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Each team's best season by a player over 40

@williamfleitch
June 14, 2020

This weekend, we wrote about Julio Franco, who, along with Jamie Moyer, will be known forever as the greatest of all old-guy players. If you’re in your mid-40s, or even your late-40s, those guys will forever give you hope. But every team has had a 40-something star at some point.

This weekend, we wrote about Julio Franco, who, along with Jamie Moyer, will be known forever as the greatest of all old-guy players. If you’re in your mid-40s, or even your late-40s, those guys will forever give you hope.

But every team has had a 40-something star at some point. So, today, we take a look at the best season on every team by a player over the age of 40. We’re going to limit this to the last 40 years, from 1980 on, though we’ll take this moment to give a shoutout to Charley O’Leary and Satchel Paige, both of whom appeared in a game at the age of 58, in 1934 and 1965, respectively. But we’re going to focus on exceptional seasons rather than just cameo appearances: These guys weren’t just still playing in their 40s: They were good.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays -- Dave Winfield, age 40, 1992

Key fact: Hit go-ahead double in Game 6 win that clinched World Series.

The Hall of Famer won his one World Series ring with Toronto, but he very much earned it: He hit 26 homers and had an .867 OPS in the title year.

Orioles -- Harold Baines, age 40, 1999

Key fact: Had highest OPS (.977) among qualified batters that season for Baltimore.

Baines was so good for the Orioles the first four months of 1999, that they traded him to the Indians at the Trade Deadline … and he was Cleveland’s best hitter that postseason.

Rays -- Wade Boggs, age 41, 1999

Key fact: In the final four games of his career at Fenway Park, the former Red Sox great hit .429 with a double and a homer.

Boggs might not have been able to get into the Hall of Fame as a Ray … but he was able to hit .301 for them in his final season.

Red Sox -- David Ortiz, age 40, 2016

Key fact: Led Major Leagues in doubles (48), RBIs (127), slugging percentage (.620) and OPS (1.021)

It is the most David Ortiz thing ever that he would lead the Majors in doubles, slugging percentage and OPS for the first time in his career … right before he retired.

Yankees -- Mariano Rivera, age 41, 2011

Key fact: Struck out 60 and walked eight in 61 1/3 innings.

Honestly, take your pick of Rivera seasons, but we’ll go with this one, where he had 54 saves and an absurd 1.91 ERA.

AL CENTRAL

Indians -- Dennis Martinez, age 41, 1995

Key fact: Adjusted ERA+ of 152 was second best of his career (153 in 1991).

Martinez was incredible for one of the best forgotten teams of the last 25 years, which edges him ahead of Phil Niekro, who threw 210 1/3 innings at the age of 47.

Royals -- George Brett, age 40, 1993

Key fact: Over his final 91 games of the season -- and his career -- Brett hit .284/.336/.470 with 13 homers.

This wasn’t even close to one of Brett’s best seasons, but he still hit 19 homers, playing for manager (and former teammate) Hal McRae.

Tigers -- Darrell Evans, age 40, 1987

Key fact: Posted a slugging percentage better than .500 (.501) for the fourth and final time in his 21-year career.

Evans smashed 34 homers in his age-40 season, which is only slightly more impressive than hitting 22 in his age-41 campaign.

Twins -- Fernando Rodney, age 41, 2018

Key fact: From April 28-June 5, Rodney gave up one run over 13 appearances (14 1/3 innings), converting 11 straight save chances.

The Twins were mocked for making Rodney their closer in 2018, but he had 25 saves and one of the best strikeout rates of his career.

White Sox -- Carlton Fisk, age 42, 1990

Key fact: Led the club in home runs (18) and was second in OPS (.829).

Fisk might have still been the best catcher in baseball in 1990, which is probably why he kept playing through '93.

AL WEST

Angels -- Reggie Jackson, age 40, 1986

Key fact: Drew 92 walks for the season, his most in 18 years (114 in 1969).

This isn’t just the season Reggie hit 18 homers; it’s the season when Ludwig ordered him to kill the Queen.

Astros -- Roger Clemens, age 42, 2005

Key fact: Finished third in NL Cy Young Award voting; it was the 10th and final time in his career he finished in the top three among Cy Young Award candidates.

Clemens was fantastic all three years he was in Houston, but his second year was his best one, and he posted the lowest ERA (1.87) of his entire career.

Athletics -- Bartolo Colon, age 40, 2013

Key fact: Had the second-highest WAR (Baseball Reference) on the roster, with 5.6 (behind only Josh Donaldson's 7.2).

There are a lot to choose from here, mostly relievers, so we’ll go with Bartolo’s 18-6, 2.65 ERA season.

Mariners -- Jamie Moyer, age 40, 2003

Key fact: Led Seattle's starting rotation in ERA (3.27) and innings pitched (215).

Moyer pitched for so long that his age-40 season almost gets lost. He won 21 games that year, a season after he threw 230 2/3 innings.

Rangers -- Nolan Ryan, age 44, 1991

Key fact: Threw his seventh and final no-hitter on May 1 vs. the Blue Jays in Arlington.

At the age of 44, Ryan had a 2.91 ERA and had the lowest WHIP in baseball, at 1.006.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Braves -- Phil Niekro, age 41, 1980

Key fact: Threw 43 1/3 more innings than any other Braves starter.

Niekro would still be pitching seven years later, but he wasn’t throwing 275 innings seven years later.

Marlins -- Charlie Hough, age 45, 1993

Key fact: Started the first game in franchise history on April 5, giving up three runs over six innings and earning the win over the Dodgers.

It's probably cheating a little bit to have so many knuckleballers on this list, but that is one of the many glories of the knuckleball.

Mets -- Bartolo Colon, age 43, 2016

Key fact: Had the fewest walks per nine innings (1.5) in the NL.

Sure, Colon is on this list twice, but is there anyone else in baseball you’d want to have on this list twice?

Nationals -- Fernando Rodney, age 42, 2019

Key fact: Turned in five straight scoreless appearances in the 2019 postseason before yielding two runs in the seventh inning of World Series Game 4 against the Astros.

Oh. Yes. This is the other guy you’d want to have on this list twice. And he got a World Series ring for his efforts.

Phillies -- Jamie Moyer, age 45, 2008

Key fact: Picked up the win in Game 3 of the World Series against the Rays, tossing 6 1/3 innings while yielding three runs on five hits, walking one and striking out five.

All right, fine, it turns out there is one more player you want to see on this list twice.

NL CENTRAL

Brewers -- Trevor Hoffman, age 41, 2009

Key fact: Had more strikeouts (48) than hits allowed (35), as well as the second-lowest WHIP of his career (0.91).

Hoffman had an incredible penultimate season of his career, with a 1.83 ERA and 37 saves.

Cardinals -- Dennis Eckersley, age 41, 1996

Key fact: Made six scoreless appearances in the 1996 postseason for the Cardinals, recording four saves.

Tony La Russa brought over Eck in his first year in St. Louis and was rewarded with a vintage Eckersley season.

Cubs -- Greg Maddux, age 40, 2006

Key fact: Had the lowest FIP (3.80) and highest strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.5) among all Cubs starting pitchers.

This may have been the worst season of Maddux’s career, which of course means he was better than most other pitchers in baseball.

Pirates -- Danny Darwin, age 40, 1996

Key fact: Went 4-1 with a 1.06 ERA over five June starts.

Willie Stargell had three subpar years in his 40s, but Darwin, somehow, put up a 3.02 ERA in 19 starts in 1996.

Reds -- Barry Larkin, age 40, 2004

Key fact: After a slow start to the season, Larkin -- who was batting .167 entering play on April 20 -- hit .327/.375/.481 with seven homers over his next 75 games.

As a player-manager, Pete Rose may have penciled himself into the lineup a lot many years after he turned 40, but he never had a year that approached Larkin’s.

NL WEST

D-backs -- Randy Johnson, age 40, 2004

Key fact: Johnson, who led the AL in walks each year from 1990-92, posted the lowest walks-per-nine-innings ratio of his career in 2004 (1.6).

Striking out 290 batters in your age 40 season is absolutely absurd.

Dodgers -- Brett Butler, age 40, 1997

Key fact: Butler's two hottest months at the plate were April and July -- he hit .360 in April and .329 in July.

A year after overcoming cancer, Butler returned to universal plaudits, and a .283 average with 15 steals.

Giants -- Barry Bonds, age 42, 2007

Key fact: Set new career home run record with his 756th on Aug. 7, surpassing Hank Aaron's mark.

Oh, no big deal, it’s just Bonds putting up a .480 OBP at the age of 42. (No one has had one that high since.)

Padres -- David Wells, age 41, 2004

Key fact: Led NL with fewest walks per nine innings -- 0.9.

You knew Wells was going to show up here somewhere. He would still pitch for three more years after this … for three different teams.

Rockies -- Jason Giambi, age 40, 2011

Key fact: Hit three home runs and drove in seven during a 7-1 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 19.

Admit it: You forgot Giambi was still going at 40, and doing it in Colorado. He only played 64 games, but he hit 13 homers in those 64 games.