When the home plate umpire yells play ball this afternoon at Yankee Stadium, history will be made in the Bronx. With Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki penciled into the lineup, the Yankees will become the first team to start a 40-year old at short stop and centerfield in the same game (during at least the modern era; since 1901).
Jeter and Ichiro will become the first 40-somethings to start a game at the two prime positions up the middle, but two other Hall of Fame pairings previously accomplished the feat, albeit with one player coming off the bench. In 1927, the Philadelphia Athletics had a 40-year old named Ty Cobb, who wasn’t quite ready to relinquish his hold on centerfield. Cobb played 52 games in center that season (while batting .357), and, in one of them, was joined on the field by fellow legend Eddie Collins. Known more his play at second, Collins entered an August game against the Red Sox as a defensive replacement for Chick Galloway. Collins wasn’t in the game long, but it was enough to join with Cobb to become the first pair of 40-year olds to man the middle for the same team.
The following year, Collins reprised his role as a late game short stop replacement, this time as part of a double switch in the second game of a double header against the White Sox. When Collins took his position at short, once again standing behind him was a baseball legend who was past the age of 40. However, this time, it was Tris Speaker in center field for the Athletics, with the now 41-year old Cobb looking on from right.
It’s been over 85 years since two 40-year olds played SS and CF for the same team, but there have been a few near misses, including last year’s Yankee team, which had Ichiro shift over to center while a then 39-year old Jeter was playing short. In terms of starting players, however, only three teams have come close to employing a 40-year old in center field and at short stop. The 2010 Brewers, 2006 Giants, and 1985 Cubs each almost beat the Yankees to the milestone, but came up short…literally. In each instance, the center fielder had more then enough seniority to qualify, but the short stop fell on the wrong side of 40, including Craig Counsell, who missed the mark by only 17 days.
Almost 40-Year Old Pairings at SS and CF, 1901-2014 Source: baseball-reference.com (using season data from 1901-1913 and game data from 1914-2014).
When the Yankees make history this afternoon, it will be a long time coming…in more ways than one. Undoubtedly, some will seize on the pairing of Jeter and Ichiro at such key positions as symptomatic of what ails the 2014 Yankees, but instead, this event should be used to highlight the remarkable careers of two all-time greats. Ichiro and Jeter may no longer be at their best, but they are still giving it. That’s why, like Collins, Speaker, and Cobb before them, Ichiro and Jeter will not only make history together, but become immortalized by it in Cooperstown.