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In a world where bigger is presumed to be better, shortness has never had much of a following. Shortcomings are failures, short circuits cut off the electricity and short odds do not pay big money. Consider the undesirability of being short-lived, short-tempered, shortsighted and shorthanded. Who wants to be sold short, shortchanged, short of breath or waited on shortly? Indeed, who among us wants to be short?
Well, Harry Chappas does. He has been short all his life, though how short is now under dispute, and as far as Chappas is concerned, it's no big deal. In his 21 years, Chappas has heard all the jokes, endured all the insults and, along the way, converted nearly all the skeptics.
Chappas is a switch-hitting rookie shortstop with the Chicago White Sox. As this year's rookie crop is judged, Chappas is something less than a phenom but something more than a prospect. The White Sox are giving Chappas a long—not short—look because last season he hit .302 and stole 60 bases for their Class A affiliate in Appleton, Wis., and then hit .267 and handled 92 chances without an error in 20 games with Chicago in September.
White Sox President Bill Veeck feels that Chappas has many of the qualities—defense, speed, a high on-base percentage at the top of the batting order and ticket-selling pizzazz—that the team so obviously lacked in 1978. Chappas could be particularly appealing to Chicago's large Greek community; both his mother Valli (five feet) and the parents of his father Perry (5'7") were born in Sparta. If it all works out, Comiskey Park may become Parthenon West, and souvlaki will be a big seller for the concessionaires.
The promotional value of a very short shortstop has not been lost on Veeck (6'�"), who is to baseball what P. T. Barnum (6'2") was to the circus. Barnum had Tom Thumb (3'4"), and Veeck had Eddie Gaedel (3'7"), the midget who pinch-hit for Veeck's St. Louis Browns 28 years ago. Gaedel's career began and ended with a walk. The wily Veeck imagines a lot of walks for Chappas—and a lot of customers looking on.
"Gaedel was a gag," Veeck said while watching Chappas work out at the White Sox training camp in Sarasota, Fla. "Chappas is a player. Except for winning, there is nothing I would rather have than for Chappas to play shortstop. When he came up last year he immediately caught the fancy of the fans. If he plays, we'll draw, because everybody loves to see a little guy get ahead. If David hadn't beat Goliath, nobody would have heard of either one of them. David would have been just another guy who was scrounged in the ground."
To avoid being scrounged, Chappas must learn to do what Gaedel did. "The key to whether Chappas plays is the discipline he shows at the plate," Veeck says. "He's a tough target, and we want him to learn the strike zone and use his size to advantage. We're emphasizing the base on balls. We DH-ed him in the instructional league this winter just so he could work on it. I would sit up in the stands and yell at him not to swing at balls over his head. He did a good job, too. The only mistake he made was to hit two home runs. That can give him bad ideas."
Veeck says the decision to play Chappas will be made by the Chicago manager. Unfortunately for Chappas, the manager now happens to be last year's shortstop, Don Kessinger (6'1"). Even though he will be 37 years old in July, Kessinger hopes to pick up the lineup card without putting down his glove. "I'm in shape and I'm ready to play," he says. "We're going to put the best team on the field we can, and if that means having me at shortstop, then I'll be there. I don't think there is any question that Harry will be a major-leaguer, but I don't know yet if it will be now or next year."
A rookie's life is never easy, but imagine the difficulties facing Chappas. Veeck is telling him how he should play, while Kessinger is telling him if and when. To make the situation worse, poor Harry can't even tell anybody how tall he is.
Last Sept. 1, on Chappas' first day as a major-leaguer, White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray (5'11") pulled out a tape measure and declared Chappas to be 5'3" short, or one inch shorter than baseball's reigning "shortest player," Kansas City Shortstop Fred Patek. Caray's measurement became Chicago gospel. "Harry is the smallest player in the major leagues since Eddie Gaedel," Veeck says. "He is 5'3"."