lasted two years since he died on Dec. 14, 1799.

President Jimmy Carter bestowed the rank of “six-star general” and “General of the Armies of Congress” in the hope that Washington would be the highest-ranking military person of all time. Irrespective of future grade inflation, I’m betting this rank will not be surpassed.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

When it Comes to Phosphates, Guano is the Most Intriguing

In Ian Fleming’s novel Dr. No, James Bond diverts the flow of a guano-loading machine and buries the villain alive. This rare 1958 corrected proof, one of only 100 copies printed, realized $5,375 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The expression “blind as a bat” has been used for generations and it doesn’t seem too implausible since they navigate by radar, right? Except, of course, they are not blind and radar is not one of their navigational skills.

Most bats are nocturnal and do not use their eyes generally for an obvious reason … it is dark and hard to see. However, if forced out of a cave into daylight, a bat would be capable of seeing once its eyes adjusted to the glare. In fact, the fruit bat and leaf-nosed species have very good vision and navigate by eyesight.

Bats also lack a radar system.

Radar is an acronym for “radio detection and ranging,” a term coined by the U.S. Navy circa 1940. It is an object detection system to determine the range or velocity of ships or aircraft. Many countries worked on variations dating back to the late 19th century.

Bats emit high-pitched sounds that are bounced back to their supersensitive ears. This technique is closer to sonar or “sound navigation and ranging,” although the correct name is echolocation. In experiments, a bat’s sonar enables it to avoid a wire as thin as a hair and to distinguish a moth (dinner) from a variety of similar-shaped objects tossed into the air.

Another odd thing is the important role bat guano has played in agriculture. The value of bat guano as a fertilizer was not known in Europe until explorer Alexander von Humboldt returned from his 1806 voyage to Peru. Over the next 40 years, farmers in Great Britain and the United States learned of the astonishing results from its application to soil – and then the frenzy for control of the guano trade became very intense.

Anxiety over supply even reached the White House and led President Millard Fillmore to include the following in his 1850 State of the Union: “Guano has become so desirable an article to the agricultural interest of the United States that it is the duty of the government to employ all the means properly in its power for the purpose of causing that article to be imported into the country at a reasonable price. Nothing will be omitted on my part toward accomplishing this desirable end.”

Then in 1856, Congress passed the Guano Islands Act (still on the books) that allows U.S. citizens to claim any uninhabited/unclaimed island for the United States if the island contains guano. Over 50 islands in the Pacific and Caribbean were claimed, including Midway.

There was also a war fought in 1865-66, the Guano War, that pitted Spain against Peru and Chile.

More recently, guano apparently was on every Gemini and Mercury mission (for scientific reasons, we assume) and was the means by which James Bond killed Dr. No (a Chinese-German guano miner) in Ian Fleming’s novel.

Other phosphate sources just aren’t that interesting.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

100 Years Later, Battle of Verdun Remains an Example of Senseless, Protracted Warfare

This World War I propaganda poster issued by the U.S. government in 1917 realized $15,535 at a July 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After every great war, heads of state invariably declare, “This must never be allowed to happen again” – as though their pronouncements will have some profound, magical effect on future generations determined to use force to rectify some grievance they have suffered.

That was certainly the case in 1984 when German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Francois Mitterrand met at Verdun, an ancient town on the Meuse River in eastern France. Later this year, President Francois Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel will again hold a ceremony in Verdun, this time to inaugurate a renovated museum.

One can only assume that their prepared remarks will contain similar definitive declarations.

This year marks the centennial of the Battle of Verdun, which was part of the First World War. The fighting erupted on Feb. 21, 1916, when German artillery began firing on French troops. It’s estimated that 1 million shells fell on the first day and an astonishing 60 million more in the next 300 days.

Historians and military experts are still asking a simple question: Why?

There was nothing strategic about Verdun in the context of the much broader war being waged, yet the battle raged for a remarkable 10 months – often cited as the single longest battle of WWI, if not history. In addition to 300,000 casualties, the lush forestland around Verdun, “an area larger than the city of Paris,” was devastated. Even today, arsenic, unexploded bombs, tracks of barbed wire and remains of the dead lurk under deceptive greenery.

The most popular theory is that the Germans were hoping they could lure French troops into a war of attrition by diverting their reserve troops from the main battlefronts. Then they intended to “bleed the French army white” as they attempted to defend their homeland and honor.

When the battle finally ended, the French could claim victory, but they had actually only moved a few hundred yards and without any tangible benefits – just immense suffering in a senseless, protracted battle that was part of an even more “tragic accident,” as World War I has often been described.

Twenty-six years later, in November 1942, Adolf Hitler would declare, “I do not want this to be another Verdun!” – referring to the siege of Stalingrad that would end up costing him his entire Sixth Army!

And still the question of “Why?” remains unanswered as Verdun maintains its eerie silence.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].