How high Altuve ultimately ranks on the list of best seasons by a short guy (let’s call it listed at 5’8” or shorter) won’t be known for another six weeks or so, but it seems a certainty that he’ll place near the top:
6) Willie Keeler, 1897, listed at 5’4”
At five-foot-nuthin, a hundred-and-nuthin, Wee Willie was smaller than a ball boy. The greatest contact hitter who ever lived (his five strikeouts in 618 PA isn’t even a career best; in 1899 he whiffed but twice over the course of 633 PA), Keeler lashed 239 hits for an absurd .424 avg. It was obviously a very different game, but relative to his time, Wheeler was an excellent player.
5) Hack Wilson, 1930, listed at 5’6”
As wide as he was tall, Wilson was not a small man (he approached 200 lbs). Wilson in 1930 sets the single-season RBI record with 191, and the NL home run record (56), which would stand for 68 years. It’s a fine season (7.4 WAR), but feel free to attach an imaginary asterisk: National League teams scored 5.7 runs per game in 1930 – the highest scoring season on record (for context, NL teams are averaging 4.4 R/G this season). How crazy was 1930? In a league where 63 men qualified for the batting title, 17 of them drove in 100 or more runs. Wilson was helped enormously by his home park: In 78 games at Wrigley, Hack hacked .388/.501/.796, with 33 HR and 116 RBI.
4) Kirby Puckett, 1988, listed at 5’8”
Puckett is listed at 5’8”, but… no. A line-drive machine, his best season was probably 1988 (7.7 WAR), when he batted .356/.375/.545, with 234 H/24 HR/121 RBI. Puckett never took a walk and was a “meh” baserunner, lowering his overall offensive value. But, as Bill James once wrote, .350 is .350.
3) Yogi Berra, 1956, listed at 5’7”
Berra’s post-baseball persona as a diminutive, cuddly fount of absurdist Zen koans bears no resemblance to the man in his playing days. He was revered by the writers (and his teammates) for his toughness, intelligence, and leadership on the field, and he dominated the MVP vote during his prime. His year-by-year MVP finishes, 1950-1956: Third, first, fourth, second, first, first, second. His 1956 line (.298/.378/.534, with 30 HR/105 RBI) slots in nicely with half a dozen other seasons, but gets the mention here because he set career highs in WAR (6.3) and OPS+ (142). WAR may not love catchers, but this blog does (and this blog loves Yogi, as any person with a beating heart must).
2) Bobby Shantz, 1952, listed at 5’6”
‘The Tiny Titan.’ ‘The Little Lefty.’ ‘The Magnificent Midget.’ ‘The Wee Wizard.’ Nicknames were a little less enlightened in Shantz’ day. But you get it: Shantz was a small guy (about 140 lbs., give or take lunch). He pitched like a titan in 1952: In addition to leading the league in pitcher WAR (9.1) wins (24), WHIP, and K/BB ratio, Shantz placed in the top-five in just about every other meaningful pitching category. He won 24 games for a fourth-place Philadelphia Athletics team that went a dreary 79-75 (and they weren’t as good as their record suggests; the Athletics went 54 – 67 in games Shantz didn’t start).
1) Joe Morgan, 1976, listed at 5’7”
Morgan stands, um, head and shoulders above the other players on this list in terms of career value. He’d own the top three spots on this list if we included multiple seasons. He’s not just the best short player ever, he’s one of the best 50 or so players of all time. Morgan averaged 9.5 WAR/Season during his 1972-1975 peak, so choosing his best year is no easy task. WAR rates his 1975 season as his best (10.9), but we’ll go with 1976 and his .320/.444/.576/186 OPS+ batting line, which includes 27 HR/111 RBI/114 BB/60 SB.
Photo: Keith Allison / CC BY
All statistics provided by Baseball-Reference.com.