NOBODY LIKES TO THROW UP COMPARATIVES
Assuming that Cain and Abel were about the same height (four cubits or so), the great sports debate over the "little man" versus the "big man" probably began with David and Goliath, just as everyone says it did. It has continued ever since, both in fact and in legend: Beowulf vs. the giant, slobbering Grendel; Jack the Giant Killer fighting all those big, fierce monsters; Tom Thumb, who was eaten and later released by a large bird; and little Captain Ahab chasing big Moby Dick.
The little-versus-big battles in sports continue to fascinate. Fans watch with "mesmer eyes" as a wrestling behemoth pummels his smaller opponent, then they cheer wildly as the little man leaps high in the air and lands on the big man's toe. The fans are simply responding to an urge that is deeply rooted in Mother Nature, so they can be excused.
Less easily excused are the "big name" sports writers who keep stirring up this controversy. Their questions are always the same ("Is there room for the little man in basketball?" or "Is there a place for the little guy in football?" or "Is Roller Derby any place for the little woman?"); and their answer is always the same: "A good big man can beat a good little man at anything."
But haven't they forgotten Paulino Uzcudun? Paulino fought big Harry Wills when Jack Dempsey wouldn't. At upwards of six-feet-seven-and-one-half inches, Wills was one of the largest people by that name in the history of sock or of any sport; larger perhaps than Helen Wills and Maury Wills combined.
Wills was cocky because Uzcudun was so small by comparison, but he forgot that a little guy growing up in a tough neighborhood learns to fight early, especially if his name is something like Paulino Uzcudun. When they finally stood toe-to-tiptoe, Uzcudun reached up and knocked out the giant Wills while the world stood agape.
Nor was plucky Paulino the only one. There was "Little Mo" Connolly, Peewee Reese, little Phil Rizzuto, tiny Wake Forest, Bantam Ben Hogan, and Bitsy Grant. And there was Tiny Tim Mulcheusen, who would have won the 440 at the 1932 Olympics by thirty meters, had he been tall enough to reach up and break the finish-line tape. Who can forget the picture of Tiny Tim jumping up and down in helpless rage while the other runners thundered past him?
I think that sportswriters who downgrade the little man are merely confused by their own daily doings. It's common knowledge that after a game or a knockout, the writers run to a phone booth to call in the story. A good big writer generally beats a good little writer to the booth. But mark my words, the day will come when some tiny little writer with a lot of "heart" is going to get there first and grab the phone from under the noses of some of the literary giants of our time.
"If Instead of Apes
We Had Come from Grapes"
is a book of light verse
written and illustrated
by Alan Van Dine