It is no secret that you do not have to be the greatest athlete to be a great baseball player. C.C. Sabathia and Prince Fielder have seen massive success proportional to their weight, and Babe Ruth is a baseball icon in part due to his plump figure. However, these players are exceptions to the rule that obese players cannot become Major League Baseball stars. Pablo Sandoval, a two-time All-Star and former fan favorite, is proving that excess weight can easily impede playing ability.
Sandoval, or as Giants’ fans know him, Kung Fu Panda, immediately gained prominence as a pure hitter when he batted .330 with 25 home runs in his 2009 rookie season. He came up and was able to catch or play the corner infield positions, but it became painfully obvious that his 5-foot-11-inch, 255 pound frame was best suited for the hot corner. During his tenure in San Francisco, he stopped catching altogether, limited his time at first and was primarily a third baseman because of his size. He was never mistaken for a Gold Glover but his defense was serviceable.
In his six years with the Giants, Sandoval was a consistent hitter who had little speed but was surprisingly agile. He was a leader for three championship teams as one of the best postseason hitters in history and author of a three home run World Series game. However, there are whispers of his weight being of concern every spring.
When Sandoval hit free agency in the winter of 2014, the Giants were cautious in their attempts to resign him, knowing that Matt Duffy was in the minors waiting for a chance to sign. Kung Fu Panda made sure to sign with a team that would not give him a weight requirement and thus, ended up on the Boston Red Sox for five years and $95 million.
Sandoval fell apart in his first season with Boston. He had career lows in basically every offensive category and became a liability on the field. Early on in the five year deal, the Red Sox realized they had made a mistake. This season, Sandoval lost his starting job despite the fact that his salary is as hefty as he is. Last week, Sandoval reached a new low when his belt snapped while taking a big cut on a pitch that he invariably missed.
So far in 2016, Sandoval is hitless in six at-bats with four strikeouts. At 29-years-old, he has become a washed-up player who cannot catch up to major league fastballs. Sandoval’s defense does not help his cause and probably will result in a sooner end to his career.
Pablo Sandoval has been in Boston for barely over a year but the change of scenery has been brutal for him. His weight has increased and his stomach has expanded. Sandoval is slower and can no longer perform basic baseball activities. He has even fallen flat on his only true talent: hitting. Sandoval must shape up or he will be out of a job soon.
It is sad to watch the fall of a player who was so talented, but this should be a cautionary tale for any out of shape athlete. It is possible to be a great baseball player if you are overweight, but it is more challenging and there is a fine line before your weight thwarts your skills.