Special Report

Oldest Rookies of All Time

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Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Mark Appel became the feel-good story of the baseball season when he made his MLB debut. Appel was the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft, but he retired in 2018 after injuries and other struggles derailed his path to the major. He signed with the Phillies in 2021 and finally made his MLB debut a few weeks shy of his 31st birthday.

Though this story is remarkable, Appel is far from the oldest rookie in sports history. Dozens of players have debuted in the MLB or other major sports leagues well past their 30th – and sometimes even 40th – birthdays.

To determine the oldest rookies of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB data from Sports Reference to find the oldest players with rookie status in the modern era of these four sports leagues. Older players who were rookies during the first years of these leagues and those who only debuted because of extenuating circumstances like World War II were not considered.

The four major American sports leagues date back decades. In the early years, the organizations still had yet to fully flesh out their rules, which led to some odd instances of older players getting into the game. Coaches occasionally suited up for their teams if they lacked enough players. Sometimes, athletes played in upstart competitor leagues to the NFL, MLB, or NHL before joining the league, so they were technically listed as rookies even though they had been professional athletes for years. These players were not considered.

All players on this list debuted at age 36 or later, except for former NBA player Pablo Prigioni, who first played in the NBA at age 35 – making him the oldest rookie in NBA history that fit our criteria. 

Nearly all the athletes on this list are baseball players. The sport’s unique physical requirements make it easier for players in their 30s and 40s to make the big leagues, especially compared to physical contact sports like basketball or football. These are the athletes whose careers lasted into their 40s and beyond.

Click here to see the oldest rookies of all time

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25. Yoshinori Tateyama
> Age of debut: 35 years, 149 days
> Team: Texas Rangers
> Season: 2011
> Total seasons played: 2

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24. Pablo Prigioni
> Age of debut: 35 years, 169 days
> Team: New York Knicks
> Season: 2012-13
> Total seasons played: 4

Source: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

23. Jim Morris
> Age of debut: 35 years, 242 days
> Team: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
> Season: 1999
> Total seasons played: 2

Source: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

22. Dae-Sung Koo
> Age of debut: 35 years, 245 days
> Team: New York Mets
> Season: 2005
> Total seasons played: 1

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

21. Earle Brucker
> Age of debut: 35 years, 348 days
> Team: Philadelphia A’s
> Season: 1937
> Total seasons played: 5

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20. Takashi Saito
> Age of debut: 36 years, 54 days
> Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
> Season: 2006
> Total seasons played: 7

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Source: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

19. Butch Songin
> Age of debut: 36 years, 121 days
> Team: Boston Patriots
> Season: 1960
> Total seasons played: 3

18. Hank Izquierdo
> Age of debut: 36 years, 142 days
> Team: Minnesota Twins
> Season: 1967
> Total seasons played: 1

17. Minnie Mendoza
> Age of debut: 36 years, 144 days
> Team: Minnesota Twins
> Season: 1970
> Total seasons played: 1

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16. Keiichi Yabu
> Age of debut: 36 years, 193 days
> Team: Oakland A’s
> Season: 2005
> Total seasons played: 2

15. Satoru Komiyama
> Age of debut: 36 years, 201 days
> Team: New York Mets
> Season: 2002
> Total seasons played: 1

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14. Art Jacobs
> Age of debut: 36 years, 294 days
> Team: Cincinnati Reds
> Season: 1939
> Total seasons played: 1

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

13. Jim Anderson
> Age of debut: 37 years, 36 days
> Team: Los Angeles Kings
> Season: 1967-68
> Total seasons played: 1

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

12. Billy Williams
> Age of debut: 37 years, 63 days
> Team: Seattle Pilots
> Season: 1969
> Total seasons played: 1

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11. Helmut Balderis
> Age of debut: 37 years, 66 days
> Team: Minnesota North Stars
> Season: 1989-90
> Total seasons played: 1

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10. Chang-Yong Lim
> Age of debut: 37 years, 95 days
> Team: Chicago Cubs
> Season: 2013
> Total seasons played: 1

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9. Joe Strong
> Age of debut: 37 years, 245 days
> Team: Florida Marlins
> Season: 2000
> Total seasons played: 2

8. Connie Madigan
> Age of debut: 38 years, 125 days
> Team: St. Louis Blues
> Season: 1972-73
> Total seasons played: 1

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7. Connie Marrero
> Age of debut: 38 years, 361 days
> Team: Washington Senators
> Season: 1950
> Total seasons played: 5

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6. Masumi Kuwata
> Age of debut: 39 years, 70 days
> Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
> Season: 2007
> Total seasons played: 1

5. Les Willis
> Age of debut: 39 years, 101 days
> Team: Cleveland Indians
> Season: 1947
> Total seasons played: 1

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4. Alex McColl
> Age of debut: 39 years, 151 days
> Team: Washington Senators
> Season: 1933
> Total seasons played: 2

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3. Ken Takahashi
> Age of debut: 40 years, 16 days
> Team: New York Mets
> Season: 2009
> Total seasons played: 1

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

2. Luke Urban
> Age of debut: 40 years, 119 days
> Team: Boston Braves
> Season: 1927
> Total seasons played: 2

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1. Diomedes Olivo
> Age of debut: 41 years, 227 days
> Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
> Season: 1960
> Total seasons played: 3

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