A couple of months ago, I wrote how 44 hasn't been a great number for the White Sox in recent years. When it comes to age, 44 hasn't been kind to ballplayers, either.
Rickey Henderson and Carlton Fisk were ageless ... until 44 came calling. Tony Perez's resurgence at 43 was merely a dead cat bounce. Dave Winfield wheezed to the finish in 1995, playing his final game two days before he turned 44.
So we can safely say that Omar Vizquel, who turns 44 on April 24, already has a gargantuan task on his hands. The odds are viciously unkind, and Vizquel is cognizant of what Father Time is telling him. Nevertheless, he feels good about his prospects:
"Inside, I'm still the same kid that likes to dive for balls and play with dirt and be fooling around with the kids," said Vizquel [...]
"Obviously biology tells me something different. It's like your conscious is telling you that you can't do the things you were dong 10 years ago. But as long as your spirit is up and happy and you have the desire to come every day and do this for another seven months, I think that I have a good part of the war won."
There's one major wild card Vizquel holds among players his age, and it could provide some extra motivation. Big table coming after the jump.
That's a list of the only nine players in history to receive more than 100 plate appearances in their age 44 season. Vizquel will likely join them - he should punch out with 170 under fair-to-optimistic circumstances -- and if he does, he will join Bobby Wallace as the only players to do so while handling the middle infield.
Wallace has his own crazy aging story, considering he was a fine third baseman who made the jump to shortstop at age 35, and it actually worked out well. But although Wallace had a Hall of Fame career and played 12 games at short at 44, he only averaged 48 plate appearances over his final five seasons, with an OPS+ of 46. He was largely a ceremonial player for awful St. Louis teams, whereas Vizquel is getting real playing time for teams with aspirations.
There are genuine reasons for Vizquel to look at this list and fear the reaper. Perez isn't a bad example, as Vizquel's decent year at the plate came out of nowhere, too. But given that Vizquel has no comparable players in MLB history at this point in his career, he could just as well believe that it's up to him to create a precedent. Sure, baseball has been cruel to 44-year-olds, but there hasn't been a 44-year-old quite like Omar Vizquel.
A few more notes on Vizquel and 44-year-olds...
*A Vizquel item made Buster Olney's most recent column:
Favorite story from Saturday: An American League talent evaluator recalled watching Omar Vizquel taking infield -- with his feet. Ground balls would be hit to Vizquel, and one after another, he'd flick the ball with one of his feet straight up, into his right hand, like he was playing hacky sack.
I now demand to see this. We have the technology. The time is now. Science can wait no longer. Children are our future.
*Julio Franco hit .295/.367/.447 (good for a 110 OPS+) in 849 plate appearances during his age 44-46 seasons.
*Note this quote on Wallace's Hall of Fame page:
If you put the relative value on a cheer basis, fielding might rival hitting very closely. Perhaps the difference between hitting and fielding may be likened to the difference between money made and money saved.