Few fans know what it is like to be as big as most NFL and NBA players. But everyone at some stage in life has felt little. "You know the real advantage of being short?" says American League Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch, who's 5'9". "When a big crowd of kids comes after us for autographs, I can blend in with the kids." Baseball is the game in which you can make up an all-star team of little guys with immortals at every spot but one.
Not many guys 5'9" or under have played major roles in the Super Bowl or the NBA championship. You know how many appeared in the '91 maybe-greatest-of-all-time World Series?
For the Twins: Puckett, Knoblauch, Al Newman and Jarvis Brown. For the Braves: National League MVP Terry Pendleton, Mark Lemke, Rafael (Pac-Man) Belliard and Lonnie Smith.
And do you know what their combined batting average was in the Series? It was .320. And do you know what their slugging percentage was? It was .573. If the Braves had won, Lemke, 5'9", who hit .417 with three triples, drove in one game-winner and scored another, would probably have been the Series MVP.
Key play of the final game? Pendleton, 5'9", hitting a long double into left center. Puckett chasing it down and Knoblauch (here is your quintessential little-guy move) deking Smith, 5'9", into slowing up at second base and failing to score what would have been the go-ahead run.
"I usually try that when someone's stealing and a fly ball is hit," says Knoblauch. "Pretend to be fielding it on the ground and fake throwing to second so the runner will slide into the base, and if the fly ball's caught, we double him off first." If Greg Gagne, at short, had put more into his end of the fake, Knoblauch says. "I think Lonnie would have slid into second." But Gagne is 5'11". Tricks are a little-guy tradition.
"What fools these mortals be," says the Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and when Oberon chides him for befuddling people. Puck replies merrily, "This their jangling I esteem a sport."
"It's almost an inborn instinct to scrap and scrape and be a little pest out there," says Lemke. "Sometimes other players on the team don't appreciate that. You have to do these things day in, day out, be Johnny-on-the-spot. I'm always looking for somebody to play catch."
If I may inject a quick little personal note, I was a little-guy player as a kid. Fortunately, since I was not all that quick a little person, I outgrew the category in physical terms. But even now, when I wake up in the morning, a paunchy veteran fading, perhaps dying, certainly going back to sleep, my little guy within kicks in: "Have a little pepper, have a little life."