Minor league baseball teams have a long history of creative gimmicks to get people in the stadium. All of these gimmicks owe a debt of gratitude to former Indians, White Sox and St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck. Of all his promotional stunts, Veeck may be best known for signing 3'7" Eddie Gaedel, who batted once for the Browns in 1951 and drew four straight balls. Major League Baseball voided his contract the next day and there's never been another little person in the game.
Until now. The York Revolution, an independent team in the Atlantic League, have signed 44-year-old, 3'2" Dave Flood and are adamant that it isn't just a ploy to get fans in the stands. It's part of an experiment dreamed up by author Todd Gallagher, who has explored other odd sports ideas in the past. Gallagher's belief is that a player almost guaranteed to walk would be a major offensive weapon for a baseball team.
"It's a brilliant strategy and one that's supported by the data and research," Gallagher said. "I'm thrilled that the Revolution are willing to embrace basic logic and give equal opportunity to a player who can help their team."
Tim Purpura, former G.M. of the Houston Astros, said that he would have been willing to sign a little person during his time with the team if the league would have allowed it. It's hard to understand why it shouldn't be allowed. If a team is allowed to carry lefthanded relievers who never face righties, why shouldn't they be allowed to carry a guy whose only skill set is drawing walks?
The hardest part would be trying to figure out how to use such a player. Do you bat him leadoff and then pinch run with whatever player he's replacing, or do you hold off and hope to deploy him to help start a rally in the late innings? Given the limited space on a baseball team's bench the move would have to be carefully used, lest you wind up leaving yourself shorthanded later in a game, but the ability to more or less choose a spot for a baserunner would be a powerful tool for a team to have on the bench.
Nate Silver, formerly of Baseball Prospectus,worked with Gallagher to test out his theory that a team of little people would be an offensive juggernaut for Gallagher's book "Andy Roddick Beat Me With a Frying Pan." They would be quite tough to get out at the plate, but when it came time to take the field there would be difficulties. The question would be how much value would you put on a player who could ensure he'd get on base once a game.
That seems like something worth exploring a bit further, doesn't it? Kudos to the Revolution for looking at the game through a different prism.