November 1, 2009
The image of CC Sabathia lumbering out to the mound tonight as the Yankees and Phillies continue the World Series naturally got me to wondering about how Sabathia sizes up, as it were, among the largest players in baseball history. We baseball fanatics always like to know about the extremes. Determining Sabathia’s rank, it turns out, is an inexact process for several reasons: teams don’t always report accurate weights for their players, players’ weight can fluctuate significantly over the course of their careers, and records from the early days of major league ball are unreliable or nonexistent.
With those caveats in mind, I note that Sabathia’s weight has been reported this year as 290 pounds, which is very heavy for a baseball player. The weight of most of about 16,000 players who have appeared since 1876 has ranged from 160 to 200 pounds. Only 1,057 players during that period weighed under 160, which– for example — was Phil Rizzuto’s playing weight.
Being a lightweight hasn’t necessarily impeded a player’s success. Rizzuto is one example. Albie Pierson, whom I mentioned here recently in another connection, weighed only about 140 pounds, but he had a respectable career as an American League outfielder, batting .270 over nine seasons. I don’t know who the lightest legitimate major league player was, but there have been 13 who weighed under 130 pounds. Eddie Gaedel, of course, who made a single plate appearance with the St. Louis Browns — a stunt by Browns owner Bill Veeck — weighed only 65 pounds. Because Gaedel had been signed to a contract and completed an at-bat, he is officially the lightest major leaguer.
The person currently being recognized as the heaviest player in history is Walter Young, a first baseman who appeared in 14 games with the Baltimore Orioles in 2005. Young’s weight that year is placed at 322 pounds. He is six-foot-five. Sabathia is six-foot-seven.
I haven’t been able to determine if Young is still in pro baseball. After his stint in Baltimore, he played in the Padres’ and Astros’ organizations — though not in the majors — and he played with several other clubs until August of this year, when he was released by the Edmonton Capitals of the Golden Baseball League.
Young wasn’t with the Orioles long enough to demonstrate how a man of his size could perform in the major leagues. He had 33 charged at-bats in 14 games and hit .303 with one home run. Although it’s difficult to imagine a man of such girth making the kinds of stops made by, say, Mark Teixeira, Young played 54 innings at first base that year, participated in nine double plays and made no errors. All of this projects out to a good full season, but we likely will never know if Young could have played at that level for 162 games.
If Young is through with baseball — or is it the other way around? — he did leave his mark in a certain way. He spent part of the 2008 season with the Sioux City Explorers, who are affiliated with the Yankees and the Indians, and he played an important part in the Explorers’ American Association championship. Young appeared in 26 games and hit .367 with 5 home runs and 29 RBIs.
The player whose nickname made the most blunt reference to his weight was James “Hippo” Vaughn, who pitched in the majors from 1908 to 1921, including a couple of seasons with the New York Highlanders, as the Yankees were originally known. Vaughn was six-foot-four and weighed 215 pounds. His bulk apparently worked to his advantage in some way, because he won 20 games in five different seasons — a rare achievement, relatively speaking.
Vaughn, incidentally, was involved in one of the oddest games ever played in the majors — a 1917 contest in which Vaughn started for the Chicago Cubs and Fred Toney started for the Cincinnati Reds. That was the only game in history in which neither starting pitcher allowed a hit for nine innings — a double no-hitter. Vaughn lost the game in the tenth inning. Because of a rule change that occurred much later, Vaughn does not get credit for a no-hitter, which is absurd. Fred Toney, who does get credit, weighed 195 pounds.
September 27, 2009
I once overheard an acquaintance of mine, who was 15 years old at the time, making a self-denigrating comment about her height. I told her, “If anyone had asked me to describe you, I might have said you were about five feet tall, but it would not have occurred to me to say that you were ‘short.’ You’re probably more self-conscious about your height than other people are conscious of it.” I said that from my vantage point a full foot above hers, but I’m sure the reality is that each person has his own standard – probably related to his own stature – for what height requires the adjective “short.”
Anyway, that conversation took place about three years ago, and it came to mind today when I saw a presentation on the Los Angeles Times web site regarding short people. It didn’t amount to much. It was the sort of thing newspaper companies put on their web sites in order to demonstrate something that itself has not yet been defined.
The Times said the feature had been inspired by an article in Pediatrics, a medical journal, about a study of the effect of short stature on emotional, behavioral, and social functioning. The Times explained, somewhat imprecisely: “This recent study from the journal Pediatrics, suggesting shorter 6th graders are not victimized any more than the average student, got us thinking: Aren’t lots of famous people really short?” This brief introduction was followed by photos of eight people whom the Times delicately described as “vertically challenged”: Voltaire, Charlotte Bronte, Edith Piaf, Andrew Carnegie, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pat Benatar, Wallace Shawn, and Gloria Swanson. The least tall of these was Edith Piaf at four-foot-eight; the tallest was Voltaire at five-foot-three. This information came a web site called Short Persons Support (www.shortsupport.org) which includes a list of 371 people ranging in height from Gul Mohammed at one-foot-ten and a half inches to nine persons (including Dustin Hoffman, T.E. Lawrence, and Horatio Nelson) at five-foot-five and a half inches.
I was surprised that I didn’t find on that list five-foot-five Albie Pearson, an outfielder who batted .270 in a nine-year major league career and went on to have a very active life in Christian ministry.
Nor did I see another major leaguer — three-foot-seven Eddie Gaedel, who walked on four pitches in his only time at bat — a promotional stunt engineered by Bill Veeck, then the owner of the St. Louis Browns.
And I missed four-foot-eleven “Little” Jimmy Dickens, an iconic figure in country music when it really was country music. I’ll let Jimmy sing us out with one of his own compositions, particularly appropriate to the topic:
A lot of folks have told me
I was pulled ‘fore I was ripe
A winter apple picked off in the fall
But even as a youngin’
I was not the bashful type
‘Cause I could yell the loudest of them all.
I’m little, but I’m loud
I’m poor, but I’m proud
I’m countrified and I don’t care who knows it
I’m like a banty rooster
In a big, red rooster crowd
I’m puny, short and little, but I’m loud.