When Jumbo's not really so jumbo

Rob Neyer

Rob Neyer

First I thought we weren’t talking about Jumbo Diaz enough. Now I think maybe we’ve been talking about him just about exactly right…


There are 46 pitchers in major-league history with listed weights of at least 260 pounds. Wanna guess how many of them have pitched in the 21st century?

All but two: Walter “Jumbo” Brown and Garland “Gob” Buckey.

Of course, listed weights are often merely a snapshot in time. Baseball-Reference.com lists CC Sabathia at 285, but we well-remember that Sabathia has weighed both significantly more and significantly less than 285, just during his time as a Yankee.

Meanwhile, 1930s pitcher Jumbo Brown is listed at 295 – the second-highest figure in B-R.com’s data – but in The Hot Stove League, historian Lee Allen wrote that Brown weighed “only” 265. I say “only” because that still made him the heaviest major leaguer on record. Also according to Allen, “The peculiar thing about Brown was that he put on sixty-eight of his 268 pounds during a single winter. He belonged to Cleveland at the time and weighed only 197 at the close of the 1927 season. But after an operation for the removal of his tonsils, he shot up to 265, and despite working out five hours a day at the Y.M.C.A. gymnasium, he was never able to shed the excess suet.”

Brown spent four seasons with the Yankees, managed by Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy. Brown supposedly did a disproportionate amount of his pitching against the Philadelphia Athletics, who played in Shibe Park and weren’t much good. A reporter once asked McCarthy why he saved Brown for the Yankees’ games in Philadelphia. “It’s the only way I know to fill Shibe Park,” he replied.

Allen writes that Buckeye, who’d been a great football player, “was officially listed at 238” … although now we’ve got him at 260. Buckeye finished his career in the minors, finally retiring after a game in which “he attempted to field a bunt, fell on his stomach and was helped to his feet by two infielders.”

Again, 44 of the 46 heaviest pitchers in major-league history have pitched in this century. And 22 of those 44 have pitched in just these last two seasons! That’s astounding.

Granted, players have gotten steadily bigger over the years. Allen estimated that players in the 1870s averaged around 5’9” and 160 pounds. By the early 1950s, the average was around six feet and 185 pounds. Which must have been significantly larger than the average young, well-bodied American male ... but is small compared to our current behemoths.

What does Jumbo Diaz have to do with all of this? Well, you might say he’s the first Jumbo since Jumbo Brown (although big Jim Nash also carried the nickname at least occasionally). When Diaz arrived in the majors six weeks ago after 12 seasons in the minor leagues, I was immediately intrigued by his nickname. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I went to B-R.com and actually looked him up...

315

Checking Play Index, I discovered that he’s the only pitcher in history, and one of only two players in history – here’s the other – who tops 300 pounds, officially.

Again, “officially” is important here. It’s hardly a secret that CC Sabathia has weighed more than his listed 285. Still, it sure seemed to me that Jumbo Diaz must be the heaviest pitcher in major-league history and probably the heaviest player, period. After all, 315.

So then I went to see him pitch and he doesn’t actually look that big.

And then I watched an interview with Diaz, in which he says he weighed 330 last season in the minors but reported to camp this spring weighing just 278. Oh, and by the way he’s having the best season of his professional career. This might not be a coincidence.

All of which I bring up mostly because there’s a big difference between Jumbo Diaz’s listed weight and his claimed weight, and there’s a big difference between Jumbo Brown’s listed weight and Allen’s claimed weight, and there must be hundreds of similar (if less extreme) differences that might throw off a researcher. Ideally, I think, the sources for these data would at least list a range of weights, if only to suggest that further research into a particular season is worthwhile.

Granted, you’re probably not a researcher. Or if you are one, you’re highly diligent and know all of this already. Really, I just enjoy knowing the Reds have one pitcher named Jumbo and another who’s Big Pasta


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