Gentile: Greatest final seasons in baseball history

From James Gentile at Beyond the Box Score on January 3, 2013:

I was inspired to run this query for several reasons, really, but the primary catalyst was the recent announcement from Hideki Matsui that he will be retiring from baseball after ten MLB seasons. Matsui had been a reliable contributor to the Yankees lineup for years beginning in 2003, but his value, especially in terms of WAR, plummeted in the later days of his career, ultimately bottoming out at -1.4 for the Tampa Bay Rays in his final season.

This led to me to recall those players in my lifetime that were able to prevent this late-career slide into irrelevance, and instead “go out on top,” as it were. Of course, the first example I thought of was another long-time Yankee, Mike Mussina. Mussina was the perfect example of a pitcher who learned to adapt his game as he grew older, and in his final season in 2008 he went 20-9 with a 78 ERA- and a remarkable 4.8 WAR at age 39.

What I wanted, then, was a list of Mussinas: a group of inspiring players that walked away from the game, head held high, age-defying and resilient, without ever having endured the decay that seems to seize the vast majority of baseball greats in their final years.

Instead, my database mostly returned a slate of unfortunate tragedies and abbreviated careers a la Roberto Clemente and Ray Chapman– players that had clearly and sadly gone too soon. Despite this undesirable turn of events, I’ve decided to leave the title as I originally intended: Greatest Final Seasons. Hopefully we can at least remember them as they were before they left– as great ballplayers.

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Originally published: January 3, 2013. Last Updated: January 3, 2013.