You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1925, Eddie Gaedel was born. He’s the shortest player (3-foot-7) to play in the major leagues — one at-bat for the 1951 St. Louis Browns. So, in his honor, we will celebrate little guys, short guys and little short guys.
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is just under 5-foot-6. After he hit a home run over the train tracks in left-center field at Minute Maid Park in 2017, then-Astros coach Alex Cora told me Altuve is “pound-for-pound the strongest man in baseball.” Cubs outfielder Hack Wilson was 5-foot-6, he wore a size 5 ½ shoe. And he is a Hall of Famer, and his 191 RBIs in 1930 remain the record. Outfielder Wee Willie Keeler got 200 hits for eight consecutive seasons (1894-1901); he was 5-foot-4 and weighed 140 pounds. That, too, was the weight of Craig Grebeck, who wore No. 14 for the White Sox. So did hulking Kent Hrbek for the Twins. He once told Grebeck, “you should put a slash between the one and the four, and you’d be one-fourth!”
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is actually only 5-foot-6 ½, with “the smallest hands I’ve ever seen on a baseball player,” said former Red Sox general manager Theo Esptein. Infielder Bip Roberts was so small (5’7”, 150 lbs.), Padres teammate Greg Booker once said, “we have baked potatoes back in North Carolina that are bigger than him.”
Outfielder Albie Pearson won the AL Rookie of the Year at 5-foot-5, 140 pounds. Royals shortstop Freddie Patek was 5-foot-4, but he hit three homers in one game at Fenway Park. White Sox shortstop Harry Chappas was 5-foot-3, a sawed-off switch-hitter. There are more than 30 Hall of Fame position players under 5-foot-10, including Mel Ott, Kirby Puckett, Yogi Berra and Joe Morgan.
And then there are the short pitchers. Bobby Shantz won the AL MVP in 1952 at 5-foot-6. He and Tim Collins are the only pitchers under 5-foot-7 to pitch in a World Series game. “No one believes I’m a baseball player,” Collins said. “If I convince them, they can’t believe I’m a pitcher.”
Pedro Martinez weighed 138 pounds and threw 93 mph when he was in rookie ball. Tim Lincecum won two Cy Young Awards and weighed less than 160 pounds.The first time 6-foot-10 Randy Johnson met new teammate Billy Wagner, he said, “He’s at least a foot shorter than me, and he throws harder than I do.” Pitcher Dan Boone told me he weighed 140 pounds when he made a brief comeback as a knuckleball pitcher in 1990 with the Orioles. He is a direct descendant of Daniel Boone. When asked how brave Daniel Boone must have been, Boone said, “but I don’t know if he had the courage to throw a knuckleball on 3-2 with the bases loaded.”
And then there’s left-hander Daniel Herrera, who pitched in 101 innings in the major leagues from 2008 to ’11. He told me he was 5-foot-6, 145 pounds.
“The first time I saw him was during the week of the Kentucky Derby,” said former Reds teammate Adam Dunn. “We just figured he was going to have to leave the team that Saturday to go ride one of the horses.”
Herrera has heard and seen all the short jokes.
“The best one was in 2010,” he said. “I was in [Triple-A] Louisville. One of our catchers, Albert Colina, who is a really big guy, picked me up and put me in his lap as he sat in the bullpen. Then he stuck his arm inside my jacket, and up my back. Whenever I would talk, he would move his lips. Everyone was cracking up. He was the ventriloquist. I was the puppet.”
Other baseball notes for June 8
In 2010, Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut. He became the first pitcher to strike out 14 and walk zero in his major league debut.
In 1996, LSU’s Warren Morris became the only player ever to end the College World Series with a walk-off home run. He was hitting ninth that day, and he hadn’t hit a home run all season, in part because of a wrist injury that caused him to miss 39 games. He played in the major leagues from 1999 to 2003.
In 1944, Mark Belanger was born. He was one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time. He used to work in a ski shop in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in the offseason because he didn’t make enough money playing baseball. In 1980, when he was still with the Orioles, I asked him if I could try on his glove. “I would kill you before I would let you do that,” he said. I don’t think he was serious.