2020 has been disappointing, to say the least, and we could really use a "Big Sexy" savior. Bartolo Colon, who last pitched at 45, is attempting a comeback at 47. Here are some of the most entertaining older pitchers from recent memory, starting with Colon himself.
Everything about Bartolo Colon was anomalous. In his last season, 2018 with the Rangers, he was listed at 5-foot-11 and 285 pounds, making him officially the heaviest player in MLB history under 6-foot. With his goofy smile and multiple chins, every feat of athleticism seemed like a miracle. Despite this, he performed what seemed the impossible every time he played. There was his only MLB home run, his unbelievable behind-the-back flip to first and his impersonation of Willie Mays — all at age 42.
His legend only seemed to grow as he advanced in age (and width). Everything he did was exceptional, be it good, bad or bizarre. The good: 38 consecutive strikes in one game. The bad: swinging out of his own helmet. The bizarre: the way he ran to first, clutching his bat and rarely reaching the bag. Even his personal life was outlandish, though not necessarily admirable.
Perhaps the most incredible Colon feat of all was how he continued to pitch successfully, throwing almost entirely fastballs. In 2016, fastball variations comprised 90.6 percent of his total pitches despite the fact that he averaged less than 88 mph. He threw strikes relentlessly, rarely walking anyone while somehow avoiding the heart of the strike zone. His impeccable command allowed the last active former Expo to pitch beyond his 45th birthday, yielding countless highlights and lowlights along the way.
Jamie Moyer, 49
Moyer was the Benjamin Button of pitchers. His season stats make more sense in reverse order. He started 10 games for the Rockies in 2012 at age 49, and before missing 2011 with an injury, he enjoyed a successful four-and-a-half-year stint with his hometown Phillies. The best years of his career were spent in Seattle, from his mid-30s to early 40s, during which he received down-ballot Cy Young votes three times. Prior to his age-33 season, he really wasn’t good at all. He had three unremarkable years in Baltimore from 1993-1995, pitched in the minor leagues in 1992 at age 29 and was waiver wire fodder from 1989-1991. Finally (firstly?), he spent three seasons with the Cubs after debuting at age 23 in 1986.
In almost all other cases, if a pitcher hasn’t bloomed by age 32, he never will. There are exceptions, such as Rich Hill, but Moyer lasted 17 years after his rejuvenation. From 1986-1995, his career ERA was 4.51; from 1996-2012, it was 4.16. Since 1961, he’s one of only 16 pitchers, 11 of whom are Hall of Famers, with 4,000 innings pitched. More dubiously, he holds the all-time record for home runs surrendered, with 522. That’s a price worth paying for extraordinary longevity; Moyer is one of only four pitchers to ever take the mound after his 49th birthday.
Mariano Rivera, 43
While not quite as old at the end of his career as other pitchers on this list, Mariano makes up the difference with sheer dominance. The GOAT reliever had a 1.95 ERA and allowed fewer than one base runner per inning from 2010-2013, ages 40-43. He threw only one pitch: a devastating cutter that sawed off bats at the handle (literally). Even in his final season, he averaged 92 mph. That was a few ticks less than in his prime, but his results were just as sublime.
An exceptional athlete, one of the running, half-serious jokes on the Yankees was that Rivera was their best defensive outfielder. But that distinction almost cost him an early end to his career. On May 3, 2012, he was shagging fly balls before a game in Kansas City when he tore his ACL. At age 42, he had hinted that it would have been his final season, but he refused to go out strapped to a cart. He rehabbed the injury, returned in 2013 and pitched in 64 games with a 2.11 ERA. He retired as the all-time leader in saves (652) and games finished (952), becoming the first unanimously elected Hall of Famer, in 2019.
In a strange way, Orosco -- who pitched for the fabulous Mets World Series champs in 1986 -- can thank Barry Bonds for extending his career. The durable lefty reliever had already pitched in four different decades when he signed as a minor league free agent with the Dodgers in 2001. The 43-year-old was released at the end of spring training. Meanwhile in the NL West, Bonds blasted nine home runs in 18 games through April 24 (he would finish the season with a big-league record 73), and the Dodgers decided to bring back the lefty specialist after all for one specific purpose: handle Barry Bonds at his monstrous peak.
That’s not a task any pitcher would relish, and most would probably develop lifelong nightmares over it. He did his job well, though. During those three seasons, mostly with the Dodgers and Padres, he faced Bonds 11 times, and the slugger managed to go only 1-for-10 with a walk (the one hit was a home run, of course). For context, he averaged a homer every 7.7 at bats during those years, batting .345 with a .542 on-base percentage. The sheer terror inflicted by one player on NL West managers earned the pitcher three more years in the big leagues.
Nolan Ryan, 46
The all-time strikeout king could have retired at 39 and still would have become a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Instead, Ryan lasted another seven seasons and set the standard for pitching dominance after 40. He led the NL with a 2.76 ERA and 270 strikeouts in 1987 and followed that with another strikeout title in 1988 with 228.
Ryan signed with the Rangers in 1989 and then became one of the franchise’s greatest pitchers, playing for them from ages 42-46. He won two more strikeout crowns, with 301 and 232 in 1989 and 1990, respectively, threw his sixth and seventh career no-hitters in 1990 and 1991, respectively, and even won a legendary brawl with Robin Ventura at age 46. He threw his final pitch in 1993 at 98 mph — with a torn elbow ligament!
After the age of 40, he paced the league in strikeouts four times, strikeouts per nine innings five times, hits per nine innings four times and WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) twice. He received Cy Young and MVP consideration two times each. The 1,437 batters he struck out in his 40s are more than 17 Hall of Fame pitchers had in their entire careers.
Through 2019, Rodney remained one of the most entertaining pitchers in baseball, but that doesn't mean he had an easy path. His colorful mound antics included his sideways tilted cap (to honor his father) and his “shooting the arrow” celebration (a homage to his hometown).
Rodney signed with the Tigers as a prospect in 1997 but didn’t fully establish himself in the majors until 2005 at age 28. He enjoyed success as a closer and setup man for many years, and his 2012 season was one of the greatest ever by a reliever.
Fortunately, no one delivered the message that he was supposed to wind down at some point, and he continued to be a serviceable reliever through last season. Aside from all the imaginary arrows he shot into the sun, the defining characteristic of his later years has been transiency.
Rodney has changed teams midyear in four of the past five seasons. Since 2015, he’s suited up for the Mariners, Cubs, Padres, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Twins, A’s and finally the Nationals. In the last stop of his 17th and possibly final season, he collected his first World Series ring. He’s still unsigned for 2020, and if he truly has fired his last arrow, at least he went out on top.
Aging gracefully ...
Here are a few more noteworthy older pitchers.
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