10 longest careers in MLB history

Rickey Henderson
Jon Gudorf Photography, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard not to pay homage to the player with the longest MLB career. After all, as difficult as it is to get to the big leagues, it can be just as difficult to find enough success to stay there.

That means there’s something special about the players with the longest baseball careers and rank near the top of the most MLB games played in their careers. On top of just being good, they also have to stay healthy and avoid injuries that could lead to them getting replaced.

Longest MLB career

But who has the most MLB games played and the longest MLB career? Well, there are several players who have stuck around the big leagues for a quarter-century or more. Anybody who can last in baseball that long deserves a special mention.

That’s why we put together a list of the 10 longest MLB careers so that all of these players can be celebrated and fondly remembered.

Charlie Hough, 25 seasons

As a knuckleballer, it was a little easier for Charlie Hough to stick around than some of the other pitchers on our list of the longest MLB careers. He lasted from 1970 to 1994, spending a decade with the Dodgers and a decade with the Rangers before finishing his career with the White Sox and Marlins.

He was only selected as an all-star once, but his “dancing knuckleball” kept hitters off-balance long enough for Hough to pitch 25 years, going 216-216 with a 3.75 ERA.

Eddie Collins, 25 seasons

Eddie Collins had a long career from 1906 to 1930, and he did a lot of winning in that time, winning six World Series rings. He was a part of the Philadelphia Athletics when they won championships in 1910, 1911, and 1913. He won another title with the White Sox in 1917.

Collins later returned to the Athletics when they won back-to-back World Series in 1929 and 1930. That makes him the only non-Yankee to win five World Series with the same team. Collins wasn’t just there for the ride; he was a great player. He had 3,315 career hits with a .333 career average. Collins also won MVP honors in 1914 and led the American League in stolen bases four times.


Bobby Wallace, 25 seasons

Bobby Wallace is an older timer who played 25 seasons in the majors from 1894 to 1918. He spent his first five years with the Cleveland Spiders and the rest of his career in St. Louis, playing for both the Browns and the Cardinals.

He was regarded as the best shortstop of his generation. Naturally, he was the oldest player to play shortstop in the majors until Omar Vizquel broke his record in 2012. For his career, Wallace was a .268 hitter with over 2,300 hits.

Jim Kaat, 25 seasons

Jim Kaat is one of a few crafty lefties to forge a long career in the majors. He pitched from 1959 to 1983, covering 25 seasons, although only pitched for five franchises during that time. While he was only an all-star three times during his career, Kaat won 16 straight Gold Gloves from 1962 to 1977, essentially making him the Greg Maddux of his generation.

He finally got recognition for his accomplishments in 2022 when the Golden Days Era Committee elected him to the Hall of Fame.

Rickey Henderson, 25 seasons

Once he got on the base paths, it was always tough to get Rickey Henderson out, and once he got into baseball, it was also tough to get him out.

Henderson played 25 seasons from 1979 to 2003, playing for nine different organizations, including multiple stints with the Oakland Athletics. It’s not just that Henderson was a great player but he’s arguably the best leadoff hitter and base stealer in MLB history.

Typically, we think of fast players as deteriorating as they get older, but not Henderson.

He kept going for more than two decades, playing at a high level and being a 10-time all-star, not to mention MVP in 1990. Thanks to his longevity, he’s the MLB all-time leader in stolen bases and runs scored. He also collected over 3,000 hits and set the single-season record with 130 stolen bases, which is why he’s also a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Jamie Moyer, 25 seasons

Jamie Moyer is the most recent player to appear on our list of the longest baseball careers. He pitched in 25 seasons, and in 2012, he became the oldest pitcher to win an MLB game.

Moyer pitched for eight teams in 25 years, winning 269 games and posting a 4.25 career ERA. He made just one All-Star Team, so his career wasn’t spectacular. But even when he got older and couldn’t throw particularly hard, Moyer somehow found a way to get hitters out with trickery and pinpoint control, so it’s admirable that he was able to last as long as he did.

Deacon McGuire, 26 seasons

You have to turn back the clock a little if you want to remember Deacon McGuire’s 26 seasons in the big leagues. McGuire was a catcher, which makes his quarter-century in the big leagues even more remarkable.

He was a durable catcher, which allowed him to set countless records, including all-time assists, caught stealing, and stolen bases allowed, all of which remain in the record books. Over his 26 seasons, McGuire also hit .278, amassing 1,748 hits and 45 home runs while playing for 11 different teams.

Tommy John, 26 seasons

Not only does he have a surgery named after him but his 26 seasons gives Tommy John one of the longest MLB careers.

Of course, the fact that he underwent his namesake surgery and was able to continue his career despite missing a full season added to his longevity. Keep in mind that John was an opening day starter in both 1966 and 1989, which tells you everything you need to know about how long his career was.

Yet, it wasn’t a Hall of Fame career, as it took 26 seasons for John to rack up 288 wins, which is the third-most of any pitcher not in Cooperstown. 

Cap Anson, 27 seasons

Cap Anson was one of the first true superstars in the majors, not to mention a player with one of the longest baseball careers. He played 27 seasons from 1871 to 1897 while spending more than a decade toward the end of his career as a player/manager.

A majority of Anson’s career was spent with the franchise that’s now known as the Cubs. In fact, he still holds many of the franchise’s all-time records. He was a first baseman and an exceptional hitter, batting .334 in his career and winning two batting titles.

However, don’t give Anson too much praise. On several occasions, he refused to play with black players, becoming an influential figure in baseball being segregated until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier 50 years after Anson’s final season. 

Nolan Ryan, 27 seasons

By today’s standards, Nolan Ryan’s 27 seasons in the big leagues are nothing short of miraculous. He has the longest MLB career and did so as a power pitcher who was routinely throwing over 100 mph during the prime of his career.

There are plenty of examples of hard-throwers who flamed out quickly or couldn’t get batters out once their velocity dropped. But the final pitch of Ryan’s career clocked in at 98 mph, which he threw at age 46.

Ryan made his debut in September 1966 and made his final start in September 1993. He would eventually tear a ligament in what was already planned to be his final season, cutting his career two starts short. Other than that, Ryan was a physical phenom, pitching 27 seasons and throwing seven no-hitters, both of which are MLB records.

His longevity also helped to give Ryan several other all-time records that will likely never be broken, including 5,714 career strikeouts.

 

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About Bryan Zarpentine 220 Articles
Bryan Zarpentine is a freelance writer and editor with most of his work focusing on the world of sports. He is a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University and still resides in upstate New York.

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