The New York Yankees have had their fair share of veterans throughout the decades. Whether it be from acquiring them later in their careers, or players growing old with the team, each iteration of the Yanks had a solid performing veteran in the clubhouse. You may more often remember those who struggled, but I can recall many mid-30s players having terrific seasons. Ranging from Derek Jeter to Babe Ruth, I’ll be reviewing the best 35-plus age seasons at each position for the Bronx Bombers.
There is only one qualifier for this exercise: a player must have played at least two-thirds of the given season at their respective position. Basically, we want to make sure the player’s dominant position is the one at hand. Let’s start behind the backstop, then make our way around the diamond.
At catcher, there is a virtual tie between Elston Howard’s age-35 season in 1964, and Jorge Posada’s age-36 season in 2007. Howard tallied 5.5 rWAR and Posada tallied 5.4 rWAR. Posada’s defense dragged down his total value, but in reality, this is one of the best hitting seasons the league has ever seen from a catcher. He slashed .338/.426/.543. Approaching the twilight of his career, Posada delivered one of the most memorable seasons a Yankee catcher has ever had.
Moving onto first base, we remember the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig. In his final full season in 1938, Gehrig delivered a 4.7 rWAR season with a .295/.410/.523 slash line. At the age of 35, the Iron Horse still had plenty left in his game as he slugged 29 homers on his way to winning his final World Series with the historic franchise. He will forever go down as the greatest Yankee to ever play first base.
Second base doesn’t have the star power or success that every other position does. In 1924, the Ernie Johnson delivered a modest 1.4 rWAR season across 134 plate appearances. Johnson probably isn’t the name you would recognize on any 1920s Yankees teams, but nevertheless, he was quite fantastic in his part-time role, as he slashed .353/.412/.597.
For another World Series winning team, the Yankees featured an elite veteran at short. This time, it was Derek Jeter in 2009. Like his long-time teammate Jorge Posada, Jeter came through with one his best personal. seasons at age 35 or later. In another 200-hit effort, Jeter hit .334 with an .871 OPS.
I truly did not realize how excellent Wade Boggs was for the Yankees in his late career tenure. In each season from age 35-37, he delivered 4+ rWAR efforts. That’s three seasons that more than qualify for this exercise! In today’s game, the odds we see a player do this once are pretty slim, and Boggs did it three times! In comparison, Alex Rodriguez only had a four-win season one time at age 35 or older.
Coincidentally, we have another former Red Sox player entering this list, with Johnny Damon’s age-35 season in the 2009 delivering 4.2 rWAR. Another fantastic season for the 2009 World Series winning Yankees coming from a veteran. The team’s composition is something we most likely will not see for a long time. The roster’s strong core of veterans was supplemented by the addition of other veterans in CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira.
In center field, another legendary Yankee comes into the mix. You probably could have surmised Joe DiMaggio had the best age-35-plus season for a Yankee center fielder. Like his fellow legends, DiMaggio was a stud till the end of his career. In his age-35 season in 1950, he accumulated 5.2 rWAR. He nearly hit for a 1.000 OPS, hit over .300, and delivered the classic 30/100 HR/RBI season.
Can you guess the best age 35+ season for a Yankee right fielder? This title, and many others, belongs to Babe Ruth. In perhaps the greatest season by an age-37 veteran, Ruth slugged 41 homers en route to an 8.5 rWAR 1932 season. His slash line is almost laughable it’s so impressive, at .341./.489/.669. Of course, this was also a World Series season for the Yankees at the tail end of Ruth’s career.
I was quite surprised to see how many great seasons late-stage Yankees starting pitchers have had, but none reign greater than Whitey Ford’s 1964 campaign. The Yankees’ greatest starter was outstanding with 6.7 rWAR in 244.3 innings. This Yankee team was another great one, but was edged out in the World Series by the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Ford was one of the best pitchers of his generation, proving he could be an ace for a championship team late into his career.
Lastly, we have the relief GOAT, Mariano Rivera. We all know how great the Sandman was till his very last day on the mound, but his age-38 season is something else. We rarely witness four-WAR seasons from relivers, and Rivera did it over a decade into his career. With all the success Mo had, it’s still shocking to look back and see how dominant he was even as he winded down. This season was one of his best three.
I’m pretty skeptical any other team has a list of late-career seasons quite like that of the Yankees. Almost all of their dynasties featured elite veterans. It’s something to take note of; when you have legendary players, they often play and excel late into their careers!