The Iron Man watches the kid, and he sees the efficiency of movement, the backhand ability and the strong arm that allows the 6-foot-4 Corey Seager to play the shortstop position so splendidly, despite his size. 

"Seager is big," Cal Ripken Jr. says. "Six-foot-four, 215 [pounds], though I swear he's bigger than 215. And he moves really well."

People used to say that Ripken had reinvented the position, opening the door for others with big heights and big bats. They pointed to Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez as evidence that Ripken had infused baseball with the belief that, title aside, shortstops need not be so short.

But Ripken, Jeter and A-Rod were outliers in their time. Not until now, in the age of Seager and other, similarly sized shortstops, can we say the position looks dramatically different than it once did.

The rise of the shortstop is upon us, as evidenced by this chart of the average height of qualified shortstops going back to Ripken's rookie year (1982):


The 2016 season provided a statistically significant spike, with the average height crossing the 73-inch (6-foot-1) threshold for the first time in Major League history. It also marked the first time in baseball history, according to Baseball Reference's Play Index, that as many as five qualified shortstops (Seager, Carlos Correa, Troy Tulowitzki, Didi Gregorius and Jordy Mercer) were listed at 6-foot-3 or taller.*

*The 6-foot-3 Manny Machado, who defers the Orioles' shortstop spot to J.J. Hardy, would qualify as the sixth if he played on most other teams. Machado played 45 games at short for the O's last season.

Until recently, Ripken was the only 6-foot-4 person in history to play a full season at shortstop in the Major Leagues.

Last year, Seager and Correa joined him on that list.

"Maybe my success opened up the mindset of consideration," Ripken says. "I think that's what you're seeing right now. There used to be harder stereotypes about guys who have some size playing on the corners. That's changed."

So, too, have the training methods that allow bigger bodies to build for and maintain within the context of the 162-game grind.

"You get out what you put in," Tulowitzki says. "So to stay at this level, I've got to work hard at it. But it definitely can be done. The guys that have the mindset that they can continually make adjustments in their career to defy the odds and get the job done are the guys that are going to last. Hopefully the guys now are just like the guys before them, asking questions to study and to learn. Because that's what I did."

Tulowitzki, listed at 6-foot-3, idolized Ripken in his youth and met him during his rookie year. He went into that relationship, which evolved into a friendship, with open eyes and open ears and learned a lot. But in Ripken's opinion, Tulo is evidence that two super-sized shortstops can play the position very differently.

"Tulo and some of these other guys play a little bit like a small shortstop," Ripken said. "They run around the ball in the hole, throw on the run, do things like, in my day Omar [Vizquel] and Ozzie [Smith] did. To me, the models are really different. Mark Belanger once told me to watch Alan Trammell, because he did things really well. And I'd watch Ozzie when we did a tour of Japan. Well, that's all fine and dandy, but I can't play like those guys did. I had to figure out my own way to get to the ball in the hole."

Ripken believes Seager is the current player who most resembles his style of defensive play because of Seager's ability to maximize his movements.

"One thing I had to learn," Ripken said, "is how to position yourself to throw before the ball is there. When you have to reach and extend, you catch the ball, you stop yourself really quickly and you have to plant your left foot and throw really quickly. I learned how to cheat the backhand. You get your body lined up to throw before you actually catch the ball. Seager does that quite a bit."

In the lead-up to the 2012 Draft, many reports listed Seager, then wrapping up his senior year of high school in Concord, N.C., as a third baseman. Though Dodgers scouting director Logan White took him and believed in him as a shortstop with the 18th overall pick that summer, the industry assumption was that Seager wouldn't last at the position, that he'd shift to the hot corner.

But at every stop in the Dodgers' system, Seager made all the necessary plays.

"It was amazing," he told the Los Angeles Times last summer, "how the higher up I got, the more people who were like, 'Oh, maybe he can stick.'"

Anecdotally, clubs are more willing to let a big player stay at short as long as his glove will reasonably allow.

"We've got a guy down below, [2015 first-rounder Ryan] Mountcastle," Orioles manager Buck Showalter says. "He's 6-3, shortstop. In years past, you'd say, 'He's too big to play shortstop, move him.' You don't do that anymore. You want to make them play their way off of center, short and catcher. Make sure he fails at that before you move him off. Because when you can create that drag of offense at a shortstop position, then you can go more defensive at a corner position."

The top 10 shortstops on's prospect rankings average out at 72.7 inches, which puts them right in line with the big league average over the past five seasons.

Whether coincidental or not, last season's height spike at short came with a production spike. According to data available on FanGraphs, the 2016 season had the highest weighted runs created plus mark (a metric that accounts for the league offensive average in a given year) for shortstops since 1917. For reference, this chart illustrates how shortstops have fared offensively since Ripken first arrived:


The obvious perception is that while size might add offense, it also adds wear and tear at such a demanding defensive position.

"We're big, bro," Machado says. "Our backs are going to blow out from all of that bending down. So you've got to work to keep your legs fresh so you can get down to the ball and make the throw."

Ripken, though, felt there were advantages to being a big shortstop. 

"If you had size and a runner coming into you, they had a risk like the middle infielder usually has," he says. "So I think my size insulated me from some of that. As you play and get older, you have to work harder because you have to cover a lot of ground. But would you say it's more physically grueling than first or third? I would say not. There are more plays at shortstop, but [on the corners] you're blocking balls and diving, you're hitting the ground a lot more. At short, if I had to dive, it was because somebody was at second base and you're trying to stop the run from scoring or you had a chance to throw a guy out at first."

So what you're saying, Cal, is that shortstop is the easiest position in the infield?

"No," he replies with a laugh, "I wouldn't say that."

Indeed, it's considered a prime defensive position for a reason. But the combination of scouting, conditioning and skillsets -- as well as the example set by the tallest Hall of Fame shortstop of them all -- has led to the literal growth of the position.

Never before has "shortstop" been such a misnomer.


Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.