On Dick Mountain: One Last Season For the Oldest Man in Baseball?

In the dusk of their career, every player has to reckon with the feeling it may be time to swap the glove for a pickleball racket.

At 43, pitcher Dick Mountain, or ‘Rich Hill‘ as he will hope prospective teams will know him, is doing just that. Hill enters the 2024 season as the oldest eligible player in Major League Baseball. The second year running that he has held the title.

Since the Nationals’ designated hitter Nelson Cruz and Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright both retired at the end of last season (Wainwright citing ‘because I got a puppy!’ as his reason), Rich Hill is now the only player in professional baseball older than I am, so I have to confess a little personal interest in his career. While Hill remains pitching and puppy-free, I can go on deluding myself that I’ll be scouted by a major league team someday (and honestly, I’d take any at this point, even the Braves.)

But it is personal for Hill, too. Having started last season well enough for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was traded on 1 August to the San Diego Padres. Hill left the Pirates with an ERA of 4.76 but closed out the season with the Padres after a 10-game spell, with this figure hiked up to 8.23. A situation he described as a disaster.

Though his final outing for the Padres ended in victory, the ERA question has left ends untied. I like Hill as a pitcher; he shouts and swears on the mound and seems passionate about what he does. While there’s still juice in the tank, I’d like to see him cash out at 20 seasons. 

Speaking to the San Diego Union-Tribune last October, Hill explained that he was considering the idea but in an abbreviated form, 

“I have a pretty good gauge and a monitor on my body. And I think half a season is much more palatable than a full season.”

As the cliche goes, the baseball season is an 80’s chocolate bar and not an American telecommunications company*. After 19 seasons as a professional player, Hill understands this only too well. He is betting there will be a team later down the stretch, as injuries begin to impact rosters, that will need his pitching to push them into the postseason. 

Hill boasts eight pitches in his arsenal, but he favours the curveball, four seamers, and cutter with a little sweeper and sinker mixed in for good measure. He also brings a breadth of experience to a clubhouse that would benefit younger players, a talent he has shown in the past. 

Hill’s strategy means that there are no obvious landing spots as yet. He has played with over 10 organisations in his career, including the Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, and Red Sox, so he is well accustomed to finding his feet in the unknown. Incidentally, it was a former Red Sox teammate, Brock Holt, who gave him his nickname, making a ‘Dick Mountain’ out of a ‘Rich Hill’. It seems to have been given affectionately enough, though, as it followed him from team to team and has even made an appearance on a jersey.

If Hill has acted on last year’s intentions, the offseason was spent training with Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla. Speaking of his experience with Niebla, fellow teammate Josh Hader, who played with Hill on the Padres last season before signing a five-year deal with the Houston Astros this January, said,

“He’s helped me a lot to get back to who I was at my best. He doesn’t try to throw you in a mould that he has expectations for. He throws you in a mould that you create that you are the best in.”

Dusk arrives quickly on both sides of the pond, and while there may be no time in baseball, there is a pitching clock on Dick Mountain ticking loud enough for both of us. With Niebla continuing on the pitching staff into 2024, perhaps the Padres will have good reason to call on him again.  If not, there will be a team somewhere who can use him; at least, I hope so because my imaginary baseball career is counting on it.

*A marathon and not a sprint. In the UK, Snickers bars were named Marathon up until 1990. While I understand there will have been a solid business rationale for the rebrand, ‘Marathon’ just looks and sounds better and goes to show the eye test is always superior to the stat. But don’t take my word for it; I’m an eye-test guy who listens to baseball on the radio.

I should have said a ‘former’ telecommunications company. The Sprint Corporation merged with T-Mobile in 2020.  

Featured image of Rich Hill by Denis Poroy (Getty Images)

Tom Baker is one of the new writers who joined the Bat Flips & Nerds team in 2024. Check out his other articles and follow him on Twitter @TomBaker1981

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