The Next Market Inefficiencies: Little People in Baseball

The following is the first and behemoth installment of a three-part (or more) series concerning baseball’s next great market inefficiencies.

The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

Official MLB Rulebook, Page 22

On Tuesday, in the sixth round of the MLB Draft, the San Diego Padres selected outfielder Kyle Gaedele (who the Tampa Bay Rays had previously drafted in the 32nd round of the 2008 draft). Gaedele plays center field and shows good signs of hitting for power, but what most writers, sports fans, and guys named Bradley talk about is Gaedele’s great uncle.

Casual fans probably do not know about Kyle’s great uncle, Eddie Gaedel (who removed the e off his last name for show-business purposes). We nerds can forgive the casual fan for forgetting a player who outdid, in his career, only the great Otto Neu. Gaedel took a single at-bat, walked to first, and then left for a pinch runner.

What makes Eddie Gaedel a unique and important part of baseball history, however, is not his statistics, per se, but his stature. Gaedel stood 3’7″ tall, almost half the height of his great nephew. Gaedel was the first and last little person to play in Major League Baseball, and the time has come for that to change.

The tragedy of the Eddie Gaedel event was that it left more of an obstacle than a foot in the door for little athletes. The St. Louis Browns’ owner Bill Veeck hired Gaedel for purely promotional purposes. Gaedel, himself an entertainer, wore elf-like shoes, curling at the tips, and came bursting from a cake, seriously, before his first at bat. Wearing the number 1/8, Gaedel took his walk straight into the Hall of Fame (well, his jersey is there at least).

The net result of the Gaedel experiment has been two-fold:

1) Any further attempts at getting dwarfs, midgets, or more generally (and politely, as I understand) termed little people into baseball has been viewed summarily as a publicity stunt.

2) We stat-heads cannot help but fathom the endless possibilities of the sacred 1.000 OBP hitter — the hitter you could never strike out.

However, there is more than one example of a little person in professional baseball, particularly the case of Dave Flood. Mr. Flood, a radio personality for 93.3 FLZ FM of Florida, stands at 3’2″ and, in 2009, joined the York Revolution, an independent league team. However, Flood did not make it out of Spring Training, going 0 for 3 with a walk.

This makes it seem much less likely MLB pitchers would have fits with hitting a smaller strike zone.

Of course, there is also the case of Mr. Todd Gallagher, author of Andy Roddick Beat Me with a Frying Pan, who sent a lineup of little people against Dana Kiecker. Here, the results seemed more promising for small hitters, though one cannot imagine the results were terribly informative: Kiecker, though he had a nice season in 1990, lasted less than 200 innings in the majors and would have been in his 40s at the time of the experiment. Suffice it to say, his strike zone struggles did not start with this experiment.

So in other words, experiments and actual data prove incredibly insufficient. What we have left is thought experiments.

(I have heard it said that Nate Silver once wrote an article suggesting it takes a player to walk once per game to best Albert Pujols. Anyone know if this article really exists?)

The venerable Tom Tango offered his thoughts during the Dave Flood episode:

How good would a player who would only get walks have to be? A walk is worth about +.030 wins and an out is -.027 wins. If you can get a .475 OBP, you’d be a league-average hitter, which, for a guy who can’t field (presumably) would be the replacment-level. If we’re looking for a 1 WAR per 162G (700PA) player as our threshhold, our guy needs to have a .500 OBP. He would be an average player if he could get a .530 OBP.

Seeing that MLB pitchers throw ball 4 on 3-0 counts 35% of the time, I can certainly believe that MLB pitchers may have a tough time with the pin-point control they need.

Rob Neyer also tackled the issue in 2009:

A couple of practical questions:

1. Could a club justify devoting a roster spot to someone who can do nothing except walk and strike out?

and

2. Would the pitchers really have a tough time throwing strikes?

I think the answer to Question 1 is probably not … until September, when every club has gobs of roster space that doesn’t even get used…

I think the answer to Question 2 is also probably not… [T]here’s at least some small fear on 3-0 that might prevent the pitcher from just throwing a BP fastball down the middle, and sometimes they’re actually not trying to throw a strike…

Let’s take a visual glance at the matter: A 3’6″ batter would be exactly 60% as tall as a 6’0″ batter. The following GIF attempts to materialize that distinction using an image delightfully stolen from the MLB rule book:

The zone, as you — dear contacts-wearing reader — can tell, is much smaller and quite flat. It loses 60% 40% of its height, but maintains its width, while creeping a good 50% closer to the plate. (Note: The image had been reduced by nearly exactly 60% to preserve scale as much as possible.)

Of this strike zone, several MLB pitchers said they wanted no part:

Twins All-Star closer Joe Nathan and single season save leader Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez believe [little people in baseball] has real potential. Said Rodriguez: “First of all, I’m not going to be able to throw strikes. No way. My target for the hitter is very different so my approach would be completely messed up. He’s going to get a walk immediately. I’d rather face Barry Bonds in the bottom of the ninth.”

Which brings us to the final two issues:

A) What value could small batters bring to an MLB team? I think it is safe to assume few teams have the roster flexibility for a one-plate-appearance guy for the whole season. Like Neyer notes, expanded September rosters would more than provide the opportunity for a little person to have a powerful and meaningful impact on games — especially if said athlete could sport a .500+ OBP, which, given plenty of training opportunities in the minors (specifically honing the ability to foul off 2-strike pitches) seems quite possible.

The very same element that makes a little person a viable hitter is the same that nullifies their potency as a fielder and runner: their height. Short legs means short strides, and therefore less speed and less range. Effective fielding and base running would be a near-impossibility for a little athlete.

B) Would the MLB allow it? After the Eddie Gaedel incident, the MLB changed their rules so that teams needed their contracts approved by, not just submitted to, the commissioner’s office. In the modern era, however, the MLB would probably need a series of bulldozers to clear the commish’s parking lot after the feces-related weather event resulting if Bud Selig turned down a player because of a genetic disease.

Conclusion
Here is my take, and why I feel one of the MLB’s next untapped inefficiencies will involve little athletes:

    1) In the same way not every tall athlete makes a great pitcher, not every little person makes an MLB-quality athlete. Eddie Gaedele was an entertainer, as is Dave Flood. For a little person to succeed at the MLB level, he or she will need to run faster and swing better than the average little person (in the same way an average tall MLB player does better than the non-MLB athlete; in the same way I will never in my life step into an major league batter’s box). Those capable of MLB-quality play could possibly work — and would need to work — .500 to .750 OBP.

    Though it supports many, the MLB is not a charity.

    2) September and October beg for this kind of player. In September, the rosters swell with unused players, while half the league is still fighting for a playoff spot. A .500 OBP pinch hitter can do tons of damage in this scenario. In the playoffs, few teams need that fifth or even fourth outfielder or that extra utility guy, so they usually throw in a pinch-hitting specialist. Especially in the NL, a little athlete could be a powerful tactic.

    3) It makes baseball even more of a chess game. When do you employ your walk specialist? Do you start him in the leadoff spot to ensure you do not have to replace a position player? Or do you wait for a high-leverage situation with a poor hitter batting? Though some will perceive it as a mere popularity stunt, it will no doubt bring more popularity to the sport, which means more money, which owners love.

The problem as it stands is the lack of a vetting system for little athletes. Presently, to my knowledge, very few — if any — high school or college teams have little people on their rosters. This means if a little person wants to play baseball, he must go directly to the independent leagues or the minor leagues to hone their baseball skills — which is a very tough place to start.

So consider this a call to action: If you are a little person reading this, know that you are a member of the next generation of the MLB. If you or your son or daughter have athletic talents, do not feign away from high school baseball tryouts or joining a local baseball league.

If you are a high school or college coach and know an interested little person, take that chance now, dare to step into the void and stand in the company of the great Branch Rickey. Dare to put little people in baseball.




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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


152 Responses to “The Next Market Inefficiencies: Little People in Baseball”

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  1. Telo says:

    Is there a minimum length a bat can be?

    Also, The Woodrum continues to bring his A game.

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    • I’m not sure. I imagine an exceedingly short bat would not help the hitter, though. As you can see, a proportionally shrunk bat in the above GIF does not cover the plate.

      If a little person were to be able to foul off pitches, he or she would need a proportionally larger bat than usual, though presumably lighter as well.

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  2. Big Jgke says:

    NotGraphs? What is happening here?

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    • Jason B says:

      Yes it’s UIMMENSELY important for posterity that 100% of articles get catalogued precisely. We probably need a sweeping review of the whole website from its inception.

      I’ll get right on that.

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  3. Ep says:

    Are there studies showing the correlation between height and propensity to walk? Is this a linear relationship? If so, what would be the ideal height of a player to maximize OBP?

    It would be interesting to see if shorter players actually were a market inefficiency, due to scouting biases etc., if there was real data to support it.

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    • Hmm… An interesting thought.

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      • Eric R says:

        http://www.buttonsarenttoys.net/ESPN/img/ratesByheight.JPG

        I used the data since the strike, min 2000 PA for a particular height.

        AVG and walk rates were pretty steady– mostly looks like less strikeouts and less power for shorter people.

        Granted, given these average heights by position for this sample:
        1B 74.4″
        RF 73.3″
        LF 73.1″
        3B 72.9″
        C 72.7″
        CF 72.6″
        SS 71.6″
        2B 71.1″

        It seems to be more saying that big corner IF/OFers strike out more and hit for more power than small middle IFers and CFers, and I don’t think we need a study for that. :)

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  4. Jon says:

    What really gets me thinking is what height defines a ‘little person’? I know guys who played in high school that were five foot nothing at best, were the fastest on the team, and could slap at balls in the zone all day long. Of course they weren’t trying to walk each at bat either.

    There are little people weight lifters, they could presumably swing a MLB bat with the speed necessary to stay alive during an at bat. All I can picture now is a ripped little bald guy (who I saw once on TV or something) going to bat against a MLB pitcher that is twice his height. Very interesting article.

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    • Per the Wikipaedya:

      [Dwarfism] is sometimes defined as an adult height of less than 4 feet 10 inches (147 cm), although this definition is problematic because short stature in itself is not a disorder.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwarfism

      The concept, more importantly, is the strike zone of a 3-foot individual, which would, in effect, be 2 feet shorter than a 5-foot person’s. That’s a large slice taken from the zone.

      A five-footer told never to swing might strike out quite a bit in my estimation. It’s an interesting thought nonetheless.

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    • James v says:

      Hm. What about as a DH? That removes defense from the equation, although admittedly not baserunning. But can a fast ‘little guy’ really be all that much slower than the Prince Fielders and David Ortiz’s of the game?

      Cost controlled league minimum production from the DH slot actually ‘is’ a market inefficiency of sorts…. and it’s a concept maybe worth exploring here. Limit strikeouts, generate absurdly high walk rates and slap the ball into play if they lob meatballs dead center in attempts to get strikes. BABIP wouldn’t hold true strictly, but still can potentially find a hole or put pressure on defense.

      220/550/225 for league minimum? I dunno. It has value.

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      • Rally says:

        I don’t think such a hitter would find many holes. No way the outfielders would play 250 feet away – I think this hitter would face 7 man infields.

        How often would a 3.5′ tall hitter be capable of hitting the ball over the infield? His OBP comes down to walks or nothing.

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      • jorgath says:

        I was thinking this too.

        What you need is one who is a fast runner — not just for a little person. He doesn’t have to have Jose Reyes speed, but somewhere above a mid-speed first baseman would be nice.

        Then you need to teach him how to bunt, especially for hits. And slap hits too. And tell him not to swing unless he’s getting called for strikes anyways.

        Result: A little person DH who’s best suited for the leadoff spot. He won’t be stealing bases, but he can get on base, and he’s fast enough that he can be successfully moved over by other spots.

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  5. Edward says:

    Can we also talk about how I have never seen an umpire call a strike zone the way the rule book writes it? Pitches above the belt are NEVER strikes in an actual game, no matter what the rule book may say.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      That';s especially true if it’s a breaking pitch.

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    • Sean says:

      Right. I can totally see umpires calling strikes over the head of a little person, because either:
      A. They (the umps) have their strike zone, and they don’t adjust it for each batter.
      or
      B. They (the umps) perceive batting a little person as an insult to the integrity of the game, and won’t allow such “tricks” to succeed on their watch.

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      • Point B seemed to have been somewhat of an issue in the Dave Flood incident. After getting cut, he claimed that pitchers had thrown only 1 legit strike against him; the rest were bad calls.

        Of course, I say similar things when I go to the batting cages and whiff on 70 mph fastballs.

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  6. CircleChange11 says:

    Seriously?

    You realize that run values for walks are based on an average major league baserunning speed, right? So, they might even need to walk as much as 2/3’s of the time. A major league pitcher could avoid that situation when the batter offers NO threat with the bat.

    You would basically send a little person to the plate with the command of “don’t swing”. This would be the worst type of exploit and unintentional insult around. At least Veeck was up front with the gimmick. Would we also ask them to crunch down like Peter Rose or Rickey Henderson?

    Seeing that MLB pitchers throw ball 4 on 3-0 counts 35% of the time, I can certainly believe that MLB pitchers may have a tough time with the pin-point control they need.

    Well, the assumption here is that the pitchers always WANTED to throw a strike on 3-0.

    September and October beg for this kind of player

    No, it doesn’t. Sept begs for the kid looking to make an impression for his career … not a gimmick. It begs for a kid looking to get an invite to spring training.

    It’s amazing how willing we are to screw around with other people’s careers.

    It makes baseball even more of a chess game

    No, it doesn’t.

    ——————————————-

    IMHO, I would consider taking this article down.

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    • Hmm, compelling points. My assertion, which perhaps I did not completely finish presenting in the article, is that MLB-quality little people would not be empty bats, per se. They would be able to, at the very least, foul off close pitches and the best could even slash a single or two (though, given a presumably slower foot-speed, these would need to be particularly well-hit balls).

      This would be the worst type of exploit and unintentional insult around.

      Um, no. Blanketly disallowing an entire group of people to participate in a sport because of a genetic disorder would be a worse insult I think. Besides, you seemed to have missed my above-noted stipulation.

      You realize that run values for walks are based on an average major league baserunning speed, right?

      Yeah. Duh. I sort of noted in the article how their base running would necessitate a pinch runner.

      I will not consider taking down the article, but thanks for your input.

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    • Baron Samedi says:

      You really need to take your Most Prolific Fangraphs Commenter Ever title a little less seriously, Mr. Change.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      wow so i guess it’s an insult to the rest of humanity to be a little person. even ignoring that poorly worded comment, saying that this article should be taken down? are you trying to be a dick on purpose?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        No, not intentionally trying to be a dick.

        Our team manager in 2005 was a dwarf. My perception as a coach was that he was well liked and well treated by teammates and opponents. Turns out, years after the fact, I found that he was not well treated by teammates or opponents, and when coaches were not around, he took quite a bit of abuse.

        My request to consider taking the article down was solely in anticipation of sarcastic comments that I thought may follow based on some of our discussions of other people/athletes that don;t fit the normal mold … whether they be female, overweight, etc.

        I don;t take myself that seriously, but I did think that the thread would devolve into bad jokes.

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  7. Instead of immediately hedging to the extreme–i.e. little people–why not talk about the more practical market inefficiency that is the general height bias for normal-sized athletes?

    Plenty of guys have been overlooked because they’re 5’5″, no matter what their stat sheet reads.

    I know this piece was intended to be written seriously but it stills reads as a tad offensive. You’re asking for teams to sign little people explicitly because of their size, not some sort of skill they possess. Weeding out those who may be better at taking a walk doesn’t make it any less patronizing.

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    • Telo says:

      The things that people are offended by… are staggering.

      No one cares.

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    • You’re asking for teams to sign little people explicitly because of their size, not some sort of skill they possess.

      I’m certainly not advocating signing every short person, though it may have seemed that way. Really, the key difference between a 5’5″ guy and a 3’5″ guy is that one of them was expressly and deliberately disallowed from playing baseball. I think that era is over now, and teams should reconsider little athletes as legitimate contributors.

      I do think there has been a size bias in baseball, and it is something well worth researching, but it is something we can pick up on much easier. There are 5’5″ guys in baseball right now, and if they wow with their numbers, then they stand a chance.

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    • Telo says:

      http://www.blogger.com/profile/10630553780340086701

      As a person who is 12.5% Irish, I am offended at your indiscretion when using the color green. Please try not to be so patronizing to my heritage next time.

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    • Basil Ganglia says:

      Was Manut Bol playing in the NBA patronizing?

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    • CJ says:

      Does the same objection apply if a basketball team seeks out players who are 7-7 or 7-8 in height? While there have been extremely tall players with good skills, it’s also true that NBA teams have signed players over 7-5 whom have marginal basketball skills, but can block shots and rebound without leaving their feet, simply due to height and arm length. I don’t think that those signings were viewed as demeaning either to the players or to the game. Assuming that the small baseball player will have some minimal baseball skills, that seems comparable to what this article suggests.

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      • Exactly. It’s about finding players to fill roles. I think little people can fill a newer role in the sport. We did not expect Frank Thomas to steal bases or Phil Rizzuto to hit homers. Different body types play different roles.

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      • DCN says:

        There’s something about drawing a walk that seems more passive, though.

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      • Icebox says:

        I appreciate the spirit of the Manut Bol (or Shawn Bradley) comparison, but I think the analogy is flawed.

        Height in the NBA is about what a player is able to do–a 7’8″ center can block shots and grab rebounds. Yes, this is mostly a function of height, not “basketball skill” per se, but the player is still able to perform a physical task of intrinsic value at a level that justifies his inclusion in the lineup.

        A little person in MLB becomes useful not through the execution of a task, but through the manipulation of the rules (at least as his role is defined in this article). The strike zone was introduced in baseball to discourage manipulation, to force pitchers to throw hitable pitches and to force hitters to try to hit them. These rules were brought about, no doubt, because batters and pitchers needed more incentive to put their skills on the line in a competetive encounter–all of the competetive energy of baseball is derived from the confrontation between batter and pitcher, and this confrontation is diffused when the encounter becomes a matter of manipulating the rules rather than pitting one set of skills against another.

        That walks have become a skill is beyond dispute, but this is competetively acceptable because UIBBs occur in a context in which both competitors are equally engaged (critically, they are also a result of skill, either its presence in the batter or its absence in the pitcher). A 21st century Eddie Gaedel would be instructed to do the opposite–to disengage, undermining the competetive context that necessitated the advent of the strike zone in the first place.

        DCN is right. Walks in this context are passive. Frank Thomas and Phil rizzuto did something–they engaged in the competetive encounter that forms the core of the game. So did the brobdignaggian centers of the 1990s. The New Eddie Gaedel wouldn’t.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        That, IMO, is a completely different situation.

        As we saw as recently as this year’s NCAA championship, length in basketball changes everything in the paint. It’s not just for 2-4 plays per game … but every shot near the basket.

        As one that was a “slasher” and rebounder on the court, height is a huge advantage all the way around. They alter shots near the basket, block quite a few, and pull down some boards … just from being tall.

        If “Little People” were fast due to stride turnover, the case would hold a lot more weight, as the walks could turn into “doubles” and “triples” very quickly. But that’s not the case.

        We’d be asking an MLB player to walk and then come out of the game. Never playing defense, never running the bases. I viewed that as much more of an exploit than a really tall person in the NBA, whether it be Bol, Mark Eaton, etc.

        Most of the tall players in the NBA, also played in college. The NBA, in general, wasn’t just picking up 7’3 guys off the street and instructing them to “stand there with their arms up”.

        2 completely different situations IMO.

        Simply put, a tall player in the NBA has the potential to affect 1/3 of the plays in a game just by being tall. That’s not the same as a Little Person getting one at bat a game, and occupying a roster spot.

        It is possible that I am viewing this in the wrong light, but I don’t view it as a serious situation. I think life for Little People is already hard enough without throwing them out there as a “trick”, even though the point could be made that they’d be making 400K/yr minimum for doing so.

        I think the amount of jokes/abuse they’d take, as well as, possible resentment from players trying to make the MLB clubs as a complete player would be overall negative … and I just don’t like to see people taking abuse for aspects they cannot control.

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  8. steve says:

    if i threw 95 and the opposing manager was trotting out “little people” and i knew i couldn’t get them out, i’d drill every single one of them until the other team goes back to using professional athletes.

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    • steve says:

      you seem to be under the impression that opposing teams will let this exploitation go

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      • I imagine the commissioner’s office would be none-to-pleased with pitchers systematically assaulting players because of their height. You seem to be under the impression that management will let this abuse go.

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    • nj says:

      but then they’d probably do the same to your albino

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    • Bryz says:

      …or until you get ejected from the ballgame and suspended for headhunting. I’m going to put my money on my situation, as it seems more likely to happen.

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      • philkid3 says:

        So, to recap:

        1. The ploy of easy baserunners worked with easy baserunners.
        2. Steve gets tossed for playing in to their hopes of getting baserunners.
        3. Steve brings the heat of the league down on him.

        Seems like a good plan.

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  9. siggian says:

    Missing from the article is how difficult it would be for the umpire to judge strikes against a little person. Like a pitcher who is used to throwing into a certain area (see the K Rod quote), umpires are also used to calling strikes in a certain area. A pitch near the dirt normally called a ball could be a strike. A pitch normally down in the zone is a high strike. I’d say that the umpires would struggle as much as the pitchers would.

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    • That’s a very good point and something I myself thought about while watching video of Dave Flood’s first PA. I imagine, if and when little people began to appear in the minors, that the umpries at the MLB level will begin to train for such differences.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      They could use pinch-umps.

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  10. CardinalRules says:

    I think us Cards fans have been wondering how Skip Schumaker has stuck around for so long. We all know how much of an “outside-the-box” thinker LaRussa is. But I think we can see his, ahem, little experiment hasn’t panned out. Come on TLR, Go little or go home!

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  11. JoeyPajamas says:

    So what’s their minimum salary? ~$200k? Half price, right?

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  12. PaulScarfo says:

    21st-century Minstrelsy, unfunny, or Jacksonville U-quality dissertation?

    This site needs an editor. Badly.

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  13. T says:

    Chone Figgins only has a 5.2% BB rate so your hypothesis has been nullified.

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  14. Jesse says:

    “Point B seemed to have been somewhat of an issue in the Dave Flood incident. After getting cut, he claimed that pitchers had thrown only 1 legit strike against him; the rest were bad calls”

    Sure, but Barry Bonds said the same thing about the 2001 season.

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  15. dustin says:

    Why couldn’t a little person play catcher? They wouldn’t have to crouch, and I suspect they could make up for a potential lack of arm strength by not having to come out of the crouch to throw out runners.

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    • That’s an interesting point. Throwing requires a large amount of torque in the waist, though, so I imagine only the fewest of select few would be able to accomplish one of baseball’s hardest throws.

      Moreover, there is still the base running issue.

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    • zak says:

      then the buster posey incident could result in a death

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      • DCN says:

        Their reach is so much less on high or wide pitches, too.

        Plus, I imagine that the lighter you are, the more all those 95 mph pitches take a toll on your body.

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  16. mw says:

    Actually, this post shows what I’ve long suspected – that there are no more great inefficiencies left in baseball.

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  17. jirish says:

    Now see, I think I’m confusing little people with short people and I think that’s not the same thing.

    I also thought you were going to talk about teams that take a chance on short (under 6’00”) pitchers. Then I thought it would be about the Reds pitching staff, most of whom are on the (shorter) side of 6’00”. Cueto, Voquez, Leake, and Wood or all under 6 feet tall. They have all managed to make it to the bigs in spite of this. It still remains to be seen how good they will be and how they hold up.

    Maybe I should start working on that story…..

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  18. Joby says:

    I’d like to see a little person at Catcher where he doesn’t have to squat down to catch.

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  19. MikeS says:

    Well, if we are taking this seriously…
    As you mentioned, he’s only good for 1 PA/game since he can’t play the field (maybe catcher as long as nobody is on base?) and you can’t have him at DH because after he gets on you need a pinch runner or he will be a true base clogger. He would have trouble advancing to third on a double . He can’t take out the pivot on the double play either. On the plus side, he’d have trouble breaking Buster Posey’s leg at the plate.

    His value in counting stats like WAR would be limited by his max 162 PA/year.

    So yeah, it’s only going to be for September.

    But imagine him on a post season roster. Teams carry way to many pitchers in the playoffs. With all the off days, the long relievers rarely get any work. Usually it’s only the three or (at most) four best relievers that should be in those games anyway and you don’t need the fifth starter so you could open up two to four roster spots right there easily.

    Still, He better learn to foul off a few. I think many (most) MLB pitchers could probably put it very close to where they want it if there is no real threat at the plate.

    Assuming he is an automatic walk, when to use him? Bases loaded, of course!

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      thought the same thing as your last line. awesome idea. and i assume they would have some baseball skills, and the author i think mentioned, in being able to foul off two strike pitches. the pitcher would miss eventually.

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  20. TheGrandslamwich says:

    After the Gaedel incident, Baseball became the only one of the 4 main American sports to actually implement a height requirement. As far as I know it has never been rescinded.

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    • I do not believe there is an actual rule concerning height. I looked for one (both online and in the rule book) but could find nothing. Maybe I’m just missing it, but — as I understand it — Gaedel’s appearance only led to the MLB requiring approval for all new contracts.

      As Neyer pointed out in 2009 (in the above-quoted article) there seems to be only one incidence in recent history where the MLB has actually flexed that authority (disallowing a contract to a 60-year-old Minnie Minoso.

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  21. Jordan says:

    Two questions:

    1) What about a baby?! Why not put a baby on a post season roster! There’s your .750 OBP. Is there an age restriction in MLB? I think not.

    2) What about a little person baby! 1.000 OBP!

    +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • phoenix2042 says:

      erm… maybe child labor laws? idk… but awesome loophole haha

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Einstein says:

      Midgets. Babies. These are all really good ideas, Fangraphs. What about a chimp? They must have small strike zones. Does the rulebook specifically say the batter has to be HUMAN? According to countless straight-to-video Disney sports movies, the answer is a resounding “NO!”

      +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • joshsaysgomo says:

      Haha this is SO funny!

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    • Jordan says:

      No really. Why not a baby?!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Fat Spiderman says:

      I can’t stop laughing

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • baseballfan says:

        I guess fat people that can’t stop laughing also don’t qualify because the can’t run. Stop being small minded and realize that there is lots of people that are li and love the sport!!

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    • Matt says:

      You wouldn’t want to pitch a baby inside either; you’d be too afraid of hitting a baby.

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      • Jason B says:

        Screw that – that is MY inside part of the plate. He needs to back off, get some baby Biggio body armor, or risk get drilled in his baby chin.

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    • The Usual Susbeck says:

      If this was ok’d I’m pumping out the best walk taking babies ever and collecting league minimum asap

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Mike says:

    The Cardinals have been tapping the dwarf mine for years. In fact, they just drafted another one. They’re way ahead of you.

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  23. ShockandAwe says:

    Ahh good point Jordan.

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  24. laketrout says:

    I believe you missed your publishing date for this article by 2 months and a week.

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  25. SenSurround says:

    The only realy way this could have any value whatsoever would have to be late season callups. You designate two roster spots every year, one to a little person, and one to an olympic athlete. The little person takes the almost automatic walk and is immediatelly pinch run for by the olympic sprinter, who likely steals second and possibly third. Instant, one time a game offense if you really, really need a run.

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. Josh Shepardson says:

    Interesting read Bradley. Strangely enough, in one of many absurd sports conversations with one of my college housemates, we discussed the idea of a little person at the plate in baseball. Perhaps I enjoyed this article more than most for that reason, but none-the-less. Enjoyable read.

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  27. Samuel Lingle says:

    Why use little people?

    Why not get a hitter who, when he needs to walk, can just bend in an awkward way to decrease the size of his strike zone?

    If you squat like a catcher, there’s basically zero space between the “midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants” and the “hollow beneath the kneecap.” Since the zone is defined by the batter’s stance, as explicitly stated in the rules, then why not just change your stance?

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      truth. maybe it’s not being “a real man” or something? still technically allowable. although the ump would totally not allow it…

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    • Bond says:

      You can squat down, as long as it’s your natural stance and you do it all the time. The strike zone isnt suppose to change during an at bat, as far as I recall.

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  28. Cody says:

    Bradley,

    I just wanted to say great article and I really enjoyed reading it.

    Cody

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  29. JR Caines says:

    I am 5’5″ and back in little league I was much shorter then my teammates. I also have a pretty crouched stance, and I was a horrible hitter. My coach encouraged me to keep up the crouched stance, and only swing when necessary. I drew a lot of walks and stole a lot of bases (speed being the one baseball skill I possess). It was somewhat effective, and I was not the full 60% shorter then my peers, and still had the ability to run and get a bloop hit here and there. Of course, this was all facing 10-13 year old pitchers…

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  30. Andrew says:

    I clicked on this article expecting a legitimate treatment of the ways in which height discrimination in sports creates a market inefficiency which teams could take advantage of. As mentioned above, shorter players in general and more specifically are expected to be less successful than taller players, perhaps for legitimate reasons. It is possible that when teams take this stigma too far and allow it to prevent them from signing exceptional short players, they are undervaluing them, much in the way that players with a low batting average may be undervalued despite having a high on-base percentage. Perhaps you could have examined, as someone suggested above, whether there is a correlation between height and on-base percentage. You could have looked at the strengths and weaknesses of shorter baseball players. Are shorter players actually slower than taller ones? And I’m not talking about people with genetic disorders, I’m talking about people who are below average in height, say 5’6”, or even 5’9”, which is average height but below average for a professional baseball player.

    Instead of that article I got this lame, poorly written one and the circus which followed. Disappointing.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      not that poorly written. by the circus, you mean comments? not the author’s fault and you didn’t have to read them. and hey i’m 5.9, don’t hate!

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    • DCN says:

      I do think there’s probably some inefficiency, but it’s probably gonna be borderline cases. No matter what height, a player who puts up great stats in college or extraordinary stats in high school is going to get drafted and if he does well in the minors he’s going to play pro ball. There’s enough competition in pre-professional baseball that there are plenty of opportunities to rise to the top.

      Now where I could see it having an effect is with short players with flaws in their game getting less coaching time, than, say, a 6’5″ pitcher with a broad frame who’s got things he needs to work on. Someone that size will attract coaches’ attention, but a shorter guy has to prove himself first.

      I don’t think short guys are actually slower, or are even considered slower. They very often play speed positions (although part of it is due to having a harder path to success at power positions). Ichiro is not even his listed 5’11” and in his prime he was one of the fastest guys in the game. Tim Raines, Chuck Knoblauch, Tony Womack, David Eckstein, Eric Young, all 5’9″ at the most, all speedy guys.

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    • Jason B says:

      “Instead of that article I got this lame, poorly written one and the circus which followed. Disappointing.”

      And people don’t know how to offer constructive criticism without coming across like the biggest dicks on the planet earth. Disappointing. The anonymity of the internet makes big a-holes out of us all, I guess.

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  31. K says:

    You say that a 3’6″ person is 60% of the height of a 6′ person so your image should be reduced by 40% not 60% as you state in the article.

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  32. DCN says:

    It could be in interesting managereal decision when to bring in the little people. Get pitchers out of rhythm, take advantage of strike zone troubles, chase a pitcher who has control issues, etc.

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    • Jason B says:

      A team that’s like 60-100 should send up the ultimate “mix up the pitcher” lineup for the last game – Mini-me, then Manute Bol, then the two big dudes on motorcycles…

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  33. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    I think most pitchers would struggle to throw consistent strikes, which would lead them to aim pitches. Those aimed pitches would be easier than most to hit. As a result I could totally see little people actually putting up batting averages over .200 and if they really got a hold of a pitch I could see them getting one into the gap or over the heads on the outfielders who are playing in.

    To me some little person could post this line .210/.250/.700. That is plenty good enough to play regularly to me.

    Also a dwarf could play firstbase adequately if a runner is being held on. But DHing would be ideal.

    I used to watch Lil people big world and on one episode they had the little people olympics. The best athletes among them could run as fast as a many major league catchers. Or at least they appeared to be that fast.

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    • DCN says:

      “Also a dwarf could play firstbase adequately if a runner is being held on. But DHing would be ideal.”

      I don’t know, man. Your other infielders better be precise. As a fellow Nats fan, could you imagine Ian Desmond throwing to a guy under 4 feet high?

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    • Jason B says:

      .210/.250/.700 should be .210/.700/.250 I think? Although seeing a dwarf slug 700 would be all kinds of awesome!

      (Come to think of it most video games with character classes tended to make dwarves the strongest class, so maybe there’s something to that…)

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  34. Ben says:

    Ze plane! Ze plane!

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  35. Phantom Stranger says:

    People might want to check out footage of Matt Young on the Braves. He is a fourth outfielder type that the Braves have been forced to call up because of injuries this year. He looks incredibly small for a player, with very short arms. Matt Young looks a shade shorter than Dustin Pedroia at the plate. Of course he does not look he can hit MLB pitching at all so far.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  36. bc says:

    “The following is the first and behemoth installment of a three-part (or more) series….”

    I hope the next one is about donkeys kicking field goals.

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brian Williamson says:

      For your information “bc,” my neighbor’s donkey and I happen to be very much in love with each other, and she’s never stepped on a football field (although we once made love on a baseball diamond). Why must you perpetuate these hateful stereotypes?

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  37. Bond says:

    I don’t see the realistic value here. We are speculating that as a group can’t really hit..so you will have the 3 outfielders playing in basically causing the def to have 7 player infield. or at least no deeper than where the 2nd baseman plays on an extreme shift. We assume they can’t run. so is 1 walk a game really that valuable? Im sure we can concoct the one scenario that it would be worth doing it for but wheres the athletic ability? Im not saying little people arent athletic Im saying its a stretch to see this as an inefficiency, and more of a “less than a one trick pony.” If they cant catch, cant run, cant field and cant hit why employ them on BASEBALL team?

    I like the baby comment and even the chimp comment. Since skill is obviously not a requirement. And kids can work. Theres just restrictions…lol I think theres an inefficiency in 700 lb goalies in the NHL too. Seeing a morbidly obese man play pro sports and having a heart attack on the ice would sell as many tickets as the first guy to accidentally kill a little person with a 98 mph fastball. Just because you can do something doesnt mean you should. if a little person has talent..giver..to hell with us taller people..but if your skill is that a pitcher cant throw a pitch in your stike zone while you stand there like a zombie…I’ll be rooting for that accidental 98 mph fastball for some real drama.

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    • The Nicker says:

      Click on my name and you’ll see that they tried the huge goalie thing in the WSJ and it doesn’t work very well, and you’d need a truly morbidly obese individual to make it worth it.

      Similarily, I don’t think the dwarf stands much of a chance. The 3-0 stat is REALLY misleading. A lot of 3-0 balls are intentional. Additionally, you’re feeding into a sample of pitchers that are having trouble with control to start. I doubt the pitchers would have much trouble disposing of little batters, especially with sympathetic umps calling balls and strikes.

      You’re going to see a drawn-in outfield and infield, and the fastest little person in the world isn’t going to beat out many balls in the hole.

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  38. Al says:

    I really thought this was going to be an article about Dustin Pedroia. Oh well.

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  39. nathan says:

    Jose Altuve is coming! He may not be 3 feet tall (he’s a whopping 5’5″) but the man can hit.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  40. nathan says:

    Could the walk specialist DH and then instead of pinch running for him the next base runner could pick up the walk specialist when he catches up to him and carry him/throw him in the right direction. You would then need few guys batting behind your walk specialist that also excel in something like the hammer throw. Your walk specialist would also have to practice tumbling. Maybe he could have a specialized uniform which will allow him to curl into a near perfect ball shape so in can role after being tossed.

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  41. Adam G says:

    It’s very late/early in the morning here on the east coast, and while I initially found this article partially interesting, the comments made me laugh so hard and so long I think I had an aneurysm! Baby pygmy monkeys would probably be the best group to start trying this with.

    But seriously, it’s ideas like this that at least get conversations started. One of my favorite prospects is Jose Altuve, and I can’t wait to see him standing next to Albert Pujols at first base. Also, a study on height versus BB%/K% would be very interesting, and would probably be the one bit of data to come from this “circus” that could actually be useful in a major league front office.

    Keep up the good work everyone. That is all.

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  42. Shaun Catron says:

    Wouldn’t pitchers be disgusted seeing a little person digging in who isn’t even taking the bat off his shoulder and drill him with a 97mph fastball. Would a little person get killed with a fastball seeing as the baseball is basically the size of some of their organs?

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    • jorgath says:

      And those pitchers would get ejected and suspended.

      But no, a little person wouldn’t be killed. Hurt worse, maybe — a break is a higher-percentage portion of the bone broken.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  43. Bookbook says:

    I, too, enjoyed reading ” the kid who batted one thousand”. I thought it was out of print.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  44. mattinm says:

    I’m honestly wondering if the last runner in this video (@0:55) isn’t less of a base-clogger than some MLB players — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFCNVvvmxNw

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  45. Ryan says:

    I will venture an educated guess that Little People in Baseball (or lack thereof) will not be one of The Next Market Inefficiencies. For a few reasons that I don’t care to get into detail about but have been explained to some degree above.

    Definitely looking forward to the next installment, though.

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  46. Tom says:

    How many little people are going to be signing up to play for MLB teams after one of them gets plunked by a 95 mph fastball? If I were 75 pounds, the last thing I would want is to have Justin Verlander throw anything at me.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Evan_S says:

      Armor up and where those gigantic helmets. If you were to sign a little person, evading pitches should probably be the number one thing he does in practice

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  47. JD says:

    Now I can’t stop picturing the midget from “Game of Thrones” taking hacks in an MLB game.

    How about just more REAL players like Tony Phillips taking a deep crouch in the box?

    Seriously, we really think baseball players will accept midgets? They don’t accept gay people and think Bryce Harper is the anti-christ for blowing a kiss at a player, they can still chew brown dirt in their mouths that causes cancer but they will accept a midget taking a job from a “real” player.

    This is flawed deeply.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kinanik says:

      Ah, yes! Tyrion from Game of Thrones would be an excellent hitter – if the ump calls strikes he could make the ump cry, and I’m sure he could prod the catcher into getting him hit by a few pitches! An even higher OBP!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • CircleChange11 says:

      Rickey Henderson might be an extreme example of a player that used his height + crouch to draw a lot of walks.

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  48. Dave S says:

    Just define a set strike zone above home plate. (NOT relative to the height of the batter)

    Then let computer/radar systems call the balls and strikes.

    (Ump is still required for swinging strikes, foul tips, HBP, running plays at plate, etc.)

    End all the “balls and strikes” nonsense. Permanently.

    Fixed.

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    • jorgath says:

      I was going to say that there’s a problem with whether the computers/radars are accurate, but then I realized it doesn’t matter, as long as every team uses the same setup.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        That would kill traditionalists. My plan is to have a buzzer in the home plate umps pocket. Someone watching the computer with the zone will buzz for a strike, not buzz for a ball. It’s called accurately and traditionalists don’t know what’s going on.

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  49. delv says:

    “For a little person to succeed at the MLB level, he or [b]she[/b] will need to run faster and swing better than the average little person”

    I see what you did there….

    Woodrum = undercover Alex Remington? Bravo.

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  50. BassmanUW says:

    Here’s my deal with why I wouldn’t see it working: presumably, an actual little person baseball player would have absolutely no power. You’re right that there might be a couple good enough to put a couple of grounders in play that could squeeze through holes in the infield. If the concern is not walking the guy, though, what concern would you have with just having all your pitchers throw 75 mph fastballs right down the middle? I wouldn’t be that concerned with a little person squaring up a baseball. Besides, you have to remember that little people aren’t just smaller version of big people. Many of them have significant physical deformities, particularly in the form of nonproportional shorter limbs, that would make it very difficult for them to swing a bat with enough force for a pitcher to care how hard they hit it.

    I do have to say, though, that I might pay to see a little person baseball league. Unfortunately, it would probably be for all the wrong reasons.

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  51. Randy says:

    The Detroit Tigers should employ this immediately. Bat the little person first, bat Jackson second, and bat Cabrera third.

    But seriously, this is genius. A team could use a little person as a DH to reduce any negative defensive impact. They would just need to be able to run well enough not to get thrown out easily.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  52. Me says:

    I’m not 100% that you’d only be able 1 AB per game if your little person plays DH in the AL. There are plenty of relatively fast little people. I’m not sure exactly how fast, but after watching Adrian Gonzalez run the bases, I’d have to think that a fast little person comes close to a slow average sized person. Granted, it would take a VERY fast little person, but I’m just saying that it could happen. I’d imagine that if this were to ever take place, you’d end up with a maximum of 32-35 little people in the majors at any given moment. That represents the best of the best athletes, truly the cream of the crop, since there are no other sports competing with baseball, no football or basketball with whom baseball would have to share athletes. You’d definitely sacrifice any chance of scoring from first, and it would be tough to imagine going 1st to third, but I’m just saying its not out of the realm of possibility that you’d get more than one AB per game out of a little person DH.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  53. PaulScarfo says:

    Will next installment be hunchbacks?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  54. Me says:

    After seeing my semi-rambling previous post, I’d like to clean up that point a bit. Without other sports competing in the talent pool of little people, baseball would be uniquely (sp?) positioned to extract the best of the best athletes. There would be no college lacrosse, or tennis, or basketball, football, etc. So I think you could reasonably expect, once a culture of baseball has developed for little people, for them to hone their athletic talents into what would be needed of them, i.e. max speed on the basepaths and enough bat speed to stay alive in at-bats. There are certainly elite athletes in the little person community, and I think their potential contribution may even be underestimated on this board.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  55. Evan_S says:

    How valuable would a perfect OBP be with a perfect base steale? Would you sacrifice two roster spots to start every game off (it would be the DH’s spot of course) with a runner on third, no outs and somewhere between a 2-0 and 0-2 count?

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  56. Joel says:

    Thank you for this article. I will now have to spend the rest of the day with the image of a “little person” caught in a run down stuck in my head.

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  57. BillWallace says:

    This is a poor idea.

    You’re thinking so hard about the mechanics of it, while ignoring the psychology of it. This would be like a game ‘exploit’. A strategy that is not in the range of strategies that are intended to be used to play the game, but is successful due to a design flaw in the game. When this happens the game designers simply patch the game to remove the flaw. If your response to this is ‘who says which strategies are intended to be used’, the answer is ‘the people in charge, and if you don’t like it, you can write a 2000 word blog post about it’.

    The most likely thing would be that umpires would call a big enough strike zone on these guys that they weren’t effective. If that didn’t work there would be other rule changes. But it wouldn’t even get to that point, as the baseball ruling powers would prevent this from ever getting to MLB. You might see this as a gimmick at some minor league level.

    That this is a serious inquiry reflects a huge amount of naivete.

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  58. Peter says:

    Loves this thread. Of *course* it’s ridiculous. Gave me the best laugh I’ve had in months, at least.

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  59. Peter says:

    Love this thread. Of *course* it’s ridiculous. Gave me the best laugh I’ve had in months, at least.

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  60. FairweatherFan says:

    I think it is a fundamental flaw to assume that a “little person” could not hit.

    It does not take a very forceful swing of the bat to lift a fly ball to the outfield, or to bloop a hit over the infield.

    Besides, being “little” does not mean being feeble. There are many of these people out there who are quite athletic. Their largest disadvantage would likely be the perhaps awkward proportion of their body dimensions which is characteristic of most types of dwarfism – particularly short arms and legs (with a “normal” sized torso). Base running may be a challenge, but then again – it’s a challenge for plenty of full sized players, too.

    There is a lot of ignorance in the comment section of this thread, but it seems to mostly be good hearted. I would bet that an athletic little person could hit the shit out of a baseball. Probably not 500+ feet, but certainly hard and far enough to find holes and get on base. I don’t think a 7 infielder approach would be credible.

    I think the largest issue here is the availability – of all the little people in the world, only a select few (just like the rest of us) have the innate talent to play baseball. Because so few (if any?) little people ever play baseball at a competitive level, it’s unlikely that these talents will ever been developed or discovered.

    I can assure you that a little persons strike zone would give a pitcher fits, and I’m also confident that if the pitcher tried to groove one in there, the batter could still give it a ride.

    FWIW, I’m 6’4″, and my zone is HUGE.

    :)

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      It does not take a very forceful swing of the bat to lift a fly ball to the outfield, or to bloop a hit over the infield.

      Of course the outfielders would be drawn in to make an “8-player net” aligned on the infield fly boundary.

      IF’s would take about 5 steps and the outfielders would be 20-feet behind them.

      Little People would also need to use a 26-inch bat or so.

      I think the more this situation is examined, the more ridiculous it becomes … and I say that without intentionally trying to insult anyone.

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    • jorgath says:

      Probably not enough to switch to a 7 person infield, but how about a 5-man infield when the little person is batting?

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  61. robert p wadlow says:

    Terrible, terrible article. You can give me 240 (tom) thumbs down btw.

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  62. Remus says:

    I used to pitch when i was 16, the rules where that you cant be over 17 but everything below it was ok, so managers used to get a lot of really small kids just to work a walk and be replaced by pinch runners…
    i hit them all with a smile on my face

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  63. Antonio bananas says:

    I can see it on an AL team since they don’t need as many players since you don’t have to pinch hit for the pitchers.

    In fact, if I were an AL team, I’d have 11 pitchers, then the 8 position players, DH, 2 super utility players who could play anywhere on the field, then 2 little people and 2 world class sprinters. 9th inning, you bat the first little guy, he walks, pinch run the sprinter, he steals 2nd, pinch hit the other little guy, he walks, pinch run the other sprinter, double steal, then you have runners on second and third with no outs.

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    • Antonio bananas says:

      as many all around players I mean. In the AL you can have one good thing you do and you have a job.

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  64. james wilson says:

    I recommend designated hitters who are double amputee at the hip weightlifters. That strike zone would be six inches deep, and those boys can move faster than midgets.

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  65. Mini-me Scott Boras says:

    I definitely see potential here.

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  66. Bobk says:

    There is a funny story about a little person and a baseball team:
    http://storyoftheweek.loa.org/2010/09/you-could-look-it-up.html
    You could look it up. It is a classic.

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  67. William says:

    If you could find some little person who is very fast and much stronger relative to the average little person, you could have him dh for the league minimum, and if the pitcher threw 70mph meat balls down the middle, then hopefully he would be strong and fast enough to get a slap hit over the infield

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  68. Ricky says:

    This was the dumbest article I’ve ever read in my life.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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