As much grief as St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa receives from some quarters about the use of old pitchers, it really gets down to how you define “old.”
Using the line of 40 years of age, the team actually went seven years – from 2004 through 2010 – having deployed just one such hurler during the regular season. And it was a most distinguished exception, though a brief stay. Future Hall of Famer John Smoltz concluded his playing career by making seven starts for the 2009 Cardinals.
The tide has turned in 2011, however. With the arrival earlier this month of left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes, two months short of his 42nd birthday, he became the second 40-year-old pitcher to appear for the 2011 Cardinals alone.
Rhodes was preceded by Miguel Batista, 40, who made the club out of spring training as a non-roster invitee. Batista posted a 3-2 mark with a 4.60 ERA in 26 games (29 1/3 IP) for the Cardinals until his June 23 release.
The 2011 duo are the sixth and seventh 40-year-old Cardinals pitchers during the La Russa-Dave Duncan era, which began in 1996. The seven pitched in parts of nine seasons.
The last 40-something Cardinals hurler prior to Smoltz was Jeff Fassero in 2003. The then-40-year-old lefty appeared in 62 games that season, posting a 5.68 ERA. He hung on for four more years in the majors, but posted an ERA over five in three of those campaigns.
When Jesse Orosco joined the 2000 Cardinals, he was most remembered as the shutdown lefty of the New York Mets clubs of the 1980’s. By the new century, Orosco was 43 years old and in his 22nd MLB season. He appeared in just six games for St. Louis that season due to injury and finally retired after the 2003 season.
The current pitching coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Rick Honeycutt, came over to the Cardinals from the Oakland A’s, following La Russa and Duncan. Having been converted to relief with the A’s like Dennis Eckersley, the lefty had a nice 1996 season in a set-up role, with a 2.85 ERA in 61 games. He appeared in just two games the next year before calling it a career at the age of 43.
Eckersley was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career when also joining St. Louis to start the 1996 season at the age of 41. Eck served as closer during La Russa’s first two seasons with the Cards, saving 66 games, though he took 11 losses as well. Eckersley pitched one more year with Boston in 1998 before hanging up his cleats for the last time.
In my assessment of the previous eight 40-plus year old pitcher years, I score four as successful and four unsuccessful. However, three of the four deployed since the early days of Honeycutt and Eck, Smoltz having been the exception, did not make the grade, in my opinion.
St. Louis Cardinals 40-year-old pitchers, 1996-current
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