Are Baseball Players Great Athletes?
If I asked you to physically describe a basketball player an image of a Lebron James type athlete (tall, lean, explosive, graceful) would likely spring to the forefront of your imagination. A football player (strong, agile, powerful, mean) in the image of Ndamukong Suh may be a natural thought. But if I were to ask you to describe the typical baseball player you may have to pause and chew on that one for a bit. Baseball players are often assessed for technical skills such as hitting, throwing, pitching, fielding while not as much is made of their raw physical abilities such as strength, speed and agility.
If you look back on many of the all time greats they are well… by appearance anyway quite average.
I recall 3 recent inductees into the Baseball Hall-Of-Fame, all pitchers in addition to the best hitter of the 1990’s as examples of the diverse nature of baseball body types.
Tom Glavine won 305 games in a 22-season career. Glavine stood 6 feet tall and weighed in at 170 pounds. The NHL also drafted Glavine but he chooses to play baseball instead.
Greg Maddux won 355 games (8TH all time) and was generously listed at 6 feet and 170 pounds. Maddux more closely resembled a high school teacher than a pro athlete. Some teams were unimpressed by Maddux's skinny build, but Chicago Cubs scout Doug Mapson saw past the physique. Mapson wrote a glowing review that read in part, "I really believe this boy would be the number one player in the country if only he looked a bit more physical."*Maddux won a baseball record 18 gold gloves and was praised for his pitching mechanics and his ability to consistently repeat his delivery; both are hallmarks of an outstanding athlete.
John Smoltz in 2002, set a NL record with 55 saves, and became only the second pitcher in history (joining Dennis Eckersley) to record both a 20-win season and a 50-save season. He is the only pitcher in major league history to record both 200 wins and 150 saves. * Smoltz was built more along the lines of what you would expect from an athlete at 6 foot 3 and 210 pounds. **
John Smoltz was an All-State baseball and basketball player at Waverly High School in Lansing, Michigan and Tiger Woods has stated that Smoltz is the best golfer outside of the PGA Tour that he has observed.
And finally my all-time favorite hitter Tony Gwynn (15 time All-Star and 8-time National League batting champion), gained so much weight at the end of his career you would never have guessed that he was a pro athlete. He did not play baseball his first year at San Diego State in order to concentrate on basketball. He joined the Aztecs baseball team only after a former high school teammate convinced the baseball coach to give Gwynn a chance to compete. Gwynn became a two-sport star, playing three seasons of baseball and four of basketball.
Gwynn is the only player in Western Athletic Conference (WAC) history to earn all-conference honors in two sports. Gwynn said playing point guard helped to develop his baseball skills, as the dribbling strengthened his wrists—avoiding what he called "slow bat syndrome"—and his quickness improved his base running. He could dunk a basketball, and he was able to run 60 yards (55 m) in 6.7 seconds; he had a quick first step in either sport. ***
The message should be clear, it doesn’t matter if you posses the prototypical “baseball” body. A young athlete should never feel discouraged nor should talent evaluators overlook them if they don’t fit some generic model of what an athlete is supposed to look like. It’s more important to scout an athlete’s background… What were they exposed to at a young age, did they play other sports… And within the sport of baseball did they play multiple positions? These 4 Hall of Famers are proof that athleticism clearly comes first and it’s because of that they were able to become elite baseball players.
Smoltz address early specialization and overuse injury in youth baseball:
Imagine how important John Smoltz thinks this is if he included it in the limited amount of time available to him at Hall of Fame induction:
“Before I hand it over to the next inductee, I’d be remiss if I did not talk about Tommy John. I’ve been given an opportunity as one of the only players, the only one right now, to be inducted into the Hall of Fame with Tommy John surgery. It’s an epidemic. It’s something that is affecting our game. It’s something that I thought would cost me my career, but thanks to Dr. James Andrews and all those before him, performing the surgery with such precision has caused it to be almost a false read, like a Band-Aid you put on your arm.
I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old, that you have time, that baseball’s not a year-round sport, that you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports.
Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses (tell you) that this is the way. We have such great, dynamic arms in our game that it’s a shame that we’re having one and two and three Tommy John recipients. So I want to encourage you if nothing else, know that your children’s passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don’t go outside; they don’t have fun; they don’t throw enough. But they’re competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that’s why we’re having these problems. So please, take care of those great future arms.”****
Well said from a man who cares deeply about the future of baseball and more importantly he cares about the health and well being of the next generation of athletes at all levels of ability.
For more on John Smoltz’s prowess on the golf course check this out: