Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Ode to the Jolly

By Charles Coughlin

There's nothing quite like a sport where you can be a star as a fat guy. Sure, the NFL has tons of fat guys (see Ted Washington, Sean Rogers, Albert Haynesworth), but nobody pays attention to them. The NFL is run by the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, and Adrian Petersons. Basketball is a little closer. Shaq has blimped up over the years, but he's really just a star based on his pre-fat days (you could make the same argument with a couple NFL examples like Ray Lewis, but there's less of them). Carmelo Anthony has chubbed up a bit, too, but I wouldn't quite put him yet in the category of fat.

Now the MLB on the other hand. There's a league where the fat guys can reign supreme. The MLB proclaims 1869 as its inaugural year, and despite all the cover-ups (see steroids, 1919 World Series), I'm willing to believe them. When a league has been around for 142 years, I don't expect to know all the players well enough to come up with any overarching and comprehensive list. I present to you, therefore, the ghosts of fat-MLB past and present (if you have any suggestions for a ghost of fat-MLB future, I'd love to hear it, unless it's your son or the star pitcher on your son's team):

Past: Babe Ruth (a portly 215 lbs.)

The Bambino. The Sultan of Swat. The Babe. Heck, I bet every now and then you could even find someone who called him George. Find me an American who's never heard of Babe Ruth. I dare you. Having been born about 52 years after his retirement, I obviously never got a chance to see the guy play. Nonetheless, his iconic nature continues to live on. Just thinking about this brings to mind the scene from "Sandlot" where the kids are astonished that anybody could have never heard of Babe Ruth.

After thinking of the movie, the next image that comes to mind is just that: an image. I think of a picture of Babe Ruth. He sure looks like a happy, jolly guy. Legend has it that he used to chow down on hot dogs and drink a whole lot of beer, so you can understand why he was so happy. Along with his excellent diet and reputation, he also happened to have pretty good statistics.

In 1916, Babe Ruth won 23 games, had a save, an ERA of 1.75, and a WHIP of 1.08. These were no one-year wonder stats, either. In the three-year span of 1915 through 1917, he won a total of 65 games (averaging over 20 a season) and carried ERAs of 2.44, 1.75, and 2.01 and WHIPs of 1.15, 1.08, and 1.05. In 1916, Babe Ruth pitched Game 2 of the World Series and did pretty well, too. He pitched a complete game shutout. Oh, and by the way, the game went 13 innings! This would start a consecutive scoreless innings streak that would reach 29 in 1918. I'm sure you're convinced now that Babe Ruth was a pretty good player.

Wait, what's that? You said Babe Ruth was a hitter? Babe Ruth's switch from Boston to New York also meant a change of positions. He finished his career with a whopping .342 career batting average, 714 home runs (and zero lies to grand juries), 2,213 RBIs, and a .474 OBP. In 1927, when Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, nobody else but Lou Gehrig hit more than 30. And you know how every time somebody mentions Roger Maris, somebody else chimes in that other than the year he hit 61, he never even got to 40 in a season? Well, along with the year Babe Ruth hit 60, he had a year with 59 and two years with 54.

So I think we can all agree that Babe Ruth has earned all his nicknames with all those impressive statistics. And yet, when I think of him, that image of the portly, jolly man still stands out in my mind.

Present: C.C. Sabathia (300 lbs.) and Prince Fielder (250 lbs.)

I know what you're thinking, aren't C.C. Sabathia and Prince Fielder actually two separate people? Technically, you'd be right. Nonetheless, they will always be remembered for being what must one of the heaviest teammate duos ever in MLB history. This fact makes them one in my mind.

Carsten Charles Sabathia came up with Cleveland in 2001. He won 17 games in his first season. In 2007, following a spectacular 19-win season in which he (and the then-magical Fausto Carmona, Travis Hafner, and Grady Sizemore) led Cleveland to a seven-game ALCS against Boston, (a truly, truly heartbreaking series, especially when you consider that the Tribe would have rolled right over the Rockies for their first World Series championship since 1948), he won the Cy Young Award.

Despite the short time he spent in Milwaukee, it has to stand out as one of the greatest half-a-seasons I've ever witnessed. In 17 starts, Carsten Charles had seven complete games and went 11-2 with an ERA of 1.65 and a WHIP of 1.00. He also never backed down from a start on three days of rest.

Regardless of these impressive regular season statistics, when the Yankees signed Carsten Charles, I thought they were crazy. Sure, he's a monster in the regular season, but the whole point of being the Yankees is that you build for the playoffs. Playoffs were never the big man's strong point, as he had never really been one to thrive on pressure. The year before in 2008, he put up a goose egg in the win column, an ERA of 12.27, and a WHIP of 2.73. In Cleveland's magical 2007 run, he was 1-2 with an ERA of 8.80 and a WHIP of 2.22. Not great. On top of this, throughout his years in Cleveland, he was terrible every time he pitched in his hometown (Oakland) or on Opening Day. As if the Yankees' regular season doesn't provide enough pressure, their yearly playoff appearances surely would.

Well, lo and behold, Carsten Charles led the Bronx Bombers to a World Series in his first year there. I guess the big man was enough to make up for A-Rod's deficiencies, and it doesn't look like the Yankees are going to consider hiring me for General Manager anymore. Bummer.

Meanwhile, Carsten Charles' teammate for a brief time in Milwaukee, Prince Fielder, is having himself a nice career, as well. Despite a rather large shadow to walk in (figuratively and literally) due to his father being the great Cecil Fielder, the Prince has been carving out quite the identity for himself since debuting with the Brewers in 2005.

Using his powerful frame, the Prince has had seasons with 50 and 46 home runs and a career batting average of .280. Probably more impressive than the raw numbers, he did something nobody thought possible: he made the Brewers relevant.

In 2008, knowing that they finally had a team worth building around, the Brewers made a blockbuster trade for the aforementioned Carsten Charles and pushed their way into the playoffs for the first time since their 1982 World Series loss. Given that the Milwaukee Bucks have always been bottom feeders, from 1982 until 2008 the only professionals Milwaukee had to hang its hat on were Laverne and Shirley working in the brewery (and even that ended in 1983). Besides, we've all had Milwaukee's Best, and if that's the best they've got ... well that's beyond the scope of this article.


And there you have it. If you need any more reasons to thoroughly enjoy the fact that the new MLB season is upon us and in full swing, just read the article again. Because in the end, there's nothing quite like seeing the fat guy be the star.

All right, I'm off to the game, you'll recognize me as the guy in the stands with the hot dog, nachos, cotton candy, and beer ... hey, how else are they going to know that I support them?

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