Thus far in the 2021 season, 221 players have debuted in the majors. Eighty-three weren’t yet 25 when they ran onto a big league field for the first time, and 172 were younger than 27.
It’s common sense—as prospects age (and lose the prospect tag), their chances of reaching the major leagues dwindle year-by-year. By the time they’re in their late 20s, they should already be in the big leagues. By the time they’re in their 30s, many men are already seasoned veterans.
For many players, however, the call isn’t easy to come by. They toil on the farm, waiting for someone to say their name’s been picked … but no one ever does. Many guys give up and walk away.
But some keep pushing with the fire burning in their hearts and that goal—that dream of playing in the majors—drawing them back season after season. As so many of their counterparts grow old, are cut loose, retire or just fade out of sight, they keep going.
Some, even, after they reach 30 years of age.
Like 33-year-old Mickey Jannis, who finally made his debut with the struggling Orioles on June 23. For a minor league veteran like him, playing in a flailing team’s farm system was to his benefit. Those on the big league roster aren’t playing well—which is why the team is doing so poorly—so they get demoted and swapped out regularly.
All that shuffling around, all that throwing stuff at the wall to see if it will stick, inevitably leads to the club giving even the unlikeliest of candidates a try.
And Jannis was the archetype of unlikely. Drafted by the Rays in the 44th round of the 2010 amateur draft, he remained in their system for only a couple seasons before being cut loose. It’s not like he performed poorly—his ERAs were 2.52 and 3.30, respectively—but Tampa Bay moved on anyway.
From 2012 to 2014, he played in independent baseball, becoming a familiar face in the Frontier and Atlantic Leagues; he even spent a winter in Australia, going 2-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 44 1/3 innings with the Brisbane Bandits.
After an excellent stint with the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks in 2015 (6-2, 1.18 ERA in 83 2/3 IP), the Mets inked him to a contract midseason. He proceeded to go 2-3 with a 3.55 mark in 11 games (10 starts) between Single- and Double-A. Earning a stint in the Arizona Fall League, he had a 2.33 mark in 6 starts there.
Double-A seemed like his peak. In 2018 and 2019, he had ERAs of 3.60 and 3.10 at that level, respectively. At Triple-A, where he pitched briefly both years, his marks were 14.63 and 22.95.
And the clock was ticking. Jannis was 31 in 2019.
The Orioles signed him in January 2020, though he didn’t play that year due to the coronavirus causing the cancellation of the minor league season.
Back in the Orioles system in 2021, the hurler’s line on the farm was hardly enviable. He was 0-1 with a 6.60 ERA in 3 Double-A starts, and 0-5 with a 4.98 mark in 13 Triple-A games (5 starts).
But the Orioles were so bad, so desperate for anyone who could provide anything, they gave him the call.
On June 22, he was added to the 40-man roster as they designated struggling righty Mac Sceroler for assignment.
At that point in the season, Baltimore was already 21 games back at 23-50. Whether they were using Jannis because they thought he could truly help them, or if they were just giving him his gold watch and long-awaited debut because, hey, why not—it’s not like doing so would hurt their playoff chances or anything—doesn’t really matter.
On June 23, Mickey Jannis became a major leaguer.
Entering a blowout against Houston in which Orioles starter Thomas Eshelman surrendered 6 runs in 4 innings, Jannis took the mound and, skilled baseball veteran that he was, struck out his first batter, Yordan Alvarez. Then he got the next man, Carlos Correa, to flyout. Kyle Tucker walked but was caught stealing.
Also, beginner’s luck.
In his next frame, he surrendered two singles and a walk, allowing a run to score. Still not too bad, his ERA for the day was, at that point, 4.50.
In the top of the seventh, Alvarez avenged his earlier strikeout with a leadoff home run. Then Jannis surrendered a double, a walk, a home run (to Abraham Toro) and a walk before even recording an out. The next batters went down one-two-three.
He began the top of the eighth by inducing a weak pop fly off the bat of Taylor Jones, but then Chas McCormick launched another dinger, followed by a Robel Garcia single and Kyle Tucker double.
Mercifully, he was pulled, but not after giving up 7 earned runs in 3 1/3 innings.
On June 25, he was designated for assignment.
The Jannis Era began with such hope and anticipation—on his end, at least—and ended with a thud. His line includes 8 hits and 3 home runs allowed, 4 walks and an 18.90 ERA.
If Jannis ever returns to the majors remains to be seen. But after spending more than a decade in pro ball, playing all over the globe—
At this point, to even have the potential to return, well, that’s got to be the greatest feeling in the world.