Karl Lindholm: Isaih, Julian, Mookie — Don’t belittle them
Well, I don’t want no short people
Don’t want no short people
Don’t want no short people
— (Randy Newman, “Short People,” 1977)
Randy Newman speaks to sports in the 2000s.
There is no doubt that the professional arena favors the behemoth, at least in the so-called major sports. Tall, large people prevail.
Tom Brady is 6’4”, 225 pounds. He likes to throw the ball to Rob Gronkowski, 6’6”, 270 — or hand it off to Lagarrette Blount, who weighs 250 pounds.
Lebron James is by consensus the greatest basketball player today. He can do everything: drive to the basket, shoot from the outside, rebound, defend, ball-handle. Lebron is 6’8” (maybe taller) and 250 pounds (maybe bigger).
We have been privileged to see David Ortiz in the middle of the Red Sox line-up for 14 years. “Big Papi” is no misnomer — he’s a bear of a man, 6’3”, 230 pounds (at least!).
These guys are big!
More than ever, it seems, size matters.
Well, maybe not.
In Boston, there’s something of a little man renaissance going on. The best athletes on the Beantown teams are not all pituitary anomalies.
The Celtics this winter are resurgent, especially now that their full complement of players is healthy — and they are led by the smallest player in the league, 5’9” Isaiah Thomas.
He’s averaging 27.7 points a game, fifth in the league, more than Lebron himself. Against the defending NBA champs, the Cavaliers, last week he scored 34 points in a narrow loss on the road — and then came back the next night with 52 points in a win at home against the Miami Heat.
On Dec. 20, he scored 44 points in Memphis against the aptly named Grizzlies, the best defensive team in the league. On Christmas Day, his gift to Celtics fans was a 27-point winning effort against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.
He has a deadly outside shot, but loves to play fast and dash to the hoop. How he gets shots off against the leviathans in the lane defies belief, not to mention gravity.
Isaiah’s friend, role model, and inspiration is another vertically challenged NBA star, Muggsy Bogues, who was drafted in the first round (12th overall) in 1987 and played 14 years in the NBA. Thomas was the last player selected in the NBA draft in 2011.
Muggsy was 5’3”, the shortest player ever to play in the NBA. “He’s definitely a mentor of mine and somebody that I can call at any point,” Thomas said. “He’s a guy that I look up to and I want to be just like.”
How about those Patriots! Last Sunday, the Pats defeated the Miami Dolphins to finish the regular season, 14-2, the best record in the NFL. Tom Brady’s favorite target in this game, as is often the case, was not Gronk, (who frequently is hors de combat), but another receiver, Julian Edelman.
Edelman caught eight of Brady’s passes, accounting for 151 yards, and scored a touchdown on a 77-yard catch and run, the longest of his career. That performance gave him 98 catches this season for 1,106 yards, the second time in his career he has amassed over 1,000 yards in receptions.
Surrounded by giants, Edelman is one of the smallest players in the league at 5’10”. Like Isaiah Thomas, he was hardly a highly sought-after talent, the 232nd player drafted in 2009, after having starred at quarterback for the Kent State Golden Flashes.
“I don’t think there’s ever any question about Julian’s skills or his toughness or his competitiveness,” Coach Bill Belichick said. “He always practices hard, plays hard, prepares well. He’s a tough guy you can count on.”
“Nobody works harder than Julian,” Brady added.
Edelman himself explained what it means to be a Patriot: “I guess it means you bring the lunch pail to work, the helmet. You go work, you prepare, you get yelled at, you do all of this kind of stuff. You work extra, you watch more film, and it’s so you can play in the last game of the year.”
Hey, baseball fans: pitchers and catchers report in 39 days!
The Red Sox too have a diminutive leader who is marvelously skilled. That’s 24-year-old Mookie Betts, a 5’9” dynamo will begin his fourth major league season this spring.
Mookie is the Sox lead-off hitter, because he’s fast and can get on base. He led the American League in at-bats and hits, was first in the majors in total bases, second in hits, and second in runs scored — and he stole 26 bases
These are great stats for a lead-off man, but Mookie is also a bopper: he hit 26 homers and knocked in 116 runs, more in both categories than the AL Most Valuable Player Mike Trout (6’2”, 235 pounds). Mookie was runner-up to Trout in the MVP voting.
What fun it will be for Sox fans to follow the career of this enormously talented will o’ the wisp.
To reduce these players — Isaiah, Julian, Mookie — to novelties because of their size would be to belittle their skills and accomplishments. They are great athletes, at the top of their game, among the very best in their calling, no provisos about size needed.
Randy Newman is wrong — as sports fans of the Boston teams, we do indeed want short people round here!