Wednesday, May 16, 2012
The all-time all-short team
By David Schoenfield
Jerry Crasnick has a story today on Jose Altuve, the exciting spark plug for the Houston Astros. Yes, I just wanted to write "spark plug." At 5-foot-5, Altuve looks like a player better suited to 1896 than 2012. But the dude can hit. Anyway, here's an all-time all-short team in honor of our new favorite second baseman.
C: Yogi Berra, 5-7 (1946 to 1965) A Yankees scout who saw Berra when he was a teenager turned in this report: "He does everything wrong, but it comes out right." Berra refused to sign with his hometown Cardinals because they wouldn't give him the same bonus as his neighborhood pal Joe Garagiola. Berra knew he was better. He was right.
1B: Joe Judge, 5-8 (1915 to '34) First basemen are supposed to be tall and powerful, and Judge is the only 5-8 or shorter one to have a lengthy career. He was a good player for the Washington Senators, although he didn't hit for much power (71 career home runs). He hit better than .300 nine times and finished with a .298 average and more than 2,300 hits. Judge broke Walter Johnson's ankle during spring training in 1927, essentially ending Johnson's career. Bill James wrote that when Johnson later managed the club and had to bench an aging Judge, the two men who had been best friends ended up in a nasty public feud.
The 5-foot-7 Joe Morgan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
2B: Joe Morgan, 5-7 (1963 to '84) The two-time MVP and Hall of Famer was easily the best player in baseball during his 1972-1976 peak. When we did the all-time best season bracket, I wrote about Morgan's remarkable 1975 season, when he was five wins better than any other NL player. (Although Baseball-Reference.com has since modified its WAR calculations, and that margin is down to 3.4 wins.)
3B: John McGraw, 5-7 (1891 to 1906) Although remembered as one of the greatest managers ever, McGraw was a valuable third baseman in the 1890s because of his on-base skills. In 1899, he hit .391 and drew 124 walks for a .547 OBP, the fourth-highest single-season mark. Back in McGraw's day, third base was actually more of a defensive position than second base because of the large number of bunts employed, so you see a lot of small, spry third basemen up until the 1920s. The only notable "modern" third basemen under 5-9 would be Chone Figgins and Grady Hatton, a good player with the Reds in the late '40s/early '50s.
SS: Freddie Patek, 5-5 (1968 to '81) Listed at 5-5, Patek might have been an inch shorter. You could go Phil Rizzuto (5-6) or Rabbit Maranville (5-5) here, but we'll give Patek bonus points for being even shorter than those two guys. Nicknamed "The Flea," Patek was a three-time All-Star with the Royals and finished sixth in the 1971 AL MVP vote.
LF: Tim Raines, 5-8 (1979 to 2002) Raines deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He was an on-base machine and one of great base stealers ever. If we lower the bar to 5-7 (there haven't been many short left fielders), we'd go with George Burns, a Raines-type player with the Giants in the teens and early '20s who led the NL five times in runs scored.
CF: Hack Wilson, 5-6 (1923 to '34) Built like Kirby Puckett except even shorter, stronger and more barrel-chested, a unique figure in baseball history. Wilson is rare among short players in that he had enormous power, leading the NL four times in home runs, including 1930 when he drove in an MLB-record 191 runs with the Cubs. His career fell apart after that because of heavy drinking and his Hall of Fame résumé is based on a scant five-year run, but you wonder whether such a player could even exist today.
RF: Willie Keeler, 5-4 (1892 to 1910) Keeler arrived in the big leagues as a third baseman with the New York Giants, but the Giants sold him to Brooklyn for $800. He was later traded to the Baltimore Orioles, where he played with McGraw as the Orioles won three straight NL pennants from 1894 to 1896. A .341 career hitter and Hall of Famer, and Baseball-Reference.com lists Keeler as a left-handed thrower (he hit lefty), but that's a mistake. Here's a picture of him late in his career with the Giants, throwing right-handed.
DH: Matt Stairs, 5-9 (1992 to 2011) He actually didn't DH all that much, but there haven't been many short guys to play more than a handful of games at DH. We'll put Stairs here, especially because he's generously listed at 5-9. Brian Downing, 5-10, became a regular DH the last few years of his career (1973 to 1992).
P: Dolf Luque, 5-7 (1914 to '35) "The Pride of Havana" won 194 games, including 27 with the Reds in 1923. He had a good fastball and big curveball and from 1921 to 1928 averaged 262 innings per season. There were some excellent short pitchers in the 1800s, but of course we see very few short hurlers in modern baseball. Since 1950, the pitcher with the most wins who was 5-9 or shorter is Tom Gordon with 138, and only five have won 100. At 5-10 (listed heights), you get Whitey Ford and Billy Pierce.
RP: Roy Face, 5-8 (1953 to '69) Credited with 193 saves, Face is famous for his 18-1 season with the Pirates in 1959. He also saved three games for Pittsburgh in the 1960 World Series.