Pretty self explanatory, no?
Here is the criteria…
*One at every position, five starters and one reliever.
*They must have played 50% of their games at that position.
*One player’s season is used.
*In the season in question, he must be 38 by June 30th.
Catcher – Elston Howard, 1968 39 years old (.241/.317/.335)
When I started thinking about my own parameters for this little exercise, I thought that the lower limit for at bats should be around 300 or something, just to ensure that the “best player over 38” actually unleashed some positive benefit to the team. Finding no backstops, I lowered it to 200 and ran with it. Grover Hartley in 1927, and Elston Howard in 1968.
I went with Ellie for a few reasons…he hit .241/.317/.335 in 68, which is terrible. But Hartley hit .275/.337/.332 in 1927 which is substantially worse when you realize that ‘68 is the year of the pitcher and ’27 was in one of the best hitters eras of all time. Howard actually averaged more at bats per game over the season, which leads me to believe that Ellie started more games. Finally, it’s a nice little shout to the 1967 team, which revitalized baseball in Boston.
First base – Mickey Vernon, 1956 38 years old (.310/.403/.467)
Vernon had a pretty good year by anyone’s age standards, not just the grey beards. Again, first doesn’t have a whole lot of longevity in Boston, as only three guys combined for five seasons (Tony Perez in ‘80-81 and Dolph Camilli in ‘45 as the war ended).
Vernon was an All-Star in ’56 and was the best mortal hitter on the team. Perez hit more homers than Vernon did in his 1980 season, but did so under the loving support of a more favorable lineup.
Second base – Tom Carey, 1946 39 years old (.200/.200/.200)
Carey is the only player to play second in Red Sox history in more than 50% of his games in his age 38 year or later. He made the list on the “strength” of five plate appearances.
In case there is a family member reading this, congratulations, Carey Clan. Apparently, his nickname was Scoops.
Third base – Joe Cronin, 1945 38 years old (.375/.545/.375)
Much like second, I needed to sink to the depths of very few plate appearances. Cronin is a Hall of Famer, of course, but made his career as a shortstop. In ’45, he had 11 PA’s as a war-year fill in.
Shortstop – Luis Aparicio, 1973 39 years old (.271/.324/.309)
Louie ended his Hall of Fame career vacuuming up both outs and ground balls for the Red Sox in the early 70’s. When he came over from the White Sox, he actually got better each of the three years he was a Red Sox…or at the very least, less harmful with the bat.
His Red Sox career is of course most remembered for tripping around third base twice on a Carl Yastrzemski triple and was passed by Yaz on the baseline in September, 1972. This cost the Sox a run and effectively ended their season.
Outfield – Ted Williams, 1957 38 years old (.388/.526/.731)
This is probably the best season by a 38-year-old in major league history, with only Barry Bonds’ ’03 close. Only Bonds’ 2004 is better for guys over 38 years old, and Williams in ‘57 could be called a top 10 season by any over 35 player in MLB history, without hyperbole.
Among the qualified, he’s still the only guy to hit over .365 while being over 38, and one of two guys to hit over .380 (Tris Speaker) while being over 36.
Outfield – Bob Johnson, 1944 38 years old (.324/.431/.528)
It was against war-time competition, but Johnson really did hit well when hitting wasn’t easy (run scoring was depressed, mostly due to shoddy equipment…it’s tough to justify leather for a baseball cover when it could be used for boots).
Johnson niched out a nice career with the A’s, and went to Boston to end his career during the Second World War. Of all the outfielders, Johnson and Ted Williams dominate the over 38 list for the Red Sox.
Outfield – Ken Johnson, 1928 38 years old (.303/.356/.413)
The well dries up once you get past Indian Bob and the Kid. Conspicuous by his absence is Carl Yastrzemski, but he generally split time between the outfield, first base, and designated hitter when they had Jim Rice in the lineup, so there is only one place for him to go…
Utility Player – Carl Yastrzemski, 1978 38 years old (.277/.367/.423)
This was Yaz’s last season as an outfielder, and he actually played centerfield when Fred Lynn was dinged up. Yaz probably held on too long, but he played until he was 43, and really only had one bad year (1981), and that’s a feet that not many players can claim.
After their 40th birthday, only Pete Rose, Sam Rice, Carlton Fisk, and Dave Winfield were better hitters.
Pitcher – Cy Young, 1908 41 years old (21-11, 1.26 ERA)
Young had 30 complete games in 1908. If there was any other measure of the change between olde tyme base-ball and today is that there are very few 41 year olds today who could start 30 games in a season, let alone finish them. I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing that hitters can’t be dominated by 40 year old pitchers anymore.
Pitcher – Lefty Grove, 1939 39 years old (15-4, 2.54 ERA)
Groves’ last great season sits at the end of the Great Era of Offense that ran from the death of the dead ball era and the war. In 1925 with the A’s, he actually lead the American League in k/9 with 5.30. Today, he would have trouble getting out of the minors that rate. He pitched two more years for the Red Sox before fading into that good night.
Pitcher – Jack Quinn, 1922 38 years old (13-16, 3.48 ERA)
He had a losing record, but his ERA was a full 18% better than league average in ’22. Quinn was the best player the Sox ended up getting in the trade that bolstered the Yankees rotation in the mid-20’s (Sam Jones and Joe Bush). Shockingly, even though he was 38 in 1922, he was still essentially mid-career. He pitched 200 innings as late as 1928 when he was 44, and pitched 16 innings for the Reds in 1933 as a 49 year old.
Pitcher – Curt Schilling, 2006 39 years old (15-7, 3.97 ERA)
Just starting to slow down now.
Pitcher – Tim Wakefield, 2005 38 years old (16-12, 4.15 ERA)
Best pitcher on the first post-Pedro staff, and the historic link between Roger Clemens and Daisuke Matsuzaka. He might be the last of a dying breed, as the only two minor leaguers actively throwing knuckleballs now are Charlie’s Haeger and Zink.
Pitcher – Ellis Kinder, 1953 (10-6, 1.85 ERA)
Another knuckleballer, only this one was a heavy drinker, of which there are probably 100s of stories about that would either never come to light today, or be all over the news. Sixty-nine appearances, 107 innings pitched, all in relief…and he finished 11th in the AL MVP race for a team that finished fourth.