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Short and Sweet
Melissa Segura
June 30, 2003
You don't need to be Yao Ming to make your mark in the sports world. We caught up with six former athletes who, though small in stature, measured up in the eyes of history
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June 30, 2003

Short And Sweet

You don't need to be Yao Ming to make your mark in the sports world. We caught up with six former athletes who, though small in stature, measured up in the eyes of history

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FREDDIE PATEK, 5'5"
Shortstop

When he appears at Little League games in his hometown of Lee Summit, Mo., Freddie Patek can hear the whispers. "If he can make it," the dads tell their kids, nodding in Patek's direction, "so can you."

During his 14-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals and California Angels, Patek was baseball's shortest player, but what he lacked in height he made up for in heart and hustle. "I can't recall a moment when I ever walked on the baseball field," says the three-time All-Star, who stole 385 bases and batted .242.

At 59 Patek is now a stay-at-home grandpa to Jordan, 7; Jackson, 4; and one-month-old Jacob. When he's not taking them swimming, he's raising money for the Kim Patek Fund, which supports paralysis patients. He founded the organization in memory of his youngest daughter, who was paralyzed in a 1992 car crash and died in 1995.

"If I had one regret," Patek says, thinking back on his career, "it's that I wasn't a Yankee, but I don't think Mr. Steinbrenner would have wanted me in pinstripes. Then again, they would have made me look taller."

EDDIE LEBARON, 5'7"
Quarterback

When Eddie LeBaron would meet potential clients in his law office, he could sense their skepticism by the cock of the brow, the length of the stare. "You're a football player?" they would ask. Yes, and a lawyer and land developer. (He owns a vineyard in Northern California.) LeBaron broke the mold not only with his stature but also with his smarts. "The only people who brought up my height were the press," says LeBaron, who played quarterback for the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys from 1952 to '63. "I tried to make up for it with quickness and agility."

It worked. The four-time Pro Bowler with the legendary backfield fakes led the NFL in passing in 1958 with the Redskins while earning his law degree from George Washington University. "Through football I learned to be prepared and never give up," says LeBaron, who lives in Sacramento. Those principles still serve him well. "Everything I get into," he says, "is competition."

MARY LOU RETTON, 4'9"
Gymnast

She walks into her family room in Houston and sees her four daughters, ages one to eight, crowding around the television, checking out a tape of their mother sticking the perfect landing off the vault and clinching an Olympic gold medal. "They can't believe that's their mom," says Mary Lou Retton.

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