Sunday, September 27, 2009

BASEBALL'S OLDEST ROOKIES

Baseball, like most sports, is a young man's game. By the time a player gets to middle age, his skills diminish, and you'll find very few players over age 40 in major league baseball, or football and basketball, for that matter. Obviously teams are reluctant to invest in the future of a 30 something athlete who probably won't be playing for much longer. Thus, it is remarkable when a player makes it to the big time at an advanced age.

Although 40 years old is young for most careers in the real world, when it comes to sports, older players often find that, in the media, their ages are attached to their names. For example, "40 year old Brett Favre leads the Vikings to victory!" or "45 year old Jamie Moyer pitches the Phillies to the championship," or even "48 year old Julio Franco hits grand slam homer." In my regular monthly poker game, the leading winner the past three months was 91 year old Herman V., a retired toy store owner. Experience counts for something.

This season, the New York Mets signed a 40 year old rookie relief pitcher, Ken Takahashi, a southpaw, who had previously starred with the Hiroshima Carp for 14 years. Takahashi adapted well to his LOOG (Lefty One Out Guy) role in the Mets' bullpen. Forty year old rookies are unusual in sports, and the next logical question was: Who was the oldest player to debut in the major leagues?

The oldest rookie to debut was the legendary Leroy "Satchel" Paige, who broke in with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 at age 42. He pitched well that season, winning 6 and losing 1, with a fine earned run average. Although he was considered a rookie, Paige, a member of baseball's Hall of Fame, was the best pitcher in the old Negro Leagues for many years, so he wasn't exactly inexperienced. He helped the Indians win the World Championship that year. Paige pitched well enough for about 5 more years, even making the All-Star team in 1953 when he was 47. He was brought back in 1965 to start a game for Kansas City against the Boston Red Sox and pitched 3 scoreless innings, allowing only one hit. He was 59 years old. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, March 23, 2009).

The next oldest was the Pittsburgh Pirates' Diomedes Olivo, who debuted in 1960 at age 41, appearing in 4 games in the September pennant drive with a team that ultimately won the World Championship. Olivo was sent back to the minors the next season where he was the Player of the Year in the International League. In 1962, as a 43 year old rookie, Olivo returned to the Pirates where he appeared in 62 games, won 5 and lost only 1, with an excellent ERA of 2.77. In all fairness, Olivo wasn't inexperienced either. He was the greatest pitcher in the history of the Dominican Republic up to that time and is in that country's Hall of Fame.

Recently, a movie was made about Jim Morris who was a promising minor league pitcher until he hurt his arm. He retired from baseball and pursued a career as a high school science teacher and baseball coach. After several years he found that his arm had healed, and he could fire a 98 mph fastball, faster than he could throw when he was younger.

Fulfilling a promise to his students, Morris tried out with the Toronto Blue Jays and was signed to a contract. He made his rookie debut at age 35 and pitched in 21 games for the Jays in 1999 and 2000 before more arm troubles ended his career. In the 2002 Disney movie The Rookie, Morris was portrayed by actor Dennis Quaid. The movie is very inspiring.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim Morris didn't play for the Jays, he played for the Devil Rays

July 6, 2012 at 9:36 PM  

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