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The Heaviest MLB Players Over Time, Part 1: 1876-1941 The 2nd Annual Cheapie Awards: The Easiest Saves of 2011
In the last post
Just to recap, I’m using each player’s listed weight from Baseball-Reference. Their actual weights would have of course varied over time, but there’s no way to keep up with that data, so I’m using the listed weights as baselines. This should give us a pretty good idea of the heaviest players, at any rate.
Okay, on to the heaviest players.
Hutchings pitched 65.2 innings for the Boston Braves in 1942, mostly in relief. He had a 4.39 ERA, which doesn’t sound too bad, but thanks to a pitching-heavy era and his very pitcher-friendly home ballpark (Braves Field), that only amounted to a 72 ERA+. He spent 1943 in the minors before returning to MLB in 1944.
With major league talent thinned out* as a result of World War II, Lombardi (a future Hall of Famer) was one of the brightest remaining stars. Though he was 35 in 1943, Lombardi posted a 124 OPS+, which is particularly good for a catcher. The previous year, as Hutchings’ teammate on the Braves, Lombardi won a batting title. By 1943, though, he had moved on to the Giants, where he spent the rest of his career.
* See what I did there?
Johnny Hutchings, 250 pounds
Hutchings made it back to the big club in 1944, although he spent part of that year (and most of 1946) in the minors. In his only full season, 1945, Hutchings allowed an MLB-worst 21 home runs. His numbers overall were not bad, despite the homers; his ERA+ that year was 103. After appearing in just one MLB game in 1946, Hutchings would never make it back to the majors.
Ernie Lombardi, 230 pounds
This was the last season of Lombardi’s long career. He hit okay (100 OPS+) but barely managed 100 plate appearances.
1948 was the first full season of Big Klu’s career. He only showed brief glimpses of his future 40-homer power, hitting just 12 bombs in almost 400 PAs. It would take him a while to get going, but once he did, he was a great hitter. From 1953 to 1956, Kluszewski hit 171 homers (about 43 per year) and had a 148 OPS+. He tailed off quickly after that, but he’s still a Reds legend.
1949 to 1954
With baseball finally integrated, the doors were open to many great Negro League talents. Luscious* Luke Easter was 33 by the time he debuted in the majors, but he was still an impressive player. Known for his prodigious power, Easter smacked 86 homers in his only 3 full years in MLB, from 1950 to 1952. It’s a real shame that he didn’t get a chance to compete in MLB sooner. In addition to his great power (and outsized personality), Easter would have been the heaviest MLBer in 1943, 1947, and 1948 if he had been allowed to play.
* That’s not a nickname. His first name was apparently actually Luscious.
Martin appeared in just 7 games in his major league career, all in 1955 for the Pirates. He pitched 7 innings, giving up 12 runs on 13 hits and 17 walks. He was mainly notable for his great height (he was 6’6″).
Martin was clearly not ready for the majors, but the Pirates were required to carry him on the MLB roster thanks to the “Bonus Rule
Jackson was a backup 1st baseman over 7 seasons, mostly for the White Sox. He never came to the plate more than 167 times in a year, and he probably had his best season in his first year (when he was just 20). Jackson, like Martin, was a “Bonus Baby.” He was also 6’7″ tall, which was huge by the standards of the day, but he was not as tall as…
Gene Conley, who was 6’8″. Conley was a pitcher for 11 seasons in MLB… and also a center/forward for 6 seasons in the NBA. He was fairly successful in both sports, too. After being signed by both the Boston Braves and the Boston Celtics out of college, he played sparingly for both teams during 1952 and 1953. He must have decided to dedicate himself to baseball at that point, because he didn’t play in the NBA again until the ’58-’59 season.
In 1954, Conley put up a fantastic rookie season for the Braves (now in Milwaukee). He pitched almost 200 innings with a sub-3 ERA (127 ERA+), made the All-Star Team, and finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting. Guess who finished 4th that year, getting one fewer vote than Conley? Conley’s teammate Hank Aaron
By 1958, Conley was back in the NBA. He won 3 straight titles as a key reserve for the great Celtics teams of the late ’50s and early ’60s, where he backed up the legendary Bill Russell
Jay was yet another Bonus Baby, but he was much younger than the others mentioned. He debuted in MLB at 17 in 1953, served his required 2 years as a sparsely used reliever, and then went to the minors for all of 1956. In 1957, he made a cameo for 1 game, retiring the only 2 batters he faced. That was good enough to make him the heaviest player in the league that year.
After 1957, Jay established himself as a decent pitcher for the Braves. From 1958 to 1966, he pitched nearly 1500 innings with a league average 100 ERA+ for the Braves and Reds. In 1961, his first year for the Reds, he made the All-Star team and led the league in shutouts (with 4). Jay was actually just as good the next year, too, though he wasn’t an All-Star.
1958 to 1973
Howard, nicknamed “Hondo,” was easily the heaviest player in MLB for his entire 16-season career. 6’7″ and 255 pounds, he somehow still managed to roam the outfield for most of his career… though he was terrible there (-110 fielding runs for his career). He made up for his defensive ineptitude with tremendous power (382 career home runs). Basically, Howard was the proto-Adam Dunn
Howard played his first 7 seasons with the Dodgers, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1960, his first full year. But he had his best years after he was traded to the Senators (in a deal that sent Claude Osteen
Howard made 4 All-Star Teams from 1968 to 1971 but quickly dropped off afterward. He was 35 when he followed the Senators to Texas, where they became the Rangers. In August of ’72, the Rangers sold him to the Tigers, where he served as a part-time DH for the 1973 season, his last. He still hit decently in his last years (115 OPS+ in ’73, for instance) but with no defensive value, it’s understandable that he wasn’t able to keep playing.
Howard’s career was not Hall of Fame worthy, but he is still one of the most memorable players in the history of the Rangers franchise. Plus, his 3-true-outcome hitting style foreshadowed the developments of the 1990s.
1974 to 1981
Jim Bibby got a late start in the majors; he didn’t debut until he was 27, in 1972. Soon after he was drafted, he missed the entire 1966 and ’67 seasons while serving as a truck driver in Vietnam. A year after making the majors, Bibby threw a no-hitter for the Rangers, striking out 13 (but walking 6) against the powerhouse Oakland A’s. In 1974, his first year as the heaviest player in MLB, Bibby made a Rangers franchise record 41 starts as the team surprised many people by finishing 2nd in the AL West. He had just a 4.74 ERA, however.
Bibby was traded to the Indians in 1975 (Gaylord Perry
Oh, and Jim Bibby is the brother of Henry Bibby (an NBA player and coach), and the uncle of current Knicks guard Mike Bibby.
The others who tied with Bibby were less notable players, so I’ll run through them quickly. Pete Varney was a catcher and former 1st-overall pick in the draft. He played parts of 4 seasons, mostly for the White Sox. Dave Lemanczyk
Wever was born in Germany. He appeared in only 1 game in his career, giving up 9 runs (8 earned) and throwing 3 wild pitches in 2.2 IP.
1983 to 1984
Okay, so this is a bunch of pitchers who had long but unremarkable careers. Cox pitched 11 seasons, mostly as a starter, with a career ERA+ of 104; 1983 was his rookie year. Dawley was a reliever for 7 years; he made an All-Star Team in 1983, also his rookie year, in which he served as the Astros’ main closer. Dawley was great in 1984, posting an ERA under 2 in 60 innings. He finished with a 110 career ERA+. Nuñez pitched 13 seasons, nearly exclusively in relief, and finished with a 99 ERA+; he was the Mariners’ closer in 1985 at the ripe age of 22. Finally, Robinson pitched 9 seasons, both starting and relieving, for the Reds and Brewers. His career ERA+ was 107.
1985 to 1987
I’m sure you are all aware of the charming baseball career (and post-baseball career) of Jose Canseco. In 1986, he won the Rookie of the Year award and made the All-Star Team thanks to his 33 homers, which was a lot at the time. I don’t know if he was on steroids quite yet, but he was certainly a pioneer in that area over the course of his career.
Birtsas burst onto the scene at the same time as Canseco, and on the same team (the A’s). He started 25 games for the A’s in 1985, posting a respectable 4.01 ERA despite control problems (he walked 91 and struck out 94). In ’86, he pitched just 2 innings, walking 4 and giving up 5 runs. He spent 1987 in the minors before being traded to the Reds (along with Jose RijoDave Parker
1988 to 1989
Meyer was a part-time DH for the Brewers in these 2 seasons, his only time in MLB. His career OPS+ was just 99, which was not enough to make up for his lack of position.
Rich “El Guapo” Garces was just 19 when he debuted for the Twins in 1990. He pitched in 5 games out of the bullpen that year but would appear in just 3 games over the next 4 seasons, all in 1992. He would eventually find his way to the Red Sox, where he pitched for 7 seasons, posting a 129 ERA+ in 261 appearances from 1996 to 2002.
Malone, like several other players in this timeline, was a reliever who had major control issues. He appeared in just 7 games in his career, all for the Phillies in 1990. Malone struck out 7 but walked 11 in his 7.1 MLB innings.
1991 to 1995
It’s hard to imagine now, with Thome’s weight undoubtedly much higher than 250, but Thome was a third baseman until 1997. His breakout year came in 1995, when he hit .314 / .438 / .558 as the Indians made the World Series. His probable-Hall-of-Fame career will continue at least until 2012. I know most baseball fans are glad to still have him around.
1996 to 2004
If you want evidence of the impact of body-building on baseball (including, but not limited to, steroids), just look at the explosion of players weighing more than 250 pounds. Before 1996, no player had ever had an official weight above 255 pounds. Only 12 players had weighed in at 250 or more. From 1996 to 2005, however, 21 players debuted with weights of at least 260 pounds; 55 players weighed at least 250 in that time. Oh, and Dmitri Young broke the record for heaviest player in MLB history by a ridiculous 40 pounds.
Young, who is apparently slimmed down and trying to get back into baseball now after 3 seasons outside MLB, was certainly huge. I do question whether he was actually heavier than some of the other players from this era, like Adam Dunn (listed at 285), Jon RauchCC Sabathia
2005 to 2011
Broxton is, to date, MLB’s only player to be officially listed at 300 pounds or more. From 2006 to 2009, Broxton’s weight did not interfere with his performance. He was one of the more dominant closers in MLB for those 4 seasons, with a 2.79 ERA (154 ERA+) and nearly 12 strikeouts per 9 innings. He started to go downhill in 2010, though, and was abysmal this past season. He recently signed a free agent deal with the Royals, so he should be able to extend his reign as heaviest player for at least one more year. He’s still just 27 years old, so all is not lost for him.
It’s fascinating to me how suddenly and how severely the weights (at least, the listed weights) of MLB players exploded in the ’90s. I can’t help but think that, beyond the obvious explanations, there was a loosening of the stigma against fat players. At least, it seems that teams today are much more accepting of high weights than they were previously. Call it one more effect of the Moneyball philosophy.
The longest-tenured heaviest player was Frank Howard (16 seasons). Jim Bibby had the second-most from this era with 10 seasons in 2 stints, though he never held the title outright. Dmitri Young was heaviest for 9 seasons, while Broxton is at 7 seasons and counting.
One other point of note, at least to me: the death of awesome names. Compared to the names from Part 1 of this post, the names here are terribly boring. Nobody has a crazy nickname-turned-official-first-name like “Jumbo.” A few of the modern players have fun, unofficial nicknames, but that’s just not the same.
Thanks for reading, as always. This will likely be my last post for a while, so Happy Holidays to everyone. All I want for Christmas this year is for the Braves to trade Jair JurrjensSeth Smith
Tagged with: Adam Dunn Baseball Santa Bill Dawley CC Sabathia Chuck Malone Danny Cox Dave Frost Dave Lemanczyk Dmitri Young Ed Nuñez Ernie Lombardi Frank Howard Gene Conley Jim Bibby Jim Thome Joey Jay Joey Meyer Johnny Hutchings Jon Rauch Jonathan Broxton Jose Canseco Luke Easter Paul Martin Pete Varney Rich Garces Ron Jackson Ron Robinson Stefan Wever Ted Kluszewski Tim Birtsas
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