I have lost a bit of weight this summer, and fully intend for it to stay that way, but I have been a Big Guy my whole life, so in my heart of hearts a Big Guy is what I’ll be, for better or worse, for the duration, no matter what number my waistline might be.
My mother, in one of the great diplomatic mother euphemisms of all time, had a favored word to describe her only son: “husky.” Later, kind department store owners coined the term “big and tall.” Anything to avoid the “f” word — a three-letter “f” word.
If you are a Big Guy, you tend to root for other Big Guys.
As a kid, that meant rooting for Billy Paultz, he of the spectacular nickname “The Whopper.” Paultz didn’t much look like a basketball player, but the sonofagun could rebound, he could make baby hook shots, and he was the guy in the middle when the Nets won their first ABA title in 1974. Not long after that, Paultz was signing autographs at a department store not far from my house. When it was my turn, he offered up what might’ve been the most awesome thing an adult had ever said to me in all of my seven years.
“How ya doing, Big Guy?” Billy Paultz asked.
Big Guy to Big Guy. Didn’t get much better than that.
Through the years, if you have the soul of a Big Guy, it doesn’t much matter what the scale says your own weight is. You hold soft spots for other Big Guys, especially athletes, because they prove that while it might be a longer and more difficult road if you aren’t chiseled like Giancarlo Stanton, you can indeed compete.
So there would always be an extra eye on Sunday leaderboards, looking for Craig Stadler, who was nicknamed “The Walrus,” and you don’t get nicknamed “The Walrus” if you are also referred to as “lanky,” “slender,” or “slim.”
There would always be a feeling of satisfaction when William “The Refrigerator” Perry barrelled in from the 2-yard line — or, even better, when he hunted down a swift, pretty-boy quarterback — because you don’t get nicknamed “The Refrigerator” if you are afraid to empty the contents of one at any given moment.
There was, in 1984, an early fan club for Charles Barkley, who was cut by Bobby Knight from the Olympic basketball team, in part, because he flouted his Zion-Williamson-starter-kit physique. Barkley embraced what was one of the great nicknames of its time: “The Round Mound of Rebound.” The fact he ultimately whipped himself into good (if never Jordanesque) shape never mattered. We were there for him in ’84. Big Guys in spirit.
Baseball, of course, has long been the zenith for zaftigs, a paradise for portlies. As with most anything else, this started with Babe Ruth, a man known for various appetites, but whose biggest legacy — besides all those hitting records — was his well-known affinity for hot dogs. And you can bet they weren’t impossible hot dogs, either.
Baseball has been a sport in which players have long been allowed to excel by exploiting the subtler skills of athleticism — such as hand-eye coordination, quick feet and nimble reflexes. Tony Gwynn hit .338 for his career, and if he never quite hit his weight it wasn’t for lack of trying (either in the batting cage or at the breakfast buffet).
David Wells won 239 games thanks to a rubber arm that forever neutralized the fact that he was better built to open holes for tailbacks than break bats of hitters. John Kruk was good-natured enough that he never minded that his beer-league-softball body sometimes obscured what a good hitter he was.
The Mets, of course, have lately struck a chord from their recent past. There are still Mets fans who clamor for a return of Bartolo Colon, who is now 49 years old, but forever captured many imaginations with his arm (and on one surreal night, his bat) but also because he looked as far removed from the gym as someone could ever look.
Colon isn’t coming back. But Daniel Vogelbach is here now, listed (perhaps generously) at 6-foot and 270 pounds. And if he has more nights like Friday in Miami, when he smoked two doubles off presumptive NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara, he may well become the most popular guy on a team rife with candidates.
Certainly, the most popular Big Guy.
Paulie from “Goodfellas” was always going to be in the first paragraph of Paul Sorvino’s obituary, and he was pitch-perfect in the role (and instructed generations of amateur cooks how to maximize garlic slicing). But the first character I think of is Phil Cerreta from “Law & Order.” He gave that show immediate gravitas and credibility, and it lasted long after he left. Godspeed.
I don’t want to say that “The Captain” is fawning and over-the-top. I will say that it puts the “Ha!” in “hagiography.”
If I were a Boston Celtics fan, there is no way I’d want my team to trade any of the names that have been bandied about in a deal for Kevin Durant.
You know how the ticking clock on “60 Minutes” always used to give you an unsettled kick in your gut because it meant the weekend was winding down? I’ve always had the same reaction when NFL training camp stories appear, which always seems to press the fast-forward button to the end of summer.
Whack Back at Vac
Robert Stiskin: When a Yankees fan throws the 27 World Series wins at me, I say, “Yeah, but 20 were before the Mets existed. And the Mets were in the World Series in 2015. Pretty sure Yanks were last there in 2009.
Vac: The Mets-fan half of the Subway Series back-and-forth is a much preferable thing to the waiting-for-the-bad stuff-to-happen milieu that so often afflicts them by now.
Alfred Angiola: I’ll bet Daniel Vogelbach had pin-ups of John Kruk and Smoky Burgess in his bedroom.
Vac: To say nothing of Terry Forster (David Letterman’s favorite zaftig pitcher) and Aurelio “Senor Smoke” Lopez!
@BradBerkowitz: So when the Cleveland Guardians play the L.A. Angels, will Curtis Sliwa be umpiring the Guardians/Angels?
@MikeVacc: It’s just not fair when the readers are more clever than the writer!
Charles Costello: Twenty-five years later (heck, go back to 1962 as you did in your column), there’s still something special about Yankees vs. Mets. I could do without interleague play, but I’ll take a Subway Series anytime March through October.
Vac: As conditioned as we are to be jaded about some things, it really was hard to be cynical for even five minutes seeing, hearing and feeling what Citi Field was like this week. And we get two more of these games — at least! — soon enough.