Playing any sport at a high level for a long period of time is a tough ask. With Major League Baseball, it seems that having a long career is nearly impossible. Sure, the sport itself isn’t as physically taxing as, say, the NFL, but MLB seasons are 162 games long. If you’re keeping score, that’s about 145 more than the NFL.
The average career length in the MLB is just shy of six years. One in every five players will only have a year-long career in the majors because it’s a hard sport to be good at continuously. Think about it, hall of famers will get out seven out of ten times they go up to bat. With that being said, there are some players who have defied all odds and played over two decades in the MLB. Let’s dive into the careers of those unicorns.
Nolan Ryan Retired After 27 Seasons
After everything was said and done, Nolan Ryan’s career spanned over four decades with the MLB. He played for 27 seasons as a dominant pitcher and retired with 324 wins and a major league record 5,714 strikeouts.
His career began in the mid-1960s with the New York Mets organization and ended with the Texas Rangers in 1993. He was baseball’s first one million dollars per year player and threw seven no-hitters while he was at it.
Tommy John Is A Four-Time All-Star
Tommy John began his career with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 20 in 1963 and finished up with the New York Yankees in 1989. Although he played for six different MLB teams, he spent 15 of those years split between the Yankees and Chicago White Sox.
He had 288 career wins, a 3.34 ERA and he was a four-time all-star. His name is best known for Tommy John surgery which is a very common medical procedure for pitchers.
Rickey Henderson Stole 1,406 Bases
Rickey Henderson is a legendary baseball player. Not only was he a 10x all-star, MVP, and hall of famer, but he was an iron man on the field. He played 25 years in the MLB that started with the Oakland Athletics in 1979 and ended with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003.
He spent 14 years with the Athletics and boasted a career .279 batting average, 1,406 stolen bases, and over 3000 hits. That’s kind of incredible.
Left-Hander Jamie Moyer Led The Phillies To The World Series
Jamie Moyer is one of the most prolific left-handed pitchers in MLB history. He spent 25 years in the majors beginning in 1986 with the Chicago Cubs and ending in Colorado with the Rockies in 2012. He was an all-star and 2008 World Series champion with the Philadelphia Phillies.
He had 269 wins and a career 4.25 ERA, and 2,241 strikeouts. He spent most of his time in Seattle as he spent 11 seasons with the Mariners.
Jim Kaat Won The Gold Glove 16 Times
Jim Kaat began his professional baseball career with the Washington Senators in 1959 at age 20. He finished up his incredible career 25 years later with the St.Louis Cardinals in 1983 and would go on to play in three all-star games.
He won a World Series 1982 in his 24th season, and perhaps more impressively, was a 16x Gold Glove champion. He had 283 career wins, a 3.45 career ERA and finished up with 2461 strikeouts.
Ty Cobb’s Numbers Are Incredible
Ty Cobb began his career with the Detroit Tigers in 1905 at the ripe old age of 18. He would retire 24 years later with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1928 as a former league MVP and Triple Crown winner.
He was also inducted into the hall of fame because his numbers are outstanding. He had over 4,000 hits, a career batting average of .366 and nearly 2,000 RBIs. He also stole 897 bases during his career which showed just how big of a threat he really was.
Charlie Hough Was On The Mound For 25 Years
Charlie Hough was a grinder on the mound. He never had any crazy numbers but you knew you would be getting his all when it was his turn to pitch. He began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1970 and finished up 25 years later with the Florida Marlins.
He split 22 years between the Texas Rangers and the Dodgers (11 years spent with each organization) and was beloved by both franchises. He went to the all-star game once and had a career W/L record of 216-216.
Deacon McGuire Played For Eight Different MLB Teams
Deacon McGuire was a career catcher and first baseman who played 26 years in the MLB. He played from 1888 until 1912 starting with the Toledo Blue Stockings and ending with the Detroit Tigers.
He was a career .278 hitter with 840 RBIs and only 45 home runs. He was a reliable player who was very valuable to a lot of teams as he made his way through eight different MLB teams and four AA teams.
Bobby Wallace Had 2,309 Hits
Bobby Wallace is a hall of famer and was an incredible shortstop and third baseman. His long career started with the Cleveland Spiders in 1894 at age 20 and ended 25 years later with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1918.
He had a career batting average that floated around .270 and he had 2,309 career hits. When you add 1121 RBIs to the stat-line, it’s easy to see why he was inducted into the HOF with ease.
Eddie Collins spent 25 years in the MLB with only two teams. He came into the league with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1906, played with the Chicago White Sox for 13 years and then would go back to Philly to end his career in 1930.
He’s a hall of famer, MVP, and four-time World Series champion. He had a career batting average of .333 and had 1299 career RBIs. He collected an incredible 3,315 hits during his time.
Jesse Orosco Had 87 Wins
Jesse Orosco’s 25 years in the MLB is especially stunning considering he was never a starting a pitcher. He started four games in his first year and then would come out of the bullpen for the rest of his career after that.
He came into the league in 1979 with the New York Mets and then retired in 2003 with the Minnesota Twins. He ended his career with 87 wins which are outstanding considering all of those wins came out of the pen. He was a two-time all-star and two-time World Series champion.
Cap Anson Is Legendary
Cap Anson’s career started in 1871 with the Rockford Forest Citys and spanned 27 seasons with only three different teams. He ended his career in 1897 with the Chicago Cubs (for which he played 22 seasons).
He finished his career with 2075 RBIs, and nearly 3500 hits while winning the batting title four times and earning his way into the baseball hall of fame. He had an incredible .334 career batting average and 277 stolen bases which at this point is icing on the cake.
Four-time Cy Young Award Winner: Steve Carlton
Steve Carlton had quite the career in the MLB. He pitched for 24 years in the majors and was inducted into the hall of fame, won four Cy Young awards and a triple crown (in pitching that means you have to most wins, strikeouts and lowest ERA during the season).
He collected 329 career wins, boasted a career 3.22 ERA and spent most of his 24 years pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies. Pretty impressive stuff.
Rick Dempsey Is A World Series MVP
Being a major league catcher is incredibly hard on the knees. Most catchers don’t last in the league very long because of the stress and strain, but Rick Dempsey was an exception. He played 24 years in the MLB with six different teams from 1969 (when he came up with the Minnesota Twins) to 1992 (when he ended his career with the Baltimore Orioles.
He was a two-time World Series champion and even snagged the World Series MVP while he was at it.
Omar Vizquel’s Numbers Don’t Lie
Omar Vizquel is widely known as one of the most sure-handed infielders the game of baseball has ever seen. He was lucky enough to be able to enjoy 24 years in the majors with six different teams. He’s a 3x all-star and an 11x Gold Glove winner who racked up 2,877 hits and 951 RBIs during his career.
He started his career in 1989 with the Seattle Mariners and ended it in Toronto with the Blue Jays in 2012.
Dennis Eckersley’s Impressive 390 Career Saves
Dennis Eckersley is one of the most prolific closing pitchers in baseball history. He came into the league with Cleveland in 1975 and ended it with a stint in Boston with the Red Sox in 1998.
He collected 197 career wins, but most impressively, he had 390 career saves. He won a Cy Young award, an MVP award, and is a baseball hall of famer which really isn’t surprising at all if you ever got to watch him pitch.
Roger Clemens’ Career ERA Was 3.12
There’s an argument that Roger Clemens is the best pitcher to ever take the field in the MLB. He won an MVP award, the Cy Young seven times, the Triple Crown twice, and was an 11x all-star and a surefire hall of famer.
He pitched for 24 years in the majors, mostly with the Boston Red Sox. He struck out 4,672 batters during his career and won 354 games. His career ERA was 3.12 which is absolutely nuts.
Phil Niekro Played For Over 25 Seasons
Phil Niekro had a long career that spanned over 25 seasons in the major leagues. He started a little later in life than most of the other players on the list as he was 25 during his first season. He came into the league in 1964 with the Milwaukee Braves and ended his career in 1987 with the Atlanta Braves.
He spent nearly 21 years in ATL and has since been inducted into the hall of fame along with being a 5x all-star and 5x Gold Glove winner.
Pete Rose Kicked Off His Career As Rookie Of The Year
He has one of the most famous names in MLB history, and there’s no doubting the impact he had on the game. Pete Rose had a career that spanned 24 years (19 of those with the Cincinnati Reds).
He was a league MVP, he won Rookie of the Year, was a 17x all-star, and a three-time World Series champion. He had 4,256 hits and 1,314 career RBIs and 160 HRs which is remarkable in itself.
Carlton Fisk Is An Eleven-Time All-Star
Carlton Fisk is one of the few catchers on this list since that’s the position that takes the most beating. He was some how able to stay healthy during most of his 24 years in the MLB. He was an 11x all-star, former Rookie of the year, and was inducted into the hall of fame.
He had 1330 career RBIs, hit .269 and 379 career home runs. He split his entire quarter-century career between the Chicago White Sox (13 years) and the Boston Red Sox (11 years).