Pitchers of a Certain Age

A couple months ago I found myself sitting inside a car dealership, filling out paperwork to finalize a vehicle purchase. The lady running the office sat down and began going over the documents and indicating which areas needed to be signed. At one point she looked at me and said, “Look, we are people of a certain age and know what buying a car is like. I know I don’t need to tell you to get make sure you have insurance and pay your bills, but I am going to read through the mandatory parts anyway.”

A certain age?” Crap. I’m old now.

At least I’ve made it into my forties without too many people reminding me of this. This year I’ve been stopped by kids at events asking if I am a baseball player, so I guess all hope isn’t lost yet. Of course, baseball players have a history of looking even older than they actually are. Look at this trio of pitchers:

The common thread connecting all three of these cards is that not only that the players depicted look north of 40, but that each is actually pictured between the ages of 28-30.

Another guy with a reputation for projecting a more experienced appearance is longtime MLB mainstay Charlie Hough. His father, Richard, played professional baseball below the Major League level during Babe Ruth’s heyday. Charlie was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966 and wouldn’t see regular MLB action until 1973. Looking at his 1970s baseball cards, I wouldn’t describe the knuckleballer as being old looking. However, once he rounded 30 his appearance decided to go for extra bases with a skip straight to 40. Hough looks beyond the 31 years that he is pictured as on his 1980 Topps baseball card.

As the overly friendly, creepy lady down the block keeps saying to me, “Age is just a number.” As a practitioner of the dark art of the knuckleball, Hough could keep throwing effectively well beyond the time when most major league arms stop working. The pitch does not tax arms in the same manner as fastballs and breaking balls, allowing for some truly monumental workloads. 1940s/50s knuckleballer Willie Ramsdell once started (and won) both games of a doubleheader. Hough showed the same kind of durability, becoming the last player to start at least 40 games in a season (1987).

Hough was signed as a free agent by the newly created Florida Marlins and installed as their opening day pitcher for the team’s debut. He pitched 5 innings, picking up the win, and would play the full 1993 and 1994 seasons before retiring during the strike. Looking at the disruption in play, he probably thought to himself, “I’m too old for this.”

Hough appears as card #169 in the 1993 Finest set, a card just dripping with the teal colors of the new Marlins uniforms. Hough is making a face during the delivery of another knuckleball, somehow reminding me of improv comedian Ryan Stiles in the process.

The availability of this card fluctuates over time, sometimes going for a half a year without a transaction being recorded. I picked up a raw copy for my set, to which PSA assigned a rather generous NM-MT rating. Late last year I found a much nicer copy and made the upgrade, sending the earlier card to a collector building the set in Colorado. With this addition I am one card away from completing the inaugural Marlins team set.