Baseball is weird. The MLB has seen a 15-year-old pitch in a game, and a 59-year-old pitch in a game. Professional sports have always been a young man’s game. But yet, it is not uncommon to see players into their 40s in the MLB at any given time. So who was the best of the best when it comes to the old men in the MLB? Let us take a look at some of the best MLB seasons at or after the age of 40 since 1950 (for simplicity).
10. OF Stan Musial, 1962: 41 years old
135 G, .330/.416/.508, 19 HR, 82 RBI, 3 SB, 3.6 WAR
Stan The Man made the most of his 21st year in the bigs. Aside from posting an OPS over .900, he only struck out 46 times in 505 plate appearances. Stan Musial retired after a large regression in 1963 at the age of 42.
9. OF Darrell Evans, 1987: 40 years old
150 G, .257/.379/.501, 34 HR, 99 RBI, 6 SB, 4.9 WAR
A future member of the 400 home run club, Darrell Evans hit 40 home runs as a 38-year-old. As a 40-year-old, he added 100 walks and only 84 strikeouts to a 34 home run campaign. In 1989, Evans retired at the age of 42 after hitting .207 with 11 home runs in 107 games with Atlanta.
8. RHP Nolan Ryan, 1987: 40 years old
34 GS, 8-16 W-L, 2.76 ERA, 270 SO, 5.4 WAR
At the same time Darrell Evans was tearing up the league as a 40-year-old, so was a right-hander in Houston. Nolan Ryan led the NL in ERA for the second time in his career and led the MLB in strikeouts in ’87. The Ryan Express went on to post a 3.33 ERA and over 1,400 strikeouts in seven years past his age 40 season.
7. RHP Mariano Rivera, 2011: 41 years old
64 G, 1.91 ERA, 44 SV, 0.897 WHIP, 2.9 WAR
Mariano Rivera posted a 1.80 ERA and a lower WHIP in 2010 as a 40-year-old but rallied ten more saves in 2011 for the spot on the list. Before retiring as the all-time saves leader in 2013, Rivera posted a 1.95 ERA and 0.929 WHIP in 4 seasons past his age 40 season.
6. OF Willie Mays, 1971: 40 years old.
136 G, .271/.425/.482, 18 HR, 61 RBI, 23 SB, 6.3 WAR
Willie Mays was a force in his last full year in San Francisco. Aside from leading the NL in base on balls and OBP%, Mays added 23 stolen bases to 18 home runs. The Say Hey Kid played three seasons in his forties, posting career lows in ’72 and ’73 before retiring at age 42.
5. OF Barry Bonds, 2007: 42 years old
126 G, .276/.480/.565, 28 HR, 66 RBI, 132 BB, 3.4 WAR
Barry Bonds, the all-time leader in career home runs, posted an excellent last season, in the midst of the BALCO steroid scandal. In 2007, at the age of 42, Bonds led the MLB in base on balls, OBP, and IBB. Despite his age and controversy, Bonds managed to break the all-time career home run record in ’07 as well.
4. RHP Bartolo Colon, 2013: 40 years old
30 G, 18-6 W-L, 2.65 ERA, 117 SO, 5.6 WAR
Big Sexy put up a gem of a season for the A’s in 2013. At the age of 40, Bartolo Colon was an all-star and finished sixth in the Cy Young award voting for the playoff bound Oakland Athletics. With an ERA of 2.65 and led the league in shutouts, Bartolo posted the best season of his career, better than his 2005 Cy Young season with the Angels.
3. RHP Roger Clemens, 2005: 42 years old
32 G, 13-8 W-L, 1.87 ERA, 185 SO, 6.1 WAR
The Rocket added to his legacy in 2005 with the NL pennant winning Houston Astros. A followup to his Cy Young award winning 2004, Roger Clemens led the MLB in ERA, ERA+, and hits allowed over nine innings. He finished third in 2005 NL Cy Young award voting, and retired in 2007 at the age of 44 while in the midst of the BALCO steroid scandal.
2. DH David Ortiz, 2016: 40 years old
151 G, .315/.401/.620/1.021, 38 HR, 127 RBI, 5.2 WAR
In a farewell season around the league, longtime DH, David Ortiz, put out one last wicked season. At 40 years old, Ortiz finished with an MLB leading 48 doubles (career-high since 2007), .620 SLG%, and 1.021 OPS. 38 home runs and a AL leading 127 RBIs made sure that Big Papi finished on top of his game.
1. LHP Randy Johnson, 2004, 40 years old
35 G, 16-14 W-L, 2.60 ERA, 290 SO, 8.4 WAR
Randy Johnson was a bit of a late bloomer. After making his debut at age 24, he didn’t make his first all-star game until age 26 and won his first Cy Young at age 31. Johnson went on to win five total Cy Youngs and make 10 all-star games, but made a name for himself as an elder veteran in 2004. A down year in 2003 seemed to show regression, only for The Big Unit to lead the MLB in strikeouts and finish second in NL Cy Young award voting in 2004. Johnson went on to pitch until age 45, racking up over 1000 more strikeouts and a 3.87 ERA in six seasons past his age 40 season.
In a sport dominated by athletes in their prime, it is refreshing to see the old timers flash their brilliance again. All of these seasons are modern marvels of athletic ability and further provide folklore for each player. It is forever impressive to play in your 40s, let alone put up some of the best seasons of your career as a 40-something. As of this publication, there are two active 40-year-olds, Fernando Rodney and Albert Pujols. While they may not put up historic seasons, it is nice to still have some legends of the game sticking around.
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