Fernando Rodney turned 43 years old on Wednesday.
That’s a rather notable birthday when you’re a Major Leaguer, though Rodney’s status as such is a bit shaky right now. The right-handed reliever became a free agent after winning the World Series with the Nationals and has not signed anywhere yet, despite reports that he was drawing interest from multiple teams.
With coronavirus causing a significant delay in the start of the 2020 season, Rodney’s employment is hardly the biggest issue right now. But it’s also worth hoping that when baseball does begin again, Rodney is part of it.
So in honor of Rodney’s birthday, here are five reasons why the game is a little more fun when he’s involved.
1) Respect your elders
Who doesn’t enjoy watching an old guy — in baseball terms — go out there and show he can still get it done? That might be especially true if you are starting to get to an age where few big leaguers were born before you.
In years past, to name just a few, we’ve seen Nolan Ryan defy nature by throwing heaters into his mid-40s, Jamie Moyer nearly make it to 50 as a soft-tossing lefty, and Julio Franco somehow do the same as a position player. More recently, Bartolo Colon and Ichiro Suzuki were fan favorites as grizzled 40-somethings.
But there aren’t many like that. Not counting Ichiro, who played only in the season-opening Japan Series, Rodney was by far MLB’s oldest player in 2019. Next on the list were 39-year-olds Rich Hill, Albert Pujols and Erik Kratz. But Rodney is the last man standing who was born in the 1970s (March 18, 1977), so he’s carrying a whole decade on his back here.
2) He’s a jersey collector
Look, we’ll take Rodney suiting up in any big league uniform in 2020. But if we can be picky for just a moment here, how about suiting up in a new uniform?
When the Nationals acquired Rodney last June, the well-traveled veteran joined his 11th franchise, following the Tigers, Angels, Rays, Mariners, Cubs, Padres, Marlins, D-backs, Twins and A’s — most of those coming in the past five years.
That many teams is already rare territory for a player, but if Rodney can just take the mound for one more, he would become only the sixth man in history to play for a dozen, joining fellow pitching vagabonds Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Ron Villone and Mike Morgan, plus slugger Matt Stairs. Let's spread the fun around some more.
3) Some things never change
Rodney has gone through his ups and downs. He’s been traded and released. His velocity has naturally ebbed, though hanging around the 94-mph mark is still pretty impressive for a guy his age. But one thing that has remained true about Rodney: The man can throw a beautiful changeup.
He used it nearly 30% of the time in 2019, and he isn’t afraid to bust it out against right-handed batters as well as lefties. Opponents went just 12-for-59 (.203) against it, with no homers, a .237 slugging percentage and 27 strikeouts. Rodney induced a miss on 43.8% of swings against the change, a whiff rate that ranked among the top 8% of pitchers (minimum 100 swings). And the pitch was even better than that in the previous couple of years.
It fades. It dives. It falls off the table. And it continues to get some ugly, ugly swings. Let’s hope we haven’t seen the last of it.
4) It’s an Experience
Nobody is arguing that Rodney is an all-time great — certainly not at 43. He’s not always effective. But good or bad, he’s NEVER boring.
That’s the essence of the Fernando Rodney Experience, a term you might have encountered if you spend time on Twitter and/or have been a devoted fan of any of his many teams. What’s the “FRE” mean? It’s about personality, whether it’s a tilted cap brim that doubles as a tribute to his father, a lucky plantain, a mid-game nature walk or an appreciation for tasty snow.
It’s also about performance. In the nine seasons going back to 2011, Rodney has not posted an ERA beginning with the same number two years in a row: 4.50, 0.60, 3.38, 2.85, 4.74, 3.44, 4.23, 3.36, 5.66 (9.42 with Oakland but 4.05 with Washington). That’s life as a reliever, but Rodney keeps things more interesting than most. When he’s on the mound, you expect frequent traffic, occasional implosions and plenty of daring escapes. No matter what, you’re entertained.
5) His bow is still ready to go
This is part of the Experience, but it also deserves its own section — fittingly, the final section, considering Rodney’s 327 career saves (17th all-time). When Rodney closes out a game, he marks the occasion with one of the game’s best and most distinctive celebrations, shooting the arrow.
It’s not just for show. As Rodney explained a few years ago, it’s meant to honor a community in his hometown known as “La Flecha,” which is Spanish for arrow.
Whatever the story behind it, baseball could use more arrows. And Rodney could use a few more saves to reach the top 15 on the all-time list (John Wetteland has 330).
It’s already been an eventful and memorable career: 17 seasons, 951 games, three All-Star selections, one all-time great campaign in 2012, and now a championship ring. But the (now) 43-year-old might not be done just yet.
Rodney arrow forever. pic.twitter.com/nRfmdieEEc
— MLB (@MLB) October 15, 2019