Is Jaromir Jagr the best 43-year-old in pro team sports history?

Matt Larkin
Jaromir Jagr, Nolan Ryan, Vinny Testaverde, Robert Parish. (Getty Images)
Jaromir Jagr, Nolan Ryan, Vinny Testaverde, Robert Parish. (Getty Images)

Face it: the Jaromir Jagr love train has been awfully crowded this season. But rightfully so. He’s not just the apple of our eye because he passed Marcel Dionne in goals and has a strong chance to overtake Gordie Howe in points before the year is up. We don’t just fawn over Jagr because he smites blackmailers and fires off candid quotes like bullets from a six-shooter after every game.

Jagr has earned all the buzz this year because he’s played legitimately excellent hockey at a whopping 43 years old. He had an amazing 24 goals and 67 points with the New Jersey Devils in 2013-14, then regressed to 11 goals and 29 points in 57 games with them last season. The decline finally appeared imminent at age 42. Then came the reinvigorating trade to Florida. As the Panthers’ first-line right winger, No. 68 has amassed 19 goals and 46 points in 56 games.

It got me wondering…where does Jagr’s age-43 season rank, not just in hockey lore, but in major North American team sports lore? Let’s see how he stacks up with the big four.

JAGR VERSUS THE NHL

Per Quanthockey.com, Jagr’s two-goal effort Jan. 3 set a new standard for NHLers 43 years old at the start of a given season. His 28 points are one better than the 27 Teemu Selanne tallied in 2013-14. The only player who started a campaign 43 or older with a higher point total is Howe, who finished with 41 in 80 games during his age-51 season. Jagr is on pace to beat that mark easily. He needs only 14 more points.

Jagr’s best age-43 competition is probably Johnny Bower, who played 43 games in 1967-68 for the Leafs, turning 44 years old in November of that season. He went 14-18-7 with a 2.25 goals-against average and four shutouts.

JAGR VERSUS MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

The Show offers the largest selection of 43-year-old players, with a few big names standing out. Carlton Fisk played in the 1991 All-Star Game in his age-43 season. He clubbed 18 home runs and drove in 74 runs for the Chicago White Sox that year, ranking fourth among all Major League catchers. That he hit just .241 and posted a .712 OPS was forgivable considering he played 109 of his 134 games at the most gruelling position on the field. Cincinnati Reds catcher Tony Perez hit .328 at 43 in 1985. The best age-43 competition to Jagr comes from MLB pitchers, of course. Phil Niekro went 17-4 and finished fifth in National League Cy Young voting in 1982. Mariano Rivera saved 44 games in 2013. And, of course, Nolan Ryan was Nolan Ryan. He struck out 232 batters in 1990 and 203 the following year at age 44. Ryan also threw two of his seven no-hitters after his 43rd birthday. He’s the age bracket’s gold standard.

JAGR VERSUS THE NFL

If you eliminate kickers from the equation – which I think is fair in this exercise – the only players to suit up at 43 or older in the modern merger era are Vinny Testaverde, Steve DeBerg, Warren Moon, Doug Flutie and Ray Brown. Testaverde led the way among that group in games started with a mere six in 2007. He averaged 136 passing yards per contest with the Carolina Panthers and threw five touchdown passes versus six picks. Doesn’t hold a candle to Jagr.

JAGR VERSUS THE NBA

Again, it’s no contest here. Only Robert Parrish and Kevin Willis have played in the NBA’s modern era at 43 or older. Parrish only started three of 43 games, averaging 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds. Willis didn’t play at 43 but returned at 44 after one year away from the game to suit up for a mere five times for the Dallas Mavericks.

VERDICT

To be clear, this is a highly unofficial exercise, all in good fun. But it’s apparent that, among athletes from the big four sports, only baseball players measure up to what Jagr has done this year. Ryan’s no-hitters may put him over the top, but if we consider that Jagr plays a contact sport, he warrants serious consideration as the best ever for his age.

Unless you consider Ryan a contact sport athlete, of course.

A big stick tap to sports-reference.com for providing the stats referenced in this article.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin