Bob Cain

This article was written by Chris Betsch

Bob Cain (Trading Card DB)Trying to throw a baseball as hard as you can from 60 feet, six inches and hitting a target 17 inches wide by approximately 24 inches high is hard enough as it is – but when that target is shrunk down to a height of less than three inches, it’s nearly impossible. That’s the task that Detroit Tigers pitcher Bob Cain faced on August 19, 1951, when in the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader, the St. Louis Browns sent 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to the plate as a pinch-hitter. At that moment Cain was forever linked with one of the most famous moments in baseball history. After his career ended Cain could easily have regarded it with scorn or simply refused to discuss it. There were hardly ever questions about his memorable battles with Bob Feller or how he teamed up with Satchel Paige. And he never got asked about having a no-hitter in the minor leagues or later being involved in another stunt for Bill Veeck, the mastermind behind Gaedel’s appearance. Yet instead, he looked back on that game with good spirit. In all his remaining years, any time he was asked about his part in it he was happy to tell the story one more time.

Robert Max Cain was born in the community of Longford, Kansas, on October 16, 1924. He was the fifth child out of four boys and two girls in the family of Ben and Edna Mae (née Snowden) Cain. According to US Census records, Bob’s grandfather emigrated to the United States from Prussia in 1874 as Peter Coen. He made his way across the states before finally settling in farm country in Kansas. By the time Bob was born, the family surname had changed to Cain. Ben Cain farmed near Longford before moving his family to nearby Salina, Kansas when Bob was a child. Ben held a variety of jobs in Salina to support the family, including work in a factory and with a taxicab company.

As soon as Bob Cain could hold a baseball, he started playing the game. He took part in the kids’ leagues in Salina, then moved up to American Legion ball and played in the Ban Johnson League near Kansas City. While attending high school in Salina, he also played football and basketball and was the captain of the golf team. Word started getting out on the lefty as a pitching and hitting prospect from American Legion competition, and he gained additional exposure as a high schooler for the Beverly Longhorns semipro team in Salina. By the time he was ready to graduate, he had been approached by eight of the 16 major-league teams with contract offers. Thoughts of pitching like fellow southpaw Carl Hubbell sprang into Cain’s head, and he chose to sign with Hubbell’s team, the New York Giants.1 The 18-year-old was assigned to play for the Bristol (Virginia) Twins in the Class D Appalachian League.

The Appalachian League was one of only 10 minor leagues that continued playing in organized baseball into 1943; the majority had halted operations after the US entered World War II. The league operated with just four teams that year, and the other three were not much of a challenge for Cain and the Twins. When not pitching, Cain played first base or outfield, but the mound was where he excelled. He pitched a one-hit shutout against Johnson City on June 27, then followed up with a no-hitter against the same team a month later (he also had four hits in the game).2

In July, however, Cain received his draft notice from the US Selective Service. On August 3, the Twins held “Cain and Morris” night for Bob and teammate Wayne Morris, who were both scheduled to enter the armed forces.3 Although Cain’s season was cut short, he still led the circuit in strikeouts, and the Twins won the pennant by 18½ games. Cain also led the league with seven hit batsmen,4 a sign of wildness that would plague him later in the majors.

Cain joined the US Navy and began training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. The Navy was apparently not made aware of Cain’s status as a pitching prospect, or they might have kept him at that location to pitch on their budding baseball squad, which later would include Bob Feller. Cain was instead assigned to serve as a yeoman second class at the Naval Armed Guard Station in San Pedro, California. It wasn’t all bad, by any means, as Cain met Miss Carlo O’Connell there; the two were married in February 1944. The couple had one child together, but the marriage did not last.

The 1944 and 1945 seasons were lost to the war, but Cain resumed his career in 1946 at age 21. The lefty, standing six feet tall and weighing 165 pounds, was assigned to play with Manchester (New Hampshire) in the Class B New England League. Cain and his Manchester teammates became among the first players in Organized Baseball to catch a glimpse of Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, who both were playing for the Dodgers club in Nashua, New Hampshire. Years later, when asked about the experience of facing Black players for the first time, Cain replied, “I didn’t feel any animosity there because they were ballplayers, we all loved the game of baseball and we were in it for one thing, and that is to do good [and] give the fans something to cheer for.”5

After turning in a record of 13-4 with a 2.38 ERA for Manchester in 1946, Cain was deemed ready to jump to Triple A in 1947. The promotion may have been a bit too ambitious, however, as he finished with high ERAs for the next two seasons at that level for the Jersey City Giants and Minneapolis Millers.

He began the 1949 season again with Minneapolis, but in June he was dealt to the Double-A Memphis Chicks for veteran pitcher Ike Pearson. Millers general manager Rosy Ryan felt that “Cain hasn’t helped us and maybe Pearson will.”6 The Chicks were affiliated with the Chicago White Sox and, unlike Ryan, the Sox thought that Cain could help them. Double-A ball suited Cain, as he turned in an 8-7 record and a 3.16 ERA for Memphis.  Having fallen a distant 31 games out of first place by the middle of September, the White Sox called up Cain for a trial run over the last two weeks of the season.

On September 18, Cain set foot in a major-league ballpark for the first time in his life when he walked out to the mound at Fenway Park in the sixth inning of Chicago’s game against the Red Sox. Chicago was down 11-4 when Cain entered the game, but he shut out Boston over the final three innings, allowing only one hit. Cain gave up three walks but also struck out three, including Ted Williams in the seventh inning. By his recollection, he fanned Williams on a curveball with a full count, leaving Williams stunned at the plate. “He was surprised that a rookie would throw a 3-2 curveball,” Cain recalled. “That was the last time I struck him out. He could remember what a pitcher threw him, and he didn’t forget.”7

Following his impressive audition in 1949, in which he had a 2.45 ERA over 11 innings of relief, Cain made the White Sox roster for the 1950 season. Sportswriters took to calling him “Sugar,” which was seemingly required for any sports figure of the day with the last name Cain. After beginning the season with three scoreless relief appearances, he received his first starting assignment. The White Sox threw Cain into the fire, scheduling him to face the defending World Champion Yankees at New York on May 4. Cain rose to the occasion, allowing only five hits and five walks in a complete game shutout. The White Sox mauled the Yanks 15-0, matching their worst shutout to date in their own ballpark.

The White Sox made good use of Cain all season long. At year end he ranked third on Chicago’s staff in innings and led all American League rookies in several pitching categories, both positive (starts, complete games, innings, ERA, and strikeouts) and negative (walks and losses). He also had his first clash with Bob Feller that year on May 13. Cain took the loss and gave up the sixth of Feller’s eight career home runs.

The most important game of Cain’s 1950 season, though, was one in which he didn’t even play. On September 26 against the Indians, opposing pitcher Early Wynn smacked a line drive that struck Cain above the kneecap. The next night Cain didn’t suit up; instead, he watched the game in the stands with White Sox trainer Packy Schwartz, Schwartz’s wife, and a friend of theirs named Judy Szarek. Over the next year, every time he was in Cleveland Cain would visit the flower shop at the Statler Hotel where Judy worked. He soon moved to the city to be closer to her, and the two wedded in December 1951.

The White Sox were on the upward side of a rebuilding phase, and Cain figured on being part of it; but he didn’t seem to fit in with the plans of new manager Paul Richards.8 In May 1951 Cain was dealt to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for pitcher Saul Rogovin. The Tigers felt that with guidance from a couple of coaches who became Hall of Famers – Ted Lyons and Rick Ferrell – Cain should become a dependable member of the team’s pitching staff. Cain did not consider himself a hard thrower, relying more on a curveball and disrupting batters’ timing. Yet he was also prone to wildness. Soon after the deal, Detroit manager Red Rolfe thought the change of scenery was already working well for the pitcher. “Regular work is straightening out Cain, his control is better, and he seems to have more on his fastball.”9

Rogovin ultimately had the better results of the two in 1951; he wound up leading the league in ERA and Chicago moved into the first division in the AL. As for Cain, he finished second on the Tigers with 11 wins after joining the team in May. But more notably, the trade gave him the chance to take part in one of baseball’s most storied moments – a tale he would recount for the rest of his life.

“It stays fresh on my mind. I can remember it just like it happened yesterday,”10 Cain reminisced in 1991. The Browns planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American League during that August 19 doubleheader, and there was no telling what Bill Veeck, the Browns’ inventive owner, might concoct for it. As the second game started the Tigers suspected something was amiss when Frank Saucier was listed as the right fielder for St. Louis; it was known that Saucier had an arm injury and could hardly throw a ball.11 When the Browns’ new signee came to the plate to pinch-hit for Saucier to start the bottom of the first inning, the Tigers couldn’t believe what they were witnessing. After waiting several minutes for the crowd to settle down, and realizing Gaedel was officially the batter, Cain and catcher Bob Swift met on the mound to discuss what the approach should be. “I didn’t know whether to throw the ball underhanded or overhanded to Gaedel. I just wanted to be careful not to hit him. Dizzy Trout told me later that if he’d been the pitcher, he’d have thrown the ball right between his eyes.”12

Eddie Gaedel at bat in 1951 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Although amused at the spectacle, Cain was not altogether happy about the likelihood of starting the inning with a walk. Swift, a fellow native of Salina, went back and half-humorously lay on the ground to give a low target but was ordered to get back up by umpire Ed Hurley. As seen in the famous picture of the at-bat, Swift kneeled instead. Gaedel was nervous at the plate, and maybe rightly so – Cain was on his way to finishing in the top 10 in the league in walks, wild pitches, and hit batters. After Cain threw the first two pitches high, all he could do was laugh about the situation, and he zipped two more balls well above Gaedel’s tiny strike zone to walk him on four straight pitches. After Gaedel was replaced by pinch-runner Jim Delsing, the Browns loaded the bases with two out. Cain got out of the jam, though, and the Tigers won the game, 6-2, with Cain getting credit for the win.

Cain was able to take the stunt in stride. “I laughed a little bit but was a little angry. I’d have given my right arm just to have gotten one strike on him.”13 Cain never personally knew Gaedel, but when the little man died in 1961, Cain felt he needed to be at the funeral in view of their historic tie. Bob and Judy drove 300 miles from Cleveland to Chicago to attend the ceremony. Veeck was unable to attend but sent flowers, leaving Bob Cain as the only baseball personality there.

Having settled in the Cleveland suburb of Euclid, Ohio, Cain looked for offseason work in the area. With the permission of Tigers general manager Charlie Gehringer, he went to work for the rival Cleveland Indians, selling tickets for the upcoming season. He also spent the offseason in protracted negotiations with Tigers owner Walter Briggs on a contract for the upcoming year. Cain felt that his 11 wins for Detroit in 1951 was worth a raise. Briggs disagreed, focusing on Cain’s 10 losses and 4.70 ERA after coming over to the team. After the two failed to come to terms, Cain was sent to the Browns in a Valentine’s Day swap that shifted seven players. Veeck had no qualms over meeting his new pitcher’s salary request.

Although the Browns had finished last in 1951, Cain was happier playing for an owner who paid him what he thought he deserved.14 Cain remembered Veeck as “one of the nicest, most honest men in baseball, a great guy to play for.”15 In time Cain came to be close enough to Veeck that he and Judy named Veeck’s wife, Mary Frances, as godmother of the couple’s one child, also named Judy.16

His second start for the Browns, on April 23, was another of Cain’s many matchups against Bob Feller. The previous July 1, Cain had given up only two runs to Cleveland, but he came out on the losing end of Feller’s third and final career no-hitter. This time, however, Cain got the last laugh: he won a match of dual one-hitters that night, the only one-hitter Feller ever lost. It was the first such game in the American League and only the second occurrence in the majors.17 “I’d like people to remember how I pitched against Bob Feller,” Cain once said. “It was a good rivalry from my point of view because I lived in Cleveland and knew Feller pretty well. Being able to pitch against someone I knew would be a Hall of Famer gave me inspiration.”18

Cain made strides with his control in 1952, cutting down his walks and wild pitches, and the improvements helped him earn 12 wins, tying him with his legendary teammate Satchel Paige for the club lead. The two pitchers helped push the Browns up a spot in the league standings to seventh, 14 games ahead of Briggs’s Tigers. Cain thought highly of Paige and had many fun memories of having him as a teammate. One story involved Paige spending a game day fishing, since he would not have to appear in the bullpen until the fifth or sixth inning. When Cain and the other Browns went to the locker room to shower after the game, all the fish Paige had caught that day were hanging in the shower stalls.19

Both Cain and the Browns went backwards in 1953. Cain won only four games and had a 6.23 ERA for St. Louis, which fell back to last place in the AL. Opponents batted .310 against him, and he gave up eight homers in 99 2/3 innings, including a shot to Mickey Mantle on April 28 that traveled an estimated 530 feet.

Over the final month of the season, Cain made only two appearances totaling 2 1/3 innings. On September 7, he had a disagreement with manager Marty Marion after being pulled out of the Browns game against Cleveland during the seventh inning.20 Following the argument, Cain did not pitch at all over the final three weeks of the season; there was no mention in newspapers that he might have been injured.

As it developed, that outing was Cain’s last as a pitcher in the majors, though he hung on for three more seasons as a pro. At the top level, he finished with a career won-lost record of 37-44 with a 4.50 ERA in 140 games.

By 1953, despite Veeck’s promotional efforts, it was apparent that the Browns had lost to the Cardinals in the battle to become the favorite team in St. Louis, a city that could no longer support two major-league baseball franchises. “It was strange pitching in Sportsman’s Park,” Cain remembered about that season. “If it weren’t for the ushers, players’ wives, and pigeons, it might have been completely empty during our games.”21

Veeck finally was coerced by the other league owners into selling the Browns in September, and with new owners in place, the team was promptly approved to relocate to Baltimore. Cain didn’t have a chance to be one of the inaugural Orioles, though, because he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics in December. The deal set him up to be a potential footnote in history as a member of both the last St. Louis Browns and Philadelphia A’s teams, because the A’s would move to Kansas City after the 1954 season. But after pitching in a March exhibition game against the Dodgers, calcium deposits in Cain’s left wrist left him unable to straighten his fingers or move the wrist the next day, effectively ending his chances of pitching for the A’s.

Cain had been in Philadelphia’s camp long enough that Topps issued a baseball card showing him in an A’s uniform. On Opening Day, he received word that he was being shipped to the Ottawa A’s in the Triple-A International League. Cain was released by Ottawa on May 18.22 He pitched briefly for New York Yankee affiliates in Kansas City and Birmingham before being re-signed by the White Sox in August 1954. He got into a single game in September – but as a pinch-runner. The appearance, coming a little over one month before his 30th birthday, was his last in the big leagues.

The White Sox invited Cain to spring training in both 1955 and 1956, with his wrist issues seemingly behind him. In both cases Cain thought he had performed well enough to make the team but was still cut in camp and sent back to the minors. It may have been more than coincidence that Marty Marion was the manager in Chicago, having moved there in 1954. The experience of being cut both seasons dampened Cain’s feelings toward baseball in general. “To me it made me feel like it wasn’t a case of what you did, it was who you knew.”23

Maybe Cain wasn’t wanted any longer in Chicago, but Bill Veeck still appreciated him. After selling the Browns in 1953, Veeck resurfaced in 1956 as the general manager of the Miami Marlins in the Triple-A International League. Having already brought on 50-year-old Satchel Paige, Veeck added Cain, and the Marlins introduced both players to the fans in typical Veeck fashion. April 18 was opening night in Miami, and Paige was brought to the field in a helicopter. Continuing the night’s attractions, a taxicab drove onto the field, and the newly obtained Cain popped out of it to join the team.

His stay in Miami was short, however; before the month ended, he was traded to Mobile in the Southern Association. One day in July Cain received word from back home that his young daughter was sick, so his family would not be able to make the trip south to visit. Cain packed his bags and left both the team and baseball that night.24

He returned to Euclid and worked in sales for the Kraft Food company. For several years he continued to sell season tickets for the Indians and did the same for the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. After retiring he enjoyed traveling and taking part in various baseball alumni events, and he was a popular guest at sports cards shows. Cain contracted lung cancer and passed away at the age of 72 on April 8, 1997; his body was cremated. Judy, his wife of 45 years, died in 2000.

For years Bob Cain had personal greeting cards made up that commemorated Eddie Gaedel’s famous at-bat. Sometimes he also marked the event by inscribing and signing baseballs as gifts to friends or appreciative fans. In 2001 the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York reenacted the scene in celebration of its 50th anniversary. Cain was represented on the mound by his daughter, Judy, while Gaedel was played by Veeck’s granddaughter.25

Cain once said in an interview, “Sometimes I wish I was remembered a little more for some of the other things I did in baseball besides pitching four balls to a midget.”26 No matter the reason, he would probably appreciate that, all these years later, he is still remembered.



The National Baseball Hall of Fame Library provided the player file for Bob Cain.

Bob Cain’s daughter, Ms. Judy Wilkinson, helped verify some items in Cain’s family history.

The Smoky Hill Museum in Salina, Kansas, provided additional information on Cain’s high school years.

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Rick Zucker and fact-checked by Don Zminda.


Photo credits

Bob Cain: Trading Card Database.

Eddie Gaedel at bat in 1951: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.



In addition to the sources noted above and below, the author also referenced the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball,,, The Sporting News archive via Paper of Record,, and

SABR BioProject article on Eddie Gaedel, by Brian McKenna:

Mark Tomasik’s article on Cain for his Retrosimba website:



1 Rick Bradley interview with Cain in SABR Oral History Collection, recorded November 21, 1994 (“Rick Bradley interview”).

2 “Cain One-Man Show as Twins Beat Cards,” Bristol (Tennessee) Herald Courier, July 28, 1943: 2.

3 “Twins Lose Two Games to Cherokees,” Bristol Herald Courier, August 4, 1943: 5.

4 Christine Tunnell, “Grandstand Gossip,” Kingsport (Tennessee) Times, January 2, 1944: 10.

5 Rick Bradley interview.

6 “Millers Swap Cain for Pearson,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis), June 3, 1949: 21.

7 Danny Peary, We Played the Game, (New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1994), 105.

8 Peary, We Played the Game, 169.

9 From Bob Cain’s Player File at the Baseball Hall of Fame (“Hall of Fame player file”). The article was by Watson Spoelstra and was from the Detroit News in 1951.

10 Hall of Fame player file. Rick Hines, “Bob ‘Sugar’ Cain,” Sports Collectors Digest, May 3, 1991: 201.

11 “Saucier Having Arm Trouble,” Washington Missourian, August 9, 1951: 4.

12 Peary, We Played the Game, 165.

13 Peary, We Played the Game, 165.

14 Cain’s recollection was that he signed for $25,000. lists his salaries as $7,000 in 1951, $11,000 in 1952, and $13,500 in 1953.

15 Peary, We Played the Game, 197.

16 Email correspondence with Judy Wilkinson, September 19, 2023.

17 On July 4, 1906, Mordecai Brown of the Chicago Cubs and Lefty Leifield of the Pittsburgh Pirates allowed only one hit each in the first game of a doubleheader. The Cubs won, 1-0. On September 9, 1965, Sandy Koufax no-hit the Cubs, while his opponent, Bob Hendley one-hit the Dodgers. The Cubs lost, 1-0.

18 Peary, We Played the Game, 198.

19 Rick Bradley interview.

20 Rick Bradley interview.

21 Peary, We Played the Game, 199.

22 “Scala Suspended, Cain Out,” Ottawa Citizen, May 19, 1954: 1.

23 Rick Bradley interview.

24 Rick Bradley interview.

25 “Hall Marks Anniversary of Veeck’s Little Stunt,” Tampa Bay Times, August 19, 2001: 76.

26 Hall of Fame player file. From an article by Dan Coughlin, “The Giant Who Pitched to A Midget,” Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, Ohio), April 9, 1997.

Full Name

Robert Max Cain


October 16, 1924 at Longford, KS (USA)


April 8, 1997 at Cleveland, OH (USA)

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