Little guys—worriers, overachievers, students of the game—make effective if annoying managers: Earl Weaver. Sparky Anderson. Miller Huggins and the prototype, John (Little Napoleon) McGraw.
Ask Tom Lasorda, skipper of the Los Angeles Dodgers, about little guys and he seems to take it personally: "What do you mean, little guy?" Lasorda in his playing days was listed at 5'10". Of course he may have misrepresented his stature upward just a tad. They'll do that, little guys, figuring they deserve another inch or so for heart. John Cangelosi, a Pirate outfielder in the late '80s, confided to a reporter that he was really 5'7". So why did he have Pittsburgh list him as 5'8"?
"It looks taller," he said.
But we can't go back and remeasure everybody in baseball history. For the purposes of this story, we define a little guy as a man who is or was officially listed as 5'9" or shorter and who therefore can fit inside the average American adult male, who is unofficially 5'10".
That may seem an arbitrary definition—it disqualifies 5'11" Pete Rose, whom many little guys cite as a playing-style model; Maury Wills, also 5'11"; Nellie Fox, Leo Durocher, Pee Wee Reese, Brett Butler and Lenny Dykstra, who were or are officially 5'10"; and even Enos Slaughter, 5'9½".
If Dykstra is 5'10", says his 5'9" Philadelphia Phillie mate Wally Backman, "I'll jump off a building." But he would jump off a building to get on base. And you have to draw the line somewhere.
Maybe all the guys who admit to being 5'9" are actually 5'8", and so on down. They can't be blamed for adding inches, because little guys tend to be discriminated against purely on the basis of height. New York Mets assistant vice-president Gerry Hunsicker says, "As a scout, it takes you longer to believe what you sec if the player is short. If you see a kid 5'8" throwing 90, you're not as impressed as if he were 6'2". Maybe, when you're a scout, it's ingrained in you. You know it would be easier to sell the organization on a kid you're raving about if he's 6'4". You hear people say, 'Baseball is the game where size doesn't count.' That's not true."
In 1991 only 45 of 1,018 major leaguers were 5'9" or under. "With a smaller guy," says Dick Bogard, the Oakland A's director of scouting, "you are looking for things like first-step quickness, and you can watch several games and if he doesn't get something hit near him, you never get a chance to judge."
"The main thing with size is getting signed," says Chicago White Sox second baseman Joey Cora, 5'7". "After that, you have a manager who wants to win, and if a small guy is better than a big guy, he'll put the small guy out there."
Do little-guy managers have a special fondness for little-guy players? Manager Earl Weaver, 5'8", got good production out of 5'8" Al Bumbry from 1972 to '84, 5'7" Don Buford from 1968 to '72 and 5'8" Curt Motton from 1967 to '71 and '73 to 74. If Motton hadn't spent 1972 in exile with the Milwaukee Brewers and the California Angels, Weaver would have had three outfielders with an average height of less than 5'8"—the odds against which were enormous.