WHITE SOX SHORTSTOP HARRY CHAPPAS MARCH 19, 1979

September 28, 1997

To hear former Chicago White Sox infielder Harry Chappas tell
it, his precipitous descent started with a missed sign. During
an early-season game in 1979 against the Cleveland Indians,
rookie Chappas "mistook" a coach's signal to stop at third base
and instead made a headlong dash for home. A nifty slide enabled
him to elude catcher Ron Pruitt's tag and score the winning run,
but the incident was one of several that didn't sit well with
White Sox management. "After the game all the reporters were
crowded around my locker," says Chappas, who recalls his days as
a South Sider with uncanny precision, "but then the manager
called me to his office, and I got sent back to Triple A."

Chappas earned fleeting cult status in 1979 as much for his
Lilliputian stature as for his prowess as a switch-hitting--what
else?--shortstop. Listed at 5'3", he became the most vertically
challenged man to play professionally since 3'7" Eddie Gaedel
pinch-hit for the St. Louis Browns in '51. Chappas, however,
contends that his height prevented him from getting a fair shake
in Chicago. (Never mind that two of the best players in White
Sox history, Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox, stood 5'8" and 5'9",
respectively.) "I began to realize that Bill Veeck just wanted
me to be a gimmick to put people in the seats," says Chappas,
who claims he's closer to 5'5". "The first major league contract
I signed was made of cardboard and was five feet tall. All these
photographers took pictures of me next to it. I didn't know
better, so I went along, playing the role of the little guy."

Chappas had batted .302 and stolen 60 bases with Chicago's Class
A team in Appleton, Wis., in 1978, and Sox owner Veeck said at
the time that "Chappas is a player." The player went on to hit
.245 in 184 big league at bats, hitting one home run and walking
only 15 times. After being sent back to the minors in '79,
Chappas never returned to the majors for more than a cup of
coffee. Following his minor league stints, he played briefly in
Italy before shattering his leg in a motorcycle accident in
1984. With little to cushion his career's free fall, Chappas
moved in with his parents in South Florida. A decent golfer, he
considered playing the sport professionally but says he "got
down on myself and got sort of depressed." Now 39, Chappas lives
alone in a Florida efficiency and has entered a vocational
training program. He has also developed a passion for watching
and playing jai alai. "I got the cesta and everything," he says
proudly. "It's one game where it actually helps not to be big."

--JON WERTHEIM

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER [Cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED featuring Harry Chappas]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)