By Mark S. McDonald
Forget about the vertical jump or the almighty bench press. For many sports – basketball to swimming to pole vaulting — size and strength of the hands might be more important. Case in point:
Retired Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera had such powerful hands, with long digits, he developed a pitch that Major League batters simply could not hit – even when they knew what was coming.
“Mariano Rivera could throw a cutter with a beach ball,” marvels Jason Jennings, former Baylor right-hander with the Rockies, Astros and Rangers. Jennings, who once had a wicked slider of his own, is oft-quoted in my latest book “They Gave Us Baseball – Now Look What We’ve Done.” It’s a cautionary tale of how doting parents and nut-job coaches screw up youth sports for kids.
Nobody has fouled up the football path of N.Y. Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Standing 5-11, he has larger mitts than Tampa Bay recei er Mike Evans, who is 6-5. Beckham’s hands, measuring 10 inches from thumb to pinkie, are the same size as Houston Texans defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney, who’s 6-6.
Hand size for the average man is 7.4 inches. Johnny Manziel’s measures 9 7/8. Mine is 9 ¼ inches (see photo). Last time I looked, my grandson’s right hand measured well over 9 inches, all in his noodle fingers. That was in the 7th grade.
Unfortunately, most of my cheese comes from the web of my palm. I’ve got sausage fingers, not much good for playing the piano, cutting diamonds, throwing fastballs. Or even typing.
In Tim Duncan’s grasp, a regulation basketball looks like an orange. Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Bob Lilly was said to grab two NFL linemen at a time, sort through them and toss them aside like so many sacks of flour. Even today, long after his retirement, Lilly’s hands are impressively strong, though now reserved for his hobby of photography.
Other hands I have met:
(*) Arnold Palmer – The legendary golfer has outsized mitts for his body frame. Ditto for the late Byron Nelson. Well into their 60s, they both had a powerful, magnum-sized sets of grippers. In contrast, Jack Nicklaus’ hands are rather average size.
(*) Chipper Jones – Shaking hands with the former Atlanta Braves slugger is almost humiliating, like sticking your paw into first baseman’s mitt.
(*) Charlie West – The former Minnesota Vikings defensive back, by way of UTEP, has a set of befitting an oilfield ruffnek, certainly that of a much bigger man. Delnor Poss, his old coach at Big Spring High School, says West’s hands were so outsized and strong, teaching him proper technique for shooting a basketball was a unique coaching challenge.
(*) Mike Mauck – The former lineman with the Luv Ya Blue Houston Oilers is big all over, but shaking his hand is an exercise in self-deprecation. It’s a joke. Try sticking your hand in a suitcase.