Thursday, July 24, 2008
Nifty after 50: Athletes who played into their 50s
The news that 50-year-old Nancy Lieberman was set to suit up for the WNBA's Detroit Shock on Thursday night brings to mind a number of athletes who competed into their 50s -- either in continuation of their careers, or as one-shot deals. Here's a look at some notable names who played after passing their 50th birthday.
Larry Holmes, boxing
The "Easton Assassin" and former heavyweight champ had a pair of bouts after turning 50. First, he defeated Mike Weaver by TKO in 2000. Then, at age 52, he won a unanimous decision over Eric "Butterbean" Esch in 2002. Holmes, who completed his career with a 69-6 record (including 44 KOs), was recently inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Bill Shoemaker, horse racing
A Hall of Fame jockey, Shoemaker retired from riding in 1990 at the age of 58. Most notably, Shoemaker was 54 when he picked up his fourth Kentucky Derby win aboard Ferdinand in 1986. It was his 11th Triple Crown win and came 28 years after he had been inducted into the Hall of Fame. He died in 2003.
Minnie Minoso, MLB
Minoso, who played in the Negro Leagues before joining the Cleveland Indians in 1948, played in five separate decades on four teams, mostly for the Chicago White Sox. He played in three games for the White Sox in 1976, with one hit in eight at-bats, at age 50. He returned four years later at age 54, going 0-for-2 in two games.
Jim O'Rourke, MLB
O'Rourke was the oldest player in the National League his last three seasons (1891-93). But 11 years after first retiring, this future Hall of Famer came back for one game with the New York Giants in 1904 -- the only major league game he played in the 20th century. Starting at catcher, "Orator Jim" went 1-for-4 at the age of 54.
Satchel Paige, MLB
Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley brought Paige back for one game in 1965. The future Hall of Famer, then 59 years old, threw three scoreless innings against the Red Sox before hanging it up for good. He remains the oldest player in MLB history. One of the Negro Leagues' greatest players, Paige pitched five major league seasons after the majors were integrated and retired in 1953.
Harry Gant, NASCAR
Before retiring at 54, Gant became the oldest driver to win a Sprint Cup race at age 52, at Michigan in 1992. He had 18 race wins and 208 top-10 finishes in 474 races over his career before retiring in 1994. In 1991, at age 51, he earned the nickname "Mr. September" by winning all four of that month's Cup races.
Gordie Howe, NHL
After the WHA folded in 1979, Howe, who had been playing for the New England Whalers, played one last season in the NHL. Playing for the Hartford Whalers, Howe scored 15 goals in 80 games in 1979-80 before retiring at 52. In his quest to play in a sixth decade, Howe appeared in one game for the IHL's Detroit Vipers in 1997 at the age of 69.
-- ESPN Research contributed to this story.