This MLB season has been one long victory lap for David Ortiz, who has been feted in just about every major league ballpark after announcing his pending retirement last November. Big Papi will one day be bound for Cooperstown and there is absolutely no doubt that he will be going in sporting a red ‘B’ on his cap. But for as deeply tied to the Boston Red Sox organization as Ortiz is, he only arrived in Beantown after spending his first six seasons with the Minnesota Twins.
The fact that even someone as embedded in the Red Sox family hasn’t spent his whole career with them shows how hard it is to stay with one club for your whole career. Wade Boggs retired as a Tampa Bay Devil Ray, Pete Rose collected his 4,000th hit as a member of the Montreal Expos and Sammy Sosa even suited up for Chicago’s South Siders before joining the Cubs.
But true loyalty does exist in baseball, it just might be hard to come across. These 15 greats were among the few that found that there was no place like home in Major League Baseball.
15. Evan Longoria
Few players can boast the level of intrinsic connection to their club that Evan Longoria enjoys with the Tampa Bay Rays. Thanks at least somewhat to their lack of rich history, Longoria is easily the greatest Ray of all-time. Not only does he already own the franchise record for games played, home runs, RBI and total bases, but he engineered the most iconic moment in club history with his dramatic, playoff-clinching walk-off home run on the last day of the 2011 season.
On a cash-strapped team that is used to seeing its players bolt in favor of greener pastures and bigger dollar signs elsewhere, Longoria has hung around ever since being taken by Tampa with the third overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. The three-time All-Star has rarely ever even been subject to speculation otherwise, signing a nine-year deal with the club less than a week after making his major league debut and signing a seven-year extension well before hitting free agency. Those contracts have him tied to the Rays until he turns 38, making Longoria a strong candidate to be a lifetime Ray.
14. Mike Scioscia
Maybe Mike Scioscia just really loves La La Land. How else to explain his remarkable 30 years spent in the Los Angeles area while working in professional baseball? But the interesting thing about Scioscia’s LA-based loyalty comes in the distinction between his playing career and managerial career, which has come with each major league club in Los Angeles.
The Pennsylvania native was drafted by the Dodgers 19th overall in 1976 and proceeded to stick around through 13 major league seasons, serving as the club’s catcher through two All-Star campaigns and a 1988 postseason run best remembered for Kirk Gibson’s famous hobbled pinch hit home run. But when Scioscia went looking for a managerial job after his playing days ended, it was the Dodgers’ neighboring AL counterparts that came calling. He has now been the bench boss for the Angels for 17 years!
13. Craig Biggio
The current face of the organization for the Houston Astros is a diminutive second baseman who doesn’t boast a whole lot of power but gives opposing pitchers fits with his proficient hitting. If this sounds familiar to fans of the ‘Stros, it should. Before Jose Altuve blossomed into a fan favorite in Houston, it was Craig Biggio who earned fan adulation along the way to a decorated Hall of Fame career.
Of course, Altuve has a long way to go to catch up to Biggio in the franchise record books. Biggio spent his entire 13-year career in Houston, collecting 3,060 hits and seven All-Star nods along the way. He was also heavily active in the community, serving as spokesperson for the Sunshine Kids Foundation during and after his playing days. As such, it came as little surprise when the Astros decided to retire Biggio’s No. 7 in 2008. The Hall of Fame inductee, the first to go in as an Astro, remains a part of the organization as special assistant to the general manager.
12. Barry Larkin
The last game that Barry Larkin played for the Cincinnati Reds took place at the end of the 2004 season, bringing his decorated 19-year career to a close at 40 years of age. That last campaign, which incredibly brought a 12th All-Star selection, capped off a career that would earn Larkin a Hall of Fame induction, but not before netting a World Series ring and an MVP award.
In the 12 years since his retirement, it’s safe to say that the Cincinnati faithful haven’t forgotten their long-time shortstop. When he returned to the Reds’ Great American Ballpark as an analyst for ESPN Sunday Night Baseball in 2011, he was greeted by cheers and chanting so loud that he and his fellow broadcasters had to shout just to be heard while on air. One year later, upon Larkin’s enshrinement into Cooperstown, Cincinnati’s iconic Izzy’s deli introduced the “Barry Larkin Triple Play” sandwich.
11. Willie Stargell
Two days before Willie Stargell died in 2001, the Pittsburgh Pirates unveiled a larger-than-life statue of the Hall of Fame slugger as part of the opening ceremonies that ushered in their new PNC Park home. The statue has served as an enduring, ever-lasting ode to the affection shared between the Pirates organization and the man they affectionately knew as ‘Pops’. Signed as an amateur free agent in 1958, Stargell went onto play 21 seasons in Pittsburgh while accumulating seven All-Star appearances and an MVP award in 1979 at the age of 39.
Despite spending his entire career with the Pirates, the relationship between Stargell and the club wasn’t always smooth. He felt so slighted by the team’s refusal to consider him for a managerial job upon his retirement that he opted not to participate in any celebrations related to his Hall of Fame induction. The two sides eventually made up when Stargell was hired as an aide to GM Cam Bonifay in 1997, allowing him to end things on happy terms with the club he dedicated so much of his life to.
10. David Wright
The name ‘Mr. Met’ is already taken by the club’s mascot, but it seems equally fitting to apply to David Wright. The only force strong enough to stand in the way of Wright forging an even greater legacy than the 13-year career he has already established in Queen’s has been a slow-to-heal surgically repaired neck that has cost him all but 75 games over the past two seasons.
Having a bad run of injury luck just as the Mets have once again risen to prominence behind a stacked starting rotation must be a particularly bitter pill to swallow for a guy who has seen some lean years while trying to lead New York to the promise land. Wright has made two playoff trips with the Mets since his 2004 debut, but more often has seen stretches like 2009 to 2014, where the team failed to win 80 games in any season. Yet, Wright has not hesitated to stick with the team that drafted him, signing six- and eight-year extensions while amassing seven All-Star campaigns.
9. Tony Gwynn
Soon after his untimely, cancer-related death in 2014, tributes for Tony Gwynn began pouring in to celebrate him not only for his considerable on-field prowess, but also for being a renown class act off of the field. Nowhere was that reputation forged to a greater extent than in San Diego. It was in California’s second-largest city, after all, that Gwynn not only plied his trade for all of his 20 Hall of Fame major league seasons, but even suited up as a two-sport baseball and basketball star at San Diego State University.
Of course, most San Diego denizens remember Gwynn best as their beloved Mr. Padre, a smiling everyman who won eight National League batting crowns, made 15 All-Star games and collected 3,141 career hits. In fact, hits #1, 1,000, 2,000 and 3,141 all came at home in San Diego. Even though Gwynn is no longer around, he won’t be forgotten any time soon by the San Diego faithful. Not with SDSU playing at Tony Gwynn Stadium, a bronzed statue of the right fielder sitting outside Petco Park in Tony Gwynn Plaza and Gwynn’s No. 19 having been retired by the club.
8. Al Kaline
The name Al Kaline might not register with many contemporary baseball fans, except to maybe make a bad joke about batteries. But not only was the Hall of Fame outfielder a mainstay of the Detroit Tigers for 22 years during the mid-1900’s, he actually remains a part of the organization to this day. Kaline’s loyalties have kept him in Detroit through a color commentary role for over 25 years and, more recently, as a consultant and Special Assistant to the General Manager.
The fact that Kaline is popularly known around Motown as “Mr. Tiger” is owed to more than simply longevity. By the time he announced his retirement in 1974, he had accumulated 3,007 hits, 18 All-Star appearances and 10 Gold Gloves, all the while leading the Tigers to the World Series in 1968. For his practically unprecedented level of commitment, the club renamed the street behind Comerica Park’s left field stands “Kaline Drive” and even drafted his grandson. Now 81 years old, Kaline recently surpassed 60 years of service in the organization he first joined when he was 19.
7. Ernie Banks
In the year that followed the 2015 passing of Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks, a dispute over his estate left lingering questions over the location of his final resting place. Only recently was it revealed that he was buried at Graceland Cemetary, a plot located just half a mile away from Wrigley Field. It’s fitting that Banks will forever lay in close proximity to the hallowed stadium that “Mr. Cub” made his home for 19 seasons.
Banks’ professional baseball career technically started in Kansas City as a member of the Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. However, his debut in the major leagues came after signing with the Cubs in 1953, becoming the first black player in franchise history. While most barrier-breaking pioneers can often experience a rough introduction, Banks was not looking to make a statement and soon grew popular for playing hard and flashing some dazzling talents. Fittingly, the Hall of Famer wound up as the first Cubs player to have his number retired by the organization.
6. Carl Yastrzemski
How good was the 1967 season of iconic Boston Red Sox slugger Carl Yastrzemski? So good that it actually kind of obscures the rest of one of the great careers in major league baseball history. The man known as ‘Yaz’ won the AL Triple Crown with a .326 batting average, 44 home runs and 121 RBI’s, all the while leading the Red Sox to the AL pennant and then the World Series, where he hit .400 in a losing effort to Bob Gibson’s St. Louis Cardinals.
Impressive as the MVP campaign was, it was still only a part of his decorated 23-year career, all of which was spent in Beantown. Though 1967 represented his only MVP season, he stuck around through 18 All-Star appearances, seven Gold Gloves, three batting titles and a whopping 3,419 hits. On top of having his number retired in the Red Sox organization, Yaz was also honored with the erection of a statue at Fenway Park in his honor. At 77 years of age, he remains a roving instructor for the club.
5. Mariano Rivera
Maybe there’s just something about those pintstripes. You don’t build a franchise with the rich history and championship pedigree – 27 World Series titles! – of the New York Yankees without collecting a few loyal long-time stars along the way. Indeed, evidence of the Bronx Bombers’ extensive collection of legendary talent can be seen in the whopping 21 different numbers retired by the club. And even by those standards, there was only one Mariano Rivera.
The legendary closer, whose ninth inning arrival would be ushered in with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and deafening cheers from the Yankee Stadium faithful, arrived in New York as a homesick Panamanian who spoke no English. Over 19 seasons in the Bronx, he morphed into the most dominant closers in MLB history, a 13-time All-Star, five-time champion, a sure-fire Hall of Famer and one of the most revered Yankees ever. His 652 saves are the most by any major league player in history.
4. Brooks Robinson
Rare is the player who sticks around for 23 major league seasons, let alone one who plays all 23 of those seasons with one team. Brooks Robinson first suited up for the Baltimore Orioles as a recently signed, fresh-faced 18-year-old at the end of the 1955 season and would last don his O’s uniform in 1977 at the age of 40 in what was his 2,896th career game.
Now, you have to be a pretty decent player to hold on for that long in what can be a cutthroat business. But while Robinson’s bat was nothing to sneeze at, it was his glove that was the stuff of legend. One of the best defensive third basemen in history, Robinson was nicknamed the “Human Vacuum Cleaner” along his was to 16 Golden Gloves. Beyond the defensive honors, he was also a two-time World Series champion, AL MVP, World Series MVP, 18-time All-Star and a member of baseball’s All-Century Team. No wonder the O’s retired Robinson’s No. 5 in 1977, six years before he gained enshrinement into Cooperstown.
3. Stan Musial
Famed broadcaster Bob Costas once said of Stan Musial, “All [he] represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being.” Indeed, you could argue that the main thing that always stood in the way of the St. Louis Cardinals legend achieving more recognition as a transcendent baseball star was his own humility. He preferred to help his team win rather than strive for individual accolades and maintained an unyielding commitment to both his wife of 72 years and to the Cardinals, for whom he played 22 years.
In fact, the only team that ever prompted Musial to shift his allegiance away from the St. Louis organization with whom he won three World Series was the Navy, where he served during World War II. Even as he interrupted his career to serve his country, Musial still managed three MVP awards, three World Series rings, a whopping 24 All-Star appearances and enough hits (3,630) to still rank third all-time in the category. Even a modern superstar like Albert Pujols will show reverence for the hallowed reputation of Musial in St. Louis, eschewing the nickname “El Hombre” so as to not step on the toes of the Hall of Famer known as “The Man.”
2. Cal Ripken Jr.
When you get right down to it, Cal Ripken Jr. was just an employee who kept showing up for work. He didn’t need to take a day off, not during the stretch of 2,632 straight games that affirmed him as the undisputed “Iron Man” in MLB history. He also was never swayed to seek employment elsewhere, sticking with the Baltimore Orioles for all 21 years of his baseball career, as was practically his birthright. After all, a young Cal had tailed his father around the Baltimore clubhouse for years while Sr. was a coach and a manager.
Ripken Sr. simply wasn’t the player that his son was. While the elder Ripken toiled in the minors in the Orioles’ system, Jr. won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1981, the same year he began his famed streak. Over that streak and in the three seasons that followed, Ripken led Baltimore to a World Series title and won two MVP awards, all the while collecting 3,184 hits and being named to 19 All-Star teams. When Ripken Jr. finally called it a career at the end of the 2001 season, he put an end to 44 straight years of Ripken family involvement in the O’s franchise.
1. Derek Jeter
The storied history of the New York Yankees is becoming something of a practical problem for current players, not so much from a pressure and expectations standpoint (although that too), but even simply in terms of finding a jersey number. The only single digit jersey number that hasn’t already been retired by the club is No. 2. And good luck to the next young Yankee prospect looking to claim that one!
It’s only a matter of time before the final single digit number makes its way into Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park along with the name of its wearer, Derek Jeter. The popular Yankee captain retired at the end of the 2015 season as one of the most iconic stars to ever suit up for an organization full of them. There were the five World Series rings, 3,465 career hits and a playing resume that has him all but earmarked for Cooperstown on the first ballot. But then there’s also his legacy as a clutch leader and handsome, charming socialite that fit perfectly under the bright lights of the Big Apple.