More than 150 MLB players are credited with having played 20 or more seasons in the majors. The majority of them are pitchers. All have illustrious careers. Here are the six who served at the major league level the longest.
Rickey Henderson, 25 seasons
Rickey Henderson is the only modern-day, non-pitcher to make our top list. The outfielder debuted with Oakland in 1979 and played his last game in September 2003 as a Dodger.
Henderson is notorious for his career 1,406 stolen bases, 2,296 runs, and 81 leadoff home runs. Henderson’s single-season high of stolen bases sits at 130.
A fan favorite, no matter where he played, Henderson was named to 10 All-Star teams and played on two World Series championship teams, for the A’s and the Blue Jays. He was the 1990 American League MVP, earned a Gold Glove in 1981, has three Silver Slugger Awards, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Jamie Moyer, 25 seasons
Left-hander Jamie Moyer is the most recent edition to the longest-career list, having retired in 2012 following 25 seasons pitching in the majors. At the age of 49, he has the distinction of being the oldest pitcher to earn a win, and the oldest player to record an RBI, both in his last year of MLB play.
During his career, Moyer earned a total of 269 wins and 209 losses with an ERA of 4.25. He played on the 2003 All-Star American League team and was on the World Series-winning Philadelphia team in 2008.
Deacon McGuire, 26 seasons (TIE)
Going back in the history books revealed James “Deacon” McGuire, a turn-of-the-century catcher, as having played in 26 seasons from 1884–1912. He played with 11 different teams, developing a career batting average of .278. He became a manager-player for the Washington Senators in 1898 and continued managing through 1911.
Shockingly, McGuire still holds records for most runners caught stealing in a season at 189, and throughout his career at 1,459. Having been in place this long, these records will be difficult for any catcher to ever beat.
Tommy John, 26 seasons
The name Tommy John is mentioned daily by most any baseball commentator, on any network, during any game. However, it is most often referring to the surgery he received rather than him as a player.
John was the first MLB player to receive a replacement for his ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow. Performed by L.A. orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974, John was able to resume his pitching career following a year of recovery and rehabilitation. Some 1,664 MLB players, mostly pitchers, have had the surgery at least once, since.
In his own right, John pitched a total of 26 seasons. His last game was with the Yankees in 1989, at the age of 46. His overall ERA was 3.34 with 288 wins and 231 losses through his career.
John earned his way to the All-Star Game in ’68, ’78, ’79, and ’80. He played in three Yankees-Dodgers World Series, first with the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978, and once with the Yankees in 1981, each time being on the losing side of the series and missing the ring.
Cap Anson, 27 seasons
Early in baseball history, one player took on the roles of first base, third base, and catcher during his 27 years of playing the game. In 1871, Cap Anson began his professional years at the age of 19 for the Rockford Forest Citys, an Illinois-based team of the National Association in the association’s opening year.
Anson was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics for a few years before settling in for most of his career with the Chicago White Stockings, a team which he also managed.
Noted as the greatest 19th-century ballplayer, some historians have disputed his statistical record, which credits him with between 2,995–3,435 hits, 2075 or 2076 RBIs, and 1,996-1,999 runs. Anson played his last game at the age of 45. He died in 1922, 17 years prior to being inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame.
Nolan Ryan, 27 seasons
“Lynn Nolan Ryan, Jr. (born January 31, 1947), nicknamed ‘The Ryan Express,’ is without a doubt the single most successful and notable power pitcher in the history of major league baseball,” Wesman Todd Shaw recounted in his March 19, 2019 article, “100-mph Fastballs: The Hardest Throwing Pitchers in Baseball History” for How They Play.
Ryan, who played a total of 27 seasons between 1966-1993, has the highest strikeout record ever, with 5,714. He is credited with throwing 100 mph fastballs before anyone else and continued throwing them well into his senior years of playing. He started his last game as a Ranger in 1993, at the age of 46. Impressively, Ryan had a total of 324 career wins and 292 loses for an ERA of 3.19.
Ryan had seven career no-hitters and was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1999. He was an eight-time All-Star, a 1969 World Series champion, a 2x NL ERA leader, and an 11X Strike Out leader. Today his number is retired from play with the Angels, Astros, and Rangers.