The New York Yankees have a formidable pair of big men — Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge — anchoring the middle of their lineup this year. The thought of the these two behemoths wreaking havoc across baseball made me wonder. Who were the most interesting big and tall players I’ve seen through the years?
That burning question inspired me to put together a list. As you peruse the individuals selected, please remember these are the players I enjoyed most. More than likely, you’d probably have come up with different names.
For just over four years, Richard was among the best pitchers in baseball. Only Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan had more strikeouts than the 6-foot-8 right-hander did between 1976-79. During that span, Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer were the only starters with a better ERA.
In later years, Richard would end up homeless living under an overpass in Houston. Fortunately, the now-68-year-old was able to get off the streets with the help of a ministry he now serves.
The man referred to as “Kong” led National League hitters in strikeouts three times during an era when striking out was far less acceptable than it is now. But the man could hit tape measure bombs.
In 1976, the 6-foot-6 Kingman had 30 homers by the all-star break creating a buzz in New York. Could the Oregon native approach or even break the single season home run record set by Roger Maris in 1961?
The drama didn’t last long. On July 19, Kingman had 32 homers when he injured his thumb diving for a ball. The slugger would miss over a month and only hit five round trippers for the remainder of the season.
In June, the Mets first traded Kingman to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Paul Siebert and their future manager — Bobby Valentine. In early September, the Padres shipped the right-handed hitter to the California Angels. A week later, he returned to New York as a member of the Yankees.
Known for his hefty waistline, high walk rate, and knack for missing bats, Fernandez’s one inning of work during the 1986 All-Star game summarized his career. After walking the first two hitters the southpaw struck out the next three hitters — Brook Jacoby, Hall of Famer Jim Rice, and Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly.
Despite his volatility, Fernandez proved valuable during the 1986 World Series. The native Hawaiian struck out 10 and walked just one hitter during 6.2 innings of work against the Boston Red Sox. In the end, “Big Sid” helped the Mets win their second World Series.
One of my favorite ballpark memories happened during the last weekend of the 1998 season. That’s the year McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing Maris’ single season home run record.
The next night, McGwire hit a long foul ball Shayne Bennett of the Montreal Expos in the bottom of the fifth inning. The 6-foot-5 slugger followed up the long strike with a bomb to deep left field. In the final two games, he’d hit a pair of homers both days to end the season with 70.
I have to admit the experience was emotional for me. Being there to see history with an adoring crowd on hand was moving.
Anyone called “Big Sexy” belongs on my list. The former Cy Young award winner and four-time all-star wasn’t always as large as he is now. But he’s grown into a reputation as a big man after 20 seasons.
For me, Colon’s home run in 2016 and the call of it by Mets’ play-by-play announcer Gary Cohen is my favorite “Bart” moment.
Fielder stood just 5-foot-11 and weighed in at 275 pounds, but he could hit. Between 2007-12, the son of former major leaguer Cecil Fielder slugged more home runs (230) than anyone in baseball. Furthermore, he was second in walks and top-five in OBP.
During his 12-year career, Fielder was a six-time all-star and the winner of three Silver Slugger awards and the 2015 American League Comeback Player of the Year. Moreover, he is a two-time Home Run Derby winner and earned 2011 All-Star game MVP honors.
How about that?
Just like the fictional Saturday Night Live character Bill Brasky, Judge is “a mountain of a man.” In my mind, the most impressive moment of his rookie season came the night he almost hit a ball out of Safeco Field. A feat that’s never happened during game action.
Making the memory of Judge’s monster shot even more cool me was the way he didn’t stop to admire his work. He just put his head down and started running.
Considering his young age (26 in April), Judge will have plenty of opportunities to make Safeco history by literally hitting a ball out of the park. With a little luck, I’ll be there to see it happen.
The first of three Hall of Famers on my list was an amazing athlete. At the University of Minnesota, Winfield was a two-sport player as a member of the Golden Gophers’ baseball and basketball teams.
After college, four teams from three sports drafted Winfield: the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Hawks (NBA), Utah Stars (ABA), and Minnesota Vikings of the NFL even though he didn’t play college football.
While the late George Steinbrenner once referred to Winfield as “Mr. May,” he had a distinguished career thanks to a unique blend of speed and power.
The Minnesota native retired as a member of the 3,000-hit club and the owner of seven Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers. Five years after hanging up his cleats, he’d be a first ballot selection into the Hall of Fame.
The “Big Hurt” began his collegiate career as a football player for the University of Auburn before transitioning to baseball. MLB fans everywhere should rejoice Thomas switched sports
My last entrant measured 6-foot-10 tying for him for the second tallest major leaguer ever behind Jon Rauch, who was an inch taller.
An imposing figure on the mound, Johnson struggled with his control early in his career as a member of the Montreal Expos. After being traded to the Mariners, he finally realized his immense potential after receiving advice from fellow flamethrower Nolan Ryan.
The big southpaw would win four of his five Cy Young awards and a World Series MVP after being traded by Seattle in 1998. But “The Big Unit” will forever be remembered in the Emerald City as arguably the best pitcher in Mariners’ history.
I was living in the Pacific Northwest when Johnson made his dramatic entrance into game five of the 1995 ALCS as a reliever. Having said that, I’ve heard about this moving moment from many Mariners fans, including my wife. In fact, I believe I she described it in great detail during our first date.
The following video is a bit grainy, but I suspect it’ll be good enough to fire up Mariners fans everywhere.
My Oh My…
In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team and is now a contributor at HERO Sports also. During baseball season, he can be often found observing the local team at Safeco Field.
You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins
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