Monday, we had some fun discussing some of the shortest and tallest athletes throughout sports history. Today, we figured we’d cover some of the youngest and oldest.
As the highly-hyped Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor fight approaches this August, there will be a 12-year difference in age when the two climb into the boxing ring. Some may think that Mayweather is too old to be fighting at the age of 40. But before you jump to that conclusion, there have been athletes that have taken to the fields and venues of professional sports that were much older than “Money”.
While former Oakland Raider George Blanda began his career as a quarterback, he became a very effective kicker. Blanda set the high mark for the elderly in the NFL by playing his final game before retiring at the age of 48. That was in 1976. Ultimately, Blanda would live to be 83.
Many baseball fans—primarily historians—are well aware of the story of Satchel Paige. A great African-American baseball pitcher, Paige did not make his debut in the majors until the age of 42—because of the color barriers—in 1948. But in 1965 while playing for the Kansas City Athletics, Paige would start the game against the Boston Red Sox at age 59. Paige pitched three solid innings, allowing just one hit and striking a lone batter. Paige had not taken the mound in a major-league ballgame since 1953.
Then in 1982, the world lost Paige at the age of 75. What follows is a short biography of Satchel Paige:
Some of you may not know that Nancy Lieberman, who starred in the WNBA, is now an Assistant Coach in men’s basketball working for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. But as a player, Lieberman played from 1980 until she retired in 2008—playing her last game at the age of 50.
Oh, and if you’re still thinking Mayweather is too old to be boxing, just wait. Saoul Mamby is a former fighter, who in 2008, stepped into the ring for a pro fight after having turned 60 years old. His opponent would be Anthony Osbourne. Mamby went the distance, but lost a 10-round decision while competing at 149.5 pounds. From 1980-1982, he held the WBC Light Welterweight Title. When he finally hung up the gloves, he finished with a record of 45-34-6 with 19 KOs.
Of the aforementioned names, they aren’t even close to the oldest professional competing athlete. That honor belongs to Hershel McGriff. The stock car driver was in a race just five years ago, and was 84 at the time. While McGriff only completed 61 laps, no matter the sport, competing at that age is quite incredible.
Gary Player, of South Africa, was the victor in pro golf’s Champions Tour Northville Long Island Classic on August 23, 1998 as a 63-year-old. In 2009, Player shot a three-round total of 212 in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai—never exceeding his actual age (74) in any round.
When McGregor takes on 40-year-old Mayweather in August, the elder statesman’s age won’t match that of Skip Hall—a martial artist who on August 26, 2006 fought the great Dan Severn in an MMA event in Alabama. Hall was 58 at the time, becoming what is recorded as the oldest MMA fighter to compete ever. Unfortunately, Severn would ultimately choke him out.
Other sports have had their share of seniors competing, with tennis being no exception. The great Martina Navratilova retired at the age of 49. Older folks will remember the “Battle of the Sexes” match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. Before that highly-promoted match took place on national television and in front of thousands of fans at the old Houston Astrodome, Riggs had already beaten veteran Margaret Court. At the time, Riggs was 55. Billie Jean King had initially refuted the challenge, but after the defeat of Court and Rigg’s continuous taunting, the match came off and King won easily. In the end, projections of the televised audience was 90 million worldwide. Plus, the 30,472 inside the dome.
Highlights from that infamous event follow below:
We’re talking really young with our next athlete, golfer Beverly Klass. Klass competed in the U.S. Women’s Open in 1967 and was not yet a teenager. In fact, she was just 10 years old. She did not fair that well, but was still there teeing off at the tournament’s start. Years later, one Lucy Li would also qualify for the Open at age 11.
Baseball historians will recall the story of Joe Nuxhall making his MLB debut at just 15 years old. His inaugural outing was not so good (2/3 innings, a wild pitch, two hits, five walks and five runs). Despite a rocky start, the kid would have a 16-year career—finishing with a 135-117 record. When Nuxhall debuted in 1944, he did not return to the majors until 1952. Later in life, he turned to broadcasting baseball games.
Men that young never played in the National Football League. But since Super Bowl I, Houston Texans defenseman Amobi Okoye set the youth record for an NFL debut with his rookie campaign beginning in 2007. He was just 19 years old at the time. In doing so, Okoye became the youngest player to reach the NFL since the old AFL-NFL merger.
Over in the NBA, there have been great players who made the pros without ever attending college. That is, coming straight from the high school hardwood and jumping right into the NBA. It goes without saying, but they would be very young in their rookie campaigns. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Moses Malone are just a handful of those players. Yet, none of them were as young as Andrew Bynum—who would enter the NBA after graduating from high school in 2005 at the age of 18 years old.
One of professional hockey’s greatest-ever players was the late Gordie Howe. In the 1979-80 season as a member of the Hartford Whalers, Howe the father, had the opportunity to play with teammates Mark and Marty Howe, his sons. Howe was 51 at the time, ultimately playing in 15 games that season while registering 26 assists. But in 1997, Howe signed a contract with the Detroit Vipers. While not an NHL team, playing in the International Hockey League is still considered professional. Thus, Howe became the oldest pro hockey player in history. He only played on shift that season, but hit the ice as the oldest ever regardless. He also became the only player in pro hockey history to play in six different decades on a professional level. His career began in the 1940s and finished in the 1990s.
With Gordie Howe being one of the oldest, Bep Guidolin was the youngest—playing for the Boston Bruins in 1942 at just under 17 years of age. 16 years, 11 months. and three days to be exact. Guidolin would have a nine-year NHL career before ultimately landing a coaching job—where he would eventually tutor the great Bobby Orr.
For more on Gordie Howe, check out the video below:
At 14 years old, Martina Hingis entered the 1995 Australian Open and won her first round match. In professional soccer, Freddy Adu took the world by storm—albeit briefly—in 2004 when he took the field for D.C. United at just 14 years of age.
Back in auto racing, the aforementioned Hershel McGriff was the oldest. And, he could have probably been the grandfather to Tommie Elliott—who in 1951 had his first NASCAR race at just 15 years of age. In this day and age, Elliott would not even qualify for a legal driver’s license.
So when Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather finally step into the ring on August 26, don’t think of Mayweather as an “old man.” Because, at least historically speaking, he’s far from it.
In your opinion, who are the most memorable youngest (or oldest) professional athletes? Sound off below! And for more form Harv Aronson, check out his website!