There was much sorrow and wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of extra-large replica jerseys this offseason when it was revealed that Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs’ leftfielder and resident big beefy baseball boy, had lost 20 pounds over the winter. For him, Chicago, and his nominal attempts at playing defense, this kind of slimming down is a good thing. But for those who enjoyed the sight of Schwarber as the game’s meatiest man, it was a crushing blow—and, what’s worse, an abdication of his hard-earned title of MLB’s Large Adult Son.
Last spring, when Aaron Judge was beginning his one-man assault on American League pitchers, many jumped to declare the massive young man the Large Adult Son of baseball. Not so fast, I argued at the time: Judge is indeed strapping in size, but he's more bodybuilder than big boy. Instead, I wrote that Schwarber—with his “aw shucks” style of play and ample physique—was the man who deserved the sobriquet. And despite a season of struggles at the plate, he wore it well.
But I did caution, at the end of my argument for Schwarber, that he was merely John the Baptist to the game’s truest and greatest Large Adult Son, and that while you should be in awe at the size of the Cubs’ husky lad, there was another player who is the most absolute of units. The crown was not his to wear if only because he remained in the minors, awaiting his chance not just to stick in the majors but also to ascend to the right hand of the Large Adult Father—a hand that is almost assuredly covered in barbecue sauce. I speak of the one they call Daniel Vogelbach, and his time has finally arrived.
If you don’t know who Vogelbach is, here’s a quick bio. He’s a 25-year-old Mariners first baseman from Florida who stands six feet tall and weighs 250 pounds. He’s a former second-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2011; apparently, between him and Schwarber, Chicago identified slugging big boys as the sport’s next market inefficiency. Vogelbach toiled in the Cubs’ system for five uneventful years until he was sent to Seattle for reliever Mike Montgomery in 2016 and has been there ever since, trying to climb the ladder and fill a first base position that has been a revolving door in the Pacific Northwest ever since the last whiff-filled days of Richie Sexson (himself a large baseball man of some repute).
Vogelbach’s future has always been to be a bog-standard clobbering first baseman whose glove is more ornament than tool, but he had yet to put it together at the major league level in the few chances he’d gotten. This spring, though, Vogelbach has been red-hot, hitting .388/.508/.878 with six homers in 61 Cactus League plate appearances to force his way into at least a timeshare with Ryon Healy at first base, and likely some at-bats as the designated hitter when Nelson Cruz needs a day off.
It’s a nice story for a guy with promise, but that’s not why we’re here. We’ve come to praise Vogelbach’s arrival—to celebrate the coming of baseball’s Largest Adult Son. We have lost Schwarber, but in his place, a greater one steps forth. Where a door was closed, a window has been opened, and through it you can hear the sounds of a rowdy young dude making guitar noises with his mouth as he air plays along to a Foreigner song. Let us hoot and holler and raise a ruckus to mark the entrance of our king. We shall lay palm-tree-print Tommy Bahama shirts on the road in front of him. We will do him homage and present him with the customary Large Adult Son gifts: 32-ounce Mountain Dews, a chocolate fountain, and a Big Dogs t-shirt.
I don’t know if Vogelbach is a real-life Large Adult Son, the sort who gets riled up and riles others up. I don’t know if he is way too into wrestling or has accidentally broken a piece of furniture during a party or ever worn Crocs. But we need him to be the Large Adult Son we envision. This sport has become the domain of the freakishly fit, of men like Judge and Giancarlo Stanton who tower over us and are muscled like Greek gods. Long gone are the Davids Wells and the Rays King and the Petes Incaviglia—the players who looked like they worked as movers during their off day, or like you could find them crowding a stool at the bar where all the construction workers go after their shift, or for whom “pull my finger” was less a joke than a way of life. Schwarber was set to join that pantheon, but he has forsaken it for what I imagine is a new diet high in protein and low in Capri Sun juice packs, and a career perhaps more productive but certainly less galoot-like.
Vogelbach is our big burly hero, then; both the one that we deserve and the one that we need. Honor him. Thank him for being large and in charge. We are blessed to have him grace us with his rambunctious presence. The old Large Adult Son is skinny; long live the new Large Adult Son, and long may he reign.