Maggi joins list of oldest players to debut

April 27th, 2023

Pirates infielder made headlines on Wednesday when he made his long-awaited Major League debut as a pinch-hitter for Andrew McCutchen in the eighth inning of Pittsburgh's 8-1 victory over the Dodgers at PNC Park. Maggi, who turns 34 on May 16, was called up to the big leagues last Sunday, receiving the news from Double-A Altoona manager in a heartwarming video, representing a significant career milestone for the 2010 15th-round Draft pick who has played 13 seasons and 1,155 games in the Minors.

But believe it or not, several players have waited even longer to get their first taste of the big leagues. Maggi became the ninth-oldest player to make his AL/NL debut in the Expansion Era (since 1961). Note that this excludes players who began their professional careers in a foreign league, as several others have played in MLB after long, successful careers that began in other nations. (If we were to include such players, the Expansion Era record would belong to Japanese pitcher , who played one season for the Mets in 2009 at age 40.)

Without further ado, here’s the list of the current top 10:

1. Joe Strong, RHP, Marlins (37 years, 245 days)
Debut date: May 11, 2000

Strong is a unique case in this exercise; though he played several seasons in leagues in China, Mexico and Japan before his MLB debut, his professional career did begin in the A’s organization after he was drafted in the 15th round in 1984, making him eligible for this list. 16 years and four countries after hearing his name called on Draft day, Strong made his MLB debut, throwing 1 1/3 shutout innings in a 5-4 win over the Braves. Strong finished his MLB career with a 5.81 ERA in 26 1/3 innings from 2000-01.

2. Billy Williams, RF, Seattle Pilots (37 years, 63 days)
Debut date: Aug. 15, 1969

We’ll get this out of the way first: the Seattle Pilots were what the current Brewers were called in their inaugural season of 1969, before they moved to Milwaukee and took their current team name a year later. As for Williams, he spent most of his career in Cleveland’s organization, reaching Triple-A at age 28 in 1960 before stagnating at that level, across various teams, for the vast majority of the decade. He did not get an at-bat in his debut (a 2-1 loss to the Orioles), and he finished 0-for-10 in his lone MLB season.

3. Hank Izquierdo, C, Twins (36 years, 142 days)
Debut date: Aug. 9, 1967

A Cuba native, Izquierdo spent a solid chunk of his Minor League career there, playing from 1957-60 for the Havana Sugar Kings (Cincinnati’s Triple-A affiliate in the International League). In total, Izquierdo played 16 seasons in the Minors from 1951-67 (he did not play in 1962) before making his MLB debut, in which he went 0-for-2 in a 9-7 loss to the Senators. 1967 ended up being his lone MLB season, as he finished 7-for-26 with two RBIs in 16 appearances.

4. Jim Morris, P, Devil Rays (35 years, 242 days)
Debut date: Sept. 18, 1999

Morris is the most recognizable name on this list due to Dennis Quaid’s portrayal of him in the 2002 film “The Rookie” (a movie in which the real Morris has a cameo as an umpire). For those who haven’t seen the film, it reflects Morris’ actual story quite accurately. Morris went nine consecutive seasons from 1990-98 without playing any professional baseball, instead serving as a baseball coach and high school teacher, before remarkably trying out for the Devil Rays in 1999, signing with the organization, and making his MLB debut later that season. He struck out the only batter he faced in his debut, and he finished his career with a 4.80 ERA in 15 innings from 1999-2000.

5. Minnie Mendoza, IF, Twins (35 years, 127 days)
Debut date: April 9, 1970

Mendoza’s Minor League ascent looked rapid initially, as the Cuba native reached Triple-A with the Sugar Kings in 1956 at age 21 (just before Hank Izquierdo’s arrival there). But Mendoza was not able to break through to the big leagues until the Twins’ second game of the 1970 season, when he played an inning in the field and did not bat in a 6-4 win over the White Sox. Mendoza proceeded to finish 3-for-16 with two RBIs in his lone MLB season.

6. Chi-Chi Olivo, P, Milwaukee Braves (35 years, 79 days)
Debut date: June 5, 1961

Coincidentally, Olivo wasn’t even the oldest player to make his MLB debut in his own family; his older brother, pitcher Diomedes Olivo, first appeared in MLB at age 41. But since the elder Olivo barely doesn’t qualify for this list (his MLB career began in 1960, one year before the Expansion Era), the family will have to settle for the younger one’s inclusion. Chi-Chi Olivo didn’t appear in the Minors until age 29 in 1955, and as a result, he only spent six years in the Minors until his MLB debut, when he allowed one run in one inning in a 5-3 loss to the Reds. Olivo carved out a four-season MLB career, which he finished with a 7-6 record, 12 saves and a 3.96 ERA.

7. , 1B, Astros (34 years, 30 days)
Debut date: June 18, 2002

Zinter was the 24th overall pick in the 1989 MLB Draft by the Mets, sandwiched one pick in between eventual All-Stars and . But while both Vaughn and Knoblauch made their MLB debuts in the 1991 season in their early 20s, Zinter’s journey was more complicated. He hovered in the Minors (and briefly in Japan) until his debut, when he went 0-for-1 in a 7-1 loss to the Brewers. Zinter also played for the D-backs in 2004, and he finished his career hitting .167 across his two seasons.

8. , P, Rangers (33 years, 362 days)
Debut date: May 13, 2018

Mann was drafted in the 27th round in 2002 by Tampa Bay out of high school, making his Rookie Ball debut later that season. For the next 16 years, Mann bounced between countless Minor League teams and had a brief stop in Japan in the early 2010s, before the Rangers called him up in 2018. He threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his debut, a 6-1 loss to the Astros. He finished his lone MLB season with five earned runs allowed in 8 1/3 innings pitched.

9. , DH, Pirates (33 years, 345 days)
Debut date: April 26, 2023

Maggi finally got his first plate appearance in the Majors after 13 seasons, 1,155 games and 4,494 plate appearances in the Minors, coming to the plate as a pinch-hitter for Pirates icon Andrew McCutchen in the eighth inning of a game against the Dodgers at PNC Park. Facing left-handed reliever Alex Vesia, Maggi struck out, but before doing so, he smashed a deep drive foul down the left-field line. Pittsburgh selected Maggi in the 15th round of the 2010 MLB Draft, and after playing in five other Major League organizations he returned to the Pirates' organization in '22. During Spring Training in '23, he hit .344/.417/.688 with three homers, making a strong bid for the Opening Day roster before being assigned to Double-A Altoona. He was called up to the Majors on April 23, when Bryan Reynolds was placed on the bereavement list.

10. , RF, Rockies (33 years, 277 days)
Debut date: Sept. 7, 1996

Cockrell was also an accomplished football player, starting at quarterback for the University of Tennessee in the early 1980s, but he chose to proceed with baseball after the Giants drafted him ninth overall in 1984 -- one pick before went to the A’s. Cockrell reached Triple-A at age 24 in 1987, but stagnated there for nearly a decade before his debut against the Astros, when he struck out in his only at-bat in a 5-4 loss. In nine appearances, all off the bench, Cockrell finished 2-for-8 with two RBIs in his lone MLB season.