What he did: I’ve written about the Splendid Splinter before, though I was motivated to feature him again thanks to a computer baseball game that I like. I’ve been burning large amounts of free time lately playing a demo for Baseball Mogul 2012, a sim that allows creating historical rosters. One of the niftier game features lets users pull players out of retirement, and today, I wondered how Williams might do on the 1963 New York Mets with their bathtub of a park, the Polo Grounds.
I plugged a 44-year-old Williams onto those Mets, and with other aging imports like Stan Musial and Yogi Berra in the lineup, Williams hit about .350 and helped New York to an 82-80 record (and that was with fellow 44-year-old unretiree Bob Feller going 7-22 with an ERA north of 6.00. It wasn’t pretty.) All of this makes me wonder if Teddy Ballgame’s 1960 retirement may have come a few years too soon.
Era he might have thrived in: For all their struggles, including a historically bad 40-120 in their inaugural 1962 season (which the demo won’t let me play), the expansion-era Mets were largely a veteran club. Their debut team featured the likes of elder baseball statesmen such as Gil Hodges, Richie Ashburn, and Frank Thomas among others, and at 43 on Opening Day that year, Williams wouldn’t have been terribly older. He might also have been a threat for the National League batting title and at least 30 home runs in the Polo Grounds, not to mention eight or ten more wins for the Mets.
Why: Most famous baseball players are pretty well done by the time they hang up their spikes or are forced to retire. Ken Griffey Jr. and Babe Ruth both quit at 40 after playing like men bused in from nursing homes. Steve Carlton made more stops at the end of his career than a kid with a paper route. Williams, on the other hand, may have had some more baseball in him, hitting .316 with 29 home runs and an OPS+ of 190 in his final season. Granted, his defense wasn’t anything nice at the end, though for a team like the Mets, Williams’ bat may have been enough to compensate.
There are other factors that might have made this interesting as well. The famously tough New York media would probably have been no problem for Williams who was excoriated and libeled by what passed for media in Boston during his career. I’m also curious how Williams might have gotten on with the Mets’ first manager, Casey Stengel. The Old Perfessor clashed with the conservative Joe DiMaggio in his time with the Yankees and once called Mickey Mantle his greatest disappointment, but otherwise seemed to have the temperament to welcome a hard worker and candid spirit like Williams. Whatever the case, I doubt it would have been too much to derail Williams’ stint as a Met.
I’ll admit I often wonder why players aren’t coaxed out of retirement more often. My guess is that a 44-year-old formerly elite player would be of more value than an average player ten years younger, and it wouldn’t be a bad thing for fan interest, either. When the U.S. men’s basketball program was in the toilet a few years ago, I thought it would have been cool to draft the ’92 Dream Team back into action, with ageless wonders like Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler still capable of gold medal work. And then there’s Ty Cobb. Around the time Williams retired, Yogi Berra was asked what Cobb might hit in the modern game. Berra guessed .260. When asked if he thought pitching was that much better, Berra added something to the effect of, “Yes, but you have to remember Cobb’s about 70 years old.”
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies,Barry Bonds, Billy Beane, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson,Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe,Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Hugh Casey, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jim Abbott, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film),Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson,Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson,Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Will Clark, Willie Mays