Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Baseball Trivia: Getting Old Is Bananas

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, Nelson Cruz smacked a 3-2, 77.2 mph Aaron Civale curveball the opposite way to the right field corner, just out of the searching reach of Josh Naylor. The ball left Cruz’s BoomStick at 93.0 mph, which is well hit, but not crushed, and the 29 degree Launch Angle contributed to a very low expected batting average (xBA) of .130. Luckily, the steep angle of decline into the wall at about shoulder height for Naylor, who is not a great right fielder defensively (-4 Defensive Runs Saved in right for his career), betrayed that low xBA. Naylor’s less-than-stellar skills, combined with a difficult play at the wall in the corner, allowed Cruz to make it into third standing, as Byron Buxton was trotting into the dugout.

“Nellie has just got to be the oldest player to triple this young season,” I muttered to myself.

Sure enough! Of the 29 triples officially hit through the end of Tuesday’s games, Cruz was by far the oldest batter this season with a three-bagger, by a touch over seven years. Cruz, at 40 years and 300 days (at time of triple), was already in grade school when David Peralta was born. Peralta, 33 years, 251 days, tripled off of Cionel Pérez five days earlier*.

In the Integration Era (1947-present), there have been 70 instances of a player going 2-4 with a triple and at least one RBI at the age of 40 or older (Cruz’s line from Tuesday, in case you’re wondering). Seeing Barry Bonds, Carlton Fisk, and David Ortiz, amongst others, was relatively surprising, even if I experienced some of them. On the other hand, seeing Ichiro Suzuki, Kenny Lofton, and Pete Rose on this list multiple times isn’t surprising. And then there’s Paul Molitor, who was more of a freak than I remember, with EIGHT triples of such circumstance and age.

If we look a little closer at the list, the real gem of trivia eventually stares us back in the face. Who is the only pitcher on this list?!?

He’s a three-time All-Star with an American League ERA title – 2.54 in the year Star Wars came out – whilst sporting a mustache and moss that could have been the inspiration for Casey Affleck’s Mexican dice factory character in Ocean’s 13.

He has a career record of 240-236 with 2773 strikeouts, 57.1 bWAR (75th all-time for pitchers), 143 complete games, 34 shutouts, and not a single BBWAA vote for the Hall of Fame. On September 9th, 1973 he made his debut (the 11, 054th player in MLB history) starting for the California Angels. His first career strikeout victim was Frank Ortenzio, who also made his debut that day. However, Ortenzio’s career would have the exact opposite quality when it came to longevity; that was the first of only 25 major-league at-bats for him.

Our Affleckian muse clearly had a much longer career. They do share the same first name, though. He was the starting pitcher in the initial games of both the Kingdome and New Comiskey Park. Who is this two-way stud?

*Peralta also tripled two days after Cruz’s – at 33 years 258 days – leaving Cruz still as the oldest to triple for the ’21 season.

If you’ve run out of Franks to guess, here’s the ANSWER!

Feel free to hit me up on Twitter @Rev_Gabelicious with feedback.