Remembering the Shortest MLB Players in History

Michael Claunch

Baseball players need to be fit and athletic to perform their duties well. While body size is comparatively also very important, but not to the same extent as in basketball or football. People of average height are frequently seen at all positions, although the typical player is slightly taller. Height may not be a decisive factor in baseball, but it’s highly correlated with strength (in particular leg strength), which practically means tall players can pitch and hit harder, although they may be at a disadvantage at the plate as their strike zone is wider. The advantage created by height differs from one position to the next, which is why pitchers and first basemen tend to be significantly taller than catchers and shortstops, for example.

There have been quite a few notable players that enjoyed long and prosperous careers while being less than 6 feet tall. In fact, some were far from prototypical dimensions and defied conventions by making it to the big leagues despite a physical disadvantage. This article will provide answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the shortest MLB players.

Who was the shortest player ever to appear in an MLB game?

The shortest player in the history of Major League Baseball was just three feet and seven inches (109 cm), but to be fair, he performed in only one game, and his participation was really just a publicity stunt. Eddie Gaedel appeared for the St. Louis Browns in 1951, batting just once and walking to first base before being subbed out of the game. Gaedel was a surprise addition to the roster just before the game for promotional reasons, and many around the league were unhappy about the whole episode.

If we are considering only players who were put on the field for baseball reasons, then the answer to the question of who is the shortest Major League Baseball player ever is either Stubby Magner or Pompeyo Davalillo, both of whom were 5’3’’ (160 cm) tall and had brief and insignificant careers.

Who was the shortest player to reach the Baseball Hall of Fame?

While the aforementioned players were far from stars, numerous short MLB players enjoyed a high level of success. A perfect example is Willie Keeler, who at 5’4’’ (163 cm), holds the title of the shortest player ever to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played for 19 seasons from 1892 to 1910, appearing for several teams from New York City as well as the Baltimore Orioles.

Despite the diminutive stature, he was one of the most feared hitters of his time and set several hitting records, some of which still stand. His career numbers are impressive, as he holds a career batting average of .341 with 33 home runs and more than 800 runs batted in, as well as nearly 500 stolen bases. Keeler was honored with Hall membership in 1939 and is regularly included on the lists of best players in baseball history. Not bad for a little guy, right?

Who was the shortest pitcher in MLB history?

The physical demands that pitchers face are different from batting players, and it’s harder for a very short person to thrive at this position. Pitchers shorter than 6 feet are uncommon but definitely not unheard of.

The distinction of being the shortest pitcher in MLB history is shared between Lee Vieu, who played for Cincinnati Reds from 1888 to 1892, and Dinty Gearin, who pitched for New York Giants in 1923 and 1924. Both of those players stood a mere 5’4’’, which hasn’t been matched by any pitcher in the post-WWII era.

However, there were several memorable short pitchers in our times as well, none better known than Daniel Herrera. Despite standing at 5 feet 6 inches (168 cm), Herrera pitched a total of 13 games for the Reds, Mets, and Brewers between 2008 and 2011, with 71 strikeouts. Among currently active pitchers, Jason Frasor of the Toronto Blue Jays is the shortest at 5’9’’. 

Who is the shortest player in baseball today?

While baseball players are getting taller on average, there are still numerous players who make up for their lack of length with speed and technique. Probably the most famous active player that fits this description is Jose Altuve, who played with a lot of success for the Houston Astros since 2011.

The right-handed second baseman from Venezuela has batted 0.306 with 188 home runs, 276 stolen bases, and close to 2000 hits over his career, even winning the Golden Glove award in 2015 and the World Series in 2017 and leading the AL in batting three times and in stolen bases twice. He did all this while standing at 5’6’’, which is enough for the title of the shortest MLB player currently in the league. Tony Kemp of Oakland A’s, Terrance Gore of New York Mets, Kolten Wong of Milwaukee Brewers, and several other players measure at 5’7’’ and have quite respectable careers.

How much of a handicap is short stature in baseball?

Taller players can typically generate more speed when throwing and batting, so they have an inherent advantage in baseball. While shorter players tend to be faster, the lack of size can be difficult to compensate for. Pitchers, in particular, benefit from additional height, and very few guys shorter than 6 feet can compete at the highest level.

At the same time, the sustained success of players like Wheeler and Altuve proves that very short players can not only earn a place in the league but also be dominant for a long time. Still, there is not a single player in the modern MLB as short as Wheeler, who played in an era when athleticism and power-hitting were nowhere near today’s level. It will be interesting to see whether another player of this height emerges in the future, but we can safely say that short players will remain an important part of baseball long into the future.

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