The 20 Youngest MLB Players to Debut Since World War I

Scott GyurinaCorrespondent IMay 3, 2011

The 20 Youngest MLB Players to Debut Since World War I

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Baseball is a young man's game. Gone are the days of 40-year-old MVPs and late career renaissances that seemed so prevalent in the last two decades of Major League Baseball.

    There seems to be an influx of youth in Major League baseball these days, as performance-enhancing drugs and their impact upon the game have been reduced by baseball's renewed focus on eradicating under-handed methods of enhancing one's abilities and prolonging careers beyond their natural expiration dates.

    Teams are once again realizing the vital role that talented youths play in this great game, as we are seeing young players contributing to their teams across MLB. Whether out of a desire for youthful exuberance and energy, or financial concerns with signing more established players, there appears to be a new wave of youngsters taking Major League Baseball by storm. 

    Once upon a time, teenage ballplayers were counted on as a necessity when vast numbers of Major Leaguers were called into military service during World War II. Though many of them were merely fill-ins during the absence of more established older players, others turned their opportunities as teens into productive careers in the big leagues. 

    With young, modern phenoms such as Bryce Harper knocking on the door of the big leagues while still in his teens, let's take a look at the 20 youngest players to play in Major League games since the end of World War I.

#20: Eddie Miksis at 17 Years, 9 Months and 6 Days

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    Like many other young players in the World War II era, Eddie Miksis got an early start to his Major League career thanks to American involvement in the Europe and the Pacific.

    On June 17, 1944 the 17-year-old Miksis entered a game against the Phillies as a pinch runner, scoring a run to help the Brooklyn Dodgers win upon his debut.

    Following the 1944 season, Miksis joined the Navy and served for 2 years before resuming his big league career in 1946.

    He would play parts of six more seasons with the Dodgers before being traded to the Chicago Cubs where he would play another six seasons.

    Though never spectacular, Miksis enjoyed a 14-year run as a utility infielder, mostly with the Dodgers and Cubs, as well as short stints with the Cardinals, Orioles and Reds. 

#19: Art Houtteman at 17 Years, 8 Months and 22 Days

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    Art Houtteman made his big league debut in one inning of relief for the Detroit Tigers on April 29, 1945. He would make only a handful of appearances throughout the rest of the year, but turned his opportunity as a 17-year-old into a solid Major League career.

    He would pitch eight years with the Tigers, another five with Cleveland, and part of one with the Orioles in his final season.

    Just as he was finding his groove as a hurler, being named an AL All-Star in 1950, he was drafted into the Army, causing him to miss the 1951 season.

    He returned to be a solid big league hurler for several seasons in the mid-1950's.

    Overall, Houtteman posted an 87-91 record with a 4.14 ERA in 325 games over 12 seasons. 

#18: Vern Freiburger at 17 Years, 8 Months and 17 Days

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    Best picture you've ever seen, right? Yeah, me too.

    Another short-lived World War II major leaguer, Vern Freiburger earned a call-up on September 6, 1941. He went 0-4 in a loss to the Detroit Tigers that day.

    The 17-year-old first baseman would only appear in two games for the Cleveland Indians, knocking one base-hit and collecting one RBI in eight at-bats.

#17: Bob Feller at 17 Years, 8 Months and 16 Days

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    On July 19, 1936 when a 17-year-old Bob Feller was handed his first appearance at the big league level, most had no idea that the less-than physically imposing teenager was about to embark upon a legendary career marked by two decades of pitching dominance.

    He entered the game as a reliever, throwing a single inning of uneventful ball, walking two.

    After a handful of mediocre relief appearances, the hard-throwing Feller earned his first start on August 23, hurling a complete game gem, allowing only one run, while striking out 15. A legend was born.

    Feller would go on to pitch until 1956, compiling a 266-162 record with a 3.25 ERA and 2,581 strikeouts. His stellar resume is all the more impressive considering he missed nearly four years of his career due to serving in the Navy. He was compelled to enlist following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

    Upon returning to big league action, Feller had his greatest ever season in 1946, as he won 26 games while striking out 348, with a 2.18 ERA.

    One of the greatest hurlers of his era, as well as an all-time legend of the game, Bob Feller was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

#16: Dave Skaugstad at 17 Years, 8 Months and 15 Days

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    Beginning his career as a 17-year-old on September 25, 1957, Dave Skaugstad appeared off to a promising start as a big league hurler.

    Pitching four innings of relief in a loss to the Chicago Cubs, Skaugstad allowed three hits, three walks and no runs. He would make only one more appearance in the next week, but then never again pitched in the majors.

    Skaugstad pitched several more years in the minor leagues before retiring from the game in 1965.

#15: Rod Miller at 17 Years, 8 Months and 12 Days

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    Making his major league debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 28, 1957, Rod Miller struck out in his lone at bat as a pinch hitter.

    He would play three more seasons in the minor leagues before retiring from baseball in 1960.

#14: Jim Pagliaroni at 17 Years, 8 Months and 5 Days

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    Earning his big league debut as a catcher August 13, 1955, Jim Pagliaroni was the youngest backstop to see Major League action in baseball's modern era. As a 17-year-old, he swatted a sac fly in one plate appearance in an 18-9 loss to the Senators.

    Pagliaroni wouldn't see the big leagues again until 1960, when he stuck as a big league catcher for the next 10 seasons.

    In 849 games, mostly with the Red Sox and Pirates, as well as short stints with the A's and Seattle Pilots, Pagliaroni hit .252 with a .751 OPS, hitting 90 home runs with 326 RBI.

#13: Charlie Osgood at 17 Years, 6 Months and 25 Days

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 30:  Andre Ethier #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers tosses his helmet in reaction to his strikeout against the San Diego Padres during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on April 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry H
    Harry How/Getty Images

    In this photo, current Los Angeles Dodger Andre Ethier tosses his helmet in a touching tribute to former Brooklyn Dodger Charlie Osgood. I know, I don't really get the significance of the helmet toss either, but it's possible that it was out of sheer frustration due to the fact that it's nearly impossible to find a picture of a man who pitched one time for the Dodgers in 1944.

    Oh yeah, Charlie Osgood.

    Another youngster rushed to the big leagues during the waning years of World War II, Osgood made his MLB debut on June 18, 1944. It would be the only game he would ever pitch in the big leagues. On that day, he hurled three innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing one run on two hits and three walks.

    Following the conclusion of the 1944 season, Osgood was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in that year's minor league draft, but never again reached the Major Leagues. In 1946-47, he pitched 33 games in the Cubs' minor league system, but his professional baseball career ended in 1947 at 20 years old.

#12: Jimmie Foxx at 17 Years, 6 Months and 9 Days

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    Though it would be several more seasons before Jimmie Foxx would establish himself as one of the all-time legends of the game, the Philadelphia Athletics saw enough promise in the youngster to hand him his MLB debut at 17 years old.

    On May 1, 1925, the teenage Foxx would enter the game against the Washington Senators as a pinch hitter, and he began his Hall of Fame career with a single.

    Foxx would go on to establish himself as one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history, amassing 534 home runs and 1,922 RBI over 20 seasons. He was a three-time MVP, and won the NL triple crown in 1933.

    The career accomplishments of Foxx are staggering considering that he was essentially done with the game at age 34. After another All-Star season in 1941, Foxx fell from grace as he struggled mightily through the 1942 season. His long rumored battles with alcohol seemed to get the best of him, as he was sapped of his health and prodigious power.

    He would sit out the entire 1943 season, and played only sparingly upon his return for the 1944 and 1945 seasons.

    Though his career would end prematurely, Jimmie Foxx remains a legend of the game today. His 534 career home runs rank 17th in history, while his 1,922 RBI rank 8th. Foxx is fifth all-time with a .609 career slugging percentage, while his on-base percentage of .428 ranks him tenth. He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1951.  

#11: Lefty Weinert at 17 Years, 5 Months and 3 Days

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    Making his Major League debut as a reliever on September 24, 1919, Lefty Weinert got shelled, allowing 11 hits and nine runs in four innings. That would be his only appearance until the next season.

    Following his early debut, Weinert was able to hang on as a lefty hurler for parts of nine seasons with the Phillies, Cubs and a couple appearances with the Yankees.

    In 131 big league games, he compiled an 18-33 record with a 4.59 ERA.

#10: Cass Michaels at 17 Years, 5 Months and 15 Days

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    Another beneficiary of the events of WWII, Cass Michaels was a utility infielder who parlayed his versatility into a 12-year career with the White Sox, Senators, Athletics and St. Louis Browns.

    Given his initial shot on August 19, 1943, Michaels went hitless in two starts late that year. Though he did little to impress in those two games, he was able to stick around Chicago for eight seasons, even earning All-Star honors in 1949 and 1950.

    Overall, Michaels hit .262 in his big league career with a solid .702 OPS for a utility player.

#9: Granny Hamner at 17 Years, 4 Months and 18 Days

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    Initially debuting as a defensive replacement late in a September 14, 1944 blowout, going hitless in one at-bat, Granny Hamner built an impressive Major League career over the course of 17 seasons.

    Playing 16 seasons with the Phillies, he took part in the Whiz Kids squad of 1950, and was named an NL All-Star three times in his career.

    In 1952, Hamner was named as captain of the Phillies.

    Over his 16 seasons with the Phillies, as well as parts of two seasons with the Athletics and Indians, Hamner hit .262 with 104 home runs and 708 RBI.

#8: Erv Palica at 17 Years, 2 Months, 12 Days

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    Erv Palica earned his Major League debut not too long after his seventeenth birthday on April 21, 1945. There is little information regarding his debut however, as he is listed in numerous reference sources, including box scores, as appearing in the Brooklyn Dodgers' 3-2 loss to the Giants at the Polo Grounds that day, but little else is divulged. Did he pinch run? Maybe he caught an inning at the end of the game. After all, he is listed in the box score as appearing for Dodger catcher Mickey Owen, but Palica was a pitcher, so it's difficult to discern.

    Whatever happened in his debut, Palica managed to return to the big leagues in 1947, beginning a nine-year career as a pitcher for the Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles.

    Overall, he was 41-55 with a 4.22 ERA in his career split between starting an relieving. Palica appeared in Game 5 of the 1949 World Series against the Yankees, hurling two scoreless innings of relief.

    He missed most of the 1952-53 seasons due to military service. Following the 1956 season, he pitched seven more years in the minor leagues, failing to win another chance at the big leagues.

#7: Mel Ott at 17 Years, 1 Month and 25 Days

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    Making his big league debut on April 27, 1926, Mel Ott struck out in his only pinch hit at bat of a 9-8 Giants victory over the Phillies. Throughout the remainder of the season, Ott saw regular action as a pinch-hitter, showing the promise as a17-year-old that would enable him to produce a stellar career and garner him entrance into baseball's Hall of Fame.

    Mel Ott would play 22 seasons, all with the New York Giants, hitting .304, with 511 home runs, 1,860 RBI and 2,876 career hits. He led the NL in home runs six times, topped 100 RBI nine times and was named to 11 All-Star teams in his career.

    He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1951.

#6: Alex George at 16 Years, 11 Months and 19 Days

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    Alex George made his MLB debut at age 16 on September 16, 1955 for the Kansas City Athletics. He pinch hit and struck out in the eighth inning of win over the Chicago White Sox.

    He made little impact at the big league level, earning 11 plate appearances through the end of the 1955 season, but only getting one hit, while striking out seven times.

    After his short-lived cameo at the big league level, George toiled in the minors for several years, but never again reaching the majors. His last season as a ballplayer was 1963 with the Senators organization.

#5: Rogers McKee at 16 Years, 11 Months and 2 Days

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    Rogers McKee was a lefty hurler who was another teenager to see game action due to World War II.

    Making his big league debut on August 18, 1943, McKee tossed three innings of relief, allowing one run on three hits and two walks.

    He would only appear in the big leagues four more times in his career, compiling a 1-0 record and a 5.87 ERA from late 1943-1944.

#4: Putsy Caballero at 16 Years, 10 Months and 9 Days

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    Putsy Caballero still holds the distinction of being the youngest position player in MLB's modern era.

    At 16 years old, Putsy made his debut for the Phillies on September 14, 1944. He entered late in a 12-1 defeat by the Giants, subbing into the game as a defensive replacement at third, and going hitless in one at-bat. Putsy made a handful of appearances over the final weeks of 1944.

    He played most of 1945 in the minors before being drafted into military service for the majority of 1946.

    Upon returning to baseball, he cemented a regular utility role with the Phillies, taking part in their storied "Whiz Kid" squad in 1950. 

    Throughout his career, he played eight seasons, all with the Phillies, before retiring in 1955.

#3: Jim Derrington at 16 Years, 10 Months and 1 Day

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    Although Jim Derrington is only third on this list, he remains the youngest pitcher to ever start a game.

    Given his MLB debut on September 30, 1956, two months prior to his seventeenth birthday, Derrington hurled six innings against the Kansas City Athletics, allowing six runs on nine hits and six walks. 

    Derrington made another 20 appearances for the White Sox in 1957, and overall went 0-2 with a 5.23 ERA in only 43 career big league innings.

    He pitched four more seasons of minor league ball without again reaching the majors.

#2: Carl Scheib at 16 Years, 8 Months and 5 Days

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    Another young player to make an early debut thanks to a large number of regular Major Leaguers serving in WWII, Carl Scheib first saw game action as a 16-year-old on September 6, 1943. In that debut, he hurled 0.2 innings, allowing two hits and one run in a lopsided loss to the New York Yankees.

    At the time, he was the youngest player that MLB had seen in a game since before WWI. Scheib was eclipsed by Joe Nuxhall less than a year later however. He still remains the youngest American Leaguer to play in baseball's modern era.

    Scheib made a handful of appearances for the Philadelphia Athletics over the next three seasons before being drafted into military service in 1945. He resumed his professional baseball career upon his return in 1947.

    He would enjoy a solid 11-year big league career, posting a 45-65 record and a 4.88 ERA over 1,070 innings split between the rotation and bullpen.

    Occasionally, Scheib, who was gifted with a bat in his hands, was used as a pinch hitter and reserve outfielder, in order to take advantage of his offensive prowess. Over 468 career plate appearances, he hit a respectable .250.

    Editor's note: Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Tommy Brown was mistakenly omitted from this list. Brown was 16 years, 7 months and 28 days old when he started for the Dodgers vs. the Chicago Cubs at Ebbets Field in 1944 during a manpower shortage due to World War II.

#1: Joe Nuxhall at 15 Years, 10 Months and 10 Days

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    Joe Nuxhall had one of the more interesting paths to the majors in modern baseball history. He was originally signed by the Reds out of a semi-pro league that he had been playing in with his father. Apparently the team had originally intended upon scouting his father, but were impressed by the younger Nuxhall.

    Earning his debut on June 10, 1944 the 15-year-old Nuxhall became the youngest player ever to appear in a Major League game.

    Entering late in an 18-0 drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, the teenage Nuxhall faced nine hitters, retiring two, but allowing two hits, five walks and five runs.

    He then wouldn't appear in the big leagues again until 1952 at a more reasonable age of 23.

    Despite the abbreviated nature of his early debut, Nuxhall then turned his second opportunity into a successful 16-year career in the big leagues. Pitching mostly for the Cincinnati Reds, aside from short cameos with the KC Athletics and the Angels, he compiled a 135-117 career mark with a 3.90 ERA. 

    It is likely that Joe Nuxhall's place in the record books will remain safe for quite some time.