Harry Chappas was the José Altuve of the late 1970s – but in a way backwards. Whereas the Astros second baseman is listed at 5-foot-6, but many believe he’s a few inches shorter, Harry’s height was reported to be shorter than it actually was. This shouldn’t shock anyone – it was Bill Veeck’s White Sox after all.
Harry Perry Chappas was Oct. 26, 1957** in Mount Rainier, Md.; the son of Valli (who was born in Greece) and Perry (whose parents were born in Greece). Chappas played baseball and football (a wide receiver) at Nova High School in Davie, Fla. The White Sox drafted Chappas out of high school in the 21st round in 1975, but Chappas opted to attend Miami-Dade College instead. The Sox came calling again in 1976 when they drafted Chappas again in the sixth round of the January draft (secondary phase).
**October 26 is a prominent date in White Sox history. 1919 Black Sox manager Kid Gleason was born Oct. 26, 1866. Former Sox GM Roland Hemond – the Sox GM while Chappas was with the White Sox – was born Oct. 26, 1929. Sox owner Charles Comiskey died on Oct. 26, 1931. The 2005 White Sox clinched the World Series on Oct. 26, 2005. And Rick Hahn was named White Sox Senior VP/GM on Oct. 26, 2012.
The diminutive (we’ll get to his height in a minute) switch-hitting shortstop made his pro debut in 1976 with Appleton (Single-A Midwest League), hitting .262/.356/.360, leveraging his smaller strike zone into 54 walks. He also stole 40 bases in 102 games. He struggled at Double-A Knoxville (Southern League) in 1977 hitting .231 but posting an impressive .360 OBP with 76 walks in 123 games. Chappas turned it on in 1978 back at Appleton, hitting .302/.391/.412 with 14 triples, 71 walks and a league-leading 60 stolen bases. The White Sox called him up in September.
That 1978 Appleton team was ranked 93rd on MiLB.com’s top 100 minor league teams of all-time compiled in 2001.
On his first day in the majors, Harry Carry measured Harry Perry Chappas (yes, Harry Caray and Harry Perry) and declared him to be 5-foot-3. That’s the height the White Sox used in their media guides in 1979 and 1980, and that’s the height printed on his 1980 Topps baseball card. But how tall was he? It’s fairly clear that the 5-foot-3 listing was a Bill Veeck publicity stunt, intending to have Chappas billed as the shortest major leaguer (one inch or so under the Royals’ 5-foot-4 or 5-foot-5 Freddie Patek). Regardless how tall he would be listed, Chappas would never be the shortest player brought in by Bill Veeck to play in a major league game. That would be the 3-foot-7 Chicago native Eddie Gaedel, who played in a game for the St. Louis Browns in 1951.
On Sept. 7, Chappas made his MLB debut batting second playing shortstop and went 0-for-4 against the Mariners. Then he strung together a nine-game hitting streak, during which he hit .368 (14-for-38). He finished the month hitting .267/.318/.280 in 20 games.
Chappas entered 1979 with some fanfare, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated on March 19 with the headline “The Littlest Rookie.” In the article inside the issue, it was revealed by a “knowledgeable member of the White Sox” that Chappas was truly 5-foot-5. It’s possible he’s even taller than that; several sources, including baseball-reference.com list him at 5-foot-7. Regarding his height, Chappas told Sports Illustrated, “I want to be known as a quality ballplayer, not as a midget or a punk.”
Harry didn’t exactly accomplish that goal with his start to 1980. He started 1-for-17 before being sent down to Triple-A Iowa. There, he had a bit of redemption, hitting .305/.381/.409 with five home runs(!) in 77 games before the White Sox recalled him in August. And despite limited playing time, Chappas was successful down the stretch, hitting .381 (16-for-42) to close out 1979, including his first big league home run which came August 20 off the Brewers’ Bill Travers at County Stadium.
Chappas made the Opening Day roster again in 1980, but he struggled again mightily. Sent down to the minors for a bit, Harry returned at the end of May and wound up just 8-for-50 (half of those hits came April 20 at Baltimore – his lone career four-hit game). On June 6, Chappas hit a walk-off double for an 8-7 win vs Cleveland. It was his last career major league hit. The White Sox sent him down about a week later. He never returned to the majors.
Chappas played 1981 for the Denver Bears (Double-A American Association) in the Expos organization, then in 1982 he appeared for Glens Falls (Double-A) and Edmonton (Triple-A) in the White Sox organization as well as Monterrey (Mexican League). On July 25, 1982, Chappas pitched the last four innings for the Edmonton Trappers in a 13-7 loss against Spokane. In 1983 Harry played for Savannah in the Braves organization, then he went to play professionally in Italy in 1984, where he suffered a career-ending motorcycle injury.
In 72 big league games from 1978-80, Harry Chappas hit .245/.307/.283 with one home run, 12 RBI and two stolen bases.
Chappas had a few hobbies he enjoyed throughout his playing career and perhaps beyond, such as raising and breeding Australian and African finches and building model airplanes.
His career was, well, short, but he was memorable. Who could forget Harry Chappas!