Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Last Living Player From Each Decade

I apologize to my regular readers for not updating in a while. That "life" stuff has been taking up a lot of my time, and I haven't been inspired to write as much lately. Since I hate to go a month without posting though, I decided to do another list.

With the recent passing of Eddie Joost, the last surviving member of the 1940 Cincinnati Reds, there are now fewer than ten living Major League ballplayers from the 1930's. It got me thinking about who the last surviving player from each decade was, and since no one seems to have compiled it anywhere else, it couldn't have been a more perfect task for Baseball Junk Drawer. Thanks of course to Baseball-Reference, I was able to find the answers fairly easily, and here they are:

1870's: Charles Witherow (d. July 3, 1948)
1880's: Dummy Hoy (d. December 15, 1961)
1890's: Charlie Emig (d. October 2, 1975)
1900's: Smokey Joe Wood (d. July 27, 1985)
1910's: Red Hoff (d. September 17, 1998)
1920's: Al Lopez (d. October 30, 2005)

You might expect a list of this sort to be populated with unnoteworthy players who the longevity gods just happened to smile upon, but several of these guys hold a memorable place in baseball history.

Lopez is a Hall of Fame manager, of course, and while he wasn't a great player, he did at one time hold the record for most career games caught. He died just four days after the White Sox, the franchise with which he was most closely associated, ended their 88-year World Series drought. Though I didn't have this blog back then, I was most certainly a compulsive list-keeper, and I was fully aware that our last link to the decade of Ruth had been broken.

Hoy is famous for being perhaps the greatest deaf player in baseball history, and for a long time he was thought to be the originator of umpire hand signals (though further research has shown it not to be the case).

Wood is best known as a pitcher with a short-but-excellent peak, whose 1912 season was the stuff of legends (34-5 record, 1.91 ERA, 11.0 WAR). Arm trouble shortened his pitching career, but he managed to hang on as an outfielder for several years afterward. He became the baseball coach for Yale University after his playing days ended.

Hoff is noteworthy for living to the age of 107, tops among all MLB players. Most of the players on this list debuted in the middle or at the end of the decade they represent, but Hoff is the exception, debuting in 1911. Hard to believe a guy who played for the pre-Ruppert Yankees and called both Hal Chase and Frank Chance manager was still alive after the final episode of Seinfeld aired.

Witherow might not actually be the last survivor of the 1870's (and the National Association to boot), but since so many players from that era have slipped through the cracks in official record-keeping, he's the last we know of. The same could be said about Hoy, Emig or Wood as well.

Speaking of Emig, the Baseball-Reference Bullpen has an interesting tidbit about him. Apparently for many years he was among the unaccounted-for players, so he was never known in his lifetime as the 19th Century's last survivor. We don't know whether he ever had an inkling about it, but it's highly possible he died never knowing of the distinction he holds (at least until a researcher finds some other missing player who outlived him).

So that leaves us with the 1930's. That decade has two players remaining as of November 26, 2013:

Ace Parker (b. May 17, 1912)
Alex Pitko (b. November 22, 1914)
Ralph Hodgin (b. February 10, 1915)
Benny McCoy (b. November 9, 1915)
Art Kenney (b. April 29, 1916)
Al Veigel (b. January 30, 1917)
Mike Palagyi (b. July 4, 1917)
Bobby Doerr (b. April 7, 1918)
Al Brancato (b. May 29, 1919)

Some interesting names on this list, mainly the two Hall of Famers (one Cooperstown, the other Canton).

Who'll be the last survivor? I'm not crass enough to make any predictions, but I will keep this post up-to-date as long as one of these men is still alive, so that it can serve as a reference for any decade trivia-philes.

Update April 14, 2014: I just found out about the death of Art Kenney from last month, so I guess we now know that Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr is the last surviving Major Leaguer from the 1930's. Perhaps I'll have to start a new post keeping track of players from the 1940's before too long.