Todd Hartley: The Methuselah of the N.Y. Mets
There was sad news in the world of sports this week with the announcement of Jesse Oroscos retirement. Thats right, Jesse Orosco, the Methuselah of the major leagues.That name may not mean much to you, but to me and the thousands of people my age who grew up as New York Mets fans, Orosco is a remnant of a better time, when the Mets future brimmed with promise.If Oroscos name rings a bell at all, the image you likely have in your head is of him throwing his glove in the air and collapsing on the mound as the Mets won the World Series. That was in 1986.Before you start thinking thats old, bear in mind that on that 86 Mets squad, with kids named Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra, Orosco was the cagey old veteran in the bullpen.You see, Jesse Orosco has been around since the Carter administration, making him one of few baseball players in history to play in the majors in four different decades. Along the way he set major league records for the most games pitched (1,252) and the most relief appearances (1,248).Orosco is to baseball what Gordie Howe, who played in his 50s, was to hockey and what George Blanda, the NFLs oldest player, was to football, with one small catch: Howe and Blanda were Hall of Famers.Typically, in baseball, longevity is reserved for the truly great. Hank Aaron. Willie Mays. Ricky Henderson. Barry Bonds. These are the type of legends who are afforded careers of 20 years or more. Its almost axiomatic that if you are Hall of Fame material you get to play for as long as you want.It stands to reason, then, that the reverse would also be true, that players with 20-year careers would almost have to be Hall of Famers. This is usually the case, but Orosco, whose career lasted for 24 seasons, will be a glaring exception to this trend. He will, when he becomes eligible for the Hall in five years, get almost no votes.For 24 years, aside from a few good seasons in the mid-80s, Orosco was the very portrait of mediocrity, which is not necessarily a bad thing for a relief pitcher. He spent the bulk of his career as a middle reliever, racking up appearances and innings pitched but rarely factoring into the games decision.In the twilight of his career, Orosco became what is known as a spot reliever. He would usually come in to face just one batter. Then, whether he surrendered a hit or struck the guy out, Orosco would be yanked in favor of another pitcher.So how is it that a guy who was never much better than average got to play in the major leagues for 24 years?Hes a left-handed pitcher.Thats it. Thats the reason.Sure, he avoided injuries and threw a pretty good curveball, but if Orosco had played any position other than left-handed pitcher, hed have gone the way of parachute pants and hair bands at the end of the 80s. And pundits would have said he had a pretty mediocre 12-year career.Instead, Orosco got to hang on for twice that long, coming out of the bullpen for so many teams that I imagine even he cant remember them all, and he got to have a career that, to my mind, is one of the most remarkable in baseball history. He pitched for a quarter of a century, and during that time all he was asked to do was occasionally come into a game to face a left-handed batter or two.I bring all this up as a sort of public-service announcement for parents of left-handed children, because I see so many of them going about things all wrong. I see them spending all kinds of money on tennis and golf lessons, thinking their little tyke can go pro at 15 and they can retire as a result.Im sorry, folks, but no matter how hard you try, and no matter how much money you spend, your little leftie is not going to be the next John McEnroe or Mike Weir. But take that little southpaw out in the back yard and teach him how to throw a halfway decent curveball, and I promise that he, and you, will be getting paid well into your golden years. Just ask Jesse Orosco.[Todd Hartley made his major league debut in 1969 with the Washington Senators. He has yet to retire, but hasn’t pitched since the 70s. His column runs on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at email@example.com]
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