Ten Year Men

Tuesday, June 21 2005 @ 05:59 PM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

I was messing around on ESPN, when I saw a link to a page I had never visited:

Lifers: This lists the rare players in MLB who have been with only one team throughout their careers with at least 10 years in the pros.

There are 15 players on the list, and here's who they are:

Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Bernie Williams, Tim Salmon, Chipper Jones, Mike Lieberthal, Garrett Anderson, Bobby Higginson, Mike Sweeney, Brad Radke, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada.

That's not very many. Their ranks were reduced in 2005 by the retirements of Edgar Martinez and Barry Larkin, and the free agency moves of Troy Percival and Carlos Delgado.

How many such players would we normally find, as we scroll down through the years? Let's take it at 10 year intervals.

In 1995, there were 18 players with 10 years in the majors, for the same team in the same city. They were: Mark McGwire, Ron Karkovice, Mike Greenwell, Cal Ripken, Roger Clemens, Don Mattingly, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Marc Gubicza, Ozzie Guillen, Kirby Puckett, Chuck Finley, Terry Steinbach, Darren Daulton, Barry Larkin, Shawon Dunston, Tony Gwynn, Robby Thompson. Ten of these players would finish where they started. The others - McGwire, Clemens, Gubicza, Guillen, Finley, Steinbach, Daulton, and Dunston - would all move along before they were done.

In 1985, there were 16 such players - Ron Guidry, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Scott McGregor, Robin Yount, Jim Gantner, Willie Wilson, Frank White, George Brett, John Wathan, Bob Forsch, Andre Dawson, Mike Schmidt, Bill Russell, Dave Concepcion, and Dale Murphy. Of these 16, 12 would actually finish their careers with their original teams. The exceptions were Evans, Wilson, Dawson, and Murphy.

In 1975, there were 17 such players: Carl Yastrzemski, Rico Petrocelli, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Paul Blair, Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich, Bert Campaneris, Tony Oliva, Willie Stargell, Ed Kranepool, Don Kessinger, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Don Sutton, and Bob Watson. Of this group, only 8 would finish their careers with their original teams. The guys who would move on were Blair, Horton, Lolich, Campaneris, Kessinger, Rose, Perez, Sutton, and Watson.

In 1965, there were 13 of these players: Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Roy Face, Bob Friend, Vernon Law, Frank Robinson, Ken Boyer, Ernie Banks, and Bill Mazeroski. Of this group, 8 would finish their careers where they started. The exceptions are Howard, Face, Friend, Frank Robinson, and Boyer. This list would be longer, were it not for the fact that the 1950s and 1960s saw so much movement of entire teams: the Braves (twice), the A's (twice), the Dodgers, Giants, Browns, Senators.

In 1955, there were only 10 of these players: Yogi Berra, Bob Lemon, Ted Williams, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Stan Musial, Phil Rizzuto, Jim Hegan, and Red Schoendienst. Lemon, Williams, Rizzuto, and Musial were the only ones who would finish where they started. No, not even Yogi...

Players who stay with the same team in the same city have always been scarce. Certainly, very few of the greatest players of all time have managed it. Look at first few sets of the Hall of Fame inductees: Cobb (no), Wagner (no), Ruth (no), Mathewson (no), Johnson (YES), Lajoie (no), Speaker (no), Young (no), Sisler (no), Collins (no), Keeler (no), Gehrig (YES).

The vast majority of baseball players have always moved from team to team during their careers. The ones who didn't are the exceptions, and always have been. The usual reason a player changes teams, even today, is because he is either a) traded or, b) released. There are very few players, even in the modern era, whose ONLY switch of teams came about through free agency: Molitor (twice), Carew, Bonds, Giambi, Glavine, Mussina, Greg Maddux (twice), Delgado.

In addition to free agency, one of the more significant changes in baseball in the past thirty years is the 10 and 5 rule. Players with 10 years of major league service, the last five of which are with their present team, can not be traded without their consent. This would hardly be expected to increase player movement. So perhaps a more interesting question is why people have this notion that players like Puckett and Mattingly are a vanishing breed, when the evidence suggests that they are what they have always been, an Extremely Rare Species.

People start with the assumption that a situation exists. However, looking at the actual evidence does not support the assumption, so we must assume that no one is looking at the evidence. Where does this assumption come from? It's possible that some people simply want to make a statement about the nature and character of modern players. Perhaps people begin with the assumption that people today are more greedy and mercenary than people were twenty or thirty years ago.

What seems most likely to me, though, is that people honestly believe that things have changed radically. Perhaps they remember baseball cards when they were young, and all those nice tidy rows of "New York AL" on the back of Mantle and Ford. People remember great players, and in the past it was only great and memorable players who had this type of career. Memories play people false; most great players did move on eventually. In addition, one thing that truly has changed is that now you don't have to be a great player to play your whole career in one town. While Frank White may be the Bill Mazeroski of the 1980s, its hard to think of a past parallel for Jim Gantner (17 years in Milwaukee), Ron Oester (12 years in Cincinnati), and Tom Pagnozzi (12 years in St Louis).

I think its possible that there is a New York bias to this thinking. While these players have always been rare, New York has always had an extraordinarily large number of them. Four of the fifteen players on the current list are New York players. Furthermore, in addition to the ones already mentioned, there was also DiMaggio, Gehrig, Heinrich, Keller, Combs, Dickey; Bill Terry, Mel Ott, Carl Hubbel with the NL teams. New York absolutely dominated baseball reporting for a long time, and when the New York situation changed, people assumed that all of baseball had changed.