Commentary

'Grumpy old men' thriving in Texas

Lefty relievers Darren Oliver, Arthur Rhodes proving there's still life after 40 in MLB

Updated: May 7, 2011, 7:57 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

Darren Oliver has pitched in the majors long enough to remember when players had roommates, to see a former teammate become his team's owner and to pitch in a World Series game in Texas. But there is one thing neither he nor teammate Arthur Rhodes had ever seen before this season: Two 40-something left-handed African-American pitchers in the same bullpen. As Texas starter C.J. Wilson observed, "That's kind of a rare demographic."

"You'll never see this again," Oliver said. "You'll never see two old black left-handed relievers in the game again, let alone on the same pitching staff. … I don't think it will happen again in our lifetimes. There are probably some old Negro Leaguers happy and looking down on us and smiling, I can tell you that much."

The somewhat amazing thing is that the two haven't been on a team together before this. Each has pitched for eight different organizations, with Oliver playing for Texas three different times. Oliver, 40, came up with Texas in 1993 when Nolan Ryan was still pitching and the Rangers still played at the convection oven that was old Arlington Stadium.

[+] EnlargeArthur Rhodes
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireArthur Rhodes has pitched for eight teams in 20 major league seasons.

"The bullpens were set in the ground so it was like walking into a dungeon," Oliver said. "They made the rookies sit with the grounds crew underneath the grandstand. Amazing, huh?"

When Rhodes, 41, reached the majors with the Orioles in 1991, the team still played in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. "When we went to Baltimore the first time this season, I thought, 'I was just with Baltimore,'" Rhodes said of the team he hasn't pitched for since the last century. "Time flies."

The two refer to themselves as "Grumpy Old Men," though there is some debate over who is grumpier. Wilson said he can definitely picture both guys sitting on their front porches and yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off the lawn, but he selects Rhodes as the grumpier of the two. "He's got a little more grumpy swag. He's got tattoos. And he's a year older. I think he's just got a little more grumpy experience."

Rhodes initially said he was grumpier than Oliver -- "He's too nice" -- but changed his mind after being told manager Ron Washington's opinion was that Oliver is grumpier. To which teammate Brett Tomko commented, "But you're a very close second."

Oliver, meanwhile, said the grumpy title depends on which day you ask.

"Every day is different," he said. "Not today, though. Today we're not grumpy."

Which was notable, because the previous day they had combined to give up a game-tying home run in the eighth inning (Rhodes) and a game-losing home run in the 10th (Oliver). But when there are two Tommy John surgeries, a torn rotator cuff (Oliver), a labrum surgery (Rhodes), nearly 1,500 games and more than $75 million in career earnings between you, it's easier to keep your perspective of one loss.

"The biggest thing is mentally they're very consistent," Wilson said. "There isn't much fluctuation. If they have a good game or bad game they're not king of the world or down in the dumps. They're really focused on doing the best they can."

Rhodes is 0-1 with a 3.24 ERA and is holding opponents to a .194 average. Oliver is 1-3 with a 2.92 ERA and a .240 opponents average. He's allowed three home runs in 12 1/3 innings. When Neftali Feliz went on the disabled list, the two filled in the closer role, with Oliver saving two games and Rhodes one. Feliz was activated Friday, allowing the two to return to their normal bullpen roles of complaining about newfangled technology, misplacing their car keys and recalling how the weather was much worse back in the day.

You kids think this is hot? You don't know hot. I remember, oh, about 18 years ago, when it was 130 degrees. In the shade. At night. That's hot. You could scramble an egg on the damn bullpen roof. Which we rookies had to do for the veterans. And we couldn't look up the recipe on no damn iPhone!

More importantly, the two are there as they have been for so long, getting some important late-inning outs and providing some lessons to younger pitchers (which is, of course, everyone).

"Anytime I have a question about batters who were in the National League, I ask Arthur about them," Wilson said, "and when I have general life questions, I ask D.O. because he seems to have it figured out. He's got a pretty good finger on the pulse."

Oliver showed this wisdom at a young age when he and Rusty Greer were the first black and white roommates in Rangers history. "I always had the remote," he said.

[Oliver and Rhodes] certainly help the youngsters out. They help them with their work ethic. They teach them how to be professionals. The things that are missing in this game when they come up to the majors because they can't teach themselves.

-- Rangers manager Ron Washington

Wilson said Oliver was especially helpful when he made the switch from reliever to starter last season.

"He's really been in my corner the whole way," Wilson said. "He would say, 'You're going to be awesome as a starter. I can't wait to see you start. You're going to kill people.' And whenever I have a good start he'll say, 'I told you, I told you.'"

"[Oliver and Rhodes] certainly help the youngsters out," Washington said. "They help them with their work ethic. They teach them how to be professionals. The things that are missing in this game when they come up to the majors because they can't teach themselves. They bring a quality that's missing."

Both Rhodes and Oliver have scars on their elbows, but each is missing one important memento from his career -- a World Series championship ring.

"I wanted to get 10 years in the big leagues. And I've passed that now," Rhodes said of his original goals. "Try to make the All-Star team. I did that. Now I want to win the World Series. To win the whole thing, that's my goal."

It seems as if there are fewer older players this season than in recent years, but Rhodes and Oliver are helping to keep fans in the all-important 40-plus demographic from feeling so old and tired they just want to wrap themselves in their Snuggies. They also are showing that with enough hard work, perseverance and determination, baseball lives need not end at 40. Especially if you're left-handed.

Satchel Paige had six famous secrets to a long life. Asked what his secrets are, Oliver replied happiness, good friends and good family. "Just enjoy life," he said. "Life is too short."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com