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Sunday, July 24, 2016

David Ortiz and Great Final Seasons

At the age of 40, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is playing in his final and perhaps best season of a 20-year major league career. He is providing a grand finale for what may well end up being an eventual induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Although such impressive exits from the game are rare, there have been others who retired with a bang instead of a whimper.

If the 2016 season were to end today, it could be reasonably argued that Ortiz truly did go out on top. Thus far, in 89 games, he has hit .332 with a league-leading 35 doubles, 24 home runs, 81 RBIs and a 182 OPS+, which represents a career high. He also leads the league in on base percentage (OBP) and slugging, all while walking (52) more than he has struck out (45).

Keep reading for some other outstanding final seasons. Eligibility was determined by players who voluntarily retired, as opposed to those like Shoeless Joe Jackson (who hit .382 in 1920 with 218 hits, 121 RBIs and just 14 strikeouts but never returned to the game after being suspended for life); injury (Sandy Koufax and Kirby Puckett had tremendous final seasons before retiring suddenly for health reasons), or death (like Roberto Clemente, who hit .312 and won a Gold Glove in 1972 but was killed during the offseason in a plane crash).

Ted Williams, 1960: Any comparison to Ortiz has to start with his Boston counterpart. Although he was unable to play every day, The Splendid Splinter made the most of his 19th and final season for the Sox, appearing in 113 games and walloping .316 with 29 home runs. For added emphasis, his final at-bat resulted in a home run off Jack Fisher and the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park.

Barry Bonds, 2007: Although the outfielder’s career likely ended more because of controversy surrounding him and PEDs, he was never technically suspended, so he belongs on this list. Reaching his 42nd birthday by the end of the season, he played in 126 games for the San Francisco Giants and produced a .276 batting average, a league-leading .480 OBP (helped by 132 walks), 28 home runs and 66 RBIs. Interestingly, he had nearly as many intentional walks (43) as strikeouts (54), showing off his laser-focused batting eye.

Roy Cullenbine, 1947: Batting just .224 while playing first base for the Detroit Tigers in his final season, one might wonder why the switch-hitter is on this list. It’s because the 33-year-old set a career high with 24 home runs and 133 walks. Partly because hitting well was held in higher regard than the simple ability to get on base, Cullenbine was released following the season. Although he was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies, he never made it into another official game and retired being able to say he went out on a high note.

Mike Mussina, 2008: There are few pitchers who provided as much consistency throughout their careers as the right hander. Pitching for the New York Yankees in his final season, he led the American league with 34 starts and went 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA. He not only finished sixth in Cy Young voting but also won a Gold Glove—the seventh of his career. It also represented the 17th consecutive year he contributed a double-digit win total; a run only made imperfect because he had just 12 starts during his rookie campaign.

Will Clark, 2000: The first baseman with the sweet left-handed swing battled injuries during the second half of his career. However, as a 36-year-old in his final season, he was healthy enough to appear in 130 games between the Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals and compile a .319 batting average, .426 OBP, 21 home runs and 70 RBIs. He was particularly lethal after joining the Cards in a mid-season trade, posting a staggering .345 batting average and 1.081 OPS in helping them reach the postseason.

Mariano Rivera, 2013: It would be a tall task to find an athlete in any sport that played so well and so long as the former closer of the Yankees. Coming back from a serious injury that occurred in 2012, the right-hander never missed a beat in his last season in the Bronx. Making 64 relief appearances, he continued to shut down hitters to the tune of a 2.11 ERA and 44 saves.

Honorable Mention

Joe Adcock, 1966: The massive slugger definitely saw a dip in production as he grew longer in the tooth but he was able to go out with a bang because of being used intelligently during his final season. Playing for the California Angels, he platooned at first base with veteran left-handed hitter Norm Siebern. Although he played in just 83 games, he was by far the team’s most productive hitter (the entire squad combined to hit just .232), mashing .273 with 18 home runs and 48 RBIs. His 167 OPS+ was the best mark of his career. Some have pointed to a cozy home park for his success but a look at the numbers show his home/road OPS split was actually .854/.1.021.

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