Roughly two months ago, I foolishly went chasing a foul pop-up during a slow-pitch softball game, slipped on the concrete and landed hard, with my left hand taking the brunt of the impact. The finger that was broken — non-displaced fracture, the X-rays told us — still hurts, as do the other three fingers and my wrist. Only the thumb feels “normal” at this point.
In my younger years, this would have been a three-week injury, but having passed the 40-year milestone a few years ago, I can tell you this from experience: The body does not heal like it used to. And that’s why I’m so very impressed with how the “old” guys in baseball are still not only surviving in a young man’s sport, but thriving.
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Here are eight players who have sprinted past their 37th birthdays — four hitters and four pitchers — and are still getting is done on a regular basis.
Max Scherzer, Dodgers
Age: 37 years, 21 days
2021 numbers of note: 2.62 ERA, 22 GS, 127 1/3 IP, 170 K, 83 H, 0.895 WHIP, 3.6 bWAR
Need to know: At some point, Scherzer will slow down and show signs of aging. Probably. Maybe. Who knows? He certainly isn’t skipping any beats as the youngest member of this seven-player club. In his three starts with the Dodgers, Scherzer has 23 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings, with a 2.20 ERA and 1.71 FIP.
Here’s Scherzer, broken down into five-year stretches:
Age 23-27: 3.88 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 8.7 H/9, 9.3 K/9, 3.07 K/BB
Age 28-32: 2.87 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 6.7 H/9, 10.9 K/9, 5.00 K/BB
Age 33-37: 2.82 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 6.8 H/9, 12.3 K/9, 5.83 K/BB
That, folks, is just silly.
Nelson Cruz, Rays
Age: 41 years, 48 days
2021 numbers of note: 26 homers, 66 RBI, 142 OPS+, 2.5 bWAR
Need to know: Cruz added two more homers and five more RBIs to his 2021 totals on Tuesday evening, giving him seven and 16, respectively, in his 20 games with the Rays since he was acquired in a deal with the Twins. He’s not just the best DH over 37, but he’s the best DH of any age in baseball, too. Minnesota moved him because the season was mostly a disaster, but the failings were not Cruz’s fault; he hit .294 with 19 homers and a 151 OPS+ in 85 games for the Twins. He’s a huge part of Tampa Bay’s hopes for success in October.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Age: 39 years, 353 days
2021 numbers of note: 3.26 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 154 2/3 IP, 8.2 K/9, 2.4 bWAR
Need to know: Mere days from his 40th birthday, Wainwright is baseball’s undisputed complete-game king. Since the start of the 2020 season, he has five complete-game efforts. Only Gerrit Cole has four, and only four other players have three. In that same span, Wainwright has 17 games of at least seven complete innings; only Zack Wheeler has more (20). Nobody else has more than 14. How? Why?
“I’m not overly surprised by the success of Adam Wainwright,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt told Sporting News on Tuesday afternoon at Busch Stadium. “He’s just a pro’s pro and dedicated to being great. When somebody’s that talented with that kind of experience and that kind of dedication, on and off the field, when he’s healthy, you can appreciate the fact that he’s going to have positive results.”
He’s tied with Walker Buehler for second-most innings pitched in the majors this year, which is really pretty incredible.
Joey Votto, Reds
Age: 37 years, 341 days
2021 numbers of note: .282/.376.570, 26 HR, 76 RBI, 137 OPS+, 2.2 bWAR
Need to know: The Joey Votto Power Revival has been one of the more enjoyable stories of the 2021 season. The longtime Reds first baseman has 26 homers already this season. That’s the most since he hit 36 in 2017, and could be only the third time in his career he tops the 30-homer mark. It’s quite the turnaround considering he hit just 27 homers, total, in 287 games in 2018-19. Votto passed the 2,000 career hit mark recently, which seems like a low total of a player of his stature until you remember that he’s reached base via the walk 1,264 times in his career, a total that’s 51st all time.
Zack Greinke, Astros
Age: 37 years, 301 days
2021 numbers of note: 3.51 ERA, 24 GS, 3.69 K/BB, 2.2 bWAR
Need to know: I’m pretty sure Greinke could decide to take a few years off, take a couple of weeks to prepare and come back and make 31 starts with a 3.55 ERA in 2024. Who would be surprised? He’s been as reliable as any pitcher over the past decade, rolling up one 30-plus start season after another (or, at least, the equivalent of that in the shortened 2020 campaign). He has 10 starts of at least seven full innings this season; only Zack Wheeler, Chris Bassitt and Adam Wainwright have more.
Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Age: 39 years, 36 days
2021 numbers of note: .317 average with runners in scoring position, 8 homers, 48 RBI
Need to know: He’s still an elite defensive catcher and game-caller, still able to control the opponent’s ability to move freely on the basepaths. And as you see from that average with RISP, he still has that knack for delivering the big hit when needed, especially when all that’s needed is a well-placed hit on a swing designed to put the ball in play, not necessarily send it over the fence.
Charlie Morton, Braves
Age: 37 years, 279 days
2021 numbers of note: 3.49 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 24 GS, 10.4 K/9, 3.4 bWAR
Need to know: For the first roughly two-thirds of his 14 years in the big leagues, Morton was the guy who just could not harness his talent, plagued either by injuries — he only hit the 20-start mark four times in his first nine seasons in the majors — or inconsistency — he had a 5.98 ERA in his first three season, over 251 1/3 innings.
But he arrived in Houston for his Age 33 season, and everything’s finally come together. In two seasons with the Astros, two with the Rays and the 2021 season with the Braves, Morton has a 3.37 ERA and 3.29 FIP in 121 starts. Maybe more importantly, Morton’s team reached the postseason in those first four seasons, and he was brilliant, rolling up a 3.40 ERA in 55 2/3 innings. Take out one hiccup game in the 2017 ALCS, and that ERA drops to 2.42 in 52 innings. And who can forget the four brilliant relief innings shutting down the Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series?
Yuli Gurriel, Astros
Age: 37 years, 70 days
2021 numbers of note: .312/.380/.472, 12 HR, 66 RBI, 135 OPS+, 2.7 bWAR
Need to know: Gurriel didn’t make his MLB debut until he was 32 years old; he spent his first 15 seasons playing in Cuba until defecting in 2016 and he joined the Astros later that season. He was a reliable bat in the Houston order for 2017-19, then produced his worst season in the shortened 2020 campaign. This year, though, he’s back and posting career highs in average, on-base percentage and OPS+, batting mostly third, fourth or fifth for the team that’s owned the AL’s best record for a decent portion of the season.
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