When Gleyber Torres hit a home run off Bartolo Colon on Monday, it led to a bunch of fun facts and stats about their age difference. While it’s not the biggest age difference in a pitcher/batter matchup, you did have the oldest player in the majors allowing a home run to one of the youngest.
While seeing these fun facts pop up on the game’s broadcast and on Twitter, it sprung an idea. Using batter/pitcher matchups and/or teammate pairings, how many steps six degrees of separation-style would it take to go from Torres to the early days of baseball history?
Note: There are probably other routes and player pairings you can use to get back to the bygone eras. You might be able to get there in even fewer steps. However, to do this I mostly used Baseball Reference to find the pairings. While that website is great, there are probably more thorough tools that could more easily be used to find these things.
Let’s start with the Torres/Colon pairing, since it is about as big of gap as you can get right now, at least as far as non-Juan Soto players go.
For the second step, we’ll connect Colon to Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey wouldn’t have been the oldest player Colon ever faced, but he also came up very young, just a couple months over 19 years old when he made his debut. Like Torres, Griffey has hit two career home runs off Colon, although his came when he was 29 and 37.
Another pitcher Griffey once hit a home run off was Bert Blyleven. Blyleven also made his debut as a 19-year old. Their careers would have overlapped for three seasons, with a very young Griffey managing to hit a home run off the Hall of Fame pitcher in his final season.
Among the other Hall of Fame hitters Blyleven would have faced in his career was Frank Robinson. Fourteen years prior to Blyleven’s debut, Robinson made his as a 20-year old. Despite the 15-year age gap, they faced off 21 times over the course of their careers.
Warren Spahn and Robinson’s careers overlapped a decent amount, but Spahn made his brief debut 14 seasons before Robinson. Spahn threw 15.2 innings in 1942 before being sent down and then serving in the military. When Spahn eventually resurfaced, he and Robinson faced each other 180 times.
Ernie Lombardi was nearing the end of his career when he and Saphn were teammates during Spahn’s short debut season in ‘42. After that, they two would face each other once when Lombardi’s Giants played Spahn’s Braves. Lombardi flew out.
Another former Boston Brave who had a notable career was Burleigh Grimes. Grimes spent just one year with the team and was not teammates with either Lombardi or Spahn. Grimes’ career began in 1919 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he spent most of it with the Brooklyn Robins. He and Lombardi matched up 11 times in their career, with Lombardi hitting him to the tune of a 1.245 OPS.
A fellow Hall of Famer who faced Grimes just once was Casey Stengel. Grimes got the best of the future Yankees’ manager, getting him to fly out in 1925 in what would be Stengel’s final season as a player.
About here is where the extensive batter vs. pitcher data on Baseball Reference disappears, so we have to get a little creative to continue the trek.
Stengel’s first year as a player was 1912. The final regular season series his Brooklyn team played that season was against the Giants, whose star pitcher was Christy Matthewson. While the two didn’t meet in Stengel’s rookie year, they would match up for the first time the following year, when Stengel went 0-4 in the first meeting on June 23rd.
Matthewson’s Giants finished last in his debut season in 1900. Finishing in first that year was the Brooklyn Superbas, featuring first baseman Hughie Jennings. In 1900, Jennings was just over halfway through what would be an 18-year career, where he ended up being the most hit batter in major league history. The box scores from the very early 1900s are hard to track down, so it’s hard to tell for sure if Jennings and Matthewson faced each other. However, they both were regular players in the NL for the next couple seasons, so presumably they would have.
Jennings’ playing career stretches all the way back to 1891 with the Louisville Colonels of the American Association. One of Jennings’ opponents in that first year would have been Gil Hatfield of the Washington Statesmen. Hatfield, whose positions on Baseball Reference are listed as shortstop, third baseman, and pitcher, would have been on the opposing team when Jennings made his debut in 1891. Though, it’s unclear if that game would have included some of the 18 innings Hatfield pitched that season.
Hatfield’s own debut came in 1885 when he was 30. One of his teammates that year was future Hall of Famer Pud Galvin. Galvin was 28 that year, and was in his eighth season.
Galvin may have been in his eighth season that year, but it was ten years following his first season. That’s because he made his major league debut as an 18-year old in 1875. He was a member of the St. Louis Brown Stockings in his rookie year, who finished fourth in the National Association. Despite finishing fourth in a 13 team league, they finished 46 games back of the Boston Red Stockings, who went 71-8.
On Boston that year and the last stop on the tour is Harry Wright. The British-born Wright would go on to be a Hall of Famer mainly due to his career as a manager. He was the manager of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings team that is credited for being the first professional team ever. He also played in the first season of the National Association, which would become the first professional baseball league ever.
In 13 steps, you can connect Gleyber Torres to the very beginning of professional baseball history.
All data and historical results are courtesy of Baseball Reference.