In comparison to athletes in many other sports, baseball players are immortal. Seriously, they can play forever. That’s not to say that it doesn’t take a lot of skills and athleticism to maintain a professional baseball career over a long period of time, but the fact that baseball players can still be competitive into their 40s is impressive. The longevity of many baseball players means that it can become easy to lose track of some of the oldest players in the league.
Then again, it can be difficult to keep track of active current and former MLB stars in general. When you account for the minor leagues, international organizations, and good old-fashioned “last man in” MLB roster spots, there are plenty of places for professional baseball players to keep doing their thing. Combine all of these factors, and you start to realize that there are many baseball players that don’t really retire so much as they fall out of the spotlight and you eventually forget about them. All over the world, there are names you once knew well still playing baseball. Many of them are actually still on MLB rosters. These are the 15 MLB players you didn’t realize were still playing baseball.
15 Endy Chávez
It took a little bouncing around for Endy Chávez to finally find his way onto a major league roster. He began in his minor league career in 1996 with the Mets and spent four years in their system. In 2000, he was finally claimed by the Kansas City Royals in the 2000 Rule 5 draft. He then proceeded to bounce between the Mets and Royals before finally being activated by the Montreal Expos. Go figure. Once he finally got the chance to play the major, Chávez proved to be a valuable asset. While his most famous play will always be his 2006 NLCS catch, he was a consistent contributor throughout.
While Chavez hasn’t played for an MLB team since 2013, he did resume his career with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League in 2016.
14 Ichiro Suzuki
In the hearts of millions, Ichiro Suzuki will always be a Seattle Mariner. Following an astonishing career in Japan, Suzuki finally made his way to America in 2001. Suzuki stole the show almost immediately. He became an international sensation whose play captured the imaginations of fans in Japan and America. Soon, Suzuki became known as a hitting machine who was almost impossible to pitch around. His talent is legendary. Suzuki did eventually leave the Mariners and joined the New York Yankees. His numbers dropped by digits across the board, but he still remained productive.
In 2015, Suzuki signed with the Marlins where – you guessed it – he’s still getting hits and setting records (including his 3,000th MLB hit). Currently, Ichiro still has an option to play in the 2018 season with the Marlins. Let's see how his 2017 campaign goes.
13 Matt Bush
Given that even top baseball prospects can spend years in the minor leagues, sports fans, in general, don’t possess as great of a memory of top MLB draft picks as they do top NBA and NFL draft picks. For some, however, Matt Bush is an exception to that rule. As a high school pitcher, Bush performed incredible feats that earned him the attention of scouts everywhere. The San Diego Padres gladly took him with the first overall pick in the 2004 draft, and Padres fans expected big things from the youngster. Just a few weeks later, Bush was arrested on suspicion of felony charges. This proved to be a bit of a trend as Bush would be arrested several times throughout his career. Despite all this, Bush is throwing fastballs for the Texas Rangers.
12 Bryan Bullington
As a college player, Bryan Bullington dazzled scouts and fans with his array of abilities. Some went so far as to call him the best collegiate player in baseball, but even his doubters agreed that he had talent. In 2002, Bullington was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the first overall pick. Some have said that there was no obvious first overall pick that year, but Bullington still figured to be a great talent. Despite this, Bullington spent years in the minors and endured a variety of shoulder injuries. These injuries held him back slightly and forced him into journeyman status as he bounced around several different teams. He was just never able to really bring it all together. Bullington was last spotted playing for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. He’s currently a free agent.
11 R.A. Dickey
There was a time when it looked like R.A. Dickey just wasn’t going to figure it out. After being drafted 18th overall in the 1996 draft by the Texas Rangers, Dickey soon began to experience a series of injuries that put his future prospects in doubt. It wasn’t long before Dickey wasn’t able to throw anything out of the ordinary. So, he decided to start throwing something incredibly unordinary. Dickey soon learned to throw the fabled knuckleball in order to compensate for his pitching shortcomings. It worked. Soon, Dickey was bouncing around the MLB as a fairly well-respected utility man who incredibly seemed to grow more capable as he aged. Dickey went on to win the 2012 NL Cy Young Award and signed a one-year contract with the Atlanta Braves this winter.
10 Julio Franco
This is definitely a strange one that might technically stretch the definition of active, but it’s too fascinating not to include. Long ago in 1982, Julio Franco began his MLB career by playing in 16 games for the Philadelphia Phillies. This began his first run in the league as well as some of the greatest years in Franco’s considerable career. Soon, however, the MLB strike hit and Franco found himself needing to go to Japan in order to continue playing. Remarkably, he returned to the majors in 2001 as a 43-year-old player.
He would continue to play in the majors until 2007 when he finally bid farewell to the league after a final stint with the Atlanta Braves. He went on to become a player/manager for the Ishikawa Million Stars Japanese baseball team. He played in 14 games the year he joined the team, 2015, and he’s still considered to be an active roster member today.
9 Greg Reynolds
The long history of MLB busts is littered with “where are they now?” stories. What’s amazing about Greg Reynolds’s story is that it feels like he’s been away from baseball forever, when it’s really only been a few years. Reynolds was taken with the second overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies. For their investment, the Rockies expected to receive a dominant pitcher that would anchor their rotation for years to come. What they got instead was an injury prone thrower whose natural abilities just never translated into tangible skills. He played for the Rangers and the Reds before MLB teams stopped giving him a chance.
He went to Japan shortly after that but returned to the MLB in 2016 as a minor league pitcher for the Padres. He was released later in the season and is currently a free agent.
8 Bryan LaHair
If the name Bryan LaHair doesn’t exactly ring a bell, that’s because LaHair’s moment in the sun was fairly fleeting. Selected with the 39th overall pick in the 2002 MLB Draft, LaHair was thought of as a gifted hitter with a world of potential. As a minor league player, he put up impressive numbers that seemed to justify the hype that surrounded LaHair’s arrival. Ultimately, though, LaHair wouldn’t make a professional roster until the Cubs promoted him in 2011. What they found is that LaHair was a better baseball player than most, but not a better baseball player than most who played professionally.
From there, LaHair took his talents to Japan before returning to America briefly. His run didn’t last long, however, and he was last seen playing for the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League.
7 A.J. Pierzynski
If you take a glance at A.J. Pierzynski’s career numbers and history, you’d probably get the impression that he’s a journeyman. In a way that’s true. Pierzynski spent quite a few of his early years bouncing around the league. While he exhibited a certain degree of talent as a member of the Minnesota Twins and the San Francisco Giants, neither team felt compelled to keep him. Then he found his way onto the roster of the Chicago White Sox. He contributed to some of the White Sox best franchise years but was eventually let go in 2012. He resumed his journeyman ways after that by joining the Rangers, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Braves. At 40 years old, he’s still with the Braves and still doing quite well.
6 Koji Uehara
Although he’s only been an MLB player for less than a decade, it feels like people have been speaking of Koji Uehara’s name for decades. That’s because Uehara has been on MLB team’s radars since the late ‘90s. Teams across America felt that this Japanese phenom may very well become the next MLB star. After years of false starts and contract issues that prevented him from leaving Japan, Uehara finally became an MLB player in 2009 when he joined the Baltimore Orioles. While many will say that Uehara left his best years in Japan, he’s still proven to be a well above average players whose flashes of brilliance have helped teams through dark moments. He was particularly great in the 2013 ALCS and was named MVP of the series for his efforts. He’s currently a member of the World Champion Chicago Cubs.
5 Daisuke Matsuzaka
It seems like just yesterday that the man known as Dice-K was the hottest property in baseball. After confounding Japanese teams with his almost superhuman pitches, MLB teams were clamoring for the privilege to pay Matsuzaka millions of dollars. Finally, in 2006, Matsuzaka was allowed to talk to MLB teams. He ended up signing with the Boston Red Sox for a king’s ransom. For their money, Boston got a strange pitcher. At his best, Matsuzaka lived up to the hype, but Matsuzaka wasn’t always at his best. Still, he was a more than solid part of the Red Sox’s rotation who occasionally was the ace of the team. Eventually, Matsuzaka fell into decline and was out of the league following failed stints with the Indians and Mets. As of 2016, however, he is still an active player in Japan.
4 Jason Grilli
While Grilli was drafted in the 24th round of the 1994 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees, he opted to attend Seton Hall University. There, in his junior year, he garnered national headlines by striking out 18 batters in a single game. Naturally, MLB teams were excited by his abilities. Grilli was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 1997 draft by the San Francisco Giants. He would end up starting for the Florida Marlins in 1999 and began a solid – sometimes even spectacular – professional career. Grilli jumped from team to team on a nearly yearly basis and became one of those pitchers that that teams turned to when they were in need of someone reliable to fill a vacant slot. He’s still playing that role as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
3 Wily Mo Peña
Aside from having the kind of name that just rolls off the tongue, Wily Mo Peña has always been a respected overall player. He got his break in the league sometime in 2003 when the Cincinnati Reds discovered that he was a pretty great substitute for Ken Griffey Jr. whenever Jr. was going through one of his bouts with injury. Soon, however, they traded him to the Boston Red Sox where Peña continued to contribute in a supporting role. From there, Peña began the journeyman part of his career as teams picked him up whenever they needed a veteran batter.
Following a fairly impressive run in the Seattle Mariners minor league system, Pena bounced around Japan playing quite well for a few different organizations. He was just signed by the Cleveland Indians to a minor-league contract a few weeks ago.
2 Bartolo Colón
While nobody ever said that pitchers had to be world class athletes, Bartolo Colon has always looked more like a fan than a player. Well, that is if you just looked at him standing still. Put a baseball in his hand, however, and it’s clear that Colón has earned the long MLB career he has enjoyed thus far. At his best (specifically, 2005) Colón could be considered a lights out pitcher whose ability to shut down the best batters in the world is simply astounding. While some injuries and slumps have hindered Colón from time to time, his ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best when he is at his very best had never been in doubt. The 43-year-old pitcher recently signed with the Atlanta Braves.
1 Manny Ramirez
Manny being Manny. It’s the phrase that Red Sox fans and MLB fans across the world got used to hearing quite often during Manny Ramirez’s prime. It was a phrase that spoke to everything good about Ramirez’s reign as one of the league’s premiere hitters and the bad moments that came along with it. For every big play that Ramirez generated, he generated an equal amount of discontent and disgrace. As a member of the Boston Red Sox, Ramirez helped generate the numbers and the attitude needed to regenerate the Boston baseball franchise. Shortly after leaving Boston, though, Ram Ramirez’s exploits began to outweigh his contributions. A memorable stint with the Dodgers proceeded a forgettable tenure with the White Sox and Rays. When it was all said and done, Ramirez abandoned his MLB comeback attempts and favored a stint in Japan. In 2017, he declared himself a member of the Kochi Fighting Dogs.