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The Four Decade Club, and More
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
May 22, 2009
This Friday, as Interleague Play 2009 commences, Randy Johnson is all set to take the mound against the Seattle Mariners. This means that Johnson will have a chance to face former Mariners teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. as a Mariner for the first time. It is too bad that Omar Vizquel isn’t still on the Giants – it would be a reunion of three players who were on the 1989 Seattle Mariners, and three of the eight guys from the 1980s with a chance to become four decade players next year (John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Gary Sheffield, Tom Gordon, and Jamie Moyer are the others).
By the way, all eight of those players making it until next season looks doubtful, given that Smoltz, Glavine, and Gordon all look unlikely to even play another game, and Vizquel and Sheffield are having trouble getting on the field for their current teams. But if all eight hung on until next year, it would definitely be a record for most four decade players at one time. To put that in perspective, only three players played in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s – Rickey Henderson, Jesse Orosco, and the incomparable Mike Morgan.
In my opinion, Jamie Moyer will probably be the only four decade guy when next season starts. A couple of years ago it looked like Vizquel, Schillng, Glavine, Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Johnson, Barry Bonds, Sheffield, Gordon, and Griffey would all coast into the 20-teens. But that’s the thing about playing into your forties – one day you have it, the next day you don’t. If Johnson gets his 300th win and his 5,000th strikeout this season, it is hard to picture him coming back for next season.
The more I see Jamie Moyer, the more he looks like Eddie Harris, the Vaseline wearing junk-ball pitcher played by Chelcie Ross the movie Major League. Ross was 46 when Major League was released, which is the same age Moyer is now. Moyer’s career never gets old; here’s a little-reflected-upon fact – Moyer missed most of 1991 and all of 1992 not to injury, but to inadequacy. He pitched almost two full seasons in the minors during that time because he basically couldn’t cut it at the major league level. He was 28 and 29 during those years. Guys don’t usually come back from that.
If Vizquel and Griffey do manage to make it until next season, it would be somewhat remarkable since those two players made their major league debuts on the same day – April 3, 1989. And if Vizquel, Griffey, and Johnson all make it until next season, it would give the Seattle Mariners three players from the 1989 team that made it through four decades. Now, that’s just good scouting.
Mike Morgan and Moyer have a bit in common – Morgan was sent down to the minors for the better part of two seasons after seemingly establishing himself as a major leaguer. Except, it happened to Morgan twice, from 1980-1981, and then again from 1984-1985. The first time he was sent down, it was because he walked 50 and struck out only 17 at the age of 19 for the A’s. After he came back from his second extended demotion, he pitched an entire season and led the league in losses.
Another Moyer fun fact: Moyer made his major league debut in 1986, beating Steve Carlton. Fast forward to 2009, when Florida Marlins prospect Graham Taylor made his major league debut in a game losing to Moyer. Taylor will forever be able to say he made his major league debut against a guy who made his major league debut against Steve Carlton.
On April 26, Moyer struckout Cameron Maybin of the Florida Marlins, who was born on April 4, 1987, the start of Moyer’s second season in the majors. That isn’t the first time that this sort of thing has happened – he has also struck out Justin Upton (August 25, 1987), faced off against Chris Volstad (September 23, 1986), and pitched in the same game as Ryan Tucker (December 6, 1986). He will also likely soon face off against Jay Bruce, Clayton Kershaw, and other members of a quickly growing “Players Who Are Younger Than Jamie Moyer’s Career” Club.
Another Moyerism: Only 10,501 people attended what turned out to be a memorable game between the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros on September 2, 1986. The game featured a match-up between Nolan Ryan, then only 39 years old, and a rookie named Jamie Moyer. In the top of the ninth, Lee Smith entered the game and gave up the go-ahead run, but in the bottom of the ninth Larry Anderson, Charlie Kerfield, and Dave Smith couldn’t hold the lead. The game went into extras tied at four, and stayed that way until the 17th when Dan Driessen, Kevin Bass, and Jose Cruz, Sr., drove in runs in three consecutive at-bats against Dave Gumpert. In the bottom of the 17th, the Cubs promptly tied the score on a walk to Ryne Sandberg, a double by Bob Dernier, and a three run homerun to Keith Moreland. Manny Trillo was subsequently retired on a fly ball, and Jody Davis then singled. In order to make the most of the opportunity to win the game in that inning, the Cubs yanked Davis and replaced him with a 20 year old pitcher making his major league debut as a pinch runner. The rookie, a guy named Greg Maddux, wouldn’t score that inning, and ultimately gave up a homerun to Billy Hatcher and took the loss in the 18th inning. It would be one of only four relief appearances ever made by Maddux.
Humorously, of Maddux’s four relief appearances, two came in games in which Moyer was the starter and another came in a game in which Moyer was subsequently brought in an inning after Maddux pitched.
Speaking of Nolan Ryan, in the final start of his career, he retired no batters and gave up five earned runs. The last pitch he ever threw was a grand slam homerun by Dann Howitt. It was also Howitt’s last career homerun and RBI. And Omar Vizquel scored a run as part of the grand slam that was the last pitch ever thrown by Nolan Ryan.
Random Fact that Isn’t Even Fun: the first batter Julio Franco ever faced was Bob Forsch. The last was Lee Gardner.
Speaking of final games, in then 43-year-old Don Sutton’s final game, he was replaced in the eighth inning by 31 year old Jesse Orosco, who would go on to pitch for 15 more seasons. The last batter Sutton faced was Eric Davis, who struck out. Orosco’s final batter faced was probably one of the most amazing of all time (okay, probably not). With Alex Sanchez on first and one out in the bottom of the ninth of a tied game, Orosco was on the division winning Twins’ squad facing Warren Morris of the then 41-119 Detroit Tigers. On Orosco’s first pitch, Sanchez stole second. On his fourth pitch, Sanchez stole third. On his fifth pitch, Orosco struck out Morris, but did it on a wild pitch that scored Sanchez with the winning run and avoided the dreaded 120th loss for the almost historically bad Detroit Tigers.
Eric Davis was the first batter Terry Mulholland ever faced. Marcus Giles was the last.
Matty Alou was standing at the plate when Tom Seaver made his major league debut, and was standing on first base when Phil Niekro made his major league debut.
The Braves and Giants were playing each other in the game in which Phil Niekro made both his major league debut and his final appearance.
Speaking of Alous, in his debut, Felipe Alou was hitting leadoff for the Braves, while Matty Alou was hitting leadoff for the Giants. The Braves 3-4-5 hitters were Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, and Joe Torre. The Giants 3-4-5 hitters were Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Orlando Cepeda.
Sammy Ellis was on the mound for the Reds when Gaylord Perry made his debut, and was also on the mound when Warren Spahn’s pitched his last game, in relief of Gaylord Perry.
The last hitter Kenny Rogers ever faced was Ken Griffey, Jr., in 2008. Rogers made his major league debut on April 6, 1989, three days after Griffey.
The first batter Curt Schilling ever faced was Wade Boggs. The last was Mark Ellis.
Cal Ripken, Jr.’s first major league appearance was as a pinch runner in the bottom of the 12th inning against the Royals. Two batters later he scored the winning run on a single.
In 1990, five players joined the four decade club – Nolan Ryan, Rick Dempsey, Carlton Fisk, Jerry Reuss, and Bill Buckner. Buckner had exactly one plate appearance in 1969, popping out against Gaylord Perry. Buckner’s final at-bat was a fly ball against Kevin Brown.
Carlton Fisk joined the club by debuting with the Red Sox for two games in 1969, but did not get his first hit until 1971. In his first at-bat, he grounded out to Brooks Robinson off of Mike Cuellar.
Jerry Reuss pitched exactly seven innings in one game in 1969, and pitched 7.2 innings in four games in 1990. And despite being 37 years old, Reuss looked not a day under 85 on his 1987 Topps card.
If Catfish Hunter is in the Hall of Fame, why isn’t Mike Cuellar?
Only two players joined the four decade club in 1980 – Willie McCovey and Jim Kaat. Of course, that was also the year that Minnie Minoso joined the five decade club, but we’ll leave zany spectacles out of this.
The first batter Jim Kaat ever faced was Luis Aparicio in 1959. The last batter he ever faced was Marvell Wynne.
The last pitcher Willie McCovey ever faced was Rick Sutcliffe, in 1980. Sutcliffe had just relieved future four decade clubber Jerry Reuss.
Here’s a great Four Decade Club fun fact: even though he was 47 in 1970, Hoyt Wilhelm is not a member of the Four Decade Club because he made his major league debut at the age of 29 in 1952! As a result, the only member of the Four Decade Club from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was Minnie Minoso, who played three games in 1976.
The Four Decade Club for the 1930s-1960s is small but noteworthy. It includes Mickey Vernon, Ted Williams, and Early Wynn. There is no club for the 1920s-1950s, as even though he made to 1950, Luke Appling made his debut in 1930 at the age of 23. There is also no club for the 1910s-1940s.
The 1900s-1930s has a few members. Jack Quinn almost wins the Hoyt Wilhelm Award there, making his debut at the age of 25 in 1909 then pitching until the age of 49. Eddie Collins went from 1906 to 1930, playing only 12 games in the last two years of his career. Grover Hartley played 14 seasons from the age of 22 to 45 in the span of 1911-1934. He missed all of 1918-1923, then 1928, and then 1931-1933.
That stretch is almost more notable for the misses than the hits. Somehow, despite the fact that they were both old men in 1930, neither Cy Williams nor Pete Alexander managed to make their debuts in the 1900s. Red Faber debuted in 1914 at the age of 25 and pitched until he was 44. Wally Schang and Sam Rice each debuted well into their twenties, and could have played in 1909. Hank Gowdy debuted in 1910 and held on to 1930, while Clarence Mitchell pitched five games in 1910 but disappeared until 1916 before playing until 1930.
The same sort of thing happened in the 1890-1920 group. Jimmy Austin pulled a double-Wilhelm by playing from 1909-1929. He was 29 in 1909, which means he might have been able to debut in 1899, and he pitched his last season at the age of 49. From 1923-1929, he played in four games. Hard to believe he couldn’t have made it to one game in 1930. He could have been a five decade guy.
The 1880s-1910s group, of course, brings us to the amazing Deacon McGuire, who made his debut at the age of 20 in 1884, then played until the age of 48 in 1912. Of course, he only managed to play in 1781 games during his 26 seasons. And he missed all of 1889, 1909, and 1911, while playing in only 11 games from 1907-1912. But he made four decades. Jack O’Connor also squeaks through on a technicality, debuting at age 18 in 1887, then wrapping up his career in 1907 at the age of 28 before squeaking in one more game at the age of 41 in 1910.
At the other end of the extreme we have Fred Lake, who pulls a Wilhelm by making his debut in 1891 at the age of 24, missing the 1880s. He was out of baseball from 1892-1893, played in 1894, missed 1895-1896, played 1897-1898, then missed the next twelve years before resurfacing in 1910.
Cy Young pulls a major, devastating Wilhelm by making his major league debut in 1890 at the age of 23, then pitching until 1911.
The strangest career of all, in this respect, might be Cap Anson. He played for 27 seasons, one of the longest careers of all time. When he debuted at 19 years old, he was one of a few teenagers ever to become a major league regular. When he played his last season at the age of 45, he became one of the few 45 year olds to play a full season as a position player. But because he made his debut in 1871, and played his final season in 1897, he is not in the four decade club. Timing can be a killer.
This has been a rambling piece, so let me leave you with this final thought: I am currently 31, and I will be 32 when (if) Griffey or Moyer or Vizquel or some other player I watched in elementary school become four decade clubbers. And I will be in my early 50s when (if) Justin Upton, Clayton Kershaw, or Jay Bruce become four decade clubbers in 2030. Now that's a thought that's gonna fester.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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