Jack Of All Trades: Baseball’s Roundest

They are the men who made you question the aspect ratio of your television. They are the men who cried out in the night about the cruel, one-size-fits-all nature of per diem meal money. They are the men who convinced your Uncle Al he was in shape, because he was thinner than a professional athlete.

These are some of baseball's most rotund individuals, and the trades that shaped their careers as surely as those Spanx for Men failed them. I have avoided simply going by weight. After all, Jon Rauch tips the scales at 290, but he's 6'11". Any skinnier, and hordes of mothers would pour out of the stands, Morganna-style, armed with soup.

But Jumbo Brown tipped the scales at 295, stood just 6'4", and stands as the weightiest pitcher ever traded. Brown was sold twice and traded at the end of his career. Near the end of a strong 1941 season out of the bullpen for the Giants – a 113 ERA+ in 57 innings – the Cardinals acquired Brown and a player to be named later for Lefty Sunkel. Sunkel was, you guessed it, a lefty pitcher. He pitched sporadically for the Giants over the next few years, while Brown went on to serve honorably in the United States Navy. I certainly won't judge this trade a failure for St. Louis simply because the team failed to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Another player who's been profitable for big and tall shops is C.C. Sabathia, who continues to ply his trade for the New York Yankees. Sabathia was traded just once, by the Cleveland Indians, for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson. While it is too early to completely judge this trade – Brantley and LaPorta still have bright futures, despite rocky early major league careers – no one would claim that Milwaukee erred by trading for Sabathia. If the Brewers made a mistake, it was letting Sabathia leave as a free agent.

Among portly pitchers, I would be remiss not to mention Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons, of course. Based on his listed measurements, it looks like Fat Freddie got a bad rap – he was just 5'11", 185 pounds. Put it this way – to measure up to the weightiest man in baseball history, he would have to have eaten Freddie Patek.

Fitzsimmons was traded in the midst of his 13th season with the New York Giants, a successful run of 111 ERA+ over 2514 1/3 innings. The Dodgers acquired him for Tom Baker, who had the nickname "Rattlesnake", suggesting Baker cut a very different figure. While Baker soon fizzled, Fitzsimmons actually pitched better with the Dodgers – an ERA+ of 116 over seven seasons – than he did with the Giants. The Dodgers certainly never regretted that deal.

Among hitters, one man casts a shadow over his peers when it comes to sheer tonnage – and it seems fair to wonder if his weight cost him major league jobs he could have filled. Walter Young, all 6'5", 320 pounds of him, did nothing but hit everywhere he went. At age 21, he posted a .953 OPS in Single-A. Still, the Pirates waived him, and Baltimore picked him up. He hit 33 home runs for Baltimore's Double-A team in 2004, and when he got the big league call in 2005, he put up a 115 OPS+ over 37 plate appearances. The Padres picked him up on waivers from Baltimore, however, and Young lost the first base job in the spring of 2006 to some guy named Adrian Gonzalez.

Sure, there have been the Calvin Pickerings, the Joey Meyers, the generations of Fielders… but no one weighed in within 30 pounds of Walter Young among position players. And far lesser hitters got more opportunities to show teams what they could do.

Rounding out the everyday players, I have to mention John Kruk, listed at 5'10", 170, but, well, clearly not. Kruk penned the epic autobiography "I Ain't An Athlete, Lady", but he sure hit like an athlete. The Padres traded Kruk, along with utilityman Randy Ready, to the Phillies for outfielder Chris James during the 1989 season. While James provided value as a fourth outfielder for an array of teams, Kruk was a middle-of-the-order bat for Philadelphia, hitting at a 138 OPS+ clip over six seasons with the Phillies.

Again and again, the men who know plenty about seconds did plenty to help their teams finish first. When evaluating trades in the future, stats like WAR are useful, to be sure. But it may be best to simply use a deli scale.


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