Baseball Players Who Were Good Despite Themselves
Every kid who collected baseball cards remembers them. For every Mike Schmidt, Ken Griffey Jr., Bo Jackson and Cal Ripken there was a Rick Rueschel or Charlie Kerfeld.
Certainly being in shape is a prerequisite to a long career, but there are a surprising amount of baseball players who were very good who seemingly had a zealous disregard for their own physiques.
It's fun to look at how these players brought something different and intangible to the game to make up for their lack of physical prowess. How did so many of these players overcome the great odds it takes to even become a pro baseball player, let alone be good at it? Well, without further adieu, let's take a look!
Terry Forster was called a ''fat tub of goo'' by David Letterman, and Forster enjoyed the 15 minutes he got out of it.
Forster was a surprisingly effective middle reliever for several teams and even led the American League in saves in 1974. With a 3.23 ERA, Forster did his job reasonably well. Despite how out of shape he was, his career lasted 15 years.
Three Finger Brown
Mordecai ''Three Finger'' Brown is the classic example of a player who used his physical disadvantage and turned it into something special. He won 239 games while losing 130 with a 2.06 ERA. He earned a spot in the Hall of Fame for his consistent excellence for 13 seasons.
Brown's hand was mangled in a feed chopper when he was a kid, and the injury never fully healed. The bones in his hands were bent at an odd angle, which gave the ball an extra tail on it.
Brown was a well-liked player who kept his reputation high throughout his later years. If nothing else, he proved that physical disabilities should never get in the way of a Hall of Fame career.
Greg "Bull" Luzinski was a 225-pound force in the middle of a potent Phillie lineup. In 1975, Luzinski led the National League in RBI.
But here is an interesting fact: Luzinski actually was quite fast for a big man.
Bull had a .276 lifetime average and 307 home runs, showing that there is most definitely a place for him at the Phillies dinner table of all-time greats!
Cecil (255 lbs) hit monster home runs. He pounded 51 home runs in 1990, and some of these shots were memorable for their distance. He was one of only four players, and the only Tiger, to homer over the left-field roof at old Tiger Stadium.
Fielder gave everything he had when on the diamond. He always had a reputation for playing smart baseball, which is what kept him around a long time.
Prince Fielder was drafted in the first round and was the seventh selection overall in the 2002 draft. In 2005, he made his debut, collected his first hit off Hideo Nomo and never looked back. Despite carrying a hefty 235 pounds, Fielder is not only surprisingly fast, but he is a vegetarian who is careful about his diet.
He is a four-time All-Star with 260 home runs going into this season and a .287 career average. The Tigers have him locked up for the years to come, and Fielder looks to prove that being a big man does not mean he will have an injury-plagued and shortened career.
It's no secret that Young has had his share of off-field problems, but on the field, you best not pitch him inside and high.
There was probably not another hitter who could turn on a pitch better than Dmitri Young. A two-time All-Star and 2007 Comeback Player of the Year, Dmitri Young was a dominant force in the Nationals lineup. His playing weight was listed as 255.
Touted at 5'3'', Harry Chappas looked as if he was still growing when the White Sox signed him to a contract in 1978. Blessed with quick hands, a strong arm and agile feet, Chappas quickly displaced the veteran Don Kessinger at short for the Sox. But it wasn't these traits which got Chappas a shot in the major leagues—it was simply his size.
Chappas only played for two seasons and hit .245 with one career home run.
At 6'7" and almost 300 pounds, Sabathia is a very intimidating presence on the mound.
Yet Sabathia, like Prince Fielder, is quite agile for a big man. At one time he was one of the most coveted pitchers in all of baseball, but age and injuries have been catching up to him. Most fans of the game believe this is Sabathia's make or break season. He will have to do well despite a Yankee team that is decimated by injuries.
John Kruk may not look like much of baseball player nowadays, but in his playing days he didn't look like a baseball player either!
He's best remembered for the fear he displayed when facing Randy Johnson in the 1993 All-Star game.
I caught up with Kruk at the Baseball Winter Meetings, and he told me then that "ability is not measured in poundage..." Perhaps he is right. After all, Kruk hit 100 homers during an era that didn't yield quite so many and proved to be consistent at the plate too. His .300 career average is a lot higher than many people realize, and his play at first base was pretty consistent too!
In today's politically correct world, you wouldn't nickname someone "Fatty," but in the '20s and '30s, the nickname was just another colorful example of the descriptive nature that baseball has always maintained.
At 5'11'' and close to 240, he wasn't exceptionally large by today's standards. But at the time, he was quite the sight. Fothergill wasn't only large and out of shape, but he was proud of it. Fatty managed to run quite well for such a rotund fellow and fielded his position with surprising grace. He was such a consistent hitter that he actually replaced Ty Cobb in the Tiger outfield and hit .367 in 1926.
In the book by Richard Bak, Cobb Would Have Caught It: The Golden Age of Baseball in Detroit, Charlie Gehringer recounts a particularly funny story about Fatty Fothergill.
He had a time keeping his weight in shape, but he still ran pretty good. In fact, I remember we were in Philadelphia once and we were getting beat about 13–0 going into the last inning when he hit a home run. He's rounding the bases nice and easy--and then when he gets to third base he comes running like a freight train and does a complete flip in the air and lands on home plate! Never saw him do that before.
Fothergill lived life to the very fullest and died of a stroke at the young age of 40. But one thing is certain: Those who had the chance to play with "Fatty" all genuinely loved the guy.
One of the greatest characters of baseball's history, Charlie Kerfeld negotiated 37 boxes of Jello into his contract talks.
For five years, Kerfeld played in the majors while contributing actually very little in terms of wins and losses or even saves. Mainly used as a middle reliever who could eat innings as well as twinkies, Kerfeld is now in the Philadelphia Phillies front office, most certainly adding joviality and laughter to the job!
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