Part of the hook in the 1995 hit song “I Wish”, by one-hit-wonder Skee Lo says it all “I wish I was a little bit taller…”. The hot first week from diminutive outfielder Steven Kwan (.385/.541/.538) has me thinking about some of my favorite players who were under six feet tall. I have a vivid memory of being a middle school kid and backing into Kirby Puckett while trying to get an autograph from Tony Gwynn at the hotel during the 1989 All-Star Game. Other than the fact these were two of my heroes, I was taken by the fact that we were all about the same height. I made think the baseball thing was actually possible. While Tony and Kirby are not on this team, it is only due to my self-imposed roster limit and positional limitations. These are not always the best players, but they resonated with me for some reason.
Right Hand Pitcher: Pedro Martinez. His listed height of 5’11” feels a bit generous to me, but there is no doubting his greatness. I have written before about how for a period of time Pedro might have been the best pitcher in all of baseball. Starting in the late ’90s he had about the best fastball, breaking ball, and change-up…all at the same time! The altercations with Don Zimmer and Gerald Williams made Pedro one of the most notable players of his time.
Left Hand Pitcher: Ron Guidry. Known as Louisiana Lighting or Gator, he is another pitcher listed at 5’11” who probably wasn’t. Heis on the team as a southpaw. He won 20 games in three seasons. He had one of the best sliders in his era. The fact he was the ace on a World Series-winning Yankees team in 1978 (He was 25-3 that year.) helped keep him in my mind growing up. Personal note: my college baseball nickname was Guidry.
Relief Pitcher: Tom Gordon. Nicknamed Flash, he is more than the father of Dee Strange-Gordon and Nick Gordon. He played listed at 5’10”, but is really not. He had one of the best curveballs ever and armed with that he fashioned a 19-year big league career. He logged 215 innings as a starter in 1995 but then became a valuable reliever who saved a career-high 46 games in 1998. 138 career wins and 158 career saves show he had a versatile arm who could handle either role.
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez. Pudge is a Hall of Famer, so his playing record speaks for itself. Some got creative and embellished a bit and listed him at 5’11” (The 5’9″ on Baseball-Reference seems about right.). He is a 7-time Silver Slugger, a 14-time all-star, and the American League Most Valuable Player in 1999. He was the backbone of those powerful Rangers teams that included Rafael Palmiero and Juan Gonzalez. He is the best of his era.
First Base: Jim O’Rourke. Now I cannot say I saw Jm O’Rourke play as his career spanned from 1872 through 1893 (I will leave out the 1 for 4 he had in 1904 as a 53 year-old). The reason he is on the squad is he is a three-time home run leader who retired with a career total of 62. He lead the National Association with 5 homers in 1874; 6 dingers did the trick in 1875; 6 more did the trick in 1880. This 5’8″ first sacker was one of the leading sluggers of the Deadball Era.
Second Base: Joe Morgan. He didn’t have a catchy nickname, but the 5’7″ dynamo is one of the top second basemen of all time. He was a two-time MVP (1975, 1976), a five-time Gold Glove winner, and a Hall of Famer. Now I grew up with him a voice of Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, and the owner of one of the most unique timing mechanisms at the plate ever.
Shortstop: Ozzie Smith. In my opinion, The Wizard is the best defensive player of all time, regardless of position. His play for the San Diego Padres during which he barehanded a ball after it took a bad hop is the play all shortstops are measured against in my mind. The 5’11” shortstop is a 13-time Gold Glover. He went into the Hall of Fame because of his defense. His homer off Tom Niedenfuer in the 1985 NLCS is one of the most unexpected in baseball history.
Third Base: Pete Rose. Charlie Hustle has 4256 hits. This is the most ever. Lesser known is he is also the all-time leader in plate appearances (15,890), at-bats (14,053), and games (3,562). Lou Gehrig is known as the Iron Horse, but Pete played all or parts of 23 years in the big leagues. This 5′”11 native of Cincinnati is a straight-up ballplayer. He played first base, second base, third base, and the outfield over 600 times in the major leagues. Did I mention he was a switch-hitter? Just keep him away from the casinos and racetracks.
Leftfield: Rickey Henderson. The 5′”10 leadoff man was the best to ever do it. He led off more games with a home run than anyone (81); he is the all-time leader in runs (2,295); he is the all-time leader in stolen bases (1,406). He is one of my top 5 favorite players ever. Rickey played with a swagger before swagger was even a thing. Speaking in the third person added to his mystique. People get caught up in the style but missed a lot of the substance with Rickey.
Centerfield: Willie Mays. The Say Hey Kid gets my nod at the best center fielder ever. I didn’t realize he is 5’10” after watching videos of him for all of these years. Raw numbers like 3,293 hits and 660 homers to go with the 12 Gold Gloves don’t quite do justice to how great of a player he was. In speaking to people who watched him play (Vin Scully) and played against him (Tommy Davis), he was the best player they saw. That is more than enough for me.
Rightfield: Mookie Betts. He is listed at 5’9″, which actually seems about right. I love watching his all-around game. He always does things that catch my attention. I will not forget the throw in Tampa Bay to get Avisail Garcia, and then the one in Arizona to get Ketel Marte to show the first one wasn’t a fluke. He has been over 30% better than league average at the plate for his career when using advanced metrics. After ending the World Series drought in Los Angeles, it stands to reason
why he is my mother’s favorite player.
Designated Hitter: Wille Keeler. “Wee Willie Keeler” had to be on this team. He isn’t here for his moniker alone though. The 5’4″ outfielder was a two-time batting champ who led the league by hitting .424, with an OPS of 1.003 in 1897. He retired with 2,932 hits and is a Hall of Famer. His .341 career batting average means Wee Willie could flat out rake!
I have to say thinking about the list of average-sized people playing baseball has been a fun exercise. It drove home the point the game can truly be for anyone. There were multiple names I left off, Jose Altuve, as well as the aforementioned Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn for example, but I would feel okay taking this team into a local men’s baseball league since these guys don’t seem too physically imposing. Sleep on the short guys at your own peril.