Looking Back With Guest Sports Reporter Tim Komer


The Ball Doesn’t Know . . .

Does body style/size matter in sports in general (man or woman)? Dedication in any human endeavor is the bottom line, but sometimes certain physical attributes seem to dominate some sports. No one would deny that height in basketball and size in football are huge factors in one’s potential for success, but not always. Pure grit is always there. Following are some athletes that overcame their lack of height or size to become outstanding in their chosen sport.

Basketball: I always think of basketball’s Muggsy Bogues. He was 5’3” and rose to be a very good player in the NBA. Plus, Muggsy (Tyrone) grew up under very tough circumstances. His heart and his desire to succeed was fueled by a mentor that showed him his small size was, as they say, “just a number”. So even with the average size of NBA players being 6’7”, Muggsy’s mentoring and heart trumped his size.

Golf: Even in golf, the “bigger, stronger” approach is out front, and for good reason. But, it is not always the main determining factor for success. I love the saying, “The golf ball does not care how big you are”. Tad Fujikawa, born in Hawaii, at 5’1” is an active pro that has won six tournaments to date. He overcame being born premature at 1 pound 15 ounces, with many potential health problems. Hard to believe, but at the age of 15, he became the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Open. Again heart trumps size. Did you know that one of the best golfers of all time, Gary Player, is only 5’6”? He certainly played big. Even the almost mythical Bobby Jones was only 5’8”.

Football: Football is, of course, famous for its big and strong players. I remember big Christian Okoye (the Nigerian Nightmare) at 6’1” and 260 pounds running over defenders. Great fun right? But look these guys up: Jack “Soupy” Shapiro (5’1”), Trindon Holliday (5’5”), Darren Sproles (5’6”), Tarik Cohen (5’6”), Maurice Jones-Drew (5’7”). I am sure you remember Barry Sanders (5’8”). How about the 5’9” wide receiver, Steve Smith? The very tough Wes Welker is only 5’9”. The football position that seems to demand height is QB, but we still have Kyler Murray at 5’10” and good ol' Doug Flutie was also 5’10”. Even though being big is a huge advantage in football, heart and dedication are always fighting to be first.

Baseball: Baseball players have gotten ‘bigger and taller’ over the years, but the sport is still open to the small guys. Here are a few: “Wee Willie”, Keeler the 5’4” Hall Of Famer; Freddie Patek, the 5’5” beloved KC Royal; Rabbit Maranville at 5’5” was a shortstop for 23 years with 2,600 career hits; Phil Rizzuto the 5’6” defensive Wizard for the Yankees; Joe Morgan at 5’7” was a HOFer with 10 All-Star selections; Yogi Berra, at 5’7”, was the long-term anchor for the Yankees, and I always liked Kirby Puckett at 5’8”. Our latest, short-but-great is Jose Altuve at 5’6”. In MLB, most are tall, but not all. I always root for the “underdog” or ”outlier”, and sometimes they are undersized.

Soccer: Soccer is still known for its diminutive star players. Many internationals have been 5’1’ to 5’3”. Being tall around the goal can be an advantage, but the very talented small guys are still getting the job done. The famous Maradona was 5’5”. Size in soccer is best summed up with one word, “Messi”. He is 5’6”. When Messi was a boy, because he was so small, a pro club actually paid for his hormone therapy. He showed them all. He is the epitome of SOS (Skill Over Size).

Hockey: The NHL, like football, is a size sport, but the undersized guys, especially goalies, have a role. For example: Brad Marchard 5’9”, Johnny Gaudreau 5’9”, Alex Debrinicat 5’7”, Mats Zuccarello 5’8”, and Nathan Gerbe 5’4”. I am not a real NHL fan, but the three players I do know; Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr, are all 6 foot, (average for the sport).

Other Sports: There are clearly some sports where being small is almost required. Pro Bicycling is a small-person sport. Gymnastics is for small folks. Jockeys are small, of course. Some sports handle size by having multiple weight divisions like boxing and wrestling. Tennis is often for the taller folks, but not always. Do you remember Michael Chang 5’9”, Rod Laver 5’8”, and Diego Schwartzman 5’7”? Even John McEnroe was average at 5’11”. Ten-Pin Bowling has few size restrictions. Dick Weber, his son Pete Weber, Norm Duke, etc were all small men, but great bowlers.

The moral of the story is: Heart and Determination often trumps size. I am 5’11”, but they say I am shrinking, right?

Until next time.