SEE ALSO: WBC Schedule
The World Baseball Classic gives a chance for players from around the world to face off in matchups that would never happen otherwise. We can see a native-born Dutch hitter match wits with a pitcher born in South Korea and someone from mainland China try to get a hit off a pitcher from the island of Cuba.
And we also may get to see the tallest matchup of hitter vs. pitcher in baseball history.
When Team Israel faces Team Netherlands on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET), it will bring together the tallest pitcher in pro history (7-foot-1 Dutch righthander Loek Van Mil) and one of the tallest position players in pro baseball history (6-foot-8 Israeli first baseman Nate Freiman).
If Van Mill faces Freiman, it will likely be the tallest matchup ever of a batter-pitcher in a professional game, with a combined 165 inches of pitcher and batter.
Van Mill is the tallest professional pitcher in baseball history. At 7-foot-1, he is matched only by Diamondbacks righthander Ryan Doherty, a non-drafted free agent from Notre Dame who threw 99 innings in short-season and Class A before being released in 2007.
We say likely and “believed to be” because when it comes to minor league statistics, nothing is ever absolute. It’s highly, highly unlikely that there was a 7-foot-1 pitcher who played a few games in the low minors in the early 1900s without being noticed, but the spotty records for some leagues means that we can’t ever say for certain that it didn’t happen.
But in the modern era, there are few matchups that even come close. The tallest big league matchup would be the three at-bats where Jon Rauch (at 6-foot-11, the tallest big league pitcher by an inch) pitched to future MLBPA head Tony Clark (at 6-foot-8, he equals Freiman as the tallest MLB position player)–163 inches of pitcher v. batter. Richie Sexson’s height is listed at either 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-7, depending on your source. If you measure Sexson at 6-foot-8, his two at-bats against Rauch would equal Clark’s in a matchup of giants.
On the chance that there could be a pitcher-vs.-pitcher matchup that topped the Clark-Rauch tilt, we searched the batter vs. pitcher records for Rauch (6-foot-11), Chris Young (6-foot-10), Randy Johnson (6-foot-10), Eric Hillman (6-foot-10) and Andy Sisco (6-foot-10). Alas, none of the 6-foot-10 pitchers ever hit against another 6-foot-10 or taller pitcher, as a search of Baseball Reference’s records quickly proved.
We didn’t stop there. We wanted to make sure that there was never a minor leaguer vs. minor leaguer battle that equalled Van Mil vs. Freiman–there just aren’t many 6-foot-8 hitters in minor or major league history. What we found is that the only possible matchup to equal it in modern history is . . . Van Mil vs. Freiman. Van Mil pitched in the Texas League in 2011, but he didn’t face Freiman because Freiman didn’t reach the Texas League until 2012. Freiman returned from the majors to the Pacific Coast League in 2014, but Van Mil jumped from Triple-A to Japan in 2014. The two players both did play in the International League in 2016, but Van Mil’s five games didn’t match up with Freiman’s scant eight games in the league. Van Mil did face 6-foot-7 Aaron Judge last year, so that is the current all-time tallest matchup with 164 combined inches.
We did find one possible taller matchup, but we can’t confirm it ever happened, because it would have been in an unofficial game without statistics. Van Mil played for the Twins from 2005-2010, before he was traded to the Angels. Rory Rhodes, a 6-foot-9 first baseman who was signed out of Australia, was a Twins’ farmhand from 2008-2013. Van Mil was significantly further along in his career than Rhodes when they both played for the Twins, but we can’t say for sure that they never crossed paths in spring training or instructional league for a face-off.
The only other 6-foot-9 position player in Baseball America’s minor league database is Wilmy Valdez, a 6-foot-9 first baseman who played in the Dominican Summer League last summer so he’s yet to get a chance to face anyone else who would look comfortable playing power forward for an NBA team.
So when Israel and the Netherlands play on Wednesday, not only will it be a matchup of two non-traditional baseball powers who look likely to advance to the second round of the World Baseball Classic, we could see history in the making.