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The tight uniforms of professional baseball players do them no justice. If they carry an extra few pounds, there’s no place to hide it. As rotund players like Bartolo Colon are seen in news images, it’s natural to ask, Why are baseball players fat?
Baseball players are not fat, as a general rule. A vast majority of them are in superb shape, training year-round to prepare for long and grueling seasons with games nearly every day, and also to keep the body in optimal shape to extend careers and collect big paychecks as long as possible. Trust us, letting their bodies fall apart is not high on the priority list for Major League Baseball players.
The challenge is the public’s perception, based on photos, television and video images we see. Some players, most notably pitchers but also some catchers and maybe a first baseman or two, just don’t look good in baseball uniforms. Baseball players wear tight pants and a tucked-in shirts, which often emphasize extra-sized rear ends, or not-so-slim bellies.
Because of this, baseball players can be criticized when compared with athletes in other sports who also wear tight pants, like football. However, professional football players get to hide their physique behind big shoulder pads, other pads elsewhere on the body, and a looser, mostly untucked jersey around the midsection.
Aside from appearance, are there reasons we see seemingly overweight players in baseball? Let’s take a look.
No Baseball Weight Story is Complete Without The Babe
It’s easy to see why people might think baseball players are fat. After all, its best player ever, the legendary Babe Ruth, appeared quite rotund in black-and-white photos from the 1920s and 1930s. However, photos from earlier in his career told another story. Indeed, Ruth over the years got larger, particularly in the mid-section. But was he actually fat?
Some did call him The Big Fella, for good reason. At 6-feet, 2-inches tall and about 200 lbs. early in his career — like when he hit 59 home runs during the 1921 season — Ruth was very large compared with other players at the time.
Later in his long career, by the late 1920s and especially into the 1930s, his waistline did get larger, in part due to his hard-living style off the field. However, the images that many people associate with Babe Ruth came after his playing days, such as in the movie “The Pride of the Yankees,” when he was retired and in his 40s. Who doesn’t gain some weight after they retire?
When you take into account baseball statistics that indicate foot speed, stolen bases and triples, Ruth’s numbers don’t convey a fat guy. He had 110 stolen bases in his career, and perhaps more tellingly, 136 triples — which even today are difficult for batters to achieve. Ruth surpassed double-digit season totals for triples 4 times, with his season high of 16 a total most major leaguers today would be proud of. Triples are gained with full-speed running for 270 feet straight, to beat throws from outfielders. Slow guys get few triples.
Ruth also stole home 10 times in his career. No player even attempts stealing home today no matter how fast they are. Babe Ruth was big, and at times overweight, but it’s hard to say he was “fat.”
What Exactly Does ‘Fat’ Mean?
Without question, MLB players are getting bigger. However, many physical fitness experts will point out that it’s a matter of judging by their weights, which can be misleading because almost all pro sports athletes today are more toned with muscle mass. Modern physical training and fitness techniques, plus more advanced diet regimens, have produced bigger and stronger bodies on athletes.
There is more muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat, boosting the lbs. figures. So … let’s explore what “fat” means.
According to Dictionary.com, “fat” means “having too much flabby tissue; corpulent; obese.” The latter word, obese, is not without controversy. There is a difference between the terms “overweight” and “obese,” and most of us would not meet the standard of our optimum or “healthy weight” according to government standards.
The standards to identify overweight or obese are based on the Body Mass Index (BMI), which judges a person’s weight divided by the square of height. A high BMI could indicate a high level of “fatness.” Here are the BMI ranges:
- BMI is less than 18.5: underweight
- BMI is 18.5 to 25: normal
- BMI is 25.0 to 30: overweight
- BMI is 30.0 or higher: obese
However these are rather arbitrary figures and don’t necessarily indicate which weight is most healthy for each individual. That is up to a primary physician who also can consider other factors like occupation, environment, and overall physical fitness including heart and respiratory system health.
Pro baseball players are tested for their BMI, and with other advanced measurements, all the time. Pro baseball clubs invest a considerable amount of money on the players they pay, and they insist on their well-being. Some players, like Pablo Sandoval, have weight goals included in contracts. Think of it like yourself taking care of a car you paid a lot of money for: you would be more inclined to change the oil and order tune-ups more often!
In short, baseball player weights can be arbitrary, and over-emphasized. It does not mean some need to lose weight. However, not all pro baseball players are fat. In fact, far from it. It’s mainly a matter of the public’s perception, based on what they see in certain players.
Baseball Exertion Levels vs. Other Sports
Another hurdle baseball must overcome regarding the perception that its athletes are not fit is the fact that baseball action, overall, is not as consistently strenuous as you see in football and, especially, basketball and hockey where movement is continuous. Baseball is a game of sudden sprints and brief, intense action, broken up by long breaks of calmness.
However, that’s just during game play. What the general public rarely sees are practices, workouts, and the individual training pro baseball players endure.
Couple that with the fact that MLB teams engage paid trainers, and even diet consultants, to be available for players, and you can see that most major leaguers are in top physical condition.
Pitchers, Weight and Stamina
Yet, there remain outliers, like Colon mentioned above. It’s important to note that the images the public saw in recent years were of a Colon in his 40s, at the end of his career, and not of the much-thinner Colon of his youth with the Cleveland Indians. Plus, he was a pitcher, not expected to show foot speed or defensive nimbleness. In fact, some would argue that more weight actually can help pitchers put more oomph behind their fastballs.
Behind the scenes, pitchers run a lot. They are commanded to do so by their coaches because leg strength and stamina are crucial to their effectiveness in games. Pitchers who get tired on the mound tend to lose control or command of pitches, miss spots, or lose pitch velocity, which results in harder-struck balls. Tired pitchers get replaced in games — something they want to avoid.
So they run, a lot. Go real early to an MLB game in person and watch for players running along the outfield warning track, back and forth, over and over. Those are pitchers.
Still, some pitchers, especially hurlers late in their careers, don’t seem to care what their mid-sections look like. Examples include C.C. Sabathia (playing weight 290 lbs.) the past decade, and truth be told, some of the greatest players of all time were considered at least “chubby.”
But the list of above-average players who were believed to carry extra weight includes a lot of pitchers, among them David Wells, Fernando Valenzuela, Rick Reuschel and Terry Forster, who once said, “A waist is a terrible thing to mind.”
Big Footballers and Hoopsters, Too
Among the batters, people may remember John Kruk of the 1990s, Dmitri Young through 2008, and Prince Fielder whose playing weight was 275 lbs. Hall of Fame hitters Tony Gwynn and Kirby Puckett were thought to be chubby by many baseball watchers.
However, even the National Basketball Association had its share of non-svelte players, most notably Charles Barkley, the “Round Mound of Rebound” and NBA Hall of Fame member. See all those National Football League players topping 300 lbs.? Not all of it is muscle, and often we see linemen with belly skin bulging out beneath bottoms of jerseys.
But baseball players’ uniforms provide no cover-up — except to wear very, very large jerseys and leave them tucked loosely (a la Sabathia), if tucked in at all …
Question: Who was the heaviest MLB player ever?
Answer: Walter Young, 2005 Baltimore Orioles, 322 lbs.
Q.: What role did Babe Ruth play in “The Pride of the Yankees”?
A.: Himself. For the filming of the 1942 movie about his old teammate Lou Gehrig (played famously by Gary Cooper), Ruth went on a crash diet and lost 47 lbs. in 2 months — so much in fact that he once was rushed to the hospital due to the sudden weight loss.