In early 2010, my friend Kostya and I began taking note of which active players in Major League Baseball had played in the 1990s. The difference between the 1999 and 2000 seasons have always seemed large to me. Not only had the millennium changed, but the Giants had changed ballparks, separating the two neatly into different eras. In 2011, Kostya and I created a list of all the players left in the big leagues that had appeared in a game in 1999 or earlier. There were 76 names on the list, or, about 1% of all active players. One of the players, Omar Vizquel, was the last remaining player from the ’80s. It occurred to me that, soon, a team wouldn’t offer Vizquel a contract, or he’d retire, and the book on players who played in the ’80s would be closed, forever.
A fear had woken inside of me: there would one day exist a moment where a pitcher would stand on a mound, deliver a pitch, and, in no possible situation whatsoever could a player from ’90s have anything to do with the circumstances that followed that pitch. There wouldn’t be a single player who played at the Astrodome, at Tigers Stadium, or at Candlestick Park. Every player left would be from “this” era, not the one that I grew up in. The book on players from the 20th century would be closed. Forever.
Although Jamie Moyer attempted to steal the title of “Last Remaining Player From The Eighties” by making the Rockies’ rotation in 2012, Vizquel lasted on the Blue Jays until the final day of the ’12 season, while Moyer was off of the Rockies’ roster in July. At the start of 2013, only players from the ’90s and 2000s remained.
Kostya and I only updated the list once or twice over the next two seasons, and it faded to the back of my mind. Halfway through the 2015 season, reporters asked Giants pitcher Tim Hudson if he was still planning on retiring at the end of the season, which Hudson said he was. Curiosity struck, and I looked up what year Hudson had debuted with the A’s. Of course, it was 1999. Instantly, I began scanning the major league rosters in my brain, trying to re-compile the list. After a bit of research and double-checking to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anyone…I found out that someone else on the internet had done all of the work that I had just done, and had made a sporcle quiz from their work. Remember friends, always assume someone else on the internet has done what you were planning on doing!
By the end of the 2015 MLB regular season, there were only 13 players left who had appeared in the ’90s. Three of those players firmly stated their intention to retire at the end of the season, and at least four will be free agents after 2015. We’re still a few seasons away from being void of ’90s players, but dark times are certainly ahead. (Pour one out for Bruce Chen, who pitched 6.1 innings over a week in May 2015, was DFA’d by the Indians, and then retired two days later.)
Here’s a list of those 13 players, in order of the likeliness that they’ll be the last remaining player from the 1990s. Included is their age, followed by the date they debuted:
AJ Burnett (38, 8/17/99)
LaTroy Hawkins (42, 4/29/95)
Tim Hudson (40, 6/8/99)
All three players said that 2015 will be their last. Hudson’s season ended with the Giants two weeks ago, Burnett’s Pirates lost in the NL Wild Card game to the Cubs, and Hawkins’ Blue Jays are currently tied 2-2 with the Rangers in the ALDS (edit: on to the ALCS!). Hudson was the active leader in wins, and had a win against all 30 major league clubs. Hawkins is the oldest active player in the big leagues, an honor that, once he retires, will transfer to…someone else on this list (the same player will also become the active leader in wins). He also was the losing pitcher in Game 2 of the series against the Rangers.
The 76-year-old announcer is Jim Kaat, holder of the “Last Remaining Player From The Fifties” title.
10. Aramis Ramirez (37, 5/26/98)
Aramis Ramirez has said that 2015 will “likely” be his last season, which would’ve been nice to know before I wrote this entire piece and placed him 4th. Editing is fun.
Ramirez is the last remaining player from the 2003 Cubs team that made the NLCS, and it’s nice to know that while he’s on his way out, a whole new generation of Cubs will be making the NLCS. (As I type this, the Cubs lead the Cardinals 6-4 in the bottom of the 7th, six outs from the NLCS) Ramirez spent his entire career in the NL Central, contributing above-average offense each year for the Pirates, Cubs, and Brewers. Ramirez is the second-youngest player on this list, and we feel that he’s truly wasting his opportunity to be the last active player from the ’90s.
9. Randy Wolf (39, 6/11/99)
Randy Wolf held a throwing session this past offseason to show teams that he could still pitch. Only one team showed up. The Blue Jays liked what they saw enough to give him a minor league deal, but, despite pitching well in AAA, Wolf was never called up. In August, starved for starting pitching help, the Tigers traded for Wolf. He started seven games for the Tigers, but finished with an ERA of 6.28. Unless a similar situation arises in 2016, it’s hard to imagine another team giving Wolf a roster spot.
8. Joe Nathan (40, 4/21/99)
Joe Nathan faced one batter in 2015. He struck out Torii Hunter (more to come), and recorded his 377th career save. Unfortunately, Nathan was placed on the DL with a strained elbow two days later, re-injured himself on a rehab assignment, and underwent Tommy John surgery. The Tigers can either pick up Nathan’s contract for $10 million in 2016, or they can pay a $1 million buyout, making Nathan a free agent. They’ll undoubtedly elect for the cheaper option, as there’s no way Nathan will be worth $10 million in 2016. Nathan has said that his 2015 injury wouldn’t end his career, but unless he really impresses a team in the spring, or is willing to play the waiting game in the minor leagues, he’ll likely be forced into retirement.
7. Torii Hunter (40, 8/22/97)
Before the season, Torii Hunter said he wouldn’t retire if he had a productive 2015. “Productive” isn’t exactly the word that you’d use to describe Hunter’s 2015 season (.702 OPS, -0.8 WAR), but he also hit 22 home runs, and is one of few veterans on a young Twins team. He’s also one of the Twins most iconic players, and you never know when that alone can get you a contract. If Hunter is willing to accept a reduced role in 2016 (and a big cut from his 2015 salary of $10.5 million), it isn’t hard to imagine him back on a big league roster. Both his offense and defense have been in sharp decline, though, so 2016 would probably be his last hurrah.
6. AJ Pierzynski (38, 9/9/98)
There will always be an old backup catcher that floats around the league for years. That catcher will be Pierzynski for at least another year, as the Braves have expressed interest in bringing him back as their backup catcher in 2016. Hating Pierzynski is one of my favorite pastimes, and it’ll be a bummer when he’s finally gone. He’s spent the past four postseasons (that he hasn’t played in) helping out on Fox broadcasts, and he’s been surprisingly insightful and nice to listen to. Just don’t show his face, thanks.
5. Bartolo Colon (42, 4/4/97)
Ah, Bartolo Colon. If you told me that the original Bartolo Colon died, and they replaced him with the best doppelgänger they could find, I’d totally believe you. Because, I mean, really:
The 2005 Cy Young winner will become the active wins leader next year, as well as the oldest player in baseball. Unless Maicer Izturis comes back from his injury next season, Colon also holds the title of “Last Active Player Who Played For The Expos,” which is something to be proud of. Colon will be a free agent once the season ends, and will turn 43 in 2016, but was effective enough in 2015 to warrant another contract. Let’s hope he pitches forever.
4. Alex Rodriguez (40, 7/8/94)
A-Rod is the longest tenured player in baseball, and still has two more years on his 10 year/$275 million contract. Before the 2015 season, it seemed like the Yankees would inevitably find a way to ditch Rodriguez before the end of his contract, but A-Rod was pretty damn good in 2015. He led the Yankees in home runs, and passed Willie Mays to move into 4th place on the all-time home run list. A-Rod was a valuable part of the Yankees clubhouse in 2015, and it’s not outrageous to envision him as a part-time DH once his contract expires after the 2017 season, especially if he has a chance to pass Barry Bonds.
3. Carlos Beltran (38, 9/14/98)
In 2000, Backyard Baseball 2001 was released, and pre-teens everywhere rejoiced. One big league star from each team was transformed into a cartoon-child version of themselves. Nearly every player in the game was either a future Hall of Famer, or perennial All-Star. 10-year-old me, had no clue who this guy from the Royals was. Someone named Carlos Beltran, who had won the 1999 AL Rookie of the Year, finishing four spots ahead of Tim Hudson. (26-year-old me still doesn’t know who the guy from the Twins was. Marty Cordova? Who?)
Well, we all know who Beltran is now, having cemented himself as one of the greatest postseason players of all time. In the 2004 postseason with the Astros, Beltran scored 21 runs and hit 8 home runs in only 12 games, both of which are records for a single postseason. And he didn’t even make the World Series! Beltran is an eight time All Star, and the only switch-hitter who is a member of the 300 HR/300 SB club. He’s had a season with an OPS under .800 only four times in his career, and never in two consecutive seasons. Beltran is under contract for one more year, but it’s hard to imagine him hanging up his cleats so soon. The man knows how to hit, and has seemingly shaken the injury bug that plagued him during his Mets years.
2. David Ortiz (39, 9/2/97)
The weird part about that baseball card isn’t that he used to go by David Arias, it’s that he supposedly used to be a part time outfielder. David Ortiz probably hasn’t set foot on outfield grass in about fifteen years. Whether he owns a glove or not, Big Papi remains one of the best hitters in baseball. In his final season before entering his 40s, Ortiz had the 10th best OPS in baseball (.913), 12th most home runs (37), 3rd most sacrifice flies, and 9th most extra base hits (74). He also drew the 2nd most intentional walks in 2015, a sign of great respect. Oritz can still get the job done with the bat, and the Red Sox have club options on him for both 2016 and 2017. The 2016 option is almost a certainty, and 2017 looks good, though still a year away. Ortiz, along with the next player on this list, will hopefully battle for the “Last Remaining Player From The Nineties” crown into at least 2018.
1. Adrian Beltre (36, 6/24/98)
Adrian Beltre is 36. 2015 was his 18th season in Major League Baseball. He’s spent 5+ seasons with three different clubs, which is almost unheard of these days. He led the big leagues in home runs in 2004 with 48, and would have won the MVP that year, were it not for Barry Bonds’ best season ever. Beltre is a 4 time All Star, 4 time Gold Glove winner, 4 time Silver Slugger, and has won 4 Fielding Bible Awards. He’s been healthy, failing to appear in at least 130 games only three times since his rookie year. Despite being the youngest player on this list, he’s played in the 2nd most amount of games, 199only trailing A-Rod. He’s also been one of the most consistent players in the 21st Century, having a WAR above 2.0 in each of the past 13 seasons. Beltre is under contract for only one more season with the Rangers, and will hit the open market as a 37-year-old, where it won’t be hard to imagine him getting another multi-year contract. Currently at 2,767 hits, he only needs another two seasons or so to join the 3,000 hit club. Adrian Beltre has been one of the most enjoyable players to watch for nearly two decades, both offensively and defensively, and he’s the odds-on favorite to win the title of “Last Remaining Player From The Nineties”.
Unless Jamie Moyer or Julio Franco find a way back into the big leagues, that is.
Some of these guys will end up in the Hall of Fame, but most will end up fading into memories. Do your best to cherish them before they become just another answer to an online trivia question.
These 13 players have a combined:
- 19,994 games played
- 17,650 hits
- 13,551.1 innings pitched
- 235 seasons played
- 73 stints with different teams, covering 27 franchises
- 60 All Star Appearances
- 26 Silver Slugger Awards
- 18 Gold Gloves
- 7 World Series rings