Thursday, April 7, 2011

The All-Time Tiny Team

By The Common Man

Bill is so certain of the superiority of his giant brethren that TCM was forced to respond with a team of the shortest players who have been actual ballplayers (sorry to Eddie Gaedel and his family). Using Bill’s criteria, which he laid out yesterday, TCM has assembled his tiny team. Most of them, despite what Bill would have you believe, are actually shorter than The Common Man. Obviously, all of them have grit and heart and inspired their teammates:

Catcher: Harry Bemis, 5’6”
Catcher is actually a position where being short is not a disadvantage. Hall of Famers Roy Campanella, Luke Sewell, and Ray Schalk (as well as future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez) were all 5’9”. And Yogi Berra was listed at just 5’7”. The light-hitting Bemis is the only guy shorter than than that. He played for the Indians at the start of the 20th century, and was a bit of an elitist when it came to catching, arguing that “My advice to a good young player breaking into the game is to learn how to catch, for I think that the day will come when the catchers will demand and receive greater salaries than the pitchers” because “the new ones [catchers] that make good each year are becoming less and less.”

Firstbase: Joe Judge, 5’8”
Judge was 21 years old and hitting .320 in 1915 (smack dab in the Deadball Era) when he was purchased by Clark Griffith and the Washington Senators, Via Bill James’ New Historical Abstract we get the story of his arrival in Washington,
“The day Judge arrived in the majors...he delayed the start of the game by 20 minutes....His arrival had been trumpeted in the press, and agood crwod was on hand to see him, but his train was late and at game time he wasn’t at the park. The umpire held up the start of the game until Judge arrived.”
Expecting a mighty Casey, what must the crowd have thought when the mighty Judge showed up and was only 5’8”? Still, he put together an excellent career thanks to his line drive power and good plate discipline. In a cruel twist, the man who replaced him at first for the Senators is his closest comp using Bill James’ similarity scores.

Second Base: Billy Gilbert, 5’4”
As you’d expect, given that 2B is where the shortest tall player on Bill’s list showed up, this is by far the shortest position in the game. Joe Morgan was 5’7”, and 64 players got in more than 500 games despite being under 5’10”. Gilbert became famous in 1905 for helping the New York Giants win their first World Series, in particular with his 3-for-4 performance in Game 1. Roger Bresnahan gushed over himthat offseason, saying (in some of the best prose ever),
“That little sacker is, in my opinion, the greatest in the business. There may be better hitters and there may be better fielders, but for general all around work give me Gilbert every time.
He’s the boy with the noodle and whenever anything on the inside is going to be pulled off Gilbert will always be on deck with both feet. Just see what he did in the whole series. Wasn’t his hitting grand and timely and what he did on the inside and on the outside was worth going a good many miles to see.
Whenever I heave the ball down to him to nab a runner I am pretty sure that he’s going to get the man. There’s no sliding away from him and he’s perfectly fearless.
He certainly is a star.”
Third Base: Chuck Dressen, 5’5”
Dressen is, of course, best known for his work as a manager with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but was one of the best players in the minor leagues before the Reds purchased him in 1925. He had good on base skills, but no power, and was probably more of a casualty to the way the position and the game was changing than anything else.
Shortstop: Freddie Patek, 5’5”
Patek was famous for being the shortest player in the game, and for catching the eye of David Letterman at the All Star Game, who asked when he saw him, “What is this, take your son to the All Star Game Day?” Like most of the players on this list, Patek had almost no power, hitting just 41 homers over 14 years. But that didn’t matter on June 20, 1980, when Patek became one of the most unlikely players ever to hit 3 homers in a game for the Angels, popping three of them over the Green Monster at Fenway.

Leftfield: Topsy Hartsel, 5’5”
As TCM has pointed out before, Topsy Harsel had a weird start to his career when he got caught up in some illegal roster moves going on in the tumultuous early history of Major League Baseball. He eventually made his way to Philadelphia, where he became a star for Connie Mack’s A’s and a valuable leadoff hitter. He’s the shortest leftfielder in baseball by two full inches, and “wrote” an article in 1910 in which he stated that his size hurt him as he tried to get established in the game. According to former Athletic Monte Cross, Hartsel was behind a threatened player strike that led to Connie Mack having to sell Rube Waddell. Rube, while drunk, apparently attacked team 1B Harry Davis on a barnstorming trip so severely that Hartsel, and then the rest of the team refused to travel with him anymore.

Centerfield: Albie Pearson, 5’5”
Pearson came up with the Senators in 1958 and, as you’d expect given his size, had great on-base skills. This was not fully appreciated by Senators or by his next team the Baltimore Orioles, both of whom sent him to the Minors because of a poor batting average. He was the 4th pick, however, in the expansion draft and blossomed with the Angels in 1961, playing good defense and posting a .420 OBP. He made the All Star team in 1963 and even finished 14th in the MVP voting. Ironically, like some of the tall players on Bill’s list, Pearson had back trouble, and had a deteriorated spinal disc that put him in the hospital and eventually caused him to retire in 1967, when he told reporters “My career was just adequate at best. There are a lot of us that retire every day, and we have to go out and look for jobs.” Pearson found a good one, becoming an ordained minister and working with trouble youth in California.

Rightfield: Willie Keeler, 5’4”
Bill argued yesterday that it’d be nice to have a height+ stat to allow us to normalize these guys a little bit relative to the rest of their league. There should also be a positional adjustment, because Willie Keeler would win in a walk. At 5’4”, he’s three inches shorter than the next shortest guy to play RF regularly. When he retired in 1910, The New York Times called him “the most scientific of batsmen, and his faultless style, as he stood at the plate has often been imitated but never equaled.” Nowhere in the article chronicling his career is he ever referred to as “Wee” Willie. In 19 seasons he struck out just 136 times, including just twice in 633 plate appearances in 1899.

RH Starting Pitcher: Dolf Luque, 5’7”
Luque, as a light skinned Cuban, was exempt from the “gentlemen’s” agreement that kept blacks and Latinos out of baseball until Jackie Robinson. Luque was a good pitcher for much of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, but was otherworldly in 1923, when he won 27 games with a 1.93 ERA for the club, while allowing just two homers in 322 innings. He was suspended for six days in 1923 for going into the Giants dugout in the middle of the game and attacking Casey Stengel, who he thought had been hurling epithets at him on the mound. Pitching for the Giants in the 1933 World Series, the 43 year old Luque relieved Hal Schumacher in the 6th and finished the last 4.1 innings without allowing a run and striking out five. He earned the win, and is still the oldest player to win a postseason game.

LH Starting Pitcher: Fred Norman 5’8”
Norman and his screwball had to fight hard to make it in the Big Leagues. In 1967, he got into one game (in April), and pitched just a single inning,. In the 9th inning of a 6-1 loss, he was brought in in front of fewer than 3,000 fans to face Roberto Clemente, Donn Clendenon, and Willie Stargell, and struck out all three of them. But the Cubs, according to The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, forbade him from throwing the screwball and he was quickly traded to the Dodgers, who stashed him at AAA. He had a tough year out of the bullpen in 1970 and was waived. The Cardinals got him and used him in five games before trading him to the Padres where, at 28, he was finally given a chance to start. He spent the next 8 seasons starting, winning 95 games with a 3.47 ERA, and was a crucial part of the Big Red Machine. Norman signed a big two-year free agent contract with the Expos in 1980, but it backfired. He pitched a single season for them, and was released after a bad spring in 1981.

RH Relief Pitcher: Roy Face, 5’8”
Face was one of the first great relief aces, and was one of the first players to effectively throw a forkball. In fact, according to Neyer and James, Face’s forkball was probably the greatest of all time. He developed it in 1954 when the Pirates send him down to New Orleans. He learned well and came back almost exclusively as a reliever. With limited exposure to his pitch (somewhat like Mariano Rivera’s cutter), teams simply couldn’t hit Face and he became a force on the back end for Pittsburgh. In his prime, he’d pitch around 100 innings in relief with a lot of wins and saves. In 1959, he set a record with 18 wins out of the bullpen against just a single loss and he saved another 10 games.

LH Relief Pitcher: Luis Arroyo, 5’8”
Like Norma, Arroyo was another short lefty screwball artist. But Arroyo was much more delicate than Norman was, and ended up with just one great season. But it was incredible. Working exclusively out of the pen for the all time great 1961 Yankees, Arroyo pitched 65 games and 119 innings. He won 15 games and saved 29, which would have been the record at the time if anyone was keeping track. He was put on the DL the next May with a “dead arm.” The Yankees never really replaced his production out of the pen, but with the rest of the team in place they didn’t need to.

UPDATE: DH Brian Downing, 5'10"
Thanks to an intrepid reader, TCM discovered that he'd totally blown past Brian Downing in his writeups.  He must have been looking too low after writing up Willie Keeler.  Anyway, Downing was famous for his workout regimen, being one of the first baseball players to invest time and effort in weight training.  And it worked.  At 30, Downing became one of the best power hitters in the American League, especially once he got out from behind the plate, and became a consistent 20-30 home run threat until he was 37.  He also showed strong plate discipline and was one of the first great full-time designated hitters.
So that it.  It's not as good a squad as the one Bill put up yesterday.  It's decidedly lacking power, but it makes up for it somewhat with trickery on the mound and speed in the field.  Without having run any sims, TCM would bet that this club would lose a 7 game series to Bill's squad roughly 75% of the time.  Maybe even more.  Still, it would be a fun team to root for. They'd be so cute in their grownup uniforms.


Anonymous said...

Fun post. One thing is for certain though is professional sports teams lie about guys heights all the time in the modern era. Almost every team inflates most guys height by an inch or two. My favorite team the Philadelphia Phillies have three important players that are all about about 5'7-5'8. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz whatever they are listed none is taller then that and Jimmy Rollins might be about 5'6 in barefeet. I've met them all in person. There are tons of great short baseball players the teams just lie about there size.

Anonymous said...

For left-handed starter I think you have to go with Bobby Shantz, two inches shorter than Norman. Shantz played 16 seasons in the majors, won 24 games -- and the MVP -- in 1952, won 8 gold gloves, and made three All-Star teams.

Bill said...

Yeah, unfortunately, Schantz falls through the cracks of the somewhat arbitrary rules I designed. He certainly can't be considered a starter -- he started in less than a third of his appearances -- and he falls short (pun intended) as a reliever, too, since I set the cutoff at 75%. I suppose it would have made more sense to have the cutoff at 51% and just include (virtually) everybody, but there you have it.

Bill said...


Anonymous said...

I like how you skipped right over the only 6' guy on your about bias for the vertically challenged!

JS said...

Brian Downing was 5' 10", not 6' 0". Had he been a six-footer, he would be banned from the Tiny Team.

And how could you start Bemis over Yogi Berra at catcher? Berra was 5' 7" and one of the top-5 catchers of all time; Benis was 5' 6 1/2" and a decent offensive catcher in a short career. Berra's got to be the cather and clean-up hitter.

The Common Man said...

The Downing height in the graphic is incorrect, but it is corrected below in TCM's write-up. As for Berra vs. Bemis, the goal of these lists was to put the shortest player to have actually gotten playing time at a given position into it. Bemis, listed at 5'6" is an inch shorter than Berra's listing (though that may have been exagerated to make him seem taller). But TCM can only work within the rules with what he has. So Bemis "wins."

Anonymous said...

Jay Gibbons doesn't meet the 500 game threshold at DH, but he did have at least one season where he played DH more than anywhere else. Although he's listed as 6', he would often stand next to the 5'8" Brian Roberts and you couldn't tell who was taller.