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Old Manchester Giant faced Veeck’s dwarf

In a sport replete with stories of success and failure, in which a handful of bad outings could doom your career before it ever really has a chance to get off the ground, Bob Cain would one day found himself in the role of straight man.

A left-handed pitcher, Cain was the No. 2 starter for the Manchester Giants of the New England League in 1946. Cain would finish 13-4 with a 2.38 earned run average for a team that featured a handful of eventual major leaguers, including Cain, catchers Sal Yvars and Charlie Fox and infielder Bud Harding.

The Giants, who played their home games at Gill Stadium, finished third with a 75-45 record, six games behind the regular-season champion Lynn Red Sox and 4-1/2 behind the Governor’s Cup-winning Nashua Dodgers. That Dodgers team included catcher Roy Campanella, pitcher Don Newcombe and manager/first baseman Walter Alston.

After 3-1/2 seasons in the minors, Cain made his major-league debut in 1949, shortly after a midseason trade to the Chicago White Sox. He would spend five years in the majors with the White Sox, Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Browns before a wrist injury cut his career short in 1954.

But Cain would be best remembered for his start on Aug. 19, 1951, in the second game of the Tigers’ doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns.

That was the day 3-foot-7, 65-pound Eddie Gaedel strode to the plate.

Browns owner Bill Veeck had promised the 18,369 fans attending the doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park they would see something they’d never forget. Before the second game, Gaedel had popped out of a cake that had been wheeled onto the field.

“I kept thinking it was another promotion,” Cain told Sports Illustrated in 1996.

But it wasn’t, and St. Louis manager Zack Taylor had the American League-endorsed contract to prove it. Wearing the number 1/8 on his back, Gaedel stepped into the batter’s box and Tigers catcher Bob Swift went out to the mound to strategize.

“We laughed a little and I asked Swift if I should pitch to him underhanded,” Cain recalled in the SI story. “It was one of those moments that I knew would be remembered for a long time, and I wanted to handle myself properly.”

But Cain didn’t have much of a margin for error and Gaedel walked on four pitches before being pulled for a pinch runner.

“Unfortunately, Eddie had a strike zone about the size of a baby’s bib,” Cain said.

The Tigers won the game, 6-2, but Gaedel’s appearance stole the show. Though Cain was resigned to the fact that he would forever be linked to one of baseball’s greatest sideshows, he did manage to get the upper hand on a pair of future Hall-of-Famers.

In his major-league debut in 1949, Cain came out of the bullpen to face the Boston Red Sox. In stepped Ted Williams, the game’s most feared hitter. Williams worked the count to 3-2 and was expecting Cain to throw a fastball. Instead he was caught looking at a 3-2 curve ball.

Then, in 1952, while pitching for the Browns, Cain threw a one-hitter and outdueled Bob Feller in a 1-0 win over the Cleveland Indians.

Cain’s career record was a pedestrian 37-44, but it was his four-pitch walk to Gaedel that will be his most memorable contribution to baseball history.

Have an idea for a future profile? Contact Steve Daly at steve-daly@comcast.net