May 9, 2003

A Game Of Inches (and Pounds)
by Steve Lombardi

Topical baseball conventional wisdom includes the theory that today's players are extremely bigger than players in the past.  But, is it true?  By use of the naked eye, and personal memory, as well as commercial video tape (such as games broadcast on ESPN Classic), most would say "yes."  However, in order to take the analysis one step further, it was decided to look at the numbers.

At NetShrine, the baseball timeline is broken into seven distinct eras.  For the purpose of this exercise, batters and pitchers were examined in each era.  Specifically, batters who appeared in 1,000 or more games in each era were chosen for the study.  For pitchers, for all eras except the Long Ball Era, those appearing in 300 or more games in an era where chosen to be included.  For pitchers from the Long Ball Era, the cutoff of 200+ games was used in order to get a fair mix of starters and relievers (as the era is yet only 9 years old).  Data of reported heights and weights for each player were recorded, summed, and then averaged for each era (by batters and pitchers each).  

This raw data is available in a collective spreadsheet for those wishing to witness the nuts and bolts of the project.  The chart below summarizes the findings by era:

  Batters Pitchers
Era Height (Inches) Weight (Pounds) Height (Inches) Weight (Pounds)
19th Century  (1876-1900) 69.6 172.7 70.1 173.8
Dead Ball  (1901-1919) 70.0 171.5 72.2 188.4
Lively Ball  (1920-1941) 70.8 175.2 72.1 183.7
Integration  (1942-1960) 71.7 182.4 72.5 183.5
Expansion  (1961-1976) 72.1 181.7 73.6 189.0
Free Agency  (1977-1993) 72.6 183.6 74.4 192.8
Long Ball  (1994-2002) 72.9 186.1 74.1 194.7

It is interesting that batters today (from the Long Ball Era), on average, are only 1.2 inches taller and 3.7 pounds heavier than batters from 1942-1960 (the Integration Era), on average.

Similarly, pitchers today (again, from the Long Ball Era), on average, are only 1.6 inches taller than pitchers from 1942-1960 (the Integration Era), on average - although they are 11.2 pounds heavier these days.  But, if you look at pitchers, on average, from 1961-1976 (the Expansion Era) and compare them to pitchers of today, present day hurlers are only (on average) one-half inch taller and 5.7 pounds heavier than those from over a quarter century ago.

Granted, there are some big players of recent note.  Such as Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas, Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Jeff Nelson (for example).  And, perhaps each time we see one of them, their size is projected out to be representative of all in the current era.  However, as the numbers suggest, perhaps this is an incorrect assumption.

In summary, if you look at those who played most often in their respective era, and averaged their (again, reported) heights are weights by era, it does not support the theory that today's players are "much bigger" than those 40 to 60 years ago.

It is significant to note that this is a study solely of mass and not strength.  We are merely looking at the size of the box, not its contents.  Perhaps players today are "stronger" - but, at best, they are just a tad bigger.  Even if you want to go back over 100 years, players today are about 3.5 inches and 17 pounds greater than those who played in the 1800's. Not exactly the "Andre the Giant" and "Mini-Me" comparison that many chose to claim.

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