Jose Altuve gets a lot of grief for being 5’6″. It sounds preposterous that standing on the pitcher’s mound would add 23% to his height. At 5’6″, 1950s Pirates infielder Clem Koshorek could relate. He was actually 5’4″ as Topps inflated his height by 2 inches on the back of his 1952 rookie card. He is the shortest player appearing in the ’52 Topps set and ranks among the smallest players in the game’s history. The title goes to 3’7″ Eddie Gaedel (1 plate appearance in a publicity stunt) and 11 other everyday players that were 5’3″.
Of course, the quip about adding 23% in height by standing on the mound is disingenuous. An average American male of 5’10” would see a 21% boost from that vantage point. The 15-inch distance from the field to the pitching rubber is the same as the difference between Shaquille O’Neal and singer Julie Andrews. Those added inches in stature affect whether one looks up or down at opponents and changes where boundaries of precision calls lie. We often use shortcuts to quickly reach conclusions and height is not immune from becoming an input into the process. Being of marginally below average height can drastically affect perceptions of athletic ability.
Koshorek was not the best ballplayer around, but he was good enough to make the Pittsburgh Pirates for two seasons. With the worst record in Pittsburgh’s history this was a team that could ill afford to be picky, yet their scout almost refused to meet Koshorek after seeing him in person at a train station. Koshorek died in 1991, but he left behind a great oral history of his attempt to get to the big leagues.
Adding Clem to the Collection
Clem Koshorek’s 1952 Topps #380 is one of the high number cards I picked up for my set. His card wasn’t specifically on my list, it just so happened that a copy in the worst possible condition was available at the time I looked at filling out that part of the checklist. This card is mangled, but a prior owner thought enough of it to tape his missing eye and mouth back onto the card before saving it someplace. Koshorek would only play one more game in the majors after this card was produced but did get a call back with an appearance in the 1953 Topps set.