The Long and Short of It

Since 1900 the average height of a major-league shortstop has shot up nearly 4 inches, from 5-feet, 8 ½ inches to 6 feet. My wife, the inimitable Bobster, noting such big guys as Ripken, Jeter, and A-Rod, suggested I look into this business of tall shortstops.

So I found a list of the top 50 shortstops of all time. I threw in a few more for a total of 59 shortstops—dating from the 19th century to the present. I looked up the height of each. Then I created four time-periods of roughly three decades each—the 19th century/Deadball Era; the ’20, ‘30s and ‘40s; the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s; and finally, the ‘80s to the present.

Respectively, the four periods each contain 12, 14, 16, and 17 players. I calculated the average height of each period. Here are the results:

–19th century/Deadball Era:   5’ 8 ½”.

–‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s:   5’ 10 1/2”

–‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s:   5’ 11 ¼”

–‘80s to the present:   6’ 0”

The 19th century/Deadball era had no shortstop 6 feet or over; the ‘20s through ‘40s group, 3 out of 14; the ‘50s through ‘70s, 6 out of 16; and the ‘80s to present, 11 out of 17.

Admittedly, this is a small sample. But another study, by Christopher Lee, backs up my findings. He looked up the average height by position of every player since 1960. Here’s what he found: Pitcher 6-2,   Catcher 6-1;   1b 6-1 ½;   2b 5-11;   3b 6-0,   SS 5-11 ½,   LF 6-1/2,   CF 6-1,   RF 6-1.

It’s reasonable to assume that shortstops added a half-inch in the past 55 years, bringing their height to 6 feet, which is what I found.

Now, the whole thing doesn’t mean much; we’re all taller than we used to be. Ball players, through improved diet, better training, and wiser habits (fewer smokers now) got bigger.

Who’s the tallest shortstop ever? Enos Cabell at 6-5. The shortest? Two are tied at 5-5—Rabbit Maranville and Freddie Patek.

One more thing: Shortstop has the position number 6, third baseman number 5. You’d think it would be the opposite because as you go around the infield, first base is number 3 and second base is number 4, followed by shortstop and third base. But in baseball’s infancy the shortstop was an outfielder; he played in shallow left field to cut off line drives hit by right-handed batters. Hence “short stop.” As the game evolved it became obvious that more outs could be made by bringing the shortstop into the infield to handle ground balls. The position number 6 was carried in with him.

That’s the long and the short of it.

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