Smallest Professional Athletes of All Time

By Jacob Kornhauser

It’s hard to crack it as a professional athlete, but it’s even harder when you’re really small. These 20 athletes, all 5-foot-9 or shorter, managed to make it into professional sports despite being smaller than the average person.

Smallest Professional Athletes of All Time
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20. Eddie Gaedel: 3-foot-7

Eddie Gaedel: 3-foot-7 Credit: Twitter
Gaedel wasn't successful like the other athletes on this list, but he is the shortest person to appear in a professional sport. He pinch hit for the St. Louis Browns in 1951. Predictably, he walked in his only career at-bat.

20. Eddie Gaedel: 3-foot-7

Gaedel wasn't successful like the other athletes on this list, but he is the shortest person to appear in a professional sport. He pinch hit for the St. Louis Browns in 1951. Predictably, he walked in his only career at-bat.

19. Muggsy Bogues: 5-foot-3

Muggsy Bogues: 5-foot-3 Credit: Getty Images
Bogues was the shortest NBA player of all time, but he didn't let that stop him from being successful. He was a key contributor on multiple teams and he even landed a small role in 'Space Jam', one of the biggest basketball movies of his generation.

19. Muggsy Bogues: 5-foot-3

Bogues was the shortest NBA player of all time, but he didn't let that stop him from being successful. He was a key contributor on multiple teams and he even landed a small role in 'Space Jam', one of the biggest basketball movies of his generation.

18. Diego Maradona: 5-foot-5

Diego Maradona: 5-foot-5 Credit: Getty Images
An even greater soccer player historically, Maradona, was even smaller than another all-time great on this list, Lionel Messi. He was noticeably smaller than most of his opponents, but he left them in the dust the majority of the time.

18. Diego Maradona: 5-foot-5

An even greater soccer player historically, Maradona, was even smaller than another all-time great on this list, Lionel Messi. He was noticeably smaller than most of his opponents, but he left them in the dust the majority of the time.

17. Spud Webb: 5-foot-6

Spud Webb: 5-foot-6 Credit: Getty Images
Spud Webb didn't let his size define him in the NBA. In fact, the 5-foot-6 guard managed to dunk the ball, which is no small feat, especially when playing against guys more than a foot taller than you.

17. Spud Webb: 5-foot-6

Spud Webb didn't let his size define him in the NBA. In fact, the 5-foot-6 guard managed to dunk the ball, which is no small feat, especially when playing against guys more than a foot taller than you.

16. Bruce Lee: 5-foot-7

Bruce Lee: 5-foot-7 Credit: Getty Images
Lee isn't an athlete in the traditional sense, but he's one of the greatest martial arts fighters of all time. He may look like someone you could mess with, but if he gives you one roundhouse kick to the body, you'll be thinking otherwise.

16. Bruce Lee: 5-foot-7

Lee isn't an athlete in the traditional sense, but he's one of the greatest martial arts fighters of all time. He may look like someone you could mess with, but if he gives you one roundhouse kick to the body, you'll be thinking otherwise.

15. Manny Pacquiao: 5-foot-7

Manny Pacquiao: 5-foot-7 Credit: Getty Images
Boxers come in all sizes, but Pacquiao is one of the smaller fighters in the sport. Despite his small frame, he's able to out punch opponents regularly and use his power to destroy other fighters in the ring.

15. Manny Pacquiao: 5-foot-7

Boxers come in all sizes, but Pacquiao is one of the smaller fighters in the sport. Despite his small frame, he's able to out punch opponents regularly and use his power to destroy other fighters in the ring.

14. Joe Morgan: 5-foot-7

Joe Morgan: 5-foot-7 Credit: Getty Images
One of the best second basemen in the history of baseball wasn't exactly a tall drink of water. Morgan was a swift, small guy who found ways to get it done despite his stature.

14. Joe Morgan: 5-foot-7

One of the best second basemen in the history of baseball wasn't exactly a tall drink of water. Morgan was a swift, small guy who found ways to get it done despite his stature.

13. Lionel Messi: 5-foot-7

Lionel Messi: 5-foot-7 Credit: Getty Images
Messi is one of the best soccer players in the world, but he's smaller than the average adult male. He doesn't care about that, though, as he shimmies and shakes between defenders and puts the ball in the back of the net.

13. Lionel Messi: 5-foot-7

Messi is one of the best soccer players in the world, but he's smaller than the average adult male. He doesn't care about that, though, as he shimmies and shakes between defenders and puts the ball in the back of the net.

12. Yogi Berra: 5-foot-7

Yogi Berra: 5-foot-7 Credit: Getty Images
Berra is the greatest small athlete of all time, because his personality was larger than life. Just from being around him, you could forget how small he was. On top of that, he was one of the best catchers in MLB history.

12. Yogi Berra: 5-foot-7

Berra is the greatest small athlete of all time, because his personality was larger than life. Just from being around him, you could forget how small he was. On top of that, he was one of the best catchers in MLB history.

11. Landon Donovan: 5-foot-8

Landon Donovan: 5-foot-8 Credit: Kelvin Kuo, USA Today Sports
Donovan is one of the most successful American-born soccer players ever and he put together his storied career in a very small frame. Size isn't everything in soccer, but it's still impressive he was able to succeed for a long time at 5-foot-8.

11. Landon Donovan: 5-foot-8

Donovan is one of the most successful American-born soccer players ever and he put together his storied career in a very small frame. Size isn't everything in soccer, but it's still impressive he was able to succeed for a long time at 5-foot-8.

10. Tim Raines: 5-foot-8

Tim Raines: 5-foot-8 Credit: Getty Images
Raines was one of the best hitters of his time, but he didn't do it with sheer size and strength. He found ways to get it done despite being just 5-foot-8 and has gone down as one of the most memorable hitters from his playing days.

10. Tim Raines: 5-foot-8

Raines was one of the best hitters of his time, but he didn't do it with sheer size and strength. He found ways to get it done despite being just 5-foot-8 and has gone down as one of the most memorable hitters from his playing days.

9. Pele: 5-foot-8

Pele: 5-foot-8 Credit: Getty Images
Arguably the greatest soccer player in history was a very small man. Pele dominated the competition for years without having a size advantage on nearly anyone. That should be a lesson to any up-and-coming small athletes.

9. Pele: 5-foot-8

Arguably the greatest soccer player in history was a very small man. Pele dominated the competition for years without having a size advantage on nearly anyone. That should be a lesson to any up-and-coming small athletes.

8. Kirby Puckett: 5-foot-8

Kirby Puckett: 5-foot-8 Credit: Getty Images
Puckett was one of the best and most beloved baseball players of his generation and a lot of that had to do with his lack of size. He was scrappy and always came up in the big moments and people loved him for that.

8. Kirby Puckett: 5-foot-8

Puckett was one of the best and most beloved baseball players of his generation and a lot of that had to do with his lack of size. He was scrappy and always came up in the big moments and people loved him for that.

7. Floyd Mayweather Jr.: 5-foot-8

Floyd Mayweather Jr.: 5-foot-8 Credit: Getty Images
Love him or hate him, Floyd Mayweather Jr. is one of the best boxers in history. He's a small guy, but he packs quite the punch. Whether you tower over him or not, chances are high he would kick your butt in the ring.

7. Floyd Mayweather Jr.: 5-foot-8

Love him or hate him, Floyd Mayweather Jr. is one of the best boxers in history. He's a small guy, but he packs quite the punch. Whether you tower over him or not, chances are high he would kick your butt in the ring.

6. Barry Sanders: 5-foot-8

Barry Sanders: 5-foot-8 Credit: Getty Images
Sanders is one of the best running backs in NFL history, and retired before his prime was up. He did all of this despite being one of the smallest players on the field. Fans in Detroit likely wish he would've done it a little longer, though.

6. Barry Sanders: 5-foot-8

Sanders is one of the best running backs in NFL history, and retired before his prime was up. He did all of this despite being one of the smallest players on the field. Fans in Detroit likely wish he would've done it a little longer, though.

5. Nate Robinson: 5-foot-9

Nate Robinson: 5-foot-9 Credit: Getty Images
Robinson isn't exactly a superstar, but he can really get up and finish at the rim. His ability to throw down highlight-reel dunks at his size is extremely impressive. For anyone who's 5-foot-9 or shorter, you know how impossible it is to dunk.

5. Nate Robinson: 5-foot-9

Robinson isn't exactly a superstar, but he can really get up and finish at the rim. His ability to throw down highlight-reel dunks at his size is extremely impressive. For anyone who's 5-foot-9 or shorter, you know how impossible it is to dunk.

4. Dustin Pedroia: 5-foot-9

Dustin Pedroia: 5-foot-9 Credit: Bob DeChiara, USA Today Sports
Pedroia isn't quite the same player he used to be, but he's still one of the more successful small baseball players. As a former MVP, he's more successful than almost any other ballplayer of his size.

4. Dustin Pedroia: 5-foot-9

Pedroia isn't quite the same player he used to be, but he's still one of the more successful small baseball players. As a former MVP, he's more successful than almost any other ballplayer of his size.

3. Wes Welker: 5-foot-9

Wes Welker: 5-foot-9 Credit: Getty Images
One of the greatest slot receivers in NFL history wasn't an imposing presence. Welker used his small size and shiftiness to his advantage and became an explosive threat in multiple offenses over the years.

3. Wes Welker: 5-foot-9

One of the greatest slot receivers in NFL history wasn't an imposing presence. Welker used his small size and shiftiness to his advantage and became an explosive threat in multiple offenses over the years.

2. Mel Ott: 5-foot-9

Mel Ott: 5-foot-9 Credit: Twitter
Ott was one of the best hitters in baseball history as he clubbed 511 career home runs. Unlike many of the hitters of the recent steroid era, he wasn't a huge guy, but he used great mechanics to help him hit balls out of the ballpark consistently.

2. Mel Ott: 5-foot-9

Ott was one of the best hitters in baseball history as he clubbed 511 career home runs. Unlike many of the hitters of the recent steroid era, he wasn't a huge guy, but he used great mechanics to help him hit balls out of the ballpark consistently.

1. Emmitt Smith: 5-foot-9

Emmitt Smith: 5-foot-9 Credit: Getty Images
The NFL's all-time leading rusher was never one of the larger men on the field. Smith used his shorter center of gravity to his advantage and punished defenders with his bruising running.

1. Emmitt Smith: 5-foot-9

The NFL's all-time leading rusher was never one of the larger men on the field. Smith used his shorter center of gravity to his advantage and punished defenders with his bruising running.

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