Ichiro Suzuki started Sunday night at centerfield for the Miami Marlins, going 1-for-4 en route to a 4-2 win over the Chicago Cubs. It was an unremarkable game for a man with more than 3,000 career hits, but for one quirk of history: it made Ichiro, at the age of 43 years, 246 days, the oldest player ever to start a Major League game in center, breaking the record formerly held by Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson, who was 43 years, 211 days old when he last started in center for the Boston Red Sox, on July 24, 2002. The achievement puts Ichiro in pretty good company, as a lineup featuring the oldest man to start at each position features three Hall of Fame players, a future Hall-of-Famer in Ichiro, a should be Hall-of-Famer, two guys who deserve to be in the Hall of the Very Good, and a man whose most notable accomplishment may have been catching a ball thrown from a height of 555 feet.
SP: During the 1965 season, Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley signed Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige, then 59 years, 80 days old (though believed by some to possible be even older), to start a game against the Boston Red Sox on September 25. Paige threw 3 innings of shutout ball, allowing just one hit and fanning one, before walking off to a standing ovation while being serenaded by a crowd 9,289 to the tune of “Old Gray Mare.” Despite Paige’s efforts, the A’s would fall 5-2, as the Sox rallied for 3 runs in the 8th on a wild pitch and then an inside-the-park 2-run home run by Tony Conigliaro that drove in Carl Yastrzemski.
C: By all rights, this spot should belong to Carlton Fisk, who was starting games behind the plate with at least semi-regularity until his was 45 years. But on September 20, 1931, as the St. Louis Cardinals were wrapping up a 101-win season that would ultimately lead to a World Series title, manager Gabby Street, who had last played in 1912, started himself in at catcher for a game when he was just 10 days shy of his 49th birthday, going 0-for-1 before giving way to a backup, in a game the Cards would lose to the Brooklyn Robins, 6-1. But perhaps Street’s greatest claim to fame is that in 1908, while a catcher for the Washington Senators, he managed to catch a ball thrown from the top of the Washington Monument.
1B: Ageless wonder Julio Franco is one of two players to be the oldest ever to start at game at not one, but two positions. On July 31, 2007, Franco patrolled first base for the Atlanta Braves, during a 12-4 win over the Astros, going 1-for-3, driving in a run with a sac fly at the age of 48 years, 342 days.
2B: The other two-timer on our All Time Old Timers roster is the Wizard of Viz, Omar Vizquel, who normally played short throughout his career, but on September 26, 2012, the Blue Jays needed him at second for a 12-2 loss to the Orioles. Vizquel would go 1-for-3 at the age of 45 years, 155 days.
3B: Julio Franco’s other history-making start came at 3B for the New York Mets on June 1, 2007, as he went 0-for-2 with a walk in 5-1 loss to the Diamondbacks, when he was 48 years, 282 days old. What was the secret to Franco’s longevity? Andy Van Slyke once accused him of juicing, to which the ageless wonder responded, “Tell Andy Van Slyke he’s right — I’m on the best juice there is. I’m juiced up every day, and the name of my juice is Jesus.”
SS: A week after setting the mark as the oldest starting second basemen, Vizquel on October 3, 2012, went back to short to set the old-timer mark in the Blue Jays’ 2-1 win over the Twins. Vizquel would go 1-for-3 at the age of 45 years, 162 days.
LF: Until Sunday, Rickey Henderson had been the oldest man to start a game in centerfield, but he remains the oldest man ever to get the start in left field, going 0-for-3 in an 8-2 loss to the Astros on September 3, 2003, when he was 44 years, 252 days old. It was the last start of his career, his final game ever coming just 16 days later.
RF: On September 18, 1934, Sam Rice, on a day when he was 44 years, 210 days old, went 3-for-5 with a double, a run scored and 2 RBI to lead the Cleveland Indians to a 9-6 win over the Washington Senators. It was the greatest performance ever by any member of the All Time Old Timers, the final game of a Hall-of-Fame career and left him 13 hits short of 3,000, then fourth all-time behind just Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Eddie Collins.
DH: Like Charlie O. Finley, White Sox owner could never pass up a chance to generate a little excitement with a stunt, and so in 1976, he brought back Cuban legend Minnie Minoso to start three games against the Angels, the final one coming on September 30, when he was 50 years, 306 days old. That last game was a 7-3 loss during which Minoso went 0-for-2. Veeck would bring Minoso back again in 1980, as the 55-year-old went hitless in two pinch-hitting stints against the Angels. Why Minoso, 7-time All Star whose career was delayed by segregation, isn’t in the Hall is anyone’s guess.
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