We take a quick break from our season preview articles to explore something completely unrelated: the height of the members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and how that height has changed over time. According to this article in Scientific American, the average human has grown 4 inches taller than they did 150 years ago. Since 150 years ago is roughly the same time we have information on height in Major League Baseball (though that information is far from complete until well into the 20th century), we can compare the two numbers.
First, just taking the members of the Hall of Fame were inducted as players (excluding those who were inducted as managers, pioneers, umpires, etc. even if they also played), we get the following graph:
As you can see, there are relative few outliers in the group. Of the four labeled outliers, Johnny Evers and Willie Keeler are older players, and Frank Thomas and Randy Johnson are very recent players. Louis Santop was a turn of the 20th century Negro League catcher who was large before his time. If you’re wondering, Babe Ruth is in the big blog near the upper right. Since he was more commonly filmed for popularity and technology issues very late in his career, a common belief was that he was the Pablo Sandoval of his time (Yes, Pablo would be far to the right of this line at 5’11” and 255 lbs.). However, for most of his career Babe was a muscular and fit right fielder who could run. You can also see a kind of baseline using the trendline to judge your own height and weight, or a favorite player. Below and to the right of the line, you or that player could stand to lose a few pounds. Above and to the left of the line, and you or they could pack on some muscle.
How have the heights changed over time?
As it is labeled, this chart doesn’t measure Hall of Famers by their year of induction, but by the date 20 years after their birth. As mentioned earlier, the average human is 4 inches taller than 150 years ago. According to this data, we might expect the average Hall of Famers in 1860 (if a great enough number existed) to have been about 68 inches tall, or 5’8″. The average current 20 year-old future Hall of Famer now is around 74 inches, or 6’2″. The Scientific American article lists the most significant cause of this growth to be from increased childhood vitamin consumption. We might guess that the extra two inches the Baseball Hall of Famer is from not only improved nutrition, but by drawing from a larger international pool than 150 years ago.
With the exception of sports like auto and horse racing, in which size is a disadvantage by making the car or horse/rider combo heavier, all sports see size as a significant advantage. All sports are getting taller, and the days of exceptional play from people like Jose Altuve (5’6″, 165 lbs.) may become more rare in the future.