This week's Thursday Thinker got me thinking about more than just the quiz. If you remember, the introduction noted Gregg Zaun will be 39 in 2010 and could become only the fourth Brewers player that old to appear in 100+ games. Considering the Brewers have been around for forty years, that's a notable accomplishment.
But here's an even more notable one. If Zaun plays in 100 games next year, he will be only the fourth catcher in major league baseball history to do so at age 39 or older. I'll give you a brief paragraph to think about the identities of the other three.
Only sixty-four players have caught a game at 39 or older. That includes a number of brief appearances, like Yogi Berra's four games for the Mets, the tail end of Mike Difelice's remarkably drawn-out career, and whatever prompted Gabby Street's last game. The oldest player to catch a game was Jim O'Rourke, who appeared in one game at age 54 for the 1904 New York Giants. The Brewers' oldest catcher, and only other backstop older than 37, was none other than Zaun's uncle Rick Dempsey.
So who are the three oldest 100-game catchers? Deacon McGuire appeared in 101 games for the 1904 New York Highlanders. However, he caught in only 97 of them. Still, that's a heck of a lot of games for any catcher back then, much less a 40-year-old. He caught part-time for two more seasons and made cameo appearances in four more after that.
Bob Boone appeared in 100 games three times after turning 39. In 1987, he hit .242/.304/.311 while playing in 128 games for the Angels. The next year, he celebrated his 40th birthday by having his best season in a decade while appearing 122 times. He parlayed that season into a two-year deal with the Royals. He put up another solid year in 1989 while appearing 131 times (127 starts!). Age finally caught up to him in 1990, however, and Boone finished his career backing up Mike Macfarlane. Oh yeah, he won Gold Gloves in '87, '88, and '89 as well.
While he's most remembered for waving a dramatic home run fair in 1975, Carlton Fisk was still suiting up to play 18 years later. In 1987, the 39-year-old Fisk played in 135 games for the White Sox. Like Boone, Fisk underwent a renaissance upon turning 40, but he appeared in only 76 games in 1988. He returned to play in 103 games in 1989, 137 games in 1990, and 134 games in 1991. From 1988-1990, he put up an OPS of .851 in 1080 AB. He was rewarded with an All-Star appearance in 1991, the season that began his final decline. He moved to the bench in 1992 and finished his career with 25 games in 1993 at age 45.
There is one big difference between Gregg Zaun and the three players listed above. McGuire, Boone, and Fisk all spent many seasons as their teams' primary catcher. By 1987, Boone and Fisk had started 1695 and 1575 games behind the plate, respectively. The game and catcher position were so different 100 years ago to make any comparison nearly useless, but even McGuire had caught 1322 games (starts unknown) before age 39. The fact Zaun has started "only" 882 games behind the plate in his career suggests he hasn't been worn down as much as other veteran catchers. In fact, this is something Zaun himself is quick to point out. Hopefully his quirky career path makes 100+ starts from him not only a neat bit of trivia, but also a positive for the 2010 Brewers.