The All-Time One-Teamers
We've made it to March and although the baseball season is right around the corner, the story lines still don't get all that interesting. Sure, there are some good previews out there (we will be continuing our own series of them on Friday with the AL East), but for the most part it's this guy or that guy are in the best shape of their life or another Jon Heyman/Scott Boras ventriloquist act on the latest concerning the Manny Ramirez talks. Mercifully, the latter may have come to an end yesterday.
The off-season, a time to discuss and analyze comings, goings, acquisitions, trades, defections and the like, is coming to a close and to celebrate, it seems like as good a time as any to have a look at the very best players to have played their entire careers in just one uniform. We will take a starting eight plus a DH, a right-handed and left-handed starter and a relief pitcher.
Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter seem like good candidates to play their entire careers for the Yanks. Maybe Joe Mauer, the local boy, or the great Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals will play out their respective careers for one team, too. Perhaps Chipper Jones? But more and more, playing one's entire career for a single organization looks like a thing of the past. That's ok, too. Free agency has made baseball players rich, which strikes me as perfectly appropriate since the baseball players are the reason we watch and love the game. So this is not any sort of moral commentary, just a nod to the best players that never switched teams.
CATCHER: Johnny Bench, Cincinnati Reds
If Yogi Berra had not suited up four times for the 1965 Mets, would he have surpassed Bench here? You tell me:
G GC* OPS+ AVG OBP SLG Berra 2,120 1,699 125 .285 .345 .482 Bench 2,158 1,742 126 .267 .342 .476 * Games played at Catcher
Both are truly all-time greats and I am not sure how you would pick one or the other. It would have to come down to defense and from what I have read and heard, there was nobody better than Bench. Think having a good catcher helps? Both Berra and Bench were centerpieces on two of the great baseball dynasties of all time.
FIRST BASE: Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees
I used to own a lot of baseball history VHS tapes and watch them over and over again growing up. I can't remember if this was in one of those, or perhaps it was on an ESPN classic show about Gehrig or Cal Ripken. Anyway, someone on it says that the consecutive games streak devalues Gehrig's career while serving to inflate Ripken's. I came to believe this as gospel truth when I was 13 or so, and would regurgitate this nugget to anyone that would listen to me.
Well I still believe it to be the case about Gehrig but it is entirely unfair to Ripken. Anyway, did you know that Gehrig hit .340/.447/.632 for his career?!?! .340/.447/.632! The man slugged .765 in 1927! And the guy was an RBI machine despite having Babe Ruth (career .474 on-base) clogging the bases hitting in front of him! I find myself forgetting all of this sometimes, which is why I am always endlessly amused when I head back over to his B-Ref page. It's just unbelievable.
SECOND BASE: Charlie Gehringer, Detroit Tigers
Of note, he gets his strongest push for this slot from fellow Tiger, Sweet Lou Whitaker.
G OPS+ AVG OBP SLG Gehringer 2,323 124 .320 .404 .480 Whitaker 2,158 126 .276 .363 .426
Gehringer was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949 while Whitaker is in the Bobby Grich & Dwight Evans Criminally Overlooked club.
THIRD BASE: Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia Phillies
George Brett is Schmidt's stiffest competition here, and it's actually a pretty interesting comparison if you want to just start tossing out numbers. They were contemporaries, and Brett played in about 300 more games, had 78 more triples, 257 more doubles, the same amount of RBI and more runs. He had 920 more hits and struck out 975 fewer times.
But here's where baseball gets really simple. Schmidt made outs less frequently, hit for way more power and had a better glove. Therefore, he was pretty clearly the superior player.
SHORTSTOP: Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles
Ripken featured the best of both worlds. He had a remarkable peak and also played more games than any shortstop in baseball history. Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan may have had better peaks and if you want to count Alex Rodriguez as a shortstop, he was probably better, too. But taken together, peak and longevity, Ripken is right there among them as one of the all-time greats.
OUTFIELD (with one as DH):
Stan Musial, St. Louis Cardinals
The numbers speak for themselves here. I am going to line these four up and show your their career stats, just because they're so damn fun to look at.
G OPS+ AVG OBP SLG Musial 3,026 159 .331 .417 .559 Ott 2,730 155 .304 .414 .533 Mantle 2,401 172 .298 .421 .557 Williams 2,292 191 .344 .482 .634
STARTING PITCHERS: Walter Johnson, Washington Senators & Warren Spahn, Boston/Milwaukee Braves
This one is not all that close. Steve Carlton might have pushed Spahn but he bounced around towards the end of his career. Christy Mathewson might have done the same if it weren't for that one game he pitched for Cincinnati. He won the game, going all nine while giving up eight earned runs on 15 hits!
Walter Johnson pitched 5,914 innings at a 147 ERA+ clip. Spahn tossed 5,243 frames with a 118 ERA+.
RELIEF PITCHER: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Baseball Reference shows 85 relief pitchers who have tossed 1,000 innings. Of those, Rivera leads with a 199 ERA+. The next best is 146.
Ok, that's my team. If I missed anywhere or you have any other comments relating to guys toiling for their whole career with one squad, please do not hold back.
Warren Spahn pitched a few games for the Mets and Giants at the end of his career, so I don't think he's eligible.
Possible substitutes: Whitey Ford. (Sandy Koufax?)
Posted by: jguenter at March 4, 2009 6:30 AM
what about Jim Palmer as a SP? I don't mean to suggest he's in the same class as Spahn and Johnson, but he did win 260+ for the same team, in the modern era.
Posted by: morisseau at March 4, 2009 6:33 AM
Actually, Carlton wouldn't have been eligible even if hadn't bounced around at the end of his career. He spent a few seasons with the Cardinals before they sent him to the Phils in the infamous Rick Wise trade.
Posted by: Matthew at March 4, 2009 6:40 AM
Ripken over Wagner? c'mon now
Posted by: nightal at March 4, 2009 7:02 AM
A fun piece, Sully.
Responding to the comments above, yes, Spahn pitched for the Mets and Giants and should be ineligible. I would put Koufax in his place. Short career but still one of the best peaks ever, Dodger Stadium or no Dodger Stadium. If not Koufax, then certainly Bob Gibson. Carlton, for the record, also pitched for the Cardinals his first seven seasons and six separate clubs in total so he shouldn't even be in the discussion. Honorable mention should go to Ford, Hubbell, and Palmer.
Wagner is clearly better than Ripken but perhaps Sully overlooked the fact that Louisville and Pittsburgh were the same franchise. As a result, Honus qualifies and should be No. 1 without question. In fact, one could argue that he is the best "one-team" player ever.
I would place Joe DiMaggio on the team over Mel Ott. Joe D. had a shorter career but was every bit the hitter as Ott and was a much better fielder and baserunner. DiMaggio in center, Mantle in right, Musial in left, and Ted Williams as the DH. Ott would be a great bench player to go along with some of those other backups like Brett.
Speaking of third basemen, Brooks Robinson is a worthy No. 3, or at least until Chipper retires as a one teamer (if indeed he does). Moving over to second base, I would like to give some props to Jackie Robinson, who played his entire MLB career with the Dodgers. He was traded to the Giants after the 1956 season but chose to retire rather than play for Brooklyn's chief rival. Given Utley's long-term contract, he stands a good chance of becoming a one teamer as well and could vault himself into this discussion.
Posted by: Rich Lederer at March 4, 2009 7:32 AM
um... Spahn played for the Giants and Mets the last year of his career.
Posted by: TheMole at March 4, 2009 7:43 AM
Thanks for pointing out the error of my ways, all. Wagner was pure ignorance on the Louisville/Pittsburgh thing while Spahn was just an oversight.
Posted by: Sully at March 4, 2009 8:10 AM
How about Ernie Banks instead of Cal Ripken?
Posted by: namesake49 at March 4, 2009 10:18 AM
I don't think Ripkin holds the record for games as a shortstop. I'm not sure he's even in the Top 5, as his total was 2291. I think Omar Vizquel set the record last year, and he's at 2562, and counting. Vizquel broke Luis Aparicio's mark.
Posted by: kevin at March 4, 2009 10:32 AM
Mike Schmidt did not have a better glove than George Brett. Brett had a thumb injury that contributed to a lot of bad throw, which increased his error total.
But his glove was just as good, or bettter, than Schmidts.
If you're going to make generalizations on a sabermetic site, please provide the numbers to back it up.
Posted by: Ron at March 4, 2009 10:35 AM
Interesting concept for an article, but it seems that it was pretty poorly researched. Stuff like this usually doesn't make it onto this site. I'm a little disappointed.
Posted by: sabernar at March 4, 2009 12:03 PM
Certainly not in the conversation with Gehrig out there but I'd thought I give Helton and Bagwell some love at first base. Then maybe keep Bobby Doerr as our fourth second baseman too. Great stuff Sully.
Posted by: John Fraser at March 4, 2009 12:09 PM
If you asked him, I am pretty sure Bob Feller would consider himself the choice for RH starter.
What about making Walt Alston the manager?
How about putting PeeWee and the Scooter on the bench with Robin Yount as a super utility player?
Posted by: Bob R. at March 4, 2009 1:07 PM
Let's make this more interesting: How about the worst all-time one-teamers? Some reasonable minimum (15 years? 10?) career length of course.
My first nomination:
1b - Ed Kranepool
Posted by: jguenter at March 4, 2009 1:54 PM
Jackie Robinson at 2B
(I agree with Ott over Dimaggio; fewer outs)
Posted by: BobDD at March 4, 2009 7:00 PM
Re DiMaggio and Ott...
DiMaggio played in a difficult home park for RHB while Ott played in a home park that was conducive for LHB.
Joe D.'s splits tell a great story:
Home: .315/.391/.546 with 148 HR (41% of total)
Road: .333/.421/.606 with 213 HR (59%)
Double his road home runs and you get 426. All else being equal, most players hit better at home. If you give him a 5% bump, that would add 11 more HR (for an adjusted total of 437). Furthermore, DiMaggio, at the age of 28-30, missed three full seasons (1943-45) while serving in WWII. Averaging his 1942 and 1946 output (which were two of his worst years) adds another 69 dingers. Now we're up to 506 without considering his outstanding PCL career from 1933-35.
Ott, on the other hand, slugged 323 HR at home and 188 on the road. His home (63%) to road (37%) ratio is, by far, the highest among all of the 500 HR club members. DiMaggio's home/road ratio ranks lower than any member of the 500 HR club.
To Ott's credit, he hit for a higher batting average on the road than at home. As Bill James wrote in TNBJHA, "The Polo Grounds weren't a great hitter's park. The Polo Grounds was (were?) a great home run park."
Ott was a great player, but I think DiMaggio was even better, especially when defense and baserunning are taken into consideration.
Posted by: Rich Lederer at March 4, 2009 9:53 PM
Craig Biggio needs to be on this list or at least mentioned in the comments, if not the article.
He played C, OF and 2B in in a 20 year career for the Astros. Here are the splits at 2B:
G OPS+ AVG OBP SLG
Gehringer 2,323 124 .320 .404 .480
Whitaker 2,158 126 .276 .363 .426
Biggio 1,978 106 .285 .372 .447
Also, if this list is any indicator, I predict Biggio certainly will be a part of the criminally overlooked club when he is up for induction.
Posted by: Doug at March 5, 2009 12:02 AM
Good topic! Thanks for getting the conversation started.
Posted by: David in Toledo at March 5, 2009 7:11 AM
Great topic. I also vote for Wagner at SS. Musial is underrated today, and Stan the Man is the greatest living hitter.
Posted by: Al Doyle at March 5, 2009 7:24 AM
I also have to throw Biggio's hat (cap) into the ring. As far as being overlooked, i actually think at the time of his HOF vote eligibility, Biggio's brand of baseball will be espically appreciated as it was so contrary to the steroids theme that surrounded it.
Posted by: Jeff at March 5, 2009 10:43 AM
interesting topic, but i think it's only fair to include those players who stayed with one team during the free agency era. before then, players didn't stay with one team out of loyalty, they stayed because they had no alternative. on the other hand, guys who didn't stay with one team were moved for reasons out of their control. i'd like to see the free agency era team of guys who only played with one team.
Posted by: ian at March 5, 2009 12:09 PM
Worst all-time one-teamers(using the 15 year threshold): Probably blasphemy to some glove men out there but Frank White got out way too often during his 18 years with KC.
Posted by: John Fraser at March 5, 2009 1:30 PM
It's a myth that players will no longer play their entire careers with one team. It's a common perception, but it's not true.
There are 210 players in the Hall of Fame. The following are those that spent their careers with only one team.
Pee Wee Reese
Jackie Robinson (although he was traded to the Giants before retiring)
That’s 45 of 280 or 16%. 6 of those 45 (Brett, Gwynn, Puckett, Ripken, Schmidt, Yount) or 13% played most of their careers in the free agency era. I didn’t include Bench, Palmer, Stargell or Yaz because they were older when free agency started although technically I could have.
The numbers will increase if/when Barry Larkin, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio get inducted. Not to mention if Jeter, Riviera, Ichiro, Chipper, Pujols, etc. stay with the same team.
So it's a myth, plain and simple.
Posted by: Al from Milwaukee at March 6, 2009 6:31 AM
Players, by decade where they made their debut, who played for a single franchise, min 12 years
90s -- Minus Garrett Anderson and plus Chavez and Halladay will the group at 12 soon. Berkman and VWells in 2010
Grabted, with more teams there are more players, so we should adjust...
Here is the same data with the total number of players who played 12+ years and then the percent.
DEC. ST/TTL %%
00's 3/81 3.7%
10's 3/116 2.5%
20's 14/120 11.7%
30's 12/118 10.2%
40's 7/105 6.7%
50's 15/163 9.2%
60's 14/233 6.0%
70's 19/263 7.2%
80's 15/300 5.0%
90's 11/257 4.3%
Posted by: Eric R at March 6, 2009 8:18 AM
How about the all-time one-teamer? Al Kaline has been a Tiger for 55 years. Since Williams managed different teams, he was not technically a one-teamer. You can replace him with Kaline, who didn't even play for another MINOR league team.
Posted by: Teno at March 10, 2009 10:39 PM
And another thing about the difference between old-timers and contemporaries staying on one team - I haven't run the numbers, but it sure seems to me a lot more of the old-timers played the greater part of their career with one team and may have played a couple of twilight years with another before they retired (Ruth and Cobb come to mind). But it is clear which team they were identified with. Today seems to have a lot more guys who have to choose a uniform for the Hall of Fame, because there is not an obvious one.
Posted by: Teno at March 10, 2009 11:02 PM