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Posted: 2017-11-03 06:12:48

Pre-AFL, Grenville Dietrich made only a fleeting impression on the football consciousness in this town, but you could never have called him ethereal. Dietrich was good enough to kick 100 goals in a season twice for North Adelaide in the SANFL, and appear twice for SA in state-of-origin, once kicking four in a win over Victoria.

"Appear" undersells him. To this day, estimates of his playing weight are vague and various, but you would have needed scales graduated at least to 125kilograms. It is part of SANFL legend that he once tried to ride home on a pushbike carrying either two hot pizzas, or a pizza and a slab.  He wobbled off, scalded his leg and missed two games.

Dietrich lumbered to mind this week while watching another gripping edition of baseball's World Series. One of the many heart-warming Houston Astros stories concerned Carlos Beltran, their designated hitter, who at 40 and after 20 years and more than 2500 games at last had a gleaming championship ring.

Beltran had made only sparing appearances in the post-season. I had seen one live, at Yankee Stadium, and come away thinking not that Beltran was exactly fat, but that his stomach certainly folded down over his belt in a way that all our paunches do, eventually. For Beltran, still out there on the professional sports arena, it still passed as heft.

Beltran is not nearly the fattest man in the MLB. That august status belongs either to the Atlanta Braves pitcher Bartolo Colon or the Yankees' CC Sabathia, both tipping the scales at around 130kg, give or take a hamburger.

Nor is Beltran the oldest. That is Colon, who is 44. I should hasten to add that I'm here  not to bury, but to praise, broadly. This began as an ode to the fat man in sport, but has expanded to include fat, old, short men in sport, sometimes all in the one person. It is not as if Colon's heft is longitudinally distributed; he stands a modest 177centimetres.

(In the interests of fairness, I dare to widen this thesis to add "fat women in sport", too, since one of the beneficial effects of the explosion of interest in women's games is – hopefully – to establish that for women players as much as men, it is not your shape that matters, but your form).

Elsewhere on the Astros' heroic roster can be glimpsed Jose Altuve. When he draws himself up to his full height, it is 165cm, shorter even than the Bulldogs' Caleb Daniel. Wringing wet, Altuve is 75kg, minimally 10-12kg lighter than the next daintiest Astro. He is heft-less. Yet this waif led all-comers in the MLB with this season with a Steve Smith-like slugging average of .346. He just kept belting them out of the park. Reggie Jackson, for one, thinks he is the best player in the game just now.

In a time of cookie cutter athletes, long live the mavericks, off-cuts and left-overs. And long live a sport whose uniform still features a belt over which a stomach can fold.

Many, most sports claim as their distinction that they are for all sizes and shapes. Mostly, it is spin. Try playing AFL now at 130kg, or for that matter cricket. Merv Hughes retired more than 20 years ago, Ian Botham before him. Try playing rugby at 75kg. Try playing basketball at 165cm.

Even golfers nowadays come largely out of the same slimfit, gym-cut mould. There are whole para-sport professions dedicated to compressing all sizes into one. You can hear the shrieking now as they calculate Colon's BMI and scan for a foothold on Sabathia's skinfolds.

In its bodily democracy, baseball sits a little apart.

I'm drawn to baseball because it is a game with the same idiosyncratic rhythms as cricket, but more so. Not even cricket counts errors and puts them on the scoreboard! But even as cricket tries to turn itself into baseball, the parallels should not be overplayed. There are many American games with balls, but baseball is axiomatically "the ballgame". It is the great American pastime. At the bottom of the seventh at Yankee Stadium the night I went, a New York cop in full uniform sang God Bless America. Burly bloke, he was, too. He brought the house down.  

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