“Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.” — Jack Norworth

November 1, 2009

cc sabathia

CC SABATHIA

The image of CC Sabathia lumbering out to the mound tonight as the Yankees and Phillies continue the World Series naturally got me to wondering about how Sabathia sizes up, as it were, among the largest players in baseball history. We baseball fanatics always like to know about the extremes. Determining Sabathia’s rank, it turns out, is an inexact process for several reasons: teams don’t always report accurate weights for their players, players’ weight can fluctuate significantly over the course of their careers, and records from the early days of major league ball are unreliable or nonexistent.

With those caveats in mind, I note that Sabathia’s weight has been reported this year as 290 pounds, which is very heavy for a baseball player. The weight of most of about 16,000 players who have appeared since 1876 has ranged from 160 to 200 pounds. Only 1,057 players during that period weighed under 160, which– for example — was Phil Rizzuto’s playing weight.

Albie Pearson

ALBIE PEARSON horsing around with Angels manager BILL RIGNEY

Being a lightweight hasn’t necessarily impeded a player’s success. Rizzuto is one example. Albie Pierson, whom I mentioned here recently in another connection, weighed only about 140 pounds, but he had a respectable career as an American League outfielder, batting .270 over nine seasons. I don’t know who the lightest legitimate major league player was, but there have been 13 who weighed under 130 pounds. Eddie Gaedel, of course, who made a single plate appearance with the St. Louis Browns — a stunt by Browns owner Bill Veeck — weighed only 65 pounds. Because Gaedel had been signed to a contract and completed an at-bat, he is officially the lightest major leaguer.

The person currently being recognized as the heaviest player in history is Walter Young, a first baseman who appeared in 14 games with the Baltimore Orioles in 2005. Young’s weight that year is placed at 322 pounds. He is six-foot-five. Sabathia is six-foot-seven.

I haven’t been able to determine if Young is still in pro baseball. After his stint in Baltimore, he played in the Padres’ and Astros’ organizations — though not in the majors — and he played with several other clubs until August of this year, when he was released by the Edmonton Capitals of the Golden Baseball League.

Walter Young

WALTER YOUNG

Young wasn’t with the Orioles long enough to demonstrate how a man of his size could perform in the major leagues. He had 33 charged at-bats in 14 games and hit .303 with one home run. Although it’s difficult to imagine a man of such girth making the kinds of stops made by, say, Mark Teixeira, Young played 54 innings at first base that year, participated in nine double plays and made no errors. All of this projects out to a good full season, but we likely will never know if Young could have played at that level for 162 games.

If Young is through with baseball — or is it the other way around? — he did leave his mark in a certain way. He spent part of the 2008 season with the Sioux City Explorers, who are affiliated with the Yankees and the Indians, and he played an important part in the Explorers’ American Association championship. Young appeared in 26 games and hit .367 with 5 home runs and 29 RBIs.

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HIPPO VAUGHN

The player whose nickname made the most blunt reference to his weight was James “Hippo” Vaughn, who pitched in the majors from 1908 to 1921, including a couple of seasons with the New York Highlanders, as the Yankees were originally known. Vaughn was six-foot-four and weighed 215 pounds. His bulk apparently worked to his advantage in some way, because he won 20 games in five different seasons — a rare achievement, relatively speaking.

Vaughn, incidentally, was involved in one of the oddest games ever played in the majors — a 1917 contest in which Vaughn started for the Chicago Cubs and Fred Toney started for the Cincinnati Reds. That was the only game in history in which neither starting pitcher allowed a hit for nine innings — a double no-hitter. Vaughn lost the game in the tenth inning. Because of a rule change that occurred much later, Vaughn does not get credit for a no-hitter, which is absurd. Fred Toney, who does get credit, weighed 195 pounds.

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