Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

The tallest pitcher in the history of professional baseball is now a beach volleyball star

For a while, it looked like Ryan Doherty was ticketed for a career in basketball. He was a star center at New Jersey's Toms River High School East, and by the end of his junior season, he'd already heard from Division I programs from Duke to Princeton.

And then, one day, he walked into coach's office with an announcement to make: He wouldn't be playing basketball as a senior. Doherty -- all 7-foot-1 of him -- wanted to concentrate on his pitching career. 

Doherty

Fittingly, Randy Johnson had a lot to do with that decision. As Doherty told ESPN the Magazine back in 2002: 

"I started to fall in love with baseball right around the time Randy Johnson was making a name for himself with the Mariners. I had a hero for life. I think I might have had a decent future in basketball, but my height in baseball makes me a real oddity. Guys just aren't used to facing pitchers my height."

He might not have been the Big Unit, but he could definitely pitch: After going 10-0 as a junior, Doherty posted a 1.14 ERA and struck out more than 12 batters per nine innings as a senior. Intrigued by his potential, Major League scouts began to take a look -- but the righty had his heart set on playing ball at Notre Dame, so he eventually went undrafted.

 

Doherty

Doherty soon became a star with the Irish, racking up 44 K's in just 28 2/3 innings as a freshman and eventually becoming a third-team All-American as a junior. Anxious to start his professional career, he eschewed his final year of college to sign with the D-backs as an undrafted free agent in June 2005. (The man who signed him? Mike Rizzo, then Arizona's vice president of scouting operations and currently GM and president of baseball operations for the Nationals.)

Just a few days later, on June 23, Doherty made his first appearance for the short-season Class A Yakima Bears, striking out three over two perfect innings -- and, in the process, becoming the tallest player in the history of professional baseball. 

Doherty

Alas, Doherty couldn't dethrone Jon Rauch as the tallest player in Major League history. After posting a 3.27 ERA over 33 innings in Yakima, he spent the 2006 season pitching in his old college town for the Class A South Bend Silver Hawks. He headed to Class A Advanced Visalia at the start of 2007 -- but after just three appearances, the D-backs abruptly released him, saying that they just didn't see him developing into a big league pitcher.

Don't worry, though, he eventually found another use for his height and athleticism: In 2009, he packed everything up and drove from New Jersey all the way to Huntington Beach, Calif., to pursue a career in beach volleyball -- a sport he'd long enjoyed but had never seriously picked up until his baseball career fizzled. Eight years later, Doherty's won two tournaments, finished second in eight more and is currently the 11th-ranked player in the Association of Volleyball Professionals.

"My story could've ended much differently with me being broke and heading back to New Jersey," he told The Postgame back in 2013. "But if that happened, at least I would've known I went for it. I believe if you pursue your passion as if it's your last breath of air, you won't look back and regret it."

As for his unique place in baseball history? Doherty's still the tallest player ever, but he now has some company: In 2006, 7-foot-1 Dutchman Loek Van Mil made his American debut in 2006 with the Gulf Coast League Twins (after they found some pants that would fit him, that is). He was last seen pitching for the Netherlands in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, making his fellow 7-footer proud: