A 40-and-up squad you wouldn't want to face

January 20th, 2022

The results of the Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame voting will be announced on Jan. 25 on MLB Network, and it appears that David Ortiz has the best shot at induction based on the ballots that have become public.

Ortiz built a Cooperstown case over his 14 seasons with the Red Sox, three of which led to World Series titles. And his closing statement was an impressive one. Big Papi announced on his 40th birthday that he would retire after the 2016 season, then went out and authored a finale for the record books. But is it enough to make baseball's all-time "old guys" team?

Here’s a look at a team made up of the best players in their 40s in the Modern Era (since 1900) -- selecting individual seasons, by position, with the best production. Players’ positions are their primary position for those seasons, defined as having played at least 50 percent of games at that position. Ages are based on the player’s age on June 30 of that season.

Starting pitcher: Cy Young, 1908 (age 41)

This happened in very different times, of course, but in 1908, a 41-year-old Young lived up to his last name, putting together one of his nine different nine-WAR seasons in his career. His 9.4 WAR was the most by any pitcher in his age-40 season or older in the Modern Era. Young threw 299 innings and struck out 150 batters, with a WHIP of 0.89.

Honorable mentions

The only player to win a BBWAA Award in his age-40 season or later is Roger Clemens, who was in his age-41 season when he won the National League Cy Young Award in 2004. In some ways, he actually had a better statistical season the next year, though, when at 42 years old, he had 7.8 WAR, third-most on that list, and a 1.87 ERA -- the lowest by any 40-year-old pitcher in a qualified season since earned runs became official in both leagues in 1913.

Randy Johnson’s 2004, at 40 years old, had 8.4 WAR, second behind Young, and 290 strikeouts, second-most by a pitcher in his age-40 season or older. It’s also worth mentioning Nolan Ryan’s 1989 season, when he was 42 and struck out 301 batters -- the most of any 40-year-old pitcher and the only such 300-K season.

Relief pitcher: Mariano Rivera, 2011 (age 41)
It was pretty much guaranteed to be one of two Rivera seasons -- either this one, when he had 44 saves, tied for the most by a 40-year-old since the stat became official in 1969, or 2013, when he tied his own record with another 44 saves. 2011 was the choice, though, because he also had a 1.91 ERA and struck out 26 percent of batters he faced that season.

Honorable mentions
As noted above, Rivera’s age-43 season in 2013 makes the list, with 44 saves and a 2.11 ERA. A few others to consider include Trevor Hoffman’s 2009, when he had 37 saves and a 1.83 ERA as a 41-year-old, and Hoyt Wilhelm’s 1967 -- before the advent of the save -- when he had a 1.31 ERA. That’s the lowest ERA by any 40-year-old pitcher to make at least 40 appearances in a season since earned runs became official.

Catcher: Carlton Fisk, 1990 (age 42)
Fisk had 4.9 WAR in 1990 for the White Sox, the most WAR of any 40-year-old catcher. He had an .829 OPS and played in 137 games that season, hitting .285. It was his fourth-highest season of his career, by WAR, with the others all coming in the 1970s. Fisk got MVP consideration in 1990, his first time appearing on the ballot since 1985, his age-37 season.

Honorable mentions
There are other Fisk seasons worth noting, too, like his 1989 season, when he had 3.3 WAR in his age-41 season. His 19 homers in 1988 were the most of any catcher in his age-40 season. The third-most WAR by a 40-plus catcher was 3.1 by Bob Boone in 1988, in his age-40 season.

First base: Darrell Evans, 1987 (age 40)
Evans’ 1987 season was far and away the top choice among 40-year-old first basemen. He had 34 homers, the most by any first baseman in a single season in this age bracket. It wasn’t just the most such homers, it was 16 more than any other 40-year-old first baseman -- 2005 Rafael Palmeiro is next, with 18. Evans’ 4.9 WAR was by far the most, too, with the next highest in the Modern Era being 1.7. The 1987 season was one of four times in Evans’ career that he received MVP votes, with the others being in his age-26 season, age-36 and age-38.

Honorable mention
The other season worth noting here is Pete Rose’s 1981, when he hit .325 as a 40-year-old. That’s the highest batting average by any qualified first baseman in his age-40 season or older.

Second base: Craig Biggio, 2006 (age 40)
Biggio isn’t necessarily associated with homers, but his 21 in 2006 were the most by any second baseman in a season at 40 or older. And his 135 hits that year were just barely second most in the age and position parameters. The 2006 season was the second-to-last of Biggio’s career.

Honorable mentions
In 1915 Nap Lajoie had 137 hits in his age-40 season, the most of any 40-plus second baseman in a season. And in 1927, Eddie Collins had a 2.2 WAR season as a 40-year-old -- not usually a total worth writing home about, but it was the highest by our Modern Era 40-plus second basemen. He hit .336 that season, but played in just 95 games.

Third base: Luke Appling, 1948 (age 41)
Appling did also play some shortstop in 1948, but he qualified as a primary-position third baseman here. His 3.4 WAR was the highest of any 40-year-old third baseman, and his .314 batting average that year was the highest, too, minimum 300 plate appearances. In the final four seasons of his career -- his age-40 season onward -- Appling hit .301 with 13.4 WAR total, so it should be no surprise when he shows up on another list below at a different position.

Honorable mentions
In 1985, 40-year-old Graig Nettles had 15 homers, second most among 40-year-old third basemen, and 3.3 WAR, second most behind Appling. He set the mark for most homers, too, in 1986, his age-41 season. In 2012, Chipper Jones had 14 homers and 2.8 WAR in his age-40 season -- both marks tied for third for 40-and-over third basemen. And in 1999, Wade Boggs hit .301 in his age-41 season, the second-highest average with a minimum of 300 plate appearances.

Shortstop: Honus Wagner, 1915 (age 41)
Wagner put up 5.6 WAR in 1915, most of any 40-year-old shortstop in the Modern Era. It was one of a number of productive seasons for Wagner on the other side of 35 -- he also had five-plus WAR in 1912, his age-38 season, 1911 at age 37, and 1910, at age 36.

Honorable mention
Here’s where Appling comes up again -- in 1949, he had 5.1 WAR in his age-42 season, playing primarily shortstop. His and Wagner’s 1915 are the only two five-WAR seasons by shortstops in their age-40 season or older.

Left field: Stan Musial, 1962 (age 41)
Even into his 40’s, Stan was still The Man. His .330 batting average in 1962 was second highest among left fielders in age-40 seasons (minimum 300 PA), and his 3.6 WAR was second highest, too. He was an All-Star that year for the 17th straight season and received MVP votes, too. He’d finish his career a year later, after the 1963 campaign.

Honorable mentions
There are a handful of seasons worth mentioning here. In 1985, a 40-year-old Davey Lopes stole 47 bases in his age-40 season. In 1999, a 40-year-old Rickey Henderson swiped 37 -- and hit .315, too. In 1960, Ted Williams had 29 homers, tied for most among 40-year-old left fielders with 2013 Raúl Ibañez, in his age-41 season. There’s also 2006 Barry Bonds, who had 4.0 WAR, most among 40-plus-aged left fielders, and 26 homers, in his age-41 season. And his 2007 season, too, when he had 28 homers, 143 walks and 3.4 WAR.

Center field: Willie Mays, 1971 (age 40)
It figures that the player many regard as the greatest of all time makes this list. In 1971, his age-40 season, Mays had 6.3 WAR, most of any center fielder under the parameters. He hit 18 homers, led the National League with a .425 on-base percentage, and was an All-Star for the 18th straight season.

Honorable mention
In 1941, Johnny Cooney had a .319 batting average in his age-40 season, the highest among 40-plus center fielders, minimum 300 plate appearances. He also had 3.0 WAR, second-most -- a distant second behind Mays’ 6.3.

Right field: Ty Cobb, 1927 (age 40)
Cobb hit a whopping .357 in 1927, the highest batting average of any right fielder in his 40s, minimum 300 plate appearances. He also put up 4.4 WAR that season, which clocks in as just barely second most among these older right fielders. 1927 was one of two seasons Cobb would spend with the Philadelphia Athletics at the end of his Hall of Fame career, after he spent the first 22 years in Detroit.

Honorable mention
In 1930, Sam Rice had 4.8 WAR, just ahead of Cobb, and a .349 batting average in his age-40 season. The top of the WAR and batting average lists among 40-plus right fielders are both primarily composed of Rice and Cobb seasons, including these two and other years.

Designated hitter: David Ortiz, 2016 (age 40)
This one is particularly easy to remember, because it wasn’t that long ago. Big Papi’s stellar goodbye season, when he hit .315 with a .620 slugging percentage, knocking 38 homers, 48 doubles and amassing 127 RBIs. He had 5.2 WAR, most among 40-year-old designated hitters, and his 38 homers were atop the list, too, as was his batting average and slugging percentage. He led the Majors with a .620 slugging percentage, and his 48 doubles were tops, too. Nobody in the American League had more than his 127 RBIs that year.

Honorable mentions
In 1999, Hall of Famer Harold Baines had 25 homers, a .312 batting average and .533 slugging percentage in his age-40 season. All of those rank third highest or better among 40-year-old DHs. And in 1992, Dave Winfield had 4.1 WAR, second most behind Ortiz on the list, and 26 homers, also second most -- in his age-40 season.