Monday, July 16, 2012


The man with less (MUCH less...) than 1/8 chance
of executing a slam dunk....
In these days of rage, when highly-thought-of (or, at least, highly-placed) sportswriters are either puffing up like blowfish or burying themselves in the silt on the ocean floor over the moral lapses of Joe Paterno's mortal remains, it's downright upright--and curiously refreshing--to immerse oneself in mere absurdity.

Such as? Well, how about the notion that Bill Veeck was right--what baseball really needs is a team full of midgets??

OK, not a roster composed of 25 Eddie Gaedels. We are using the term "midget" loosely here, without resorting to the tortuous legalisms that have befouled the ersatz law firm of Posnanski, James, and Neyer. Even we know that a bunch of 3'8" guys can't pass muster on a ball field. (And, in the spirit of foul play, we'll simply avoid any mention of the shower room. Oops...)

No, not "midgets." (Certainly not the ones that Tom Griffin wanted to drop from the Astrodome roof.) Rather, "smallfry." We had a team years ago, in Bill James Fantasy Baseball--before it became necessary to distance ourselves from the King of Big-Screen Contrarianism--that was made up of players who were no taller than 5'9." (Bill, of course, is 6'5", and ya know what they say: "the bigger they are..."). We placed that team in the Rockies' first home park--Mile High Stadium. We called that squad the Mile High Smallfry. Those little dudes--of course, some of them weren't really so little back in the day, when men were manly without being at least 6'3"--beat the snot out the ball.

Alexi Amarista (now with the Padres): at least they
could have cropped the shot to make him look taller...
So, as we try valiantly to recall simpler, more innocent times (when being sent to the showers wasn't frought with peril), we are reminded of our continuing fondness (which, mind you, goes no further than mere admiration...) of players whose height is, shall we say, "challenged." We watch the Padres' Alexi Amarista, who is probably no taller than 5'5", and marvel at the force that he is able to generate in such a, ahem, short stroke. We have similar warm (but not overheated!) thoughts when watching the Astros' Jose Altuve, another member of the smallfry fraternity who goes out there to play with the unyielding conviction that he is ten feet tall.

And we wonder if the Sox' Dustin Pedroia, arguably the greatest of baseball's recent (and increasingly rare) fraternity of smallfry, didn't win his 2008 MVP award in large part because he was so small. If so, that's a good thing.

So, in honor of the little big men who stand toe to toe if not eye to eye with their peers, here is the 2012 rendition of the Mile High Smallfry. We'll begin with the starting lineup...

Batting first, playing right field: Norichika Aoki (5'9", 180). The Brewers' Aoki, 30, was an on-base machine in Japan, and he's holding his own in MLB (.368 OBP). A two-time batting champ for the Yakult Swallows, he was originally not expected to get as much playing time as he's received, but he seems to be making believers out of his teammates.

Jose Altuve: good gravy, the water cooler is taller than he is...!
Batting second, playing second base: Jose Altuve (5'5", 165). Altuve, just 22, made huge strides in 2011, hitting .389 while playing for two teams in the Astros farm system. After being handed Houston's starting second base job in the last third of '11, he elevated his game enough this year to be named to the NL All-Star squad. It's possible that he may become the biggest "little man" we've seen in the game for quite some time.

Batting third, playing center field: Shane Victorino (5'9", 190). Maui's homeboy has been one of the most successful short guys in recent memory, and you'd expect him to be a favorite here due to his having cracked double figures in triples three years running (including 16 last year). He's having a down year thus far, but he's solid...a two time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glover.

Batting fourth, playing first base: Dustin Pedroia (5'8", 165). We moved Pedroia to first because somebody has to play there. And, yes, he's batted cleanup for the Sox, so he can do so for the 'Fry.

Batting fifth, playing shortstop: Rafael Furcal (5'8", 190). It will be necessary to have Jimmy Rollins around in order to keep this position filled and functional, but for the 'Fry, such would be a good platoon arrangement.

Batting sixth, playing third base: Alberto Callaspo (5'9", 200). These aren't quite your father's Smallfry...a lot of these guys are what the supermarket soup cans like to call "chunky." The cheap-ass Royals dumped Callaspo because they didn't want to have to pay him a big league salary, a brazen example of "sizism" that we'd point out needs some serious investigation except for the fact that MLB just isn't any good at conducting them.

Batting seventh, playing left field: Alexi Amarista (5'7", 155). Just imagine how cuddly the seriously shorter than 5'7" Alexi would look if he were decked out in actual "Padres' robes"--it would make for a wonderful publicity shot, except for the fact that people have become creeped out by all of those sex scandals. As Stephen Stills so prophetically noted at the height of the Aquarian Age: "It's getting to the point/That I'm no fun anymore." When you can't play dress-up with MLB's most appealing tater tot, you know that the thought police have managed to make the Puritans look like party boys.

Batting eighth, playing catcher: Brayan Pena (5'9", 225). 'Tis a bit of a sinkhole in the #8 slot for the 'Fry, but we could always try to coax Pudge Rodriguez out of retirement.

We're convinced that this is a National League team, so no DH. (Matt Stairs retired, so what's the point?)

Here are the Smallfry backups:

Catcher--Jhonatan Solano, Humberto Quintero (waddya know, we've got the entire Royals' catching staff!)
Infielders--Jimmy Rollins, Mike Fontenot, Maicer Izturis
Outfielders--Ben Revere, Rajai Davis

How will they do, offense-wise? They will look a bit like the Oakland A's this year before their bats kicked in. Not much power, and--surprisingly--not much of a propensity to draw walks, which you'd think would be the one thing that a team of players this diminutive would be able to manage.

But projections indicate that this team would actually score close to the middle of the pack in the NL this year. There are some good hitters here, most of whom can play defense. And they will steal bases like no one's business--probably exceeding 200 for the season (something that's been done only twice in the past sixteen years...can you name the teams that did it?).

In short, this would be a fun team to watch. And you could stock the pitching staff with the tallest guys entire staff with the collective nickname of "Lurch." In an age where finger-pointing seems to have become the national pastime, it's actually preferable to have short legs--and, of course, stubby digits.