Jamey Carroll of the Minnesota Twins poses for a portrait at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Boy, you wanna talk about an under-the-radar story?
Before this season, Jamey Carroll hasn't started more than 64 games at shortstop in one season.
Jamey Carroll is 38.
Which led to this question, posed to Bill James at Bill James Online:
Bill - Jamey Carroll has been a utility infielder all of his career. Well, he did have one season where he had over 90 games at one position - second base, but now at 38 he is considered the every day shortstop for his team. Do you know of any players who were given the best jobs of their playing career at such a late age - or how I would go about looking for one? ... other than a bunch of old guys who got their chances during World War II?
Asked by: John Carter
Well, I was shocked when I realized that the Twins were actually intending to make Jamey Carroll their regular shortstop, and I can't think of any parallel for that. You know, the Twins and Red Sox both train in Ft. Myers so we play each other all the time; it was like the fourth time I saw the Twins that I realized that they didn't have another shortstop.
I don't think there is a REAL parallel for that in history. Ersatz parallels include (and I'll leave you to look up the details) Johnny Cooney, Al Todd, Eddie Mayo, Nixey Callahan and ... well, that's about it. I'm about done.
Hell, I'll look 'em up.
A few years after the First World War, Johnny Cooney reached the majors as a pitcher, with the Boston Braves. He obviously had some real talent as a hitter, though, and before long he was occasionally playing the outfield or first base when not pitching. An elbow injury knocked Cooney out in 1927, he pitched very little in '28 and '29, and spent most of the next six seasons in the minors, pitching some but mostly playing in the outfield.
In 1936, Cooney established himself as an every-day outfielder with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was 35, a major leaguer for many years but an every-day position player for the first time, which is how he gets into this Jamey Carroll conversation. Cooney actually lasted quite a while longer -- even though he really wasn't much of a hitter -- and got his last at-bats when he was 43, in 1944 with the war-depleted Yankees.
Al Todd was a rough contemporary of Cooney's, but a different sort of duck entirely. Todd was always a catcher, but didn't reach the majors until he was 30 and didn't start more than 22 games in a season until he was 32. He served as a half-time catcher for three seasons, then became a (more-or-less) regular at 35. Which I'm guessing is how he earned a mention by Bill. But Todd wasn't 38 (like Carroll) and his elevation shouldn't have been a huge surprise, given that he'd seem significant action in each of the previous three seasons.
Another different sort of duck: Eddie Mayo. He reached the majors in 1936, as a 26-year-old, played a bit of third base for a few seasons, then went back to the minors for four full seasons. But World War II got him back to the majors in 1943, when he took over as the Philadelphia Athletics' full-time third baseman. He was 33, and would later become the Tigers' every-day second baseman for a few seasons, despite having never played an inning at second base in the majors before his 34th birthday. The Tigers won the World Series in 1945 with Mayo playing second, and The Sporting News named Mayo the American League's Most Valuable Player (his teammate Hal Newhouser won the BBWAA's award).
I don't know how Nixey Callahan qualifies for this list. He reached the majors as a pitcher in 1894, briefly. Was in the minors (I assume) for a couple of seasons before returning to the National League in 1897 and pitched some but played more second base than anything. Then came a few seasons of mostly pitching -- and yes, baseball in the old days was a strange affair -- before Callahan became the White Sox' regular third baseman in 1903, when he was 29. Is this how he makes the list? Probably not. After shifting to the outfield for a couple of seasons, Callahan disappeared from the majors for five full seasons ... before returning in 1911 as a semi-regular outfielder with the White Sox.
Disappeared? Well, sort of. Callahan apparently was so impressed by White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey's money-making ways that he decided to try for himself, and ran a Chicago semi-pro club, the Logan Squares, that did quite well for a few years. It wasn't until the business started flagging that Callahan decided to give the majors another try; after paying a $700 fine -- he'd been banned from Organized Baseball, for daring to venture outside the official confines -- Callahan returned to the White Sox and won a spot in the lineup.
All of which is quite interesting, but hardly comparable to Jamey Carroll.
In fact, none of these guys seem remotely like Jamey Carroll. All of those guys except Todd left the majors for a spell. All of them were significantly younger than Carroll when they established themselves as regulars.
Carroll reached the majors 10 years ago, and was essentially a utility infielder for 10 seasons. In 2006, he did start 102 games at second base with the Rockies; otherwise his career high in starts at a position is 66, at second base with the Indians in 2008.
But this discussion isn't about players who became a regular at a new position while relatively old; Cal Ripken became a third baseman at 36, Mickey Mantle a first baseman at 35, Craig Biggio a center fielder at 37.
So in all honesty, I'm not sure what Bill's list represents. Maybe it's just a list of players ever so vaguely like Jamey Carroll, because there's no other list to be made because there's nobody truly like Jamey Carroll. Nobody who's become an every-day shortstop for the first time at 38; perhaps nobody who's become a true every-day player for the first time at 38.
As we project him, anyway. It's possible that other players have opened a season playing shortstop regularly for the first time -- or some other position, for that matter -- but didn't stay there long enough to make any sort of list. Jamey Caroll's 38 years old. You might guess that if he were really a good enough shortstop to play there regularly, somebody would have figured that out before now and made him a regular shortstop.
Maybe the Twins are just geniuses.
If not, he probably won't last long as a regular shortstop. And this whole conversation will have been pointless. It's a good thing everything on the Internet disappears forever after three months.