Calendar years are an artificial construct, as are decades and centuries and the base-ten system that makes years with 0s and 5s on the end of them seem significant for that matter.
But they’re significant to enough people that it will be interesting, and maybe even a little sad, when the last player who appeared in a major league game before the year 2000* retires. With A.J. Pierzynski kinda sorta probably retiring over the weekend, we lost another pre-2K guy. He debuted on September 9, 1998. With him gone, only five players who debuted before the temporal odometer flipped still roam the big leagues:
- David Ortiz (debuted September 2, 1997): You may have heard that he’s retiring after the season and that, if people think of it, they may hold some sort of farewell festivities for him. Working to confirm.
- Joe Nathan (debuted April 21, 1999): He just made it in under the wire this year, missing most of it while recovering from even more surgery. He’s pitched in six games — three each for the Cubs and Giants — and hasn’t allowed any earned runs, even if he hasn’t impressed anyone all that much. He hasn’t talked about his plans for 2017, but it’d be easy to see him either hanging it up or latching on someplace next spring.
- Adrian Beltre (debuted June 24, 1998): All he’s doing is chugging along with fantastic numbers — .299/.358/.516 29 HR, 96 RBI — while remaining healthy and reliable at third base and serving as the unquestioned team leader of the club with the best record in the American League. He may play forever. The most hilarious thing about this is that if you ask casual baseball fans if Beltre is a Hall of Famer they’ll probably say no because there ain’t no one more overlooked and underrated than Beltre.
- Carlos Beltran (debuted September 14, 1998): Unless of course Beltran is the most underrated. Hard to say. He should be a Hall of Famer too. He’s hitting about the same as Beltre on the year — .298/.340/.520, 27 HR, 86 RBI — so he’ll almost certainly be back in 2017 as well.
- Bartolo Colon (debuted April 4, 1997): When you’re built like someone’s 50-something-year-old uncle by the time you hit your 30s you become the butt of a lot of jokes. But I also wonder if you likewise level out to some more sustainable level of “fitness” that guys who get bigger in their late 30s can’t. Like you can handle it better if you get big while you’re still young. I dunno. All I know is that as long as Colon keeps pumping strikes like he has for the Mets this year — he’s 13-7 with a 3.27 ERA while walking only 30 guys in 30 appearances — he’ll always have a job. He’ll be back next year and the world will be better for it.
Buddy Carlyle (debuted August 29, 1999) has not appeared in the bigs or the minors this year but I could not find a formal retirement announcement for him. He was hemming and hawing about it when the Mets released him back in March. I presume he’s done, but you never know with relievers. Everyone else on the list that friend-of-HBT Jason Lukehart complied to this effect last year has bid baseball adieu.
Who do you think the last one will be? My head says Beltre, but my heart says Bartolo. Maybe those two and Beltran should all leave the game together, holding hands in a little circle or something.
Note: yes, I realize no one says “the year 2000” anymore, but I did for the first 25 years or so of my life and that Conan bit was always fantastic. Also: given how often people get pedantically crucified every time they use “the 20th century” to refer to years beginning with “19–” rather than noting that, technically, 2000 was the last year of the 20th century, I feel like I deserve some kudos for not calling this post “We’re down to five players who debuted in the 20th century.”