Derek Jeter: 25 MLB Superstars Who Changed Positions Late in Their Careers
When Derek Jeter finally changes position from shortstop to something else (no longer a matter of "if" no matter what his two home run game this past Sunday makes you think), he won't be setting a historical precedent by doing so.
Throughout baseball history, there are a lot of players that changed positions after the age of 35. Some continued to play into their 40s while some were done within a couple of years.
The following is a list of the 25 best players in baseball history who made a position change from the age of 35 or after.
In order to be considered, the player had to play a different position as their primary position after they turned 35 than the one they played when they were 34. If the player was a right fielder at the age of 34 and then were mainly a first baseman when they were 35; they were eligible. If the player was still mainly a right fielder with just occasionally a game at first base; they weren't eligible. This list includes 22 such players.
I also included three players who weren't 35 years old when they made the position change but were either able to continue playing at the age of 34 only because of the position change (two players in this category) and one player who made a significant change at 30 years old (they were arguably the best in the game at their position when they were 29, only to find themselves in a new position at the age of 30).
This list is in no particular order and begins with the inspiration for this article, Derek Jeter.
Derek Jeter has played the most games at shortstop for a single team in baseball history. However, that doesn't mean he'll always be a shortstop.
Jeter had his worst offensive year ever in 2010 and 2011 hasn't started very well for him either. Don't let this past weekend, where he finally got in-the-air extra base hits for the first time this season (double off the wall on Saturday and two home runs on Sunday), fool you. It will take more than a great two games to prove to his doubters that he was just in a slump to begin the season and not in the second year of a decline.
Jeter's last day at shortstop for the New York Yankees is closer than many fans think or believe. During this past offseason, even Brian Cashman hinted at a position change for Derek Jeter.
The only reason Jeter may not move is there's just no place for him to go in the Yankee lineup. Designated Hitter is pretty much locked with Jorge Posada as the DH now and Alex Rodriguez slotted to be the DH in a couple of years. Also, if the Yankees keep Jesus Montero but don't make him a catcher, DH will be his position. First base isn't an option with Mark Teixeira there for the foreseeable future. Jeter doesn't have the range to play in the outfield.
If a spot somewhere opens up in the Yankees lineup or they manage to get a younger, better shortstop in a trade, Jeter will be moved. So, it's not really a question of if Jeter will move, just a matter of when and to where.
Carlos Beltran was once one of the best center fielders in the game. He had it all: power, speed and defense.
But, like many in this list, injuries took their toll. At the age of 34 this season, Beltran made the move as primary center fielder on the Mets to the primary right fielder.
Beltran should be able to play for several more years due to this move. Right field is much easier on the body than center is; so he should have less wear and tear on his body from here on out.
Will Beltran ever get back to the player he was only a couple of years ago? No one knows.
Frank Thomas was one of the best first basemen in the game, winning back-to-back MVPs in 1993 and 1994.
Then, at the age of 30 in 1998, Thomas became primarily a DH. Thomas played for 19 seasons, with 10 of those coming as a DH.
While Thomas was never the same threat as DH as he was a first baseman, he still managed to hit 264 HRs out of his career 521 and he managed a 133 OPS+ and a .904 OPS as a DH.
Thomas' time as a DH extended his career and will surely have him in the Hall of Fame as the second player ever to have more time as DH than any other position inducted into the Hall (along with Paul Molitor).
Paul Molitor started his career as a second basemen, then moved to third base and at the age of 34 became primarily a DH with some time spent at first base.
Molitor is the only player currently in the Hall of Fame who has more games played as a DH than any other position.
His best finish in the MVP voting for his career came while he was a DH (second place in 1993 at the age of 36) and he won two of his four Silver Sluggers as a DH. He also had four of his seven total All-Star appearances come when he was a DH.
Paul Molitor is the perfect example of the DH allowing great players to continue their careers once they are no longer able to play in the field. Without the DH, players like Molitor and Thomas would probably have fallen short of being in the Hall of Fame.
Jim Rice was a left fielder for 14 seasons. Then, he moved to DH for the last two seasons of his career.
Rice was one of the most feared hitters in the game during his prime years in left field. Age and injury took their toll and so he had to finish his career as a DH.
Out of his final 191 games over two seasons, he was the DH in 163 of them. Rice was not the same hitter his final two seasons that he was in the previous 14 and the move to DH actually caused most of his averages to drop slightly.
Prior to the move to DH, Rice had a career .302 batting average with an OBP of .355, a Slugging Percentage of .513, an OPS of .868 and an OPS+ of 131. When his career was over, he had a .298 batting average with an OBP of .352, a Slugging Percentage of .502, an OPS of .854 and an OPS+ of 128.
If Rice didn't play those last two seasons, his numbers might have looked better to the Hall of Fame voters and he would have gotten into the Hall of Fame sooner than he did.
Rice already had over 300 HRs and 1350 RBI before becoming a DH, so those last two seasons as a DH didn't give any "magic number" like others (for instance Paul Molitor getting to 3,000 hits wouldn't have happened without being a DH). Most of the time, becoming a DH improves a player's career, but in Rice's case it didn't.
Eddie Murray's first season at the age of 21 in 1977 was primarily as a DH and he won the Rookie of the Year award. Then he became primarily a first basemen for the next 16 seasons. At the age of 38, he moved back to being primarily a DH where he spent his last four seasons.
Before the final move to DH, Murray had 2820 hits and 441 HRs. The last four seasons spent at DH allowed him to get 435 more hits and 63 more HRs so he finished his career with 3,255 hits and 504 HRs and basically automatic entry into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
I'm not saying the only reason he made it into the Hall of Fame was because he surpassed the magic numbers of 3,000 hits and 500 HRs. However, without those last four years as a DH, he probably wouldn't have been a first ballot Hall of Famer, he probably would've been inducted by this third year on the ballot instead.
Mike Piazza was arguably the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history. However, his defensive skills were always a concern, and it was no surprise when the Mets eventually tried moving him to first base to also preserve his legs (if he played in the American League before his last season, he would have been a DH long before that).
Piazza started playing first base in 2004 at the age of 35 and then moved back to catcher for 2005 and 2006, finishing his career as a designated hitter for the Oakland Athletics.
Piazza was a liability at either position with a glove in his hand; however, teams could not afford to lose his bat from the lineup, so he was moved back to catcher when better players were available to play first base.
Jim Thome started his career at the age of 20 as a third basemen but was moved to first base at the age of 26. At the age of 35, Thome returned to the American League and became a full-time DH.
Thome was a decent first baseman during his career and would have been a borderline Hall of Famer if that was where his career stopped. Once again, the designated hitter has allowed a player to go from borderline Hall of Famer to virtual lock. He should surpass 600 HRs this season (he currently is at 591) and even though he played in the Steroid Era, Thome is generally considered to have been a clean player and there's just no way the voters can keep him out.
Dave Winfield is arguably one of the most athletically gifted players in baseball history. Winfield was drafted not only by the Padres, but also by the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, the Utah Stars of the ABA and the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL.
Winfield was an outfielder when he got to the Major Leagues, however, in college he won the MVP of the College World Series as a pitcher so position changes were nothing new to him.
Winfield started as a left fielder, then was moved to right field then to finish his career, he followed the path several other players in this list did and became a DH.
Winfield was a borderline Hall of Fame candidate before his move to DH, but was able to get over 3,000 hits and 1,800 RBI for his career because he was able to play for a couple more seasons.
Billy Williams began his career as a 21-year old left fielder. At the age of 36 he moved to first base for one season and then finished his career as a DH for two seasons.
Billy was a Hall of Famer before the position change and all the three "extra seasons" did was lower his career batting average, OBP etc., because he was not the same hitter he was in the previous 15 years.
Carl Yastrzemski was a left fielder, who at the age of 30 started changing between first base and left field, season to season until he was 39, when he made the final move to DH.
Before the move to DH, Yaz had 2869 hits and 383 HRs, one MVP and was the last batter to win the Triple Crown. He was a Hall of Famer before the move the only question was "woud he be a first ballot Hall of Famer?"
The move to DH allowed Yaz to pass 3,000 hits and 450 HRs for his career and resulted in a first ballot Hall of Fame induction in 1989.
Duke Snider was one of the best center fielders to ever play the game.
At the age of 31 he began playing some games in right field and in left, then at the age of 34 he began playing more games in right field than in center and at the age of 35 on, he only played 2 games in center field total.
Duke was on the Hall of Fame ballot for 10 years before finally gaining induction in 1980. The move to right field did hurt his final career numbers though. Through age 34, he had a .301 batting average, an OBP of .383, a Slugging Percentage of .554, an OPS of .937 and an OPS+ of 142. Snider wasn't the same hitter when he turned 35 and finished his career with a batting average of .295, an OBP of .380, a Slugging Percentage of .540, an OPS of .919 and an OPS+ 140. Would Duke have gotten into the Hall of Fame sooner if he never moved? Only the voters can tell us that.
Reggie Jackson was a right fielder who became a permanent DH at the age of 37 (at the age of 39 he moved back to right field, only to move back to DH at the age of 40).
Reggie was probably a first ballot Hall of Famer before his move to DH, if only for his post-season play which earned him the title of "Mr. October". What the move to DH did allow him to do was surpass 500 HRs for his career which guaranteed him a first ballot Hall of Fame induction.
Andre Dawson changed positions several times in his career.
He won the Rookie of the Year as a center fielder in 1977 and a MVP as a right fielder in 1987. He then spent two seasons as a DH at the ages of 38 and 39 and finished his career back in the outfield for his final two seasons.
While the position changes didn't get him into the Hall of Fame any quicker, he still managed to get inducted because they allowed him to play for 21 seasons. Without the DH, Dawson might have retired four years before he did and he would have been going to the Veteran's Committee for Hall of Fame voting instead.
Al Kaline was primarily a right fielder who played some games at first base.
In the last season of his career at the age of 39, he followed the same path of many other players and became a DH.
What did this last move let Kaline accomplish? Well, in that final season he had 146 which pushed his career total to 3,007 and a first ballot Hall of Fame induction. He might have been a first ballot inductee without the 3,000 hits but that pretty much guaranteed it.
Killebrew played every position except for pitcher, catcher, shortstop and center field during his career.
He wasn't a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee, even though he had 573 HRs for his career (only 27 of which came when he was primarily a DH). The last three years of his career drastically lowered his career batting average, OBP, Slugging Percentage, OPS (about 200 points below his career norm in each season) and OPS+.
Harmon played 969 games at first, 791 games at third and 471 games in the outfield. Did the constant position switching affect his offense? I'm not sure even Harmon could answer that question.
Eddie Mathews was a third basemen for the majority of his career. At the age of 35 he made the move to first base.
What did the move to first base allow Mathews to accomplish? It allowed him to finish his career with 512 HRs and a fifth-ballot induction in the Hall of Fame.
Frank Robinson started as a left fielder, then moved to right (while still playing some in left).
At the age of 37, Frank, like many others on this list became a DH. All this did was extend his career four years because with already having two MVPs (one in each league), a batting Triple Crown, a World Series MVP and an All-Star game plus over 500 HRs on his resume, he was already a Hall of Famer.
Pete Rose started his career as a second baseman. By the end of his 24 year career, Rose would spend significant time playing all positions except catcher, short stop and pitcher.
However, at the age of 38, Pete started playing primarily at first base.
Rose exceeded at any position he played at, no matter when he moved to the position. His numbers weren't as great after the move to first base at the age of 38 in comparison to his previous seasons, but they were still good enough to see him finish his career with the record for hits (4,256) and a career batting average .303 and an OBP of .375.
Cal Ripken Jr.
Cal Ripken is one of the best shortstops to ever play the game (where he ranks is a discussion for another time). He was one of the first "power hitting" shortstops that is common place today.
At the age of 36 in 1997, Cal moved to third base. While this move saw the end of "The Streak," it also allowed him to surpass 3,000 hits, 600 doubles and 430 HRs on his way to a first-ballot Hall of Fame induction.
Hank Aaron began his career in left field, but moved to right field in his second season. Then at the age of 37 in 1971, he moved to first base for two seasons, back to the outfield after that for two more seasons and finished his career as a DH for his final two seasons.
Even with the constant position changes, Aaron was consistently in the top-15 for MVP each year.
Aaron was going to be in the Hall of Fame without the final move to DH, but it allowed him to increase his career HR record total to 755 and his career RBI record total to 2,297.
Yogi Berra is considered to be one of the best catchers to ever play (along with Johnny Bench). He ended up playing 1,699 games as a catcher.
At the age of 36 in 1961, he was used primarily as a left fielder (this allowed Elston Howard to finally become the Yankees' primary catcher). In his remaining seasons, he would go back to playing catcher the most, however, he didn't play in 100 games in any of those seasons and was used primarily in a platoon situation.
While those final years dropped his career batting average etc., Yogi still managed to get inducted into the Hall of Fame on his second ballot in 1972.
Mickey Mantle is the greatest switch-hitter in history and is in the discussion for best center fielder of all time.
At the age of 35 in 1967, the injuries that plagued Mickey for almost his entire career finally forced a move to first base. This move allowed him to surpass 500 career HRs (he had 496 before the move) but it also dropped his career batting average to .298 (down from .305 before the move), his OBP to .421 (.425 before the move), his slugging percentage to .557 (.574 before the move), his OPS to .977 (.998 before the move) and his OPS+ to 172 (175 before the move).
While having 500 HRs for a career (especially back then) was great, the move to first took away from the other key batting stats.
Stan Musial was an outfielder and first baseman during his career.
In 22 seasons, Musial played 1,890 games in the outfield (929 in left) and 1,016 at first base. Musial, like Pete Rose, played mutliptle positions after turning 35 and all the moves never seemed to affect his career at all. In all but three seasons, Stan finished in at least the top-20 for MVP voting and won it three times.
Babe Ruth started as a pitcher; actually he was a very good pitcher. In 1919, the decision was made that Ruth's bat needed to be in the lineup more, so he was made a left fielder, then moved to right.
If you're reading this, you know what Ruth did as a right fielder so I won't bother listing every record he owned when he retired.
Most people think Ruth only played right field, however, most of his seasons were split between right and left. Ruth finished with playing 1,132 games in right and 1,003 games in left.
It's clearly obvious that these moves had zero affect on Ruth at the plate.
Can you imagine baseball history if Ruth stayed as a pitcher? He probably would have still made the Hall of Fame but baseball wouldn't have been the same, if it even existed.
Ruth's position change is the only one in history that can actually be credited with saving baseball. After the Black Sox Scandal following the 1919 World Series, it was Ruth playing every day in the outfield, on the biggest stage in New York City that brought fans back to the game.
What can we learn by all this?
A position change late in a player's career can actually help a player get into the Hall of Fame by allowing the player to reach a "magic" number like 500 HRs or 3,000 hits. It can also be the last chance to see a truly great player holding on for just one more year. We also learned that the creation of the designated hitter prolonged many players' careers.
Derek Jeter, even if he retires today, would be a first ballot Hall of Famer; there's no question about that. It's unclear when Jeter changes position, what that position will be (the Yankees are stocked at all positions) or what the effect will be on his final stats.
All I know is that as a Yankee fan, not seeing Derek Jeter in the lineup as the starting short stop for the New York Yankees would be a weird site. I think back to when Cal Ripken moved from short to third and how we all just knew that the end of his career wasn't far behind.
Rich is a MLB and New York Yankees Featured Columnist on the Bleacher Report. Follow Rich on Facebook, Twitter or on his blog he co-writes with Matt Strobl, All the Bases. You can also email him any questions, comments or random thoughts.
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