The best baseball players born on New Year’s Eve

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Staff Writer

Joined: Nov 2016

December 31st, 2023

Here’s a subjective ranking of the top five for New Year’s Eve:

1. King Kelly (1857)
The only Hall of Famer born on this day, Michael Joseph Kelly played from 1878-93 and was, according to his SABR biography, “baseball’s first matinee idol.” A drawing card for the Chicago White Stockings (today’s Cubs) for seven seasons, Kelly was sold to the Boston Beaneaters (now the Braves) for $10,000 in what is considered baseball’s first “big-money” deal. An aggressive baserunner who stole at least 50 bases in five consecutive seasons, he was known as the “King of Baseball,” leading to his royal moniker. His exploits on the bases made him the subject of a hit song, “Slide, Kelly, Slide,” and he was the first ballplayer to author an autobiography.

2. Rick Aguilera (1961)
Aguilera thought he had lost the 1986 World Series after giving up two runs in the 10th inning of Game 6. But of course, the Mets rallied and Aguilera won the first of his two World Series rings when they took Game 7. New York used him mostly as a starter until 1989, when he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen before being shipped to the Twins at the Trade Deadline as part of the package that sent 1988 AL Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola to New York. In 1990 he became the Twins’ closer, and over the next five seasons (which included another ring in ’91), he saved 172 games and made three All-Star teams, the most of anyone born on this date. Aguilera’s 254 saves for Minnesota were nearly 150 more than anyone else in franchise history when he retired and are still second to Joe Nathan’s 260.

3. Syl Johnson (1900)
Despite being known as “the most unlucky pitcher in baseball history,” as he said in an interview late in life, Sylvester Johnson still managed to pitch for 19 seasons, starting almost 40 percent of the 542 games in which he appeared. Along the way, his right wrist, left eye and a toe were broken by line drives back to the mound; he broke an elbow pitching batting practice; tore ligaments in his left arm; and had a hand broken by a teammate’s BP line drive. Johnson won two World Series rings with the Cardinals, first in 1926 (though he didn’t pitch in the Series because, well, he was injured) and again in ’31, when he pitched nine innings over three games.

And depending on one’s view of when a new century begins – in 1900 or 1901? – either Johnson or Negro Leaguer Willie Spearman, born in 1899, is the only Major Leaguer born on the last day of the 19th century.

4. Esteban Loaiza (1971)
The only 20-game winner born on New Year’s Eve, Loaiza went 21-9 for the White Sox in 2003, the first of his two successive All-Star seasons. In 34 starts that year, he posted a 2.90 ERA, 3.05 FIP and 159 ERA+ and struck out an AL-leading 207 batters and walked 56. He finished second in AL Cy Young Award voting to Roy Halladay.

5. Bobby Byrne (1884)
The third baseman for the 1909 world champion Pirates, Byrne was not only born on New Year’s Eve, but died on his birthday 80 years later. A short player (listed at 5-foot-7) who played exclusively in the Dead Ball Era, Byrne hit only 10 career home runs. He led the National League with 178 hits and 43 doubles in 1910 and also scored 101 runs in what was his best season. In one game in 1911, he stole second, third and home in the same inning.

Tommy Byrne (1919)
No relation to Bobby, Tommy Byrne pitched for 13 years despite walking 1,037 batters and striking out 766. Three times he led the Major Leagues in walks (179 in 1949, 160 in 1950 and 150 in 1951) and five times in hit batters.

Alex Colomé (1988)
With 159 saves through the 2022 season, Colomé is halfway to Rick Aguilera’s career total of 318. But Colomé has done something Aguilera never did in his 16 years: lead MLB in saves, which he did with 47 for the Rays in 2017.

Want to see more baseball birthdays for Dec. 31? Find the complete list on Baseball Reference.


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