The 7 oldest players to start Opening Day

Ichiro joined very select group at age 45

March 20th, 2019

Ichiro Suzuki got the start in right field for the Mariners in Wednesday's season opener against the A's in Tokyo, setting the stage for the first of two fond farewells to fans in his native country. The future Hall of Famer was officially 45 years and 149 days old on Wednesday, and according to Elias Sports Bureau, he is just the seventh player (and second position player) to start on Opening Day at age 45 or older.

Here they are, listed from oldest to youngest when they made their Opening Day appearance (or in one case, appearances).

Jack Quinn, RHP: 47 years, 287 days old in 1931 (Robins)

Quinn’s 1931 Opening Day start for Brooklyn was the fourth of his career -- his first came in 1914, when he was 30. The 1931 Opening Day start was the only one Quinn made that season, when he pitched in 39 games -- 38 of which were in relief. It was also the last start of his Major League career, and he allowed six runs in six innings against the Boston Braves and took the loss. Quinn pitched until 1933, appearing in his final game on July 7, 1933, at the age of 50 years, 6 days old.

Charlie Hough, RHP: 46 years, 90 days in 1994; 45 years, 90 days in '93 (both with the Marlins)

Know what's cooler than starting on Opening Day when you are older than 45? Doing it twice. Hough had the honor of starting the first two Opening Day games in Marlins history, during the final two seasons of his own career. Overall, he made eight Opening Day starts in his career, with each of the other six coming with the Rangers. The knuckleballer faced the same opponent in the two Marlins starts, pitching against the Dodgers’ Orel Hershiser in both. In 1993, he went six innings, allowing three earned runs as the Marlins beat the Dodgers in the first game in franchise history. In 1994, he again went six innings, that time allowing two earned and taking a no-decision in a game Los Angeles would win, 4-3.

Phil Niekro, RHP: 46 years, 7 days in 1985 (Yankees)

Niekro made nine Opening Day starts in his career, and this one in 1985 for the Yankees was his last. His other eight all came with the Braves. The Hall of Famer went four innings, allowing five earned runs in the '85 start vs. the Red Sox, including giving up home runs to Tony Armas and Dwight Evans in a 9-2 loss. Niekro would pitch until he was 48. His final career game was Sept. 27, 1987, for the Braves, at 48 years and 179 days old.

Tommy John, LHP: 45 years, 317 days old in 1989 (Yankees)

John was tabbed for the Opening Day start in 1989, which was ultimately the final season of his career. It was his fifth Opening Day start overall, having started for the Yankees in '81, as well as three times for the White Sox before his famous elbow surgery. John went seven innings and allowed two runs on 10 hits vs. the Twins in '89, picking up the win in a 4-2 Yankees victory. He made the 700th start and final Major League appearance of his career the following month on May 25, three days after turning 46 years old.

Julio Franco, 1B: 45 years, 227 days old in 2004 (Braves)

Franco started on Opening Day 14 times in his career, with the first coming as a 24-year-old shortstop for the Indians in 1983 and the last time being in 2004, as a first baseman at the age of 45. Franco went 0-for-4 for the Braves that day against Tom Glavine and two Mets relievers in an Atlanta loss. In his first Opening Day start in 1983, he went 1-for-3 with an RBI while hitting in the ninth spot in the order for Cleveland. Franco appeared in his final career game on Sept. 17, 2007, for the Braves at 49 years, 25 days old.

Ichiro Suzuki: 45 years, 149 days in 2019 (Mariners)

Ichiro came back to the Mariners to play right field in the 2019 season opener in Tokyo, making him the second-oldest position player to start an Opening Day game, just a couple months younger than Franco was. It was the 14th time Ichiro started on Opening Day, and the 13th time for the Mariners. His 13 Opening Day starts for the Mariners tie Ken Griffey Jr. for second-most for a position player in franchise history. The only batter to start more Opening Days for Seattle was Edgar Martinez, who did it 15 times.

Nolan Ryan, RHP: 45 years, 66 days in 1992 (Rangers)
Ryan made nine career Opening Day starts, three each for the Rangers, Astros and Angels. Ryan went 4 1/3 innings against Griffey Jr. and the Mariners in the 1992 start, allowing three runs (one earned). Ryan made 27 starts in total in '92, the next-to-last season of his big league career, with his final outing coming on Sept. 22, 1993, at the age of 46 years and 234 days.