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The other night, I was twittering

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about some old-school MLB players named “Jumbo,” which got me thinking about large MLB players. Specifically, who were the largest players (by weight) at each point in MLB history?

This post isn’t just about fat players, though most of the players listed will be at least husky. If you are interested in knowing about the fattest (and skinniest) players in each era, you should check out this fun post

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over at Value Over Replacement Grit that identifies the players with the most extreme Body Mass Index (BMI) figures.

Below are all the players to be the heaviest in MLB at any point. I used each player’s listed weight on Baseball-Reference. Obviously, since weight changes over time, these figures are not going to be strictly accurate for any given year. In addition, the listed weights are likely a bit lower than players’ actual weights in some cases, particularly when a team wanted to make a player seem a bit less fat than he actually was. At any rate, the listed weights give us a ballpark figure. Any player listed below was certainly quite heavy for his era, even if he may not have been quite the heaviest player.

Let’s get to it, starting with the 1876 inaugural season of the National League and running up to the start of World War II:

1876 to 1882

Cap Anson

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, 227 pounds

Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson was not just the heaviest player of the early National League–he was also the game’s first superstar. His feats of hitting prowess are numerous, but perhaps the most astonishing is that he struck out just once in 274 plate appearances in 1878, and just twice in 229 PAs the next season. Even in that era, that is ridiculous.

Anson starred for the Chicago White Stockings and Colts, before the franchise became known as the Cubs. He also managed the franchise during much of this run; Anson led the White Stockings to 5 NL pennants in a 7-year stretch between 1880 and 1886. Unfortunately, Anson was also one of the game’s most vocal racists, several times using his stature to prevent African-American players from suiting up for various professional teams.

1883 to 1890

Dave Orr

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, 250 pounds

“Big Dave” Orr was the heaviest player in 19th-century baseball, but like Anson, he didn’t let his bulk prevent him from being a great hitter. He even led the American Association in triples twice, including a mind-boggling 31 triples in 1886. Granted, the parks (and fielders) of that era were much better-suited to triples than they are today, but no one else hit more than 17 three-baggers that season. Those 31 triples are still the second-most ever in a season. So we can fairly say that despite his size, Big Dave clearly moved pretty well in his prime. Orr was also reportedly a fairly nimble fielder at first base.

Sadly, Orr suffered a stroke a few days after his 31st birthday. The partial paralysis that resulted ended his baseball career at its peak. Had he been able to play a few more seasons, Orr may well have made the Hall of Fame.

1891 to 1894

Cap Anson, 227 pounds

After Orr’s forced retirement, Anson resumed his crown as baseball’s largest player.

1895

Tub Welch

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, 230 pounds

James Thomas “Tub” Welch was a part-time player in 1890 for the Toledo Maumees of the American Association, though that year he was outweighed by Orr. After 4 years outside of the majors, Welch returned in 1895 with the Louisville Colonels, again as a reserve catcher and first baseman. He wasn’t very successful, however, and he never played in the majors again.

1896 to 1897

Cap Anson, 227 pounds

Anson, by this point in his mid-40′s, continued to serve as the Chicago NL franchise’s  manager, regular 1st baseman, and primary attendance draw.  He was just about done as a player though, and after dropping to below-average performance at age 45 in 1897, he finally retired. Anson would be one of the first choices of the “Old-Timer’s Committee,” who inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 1939.

1898 to 1899

Davey Dunkle

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, 220 pounds; tied with Mike Mahoney
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in 1898

Edward Perks Dunkle (I don’t know where the “Davey” came from) had a 7.82 ERA in around 94 innings over these two seasons for the Phillies and the Washington Senators*. In 1898, Dunkle tied for the heaviest player with Mike Mahoney, a first baseman for the St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals) who got 7 PAs and also weighed in at 220 pounds. Dunkle would not play in MLB for the next few seasons, though he would return in 1903.

* That Senators franchise played in the NL and is unrelated to either of the AL Senators franchises (now the Twins and Rangers). The franchise folded after going 54-98 in 1899, Dunkle’s only year with the team.

1900

Wilbert Robinson

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, 215 pounds

Wilbert Robinson, or “Uncle Robbie” as he was known, was not a great player. He did have a 17-year career as a catcher, though. He retired after the 1902 season.

Robinson is best known for winning nearly 1400 games as the manager of the Brooklyn Robins from 1914 to 1931. In fact, the team name “Robins” during those years came from his last name. Before he managed the team, it was mostly known as the Brooklyn Superbas. After Robinson stopped managing the team, the franchise switched to the name “Dodgers,” a name it has kept ever since. Robinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager in 1949. Though he was only 1 game above .500 in his career, he did lead the team to two NL pennants.

1901

Larry McLean

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, 228 pounds

John Bannerman McLean (again, I have no idea where the “Larry” originated) debuted as a 19-year-old first baseman in 1901. He probably wasn’t as heavy as his listed weight yet, but who can say? McLean had just a .474 OPS in 19 PAs that year. He didn’t play in MLB in 1902, though he would go on to have a long career.

1902 to 1903

Ed Walker

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, 242 pounds

Walker, a 6’5″ left-handed pitcher, was born in England. His entire career consists of 4 starts in these two seasons, all with the Cleveland AL franchise, which known as the “Bronchos” in 1902 and the “Naps” (after star player Nap Lajoie

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) from 1903 to 1914. The franchise would finally settle on the “Indians” moniker in 1915. Walker ended his career with a 4.50 ERA in 20 innings.

1904

Larry McLean, 228 pounds

McLean, now a catcher, had just a .419 OPS in 88 PAs for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals were already the 3rd franchise of his young career (he was still just 22). He wouldn’t play in the big leagues in 1905, though he would return in 1906 for the Reds and play 10 seasons after that.

1905

Simmy Murch

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, 220 pounds

McLean’s absence in the 1905 season created a large gap, into which Simeon Augustus “Simmy” Murch stepped. Despite his bulk, Murch was nominally a second baseman. He got just 10 PAs in 1905. Over parts of 3 MLB seasons, he hit .141 / .164  / .169, which is… not so good, even for a deadball-era 2nd baseman.

1906

Hack Schumann

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, 230 pounds

Charles J. “Hack” Schumann appeared in just 4 games in his career, all as a pitcher for the 1906 Philadelphia A’s. He gave up 13 runs (8 earned) in 18 innings.

1907 to 1908

Larry McLean, 228 pounds

Now in the majors to stay, McLean served a couple more years as the heaviest player.

1909 to 1912

Jim Scott

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, 235 pounds

Scott was nicknamed “Death Valley” because he arrived in Chicago (to play for the White Sox) at the same time as an infamous real-estate con man known as Death Valley Scott. He was also born in the infamous town of Deadwood, South Dakota. Over these four seasons, Scott served as both a starter and a reliever for the White Sox, putting up a cumulative 2.36 ERA (though that was only 14% better than the league average during those years). We’ll hear from him again shortly.

1913

Bill Hall

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, 250 pounds

William Bernard “Beanie” Hall briefly usurped Scott’s title in 1913. He pitched 3 games in relief for the Brooklyn Superbas; they would be the only games of his career.

1914 to 1917

Jim Scott, 235 pounds

Scott returns to “heaviest player” status for his final 4 seasons. He led the AL in shutouts in 1915, with 7, and pitched on the World Championship 1917 White Sox team, the franchise’s last title winners until 2005.

1918

Garland Buckeye

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, 255 pounds

The heaviest player in MLB history to that point, Buckeye (nicknamed “Gob”) debuted as a 20-year-old in 1918. He pitched in just 1 game that season, allowing 4 runs in 2 innings. Buckeye wouldn’t pitch in the majors again until 1925, but he had a really good reason: he was playing in the NFL. Buckeye was a right guard, mostly for the Chicago Cardinals, from 1920 to 1924. After returning to baseball in 1925, Buckeye would again be the heaviest player… though he would have some weighty competition.

1919

Ernie Shore

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and Dave Davenport
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, 220 pounds each

Ernie Shore by this point was at the tail end of his pretty good career. He had earlier been a teammate of Babe Ruth

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‘s on the Red Sox, and he would be again the following season, after the Yankees traded for Ruth. Shore had had a 2.12 ERA (128 ERA+) in 4 very good seasons with Boston, but he would post just a 4.39 ERA (78 ERA+) for the Yankees in his last 2 seasons.

Davenport was also at the tail end of a short but pretty good career. He spent 1919 with the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles), putting up a 3.94 ERA (84 ERA+) as a fill-in starter and part-time reliever. It would be his last season. Like Shore, he was just 29 when he washed out of the majors.

1920

Hack Eibel

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and Shore, 220 pounds each

Henry Hack Eibel was a two-way player (outfielder and pitcher) in the mold of Babe Ruth. Only he wasn’t nearly as good as Ruth at either of those professions. In 1920, his only year in the majors other than a 3-PA cup of coffee in 1912, Eibel posted a .472 OPS in 47 PAs as a hitter and pitched 3 games in relief for the Red Sox. His ERA was a respectable 3.48, but that was just in 10 innings. He’d never appear in the majors again.

1921

Babe Ruth, Hippo Vaughn

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, and Baby Doll Jacobson
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, 215 pounds each

There’s a weird gap in 1921 with the previous generation’s beefy players now retired and the next generation’s not yet established. That allowed these 3 players to sneak in at a relatively svelte 215 pounds (though I’d guess Ruth weighed considerably more than that later in his career).

James Leslie “Hippo” Vaughn was a former star pitcher now at the end of the line. He posted a 6.01 ERA in 1921, his last in MLB, but he had a very good 13-year career. His best year came in 1918 for the Cubs, when he posted a 1.74 ERA, 8 shutouts, 290.1 innings pitched, and 148 strikeouts, all league-best totals. (Yeah, 148 Ks led the NL that year. It was a different time.)

William Chester “Baby Doll” Jacobson was a center fielder for many years in the ’10s and ’20s.  He put up his best numbers for the St. Louis Browns. From 1920 to 1921, he hit .353 / .400 / .494 and played good defense in CF.

Ruth you know about, obviously. I’m happy that he snuck his way onto this list, as he was the definitive hefty player in baseball’s pre-integration era. Even if he wasn’t quite the heaviest in most years.

1922 to 1924

Slim McGrew

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, 235 pounds; tied with Jumbo Elliot
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in 1923

Walter Howard McGrew, ironically named “Slim,” pitched for the Washington Senators* in these 3 seasons, the only 3 of his career. He didn’t have much success, finishing with a career ERA of 6.60 in 10 games and 30 innings.

* The franchise that is now the Twins.

McGrew shares the title in 1923 with the non-ironically nicknamed Jumbo Elliot (real name: James Thomas). Elliot appeared in just 1 game that year, pitching 1 inning. He would go on to a pretty good career, but he wouldn’t establish himself in MLB until 1927.

1925 to 1928

Buckeye, 255 pounds; tied with Jumbo Brown

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in 1925, 1927, and 1928

After returning to the NFL, Buckeye was the heaviest MLB player for his final 4 seasons–though another, less prominent player would tie him for the title in 3 of those 4 years. From ’25 to ’27, Buckeye pitched over 500 innings for the Indians with a 3.59 ERA, which in that offense-friendly age was good for a 118 ERA+. He fell apart in 1928, however, pitching just 35 poor innings for Cleveland before being shipped off to the Giants. After just one (disastrous) game in New York, he was out of baseball. He was only 30, but at his size and with the years of beatings he must have taken on the gridiron, it’s understandable that he would decline.

In 1925, an 18 year old pitcher named Walter George Brown debuted for the Cubs. He would later be named Jumbo, which is fitting, since his 255-pound weight tied Buckeye for the highest of any MLB player to that point. He appeared in just 2 games that year, and not at all in 1926. Jumbo Brown returned to MLB in 1927 and 1928, where he was teammates with Buckeye on the Indians. He would then spend another 3 seasons in the minors before resurfacing. There’ll be more on him when we get to those years.

1929 to 1931

Shanty Hogan

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, 240 pounds

James Francis “Shanty”* Hogan took over the heaviest player duties while Jumbo Brown was on hiatus. Hogan, a catcher, was coming off his best season in 1928, in which he received a few MVP votes. He wasn’t quite as good during his 3-year stretch as the heaviest player, but he did have two years with a 115 OPS+ in 1930 and ’31 for the Giants. He too was (briefly) a teammate of Garland Buckeye during the last game of the latter’s career.

* How great are all these nicknames?

1932 to 1933

Jumbo Brown, 255 pounds

Brown returned to the majors, this time with the Yankees, and while he got to pitch a bit more than in his previous MLB stints, the results were not too pretty: a 4.93 ERA (82 ERA+) in almost 130 innings. Brown would again (for the third time!) be sent back to the minors, where he spent the entire 1934 season before returning once more.

1934

Shanty Hogan, 240 pounds

Hogan was still hanging around (and would until 1937), but by this point his offense was suffering. He followed up a 74 OPS+ campaign in 1933 with a not-much-better 81 OPS+ in 1934, both with the Boston Braves.

1935 to 1941

Jumbo Brown, 255 pounds

Over this stretch, which covers the last years of Brown’s career, he played for three teams: the Yankees, the Reds (very briefly), and the Giants. It was with the Giants that he found his greatest success. They used him exclusively in relief, and were rewarded with a 2.93 ERA (132 ERA+) in 267 innings across 4+ seasons with the team. He also recorded 27 saves in his time with the Giants; though saves were not an official statistic at that point, his totals led the NL in both 1940 (7) and 1941 (8). Though he was pretty good in 1941, it would be his last season in baseball. I don’t know why, but I would presume that a health issue (either an injury or something related to his weight) contributed to his career ending after a good season.

Overall, in MLB’s first 65 years, 23 players held the title of “heaviest player.” They included two Jumboes, two Hacks, a Hippo, a Simmy, a Slim, a Babe, a Baby Doll, a Shanty, and a Tub. They don’t make baseball names like that anymore, sadly.

The longest-tenured heaviest players so far are Cap Anson (13 seasons over 3 stints) and Jumbo Brown (12 seasons over 3 stints). Next are Dave Orr (8 seasons) and Jim Scott (8 seasons over 2 stints). Larry McLean served 3 stints as heaviest player, though that amounted to a total of just 4 years.

The heaviest players before World War II were 255 pounds: Garland Buckeye and Jumbo Brown. Three other players tipped the scales at 250 pounds: Dave Orr, Bill Hall, and Johnny Hutchings

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. Hutchings hadn’t yet led the league in weight by 1941, he will feature prominently in Part 2 of this post.

That’s all for Part 1. We’ll cover the heaviest players of the modern era in Part 2, hopefully later this week.

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4 Responses to The Heaviest MLB Players Over Time, Part 1: 1876-1941

  1. Diane
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    says:

    Wow! Nice research. Well done!

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  2. The Heaviest MLB Players Over Time, Part 2: 1942-2011 | JunkStats
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    says:

    [...] The Heaviest MLB Players Over Time, Part 1: 1876-1941 [...]

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  3. Burly
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    says:

    My 1993 Baseball Encyclopedia lists Jumbo Brown at a cool 295 lbs. Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract lists the heaviest player of each decade. He suggests that Jumbo Brown was the heaviest player ever as of the 1988 edition, although he also notes that Dick Radatz was “close to 300″ by the end of his playing days. Cecil Fielder must have been close to 300 at his heaviest, and it’s probably only a matter of time before his son gets there too.

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  4. The Heaviest MLB Players Over Time, Part 2: 1942-2011 | JunkStats
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    says:

    [...] The Heaviest MLB Players Over Time, Part 1: 1876-1941 The 2nd Annual Cheapie Awards: The Easiest Saves of 2011 [...]

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