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Some players could almost stop the clock

By Staff | May 30, 2014

Some of them sensed their time on the major league stage was finished. Others had statistical goals they wanted to reach or needed the money to erase bad investments or alimony owed ex-spouses.

A significant number of major league baseball players who played at age 40 and beyond are now enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, Rich Gossage and Tom Seaver relied heavily on their fastball until the very end.

Hoyt Wilhelm and Phil Niekro were kept going by their knuckleball. Niekro actually won 121 games after his 40th birthday.

Other knuckleball specialists continuing after a spritely 40th birthday were Charlie Hough, Joe Niekro and Tim Wakefield.

Wilhlem, Hough and the Niekros all had to bat at times when they were floating them up in the National League. Joe Niekro plied his trade for seven different teams before retiring at age 43.

The list of those winning the most games after age 40 has Jamie Moyer just behind Phil Niekro. Moyer recently retired at age 49. Following Moyer in order are Warren Spahn, Cy Young, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Hough, Roger Clemens, David Wells and Wilhelm.

The Hall of Fame beckoned Phil Niekro, Spahn, Young, Johnson, Ryan, and Wilhelm.

Playing for the Orioles after counting at least 40 candles on their over-sized cakes were both Dick Hall and Harold Baines. Mike Cuellar, Jesse Orosco and Dennis Martinez were significant contributors with Baltimore, but concluded their careers when past 40 with other teams.

Washington at one point had the long-time services of pitchers Conrado “Connie” Marrero and Early “Gus” Wynn and infielder Mickey Vernon, who all went beyond age 40.

Wynn won his 300th game and retired during the season. Outfielder Enos Slaughter had a memory for his statistics. After batting only .171 for the five teams he played for after his 40th birthday, he retired when his lifetime batting average was an even .300. Slaughter was 43 when he pinch hit for the final time.

Looking through the hallways in the Hall of Fame and locating the plaques for Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Rogers Hornsby and Tony Perez you will see all of them were on the field when past 40.

Mays limped home with several poor seasons, the last a .211 batting average for the New York Mets. Yastrzemski couldn’t manage a single .300 average in his last six seasons. Musial left at 42 after consecutive years with a .330 and .255 average. Perez hit .328 when he left at age 43.

Cobb remained productive to the very last days of his storied career. He hit .357 when he was 40 and .323 when he was 41 and playing for the Philadelphia A’s.

The polarizing Pete Rose stayed until he was 45. His batting average when age 40 was .325, but when finally left at 45, his last season showed a .219 average.

Hank Aaron led a considerable list of other Hall of Famers who played on. Aaron and Paul Molitor, Willie Stargell, Johnny Mize and base stealing Rickey Henderson looked age in the eye and made it blink at least for a little while.

Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Steve Carlton had enough left to reach the Mt. Olympus of pitching — at least 300 career wins.

Some of the most elderly position players going on were Dave Winfield (43), Graig Nettles (43), Honus Wagner (42) and Julio Franco (49).

Look around the major leagues today and you will find Raul Ibanez, Jason Giambi, LaTroy Hawkins and soon-to-be 40, Derek Jeter.

The patriarchs of the ageless wonders were Orestes “Minnie” Minoso and Leroy “Satchel” Paige. Minoso was a particular favorite of maverick owner Bill Veeck. Veeck let Minoso bat in a major league game at age 50 and again at age 60. Paige built his legend in the Negro Leagues from the 1920’s through 1948. Veeck brought him to Cleveland when the Indians were winning the pennant in 1948. Paige was the oldest rookie and he was 42. His record that year was 6-1.

Even pitcher Tommy John, whose arm received a ligament from his leg in transplant surgery that was performed for the first time, was well beyond 40 when he finally retired.

Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera retired when the 2014 season closed and he was well past his 40th birthday.

To those dozens and dozens of players, “Age was only a number.” They “Turned back the clock”, “Stopped time in its tracks” and “Were better ballplayers than Father Time.”