Wednesday, April 6, 2011
So The Common Man was on here yesterday and was acting like short people have value or something, and as a relatively tall person (I'm not nearly as tall as TCM is short -- nobody is, and if he's 5'7", by the way, I'm...some ridiculous thing I'm clearly not -- but I'm taller than average, anyway), I felt the need to balance the scales a bit.
I can't really do what TCM did, though, because a list of the greatest players over a certain height (say 6'6") would pretty much just be a list of first basemen, corner outfielders, and starting pitchers, and that would be boring. Instead, I'm going to put together a team of the tallest players at each position, according to their listed heights on Baseball-Reference. They must have played at least 500 games at the position in question -- or 1000 innings for starting pitchers, 350 for relievers -- and in the case of a tie (which is frequent), I generally just picked the better player. TCM, naturally, is going to come along sometime soon with a parallel short-guys team.
Here's the team, with discussion below:
Catcher: Joe Mauer, 6'5"
For all the talk about Mauer's unusual height for a catcher, there have been three others listed at 6'5", including Sandy Alomar, Jr., who lasted for twenty seasons. He was hurt for a whole bunch of that time, but still.
Tony Clark, 6'8"
When I think of Clark, I picture a really, really big guy, but not, like, a historically tall guy. It floors me, for example, that Clark is taller than Richie Sexson (who comes in at 6'6"). Sexson had that look of a man who was really, abnormally stretched out, like an NBA center or something, the kind of guy you couldn't help staring at in public even if you didn't recognize him. Tony the Tiger, though? I don't know, it surprises me. Clark actually stands all alone as the tallest non-pitcher of all time (minimum 500 games), an inch ahead of the left fielder on this list, who in turn is an inch ahead of everyone else.
Second Base: Don Kolloway, 6'3"
I guess it's not a surprise that second base is the shortest position of all, at least on the top end. It's either them or shortstops, and shortstops need to be able to throw it farther. Kolloway must have looked huge compared to other second basemen of his time, three inches taller than Red Schoendienst (the second-tallest 2B who played 500 games during Kolloway's career) and towering by seven inches over Eddie Stanky and Snuffy Stirnweiss. The height didn't seem to give him any extra power (career .353 SLG and 80 OPS+), though he did lead the league in doubles in 1942. Heck, his own first baseman that year (Joe Kuhel) was just 6'0", and the tallest starting pitcher (Buck Ross) was 6'2". If we had a league-adjusted height+ stat, Kolloway would come out looking a lot taller here.
Third Base: Troy Glaus, 6'5"
Another guy I don't think of as tall so much as meaty, but he's at least an inch over every other third baseman in history. You can really see the changing nature of the position on this list; modern players completely dominate the top of the list.
Shortstop: Cal Ripken, 6'4"
The most obvious call on the team, right? You always hear about how Cal changed the shortstop position, and about how part of it is that he was considered way too tall to be a shortstop. Of course, six guys had established significant careers at the position prior to Ripken who were just an inch shorter, but nonetheless, there seems to be some truth to that, at least.
Frank Howard, 6'7"
Know what I said above about league-adjusted height+? The Capital Punisher is your all-time leader, by a mile. Howard was (and is) just a giant human being, a full three inches taller (and probably a great many pounds heavier) than any position player who played regularly during most of his career. Tony Clark doesn't seem that huge, because he played at the same time as Richie Sexson and Adam Dunn and Frank Thomas. Howard was all on his own.
Center Field: Dale Murphy, 6'4"
This one was the big shock to me. Center ends up tied with short for the second-shortest position. Although there are three at 6'4" and many more at 6'3", I was sure there'd be a guy at say 6'6" or so who had spent significant time in center. And how is Murphy taller (if only by an inch) than Ken Griffey Jr.? I'm sure it's body types -- Griffey's general wiriness gave him the aura of a much taller guy -- but I just couldn't believe that. Meanwhile, B.J. Upton, who strikes me as relatively tiny, is listed as the same height as Griffey.
Dave Winfield, 6'6"
For those of us too young to remember Howard (who's the real answer here if he could play two positions at once, having logged 500 games in both corner spots) but too old to get Gaga, Winfield was basically the modern Howard. 6'6" is plenty tall as it is, of course, but then add in his broad shoulders, slender waist and freakishly long arms, and Winfield just looked like a monster, one of those genetically engineered super-soldiers from comic books.
Designated Hitter: Frank Thomas, 6'5"
Like Winfield, only thicker. It's hard to believe he was only 6'5", as it often seemed like the guy operating the center field camera had a hard time fitting all of him in the frame when he was at the plate.
Right-Handed Starter: J.R. Richard, 6'8"
Probably the most intimidating pitcher of all-time, and coming at you from that angle, it's easy to imagine why. So curious what he might have done with seven or eight more healthy years.
Randy Johnson, 6'10"
Okay, no, this was the easiest pick on the board to guess. Johnson was great at so many things, but chief among them would have to be being terrifyingly tall. Hey, remember "Little Unit," a/k/a Ryan Anderson? Ah, what might have been. He's listed at 6'10", but it was commonly accepted at the time that he was 6'11".
Right-Handed Reliever: Jon Rauch, 6'10"
Curious. Rauch is just as tall as and a hell of a lot more physically imposing as Johnson ever was, but his fastball nonetheless tops out at about 90 miles an hour. Having stood next to Rauch once -- the Nationals relievers were handing out All-Star ballots at the gate at the one game I went to there -- it's hard to believe he can be measured by usual human methods.
Left-Handed Reliever: Graeme Lloyd, 6'8"
Also one of only 25 Australians ever to play in the majors, Lloyd, like Rauch (and Chris Young, and others), is another one of those puzzling cases of exceptionally tall players who don't leverage their height to create exceptional velocity, yet are pretty effective anyway. He averaged only 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings at a time when the average for relievers was about 7.0, yet posted a 115 career ERA+.