Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Giants of Fenway

Two things I really like to utilize on my blog are Baseball-Reference’s Play Index (but you already knew that) and OPI (Other People’s Ideas, not some crazy new baseball stat). Today’s OPI comes from a great blog called The Platoon Advantage. A couple months ago they wrote about the tallest and the shortest players to ever play major league baseball at each position. So on this beautiful June day, I am going to “borrow” this idea, starting with the tallest players ever to don the Red Sox (in the event of a tie, I'll go with the longest tenured player).

Catcher: Bob Tillman, 6’4”, 1962-1967
The catcher position is not one that is typically associated with height. X Dad (6’3”) and I (6’2”) both played the position, but usually catchers are just a bit shorter because it is difficult for a taller man to get down in the crouch and pop out of it. Tillman is one of 7 catchers in Sox history to be this height (including Jarrod Saltalamacchia). In his rookie year, Tillman blasted 14 home runs in just 81 games. Two years later he was the team’s regular catcher and had his best season of his career with an OPS 16% better than league average. Tillman flamed out the next year and during the Impossible Dream Season of ’67 was sold to the Yankees (ya, these two teams used to actually make deals together).

First base: Tony Clark, 6’8”, 2002
No surprise here. Clark is one of the biggest men to ever play baseball and the tallest position player ever to wear a Red Sox uniform. We are also 2 for 2 in players who have played for the Sox and Yankees. Clark did very little for the Sox in his one year with the team, in fact he had his worst season of his career at only 30 years old. The year before he had been an All Star with the Tigers, but he completely lost it when he came to Boston. He would go on to have a few more decent seasons as a part-time player and he was a prominent member of the MLB Players’ Association.

Second base: Mike Andrews, 6’3”, 1966-1970

Another position for the height challenged. Andrews was the team’s starting second baseman as a 23 year old rookie during their improbable run to the ’67 pennant. He made the All Star team two years later before being traded to the Pale Hose in 1970 for Hall of Famer Luis Apparicio. The trade of a 26 year old (Andrews) for a 37 year old (Apparicio) seems like an odd swap, but Apparicio had the reputation as one of the best short stop glovemen ever (the only reason he made the Hall of Fame in fact) and the team had just acquired second baseman Doug Griffin for Tony Conigliaro so a replacement was already there.

Short stop: Hanley Ramirez, 6’3”, 2005
HanRam had a 2 game cameo for the Sox in 2005, but was shipped out after the season for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. I was surprised to see that the second base crop was generally taller than the short stops. Also, how is it possible that Jed Lowrie, Alex Cora, Nomar Garciaparra and John Valentin are all the same height (6’0”)? I thought Nomar towered over most shortstops like the other 2/3 of the holy trinity, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.

Third base: Mike Lowell, 6’4” 2006-2010
What a tall trade that was. In addition to Lowell and HanRam being the tallest at their respective positions, Beckett (6’5”), Guillermo Mota (6’6”) and Harvey Garcia (6’2”) were all baseball giants. Lowell was a great addition to the Red Sox after being considered the price of business for acquiring Beckett. He won the World Series MVP in 2007 (and also finished 5th on the regular season MVP ballot) and was a key contributor offensively and defensively in his five years here. He is also my celebrity lookalike, so that’s pretty neat.

Left field: Ted Williams, 6’3” 1939-1960
Another surprise position. Left field is a spot, especially in Fenway, where you should be able to hide your hulking sluggers who can’t field well, but the tallest left fielders in Sox history are shorter than the tallest catchers. Teddy Ballgame is one of 6 players at this height, but is by far the longest tenured and certainly the best of the lot. Of course you could put Williams on just about any baseball list and he would be the best of the lot. 521 career home runs, .344 average, .482 OBP (highest all time), .634 slugging. The magnitude of this man’s career is staggering. Enough to give a serious brain freeze. Too soon?

Center field: Jerry Mallett, 6’5”, 1959
Ah the immortal Jerry Mallett. Played a total of 4 games for the Red Sox in 1959, going 4 for 15 with 1 RBI. Today, Mallett sits on his front porch in Texas bouncing his grandson Tully on his knee telling him stories about the show: “You know Tully, it was the greatest 21 days of my life. You never touch your luggage in the show – somebody else handles your bags. It’s great. The ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, the women have long legs and brains – it’s a smorgasboard.”

Right field: Tom Brunansky 6’4”, 1990-1992
I plan on doing a Back to the Future with Brunansky one of these days so I’ll keep this brief. He was acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1990 to take over right field in the middle of a pennant race. On the last day of the season, Ozzie Guillen came to bat for the White Sox in the top of the ninth and hit a ball down the right field line that could have won the game and cost the Red Sox the division title. Then this. Brunansky needed every inch of that 6’4” frame to propel the Red Sox into the playoffs (here's another look at the catch with local news star Bob Lobel).

Pitcher: Gene Conley, 6’8”, 1961-1963
Conley began his career as a member of the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, which means at one point in his life he was a property of my family, so I’m going to call him “My Giant”. My Giant made the All Star team and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in his first season. My Giant would make two more All Star teams (one with Milwaukee and one with Philadelphia) before he was acquired by the Red Sox in 1961. My Giant pitched two mediocre seasons in ’61 and ’62 and in ’63 was a disaster for the Sox and he called it a career.

As you can see, extreme height is not a sought out quality in a baseball player. There have been plenty of tall players in baseball history, but most of the best players were of normal height. Even Ted Williams at 6’3” would not be considered any type of height freak. That does not mean that being tall is necessarily a hindrance to being a good baseball player either. Guys like Randy Johnson and Frank Howard had great success in their oversized bodies. As a relatively tall person myself, I find it much more fun to route for the men who shop at Big and Tall than those who shop at Brooks Brothers Boys like David Eckstein (and Tom Haverford). Tomorrow, we’ll examine those diminutives of the diamond and see who were the shortest players in Red Sox history (Spoiler Alert: You will not find Dustin Pedroia anywhere on that list).

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