Return worth the wait for Braves' 36-year-old

April 18th, 2021

's baseball career has been a display of tremendous persistence, and now the 36-year-old infielder has made some history.

Kazmar was called up to the Majors by the Braves ahead of their game against the Cubs on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field. The club also recalled right-hander Bryse Wilson, selected left-hander Jesse Biddle and placed Sean Newcomb and Ender Inciarte on the injured list.

Kazmar’s previous MLB experience consisted of 19 games for the 2008 Padres, concluding with an appearance off the bench on Sept. 23, 2008, against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. In other words, Kazmar -- who grounded into a double play Saturday in a fifth-inning pinch-hit appearance against the Cubs -- went 12 years and 206 days since his last MLB game.

“I mean, definitely, [I felt] everything and some,” Kazmar said after Saturday’s 13-4 loss to the Cubs. “One amazing feeling. Obviously, [it] wasn’t the outcome we were looking for, you know a win would have been nice, but man, what a good feeling. Getting that opportunity early in the game was awesome. Glad to be here, and hopefully stick around a little longer.”

The game almost felt like a second big league debut as Kazmar's wife and parents were in attendance. The callup buzzed across the Majors as managers and players alike rooted for Kazmar’s success.

"When I saw that today, as we were going over pregame stuff, his last at-bat was back in, what, [2008]? I think about the progression of my career and what all has transpired and where I'm at, and he's still the ultimate grinder and loving baseball,” said Cubs manager David Ross. “That's a great story, and I love to hear those stories and see those things happen in baseball. It's great for our sport."

While not quite unprecedented in MLB history, nobody has returned to the big leagues after such a long layoff in more than 60 years. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last player with a longer gap between MLB games was Ralph Winegarner, who went 13 years and 14 days between pitching appearances for the 1936 Indians and ‘49 St. Louis Browns.

Among players to start their MLB careers since 1900, Kazmar will have the ninth-longest gap between appearances, per Elias. The all-time record (22 years, two days) is held by Paul Schreiber, a pitcher who saw more than two decades elapse between taking the mound for Brooklyn in 1923 and the Yankees in 1945. (In ‘45, Schreiber was a 42-year-old batting-practice pitcher who was elevated to the Yankees’ active roster).

12+ years between MLB appearances/career start since 1900 (per Elias Sports Bureau)
22 years, 2 days: Paul Schreiber (1923-45)
20 years, 365 days: Charlie O’Leary (1913-34)
19 years, 69 days: Gabby Street (1912-31)
15 years, 221 days: Clay Touchstone (1929-45)
15 years, 74 days: Fred Johnson (1923-38)
14 years, 297 days: Joe Cicero (1930-45)
13 years, 14 days: Ralph Winegarner (1936-49)
12 years, 309 days: Ken Penner (1916-29)
12 years, 68 days: Minnie Miñoso (1964-1976)
12 years, 3 days: Satchel Paige (1953-1965)

Kazmar slides into that list just ahead of two baseball legends.

• Minnie Miñoso, a nine-time All-Star with a compelling Hall of Fame case, went 12 years and 68 days between appearances for the 1964 and ‘76 White Sox. Miñoso was 50 when he started three games at designated hitter for Chicago in September 1976. While it was something of a stunt by owner Bill Veeck, Miñoso went 1-for-8 and remains the oldest player to pick up an MLB hit since 1934.

• Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, a Negro Leagues star who went on to make his MLB debut just after his 42nd birthday in 1948, later went 12 years and three days between appearances for the 1953 Browns and ‘65 Kansas City Athletics. An All-Star at age 46 with the ‘53 Browns, Paige was signed for one game late in the ‘65 season by A’s owner Charlie Finley. On Sept. 25 against the Red Sox, he became the oldest player to appear in an MLB game -- and wouldn’t you know it, he tossed three scoreless innings at age 59.

But for Kazmar, this is no stunt. A fifth-round pick by the Padres in the 2004 MLB Draft, the right-handed batter made it to the Majors at age 24 and went 8-for-39 (.205) with one double and two RBIs for San Diego in ‘08. Ever since, it’s been a long journey to return.

“That was probably one of the greatest moments I’ve had as a manager at all levels. Quite honestly, it's amazing. I mean you go from ’08 to 2021 in between, you got to be kidding me," Snitker said. "The perseverance and the dedication and the drive, and the thing is I just was telling the guys that he’s getting better as a player. I mean he probably was the MVP of Spring Training for like the third year in a row. It’s the perfect guy right now for where we're at.

"I mean we need some versatility with Ozzie [Albies] being dinged and whatnot, so he does play anywhere on the diamond so he’s a good fit for us right now.”

Kazmar played in the Padres’ system through 2010, then spent one year apiece in the Mariners and Mets organizations before jumping to Atlanta. From 2013-19, he spent each season at Triple-A Gwinnett. In 2019, he played in 108 games and batted .270/.333/.430 with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs while playing all four infield positions and even pitching a few times. (There have been no official Minor League games since ‘19, with teams instead running alternate training sites).

All in all, Kazmar has played in 1,670 Minor Leagues games and taken more than 6,600 Minor League plate appearances -- most of them since he first made the Majors. Now, finally, he is getting another chance in The Show.