Respect Your Elders, They May Be Faster Than You

Take a good look at the photo on the front of Otis Nixon’s 1993 Finest baseball card. Does it seem a little off? Is there something you wouldn’t expect to see in a photo of a 34 year-old athlete? Look at his face and you’ll see the key to appreciating this card: He looks like he is 94 years old. It’s like he just hit a grounder and is thinking, “Hmm…I don’t know about that.”

Perhaps his youthful speed comes from having “Junior” as his middle name.

The photo on the back of the card shows the 60+ years of aging in the prior photograph is (mostly) a trick of lighting and physical exertion connected with swinging a bat. So what makes this special? Is this just an exercise in making fun on someone’s appearance? NO.

Nixon was known as a speedy ballplayer. He played center field; a position that demands players cover large distances in a short span. He stole 620 bases in his career, just 2 behind perennial All-Star Kenny Lofton. Unlike Lofton, Nixon never made an All-Star team despite impressive running.

What makes Nixon truly stand out is that he stole 515 of those bases after turning 30 years old. Most speed guys are slowing down at age 30, while Nixon was just beginning to take off. Kenny Lofton swiped less than 300 bases from that age. Vince Coleman nabbed 164. The great Rickey Henderson stole 612 while playing in 430 more games than Nixon.

Nixon’s 59 SBs per 162 games played ranks among the best of all time despite almost all coming from age 30+. He trails only Rickey Henderson in this department, but managed to beat him in another way: Nixon lead all of MLB in stolen bases for the 1990s, stealing 478 against Henderson’s 463 in that span.

A great baserunner, but not really that effective.

Further reading: Jeremy Racanelli wrote an interesting article about Otis Nixon. Nixon may be the only player to appear on baseball cards with every possible variation of batting helmet and face mask.