One of the most common complaints I hear about professional sports, even still today in this age of advanced analytics and maximum efficiency in roster construction, is that players change teams too often. "You start to like a guy, and then he switches teams on you." As someone who once bought a Cardinals Shelby Miller jersey, I understand this emotionally, even if these discussions fail to bring, say, player autonomy and personal freedom into the equation. Emotion is one of the driving forces behind the sense that players don't stay in one place much -- but the other is nostalgia.
Players used to stay with one team for most of their career, and they don't anymore. Now, the reason players don't stay with one team is because we no longer think of players as simply the property of teams, and now players can test their market value. This is positive forward movement. But it's also undeniable that there has been a dramatic change from 50 years ago. Here are the 20 players who played the most games in their career with one team.
1. Carl Yastrzemski, Boston, 3,308
2. Stan Musial, St. Louis, 3,026
3. Cal Ripken, Baltimore, 3,001
4. Brooks Robinson, Baltimore, 2,896
5. Robin Yount, Milwaukee, 2,856
6. Craig Biggio, Houston, 2,850
7. Al Kaline, Detroit, 2,834
8. Derek Jeter, N.Y. Yankees, 2,747
9. Mel Ott, N.Y. Giants, 2,730
10. George Brett, Kansas City, 2,707
11. Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 2,528
12. Chipper Jones, Atlanta, 2,499
13. Dave Concepcion, Cincinnati, 2,488
14. Tony Gwynn, San Diego, 2,440
15. Roberto Clemente, Pittsburgh, 2,433
16. Luke Appling, Chicago White Sox, 2,422
17. Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia, 2,404
18. Mickey Mantle, N.Y. Yankees, 2,401
19. Lou Whitaker, Detroit, 2,390
20. Willie Stargell, Pittsburgh, 2,360
You notice two things immediately on that list:
1. There are a ton of Hall of Famers on that list. Those are some of the best players in baseball history -- and you generally don't let the best players in baseball leave. You'll find statues of a lot of those guys outside their home stadiums.
2. Only five have played in the past 20 years: Ripken, Biggio, Jeter, Chipper and Gwynn. And none are currently active.
Which got me to thinking: Is this list set in stone? Will any active players climb up this list? Thus, with the season now just one month away, to look at the throwback players: Which active players have been with their teams the longest? Let's look at the top players by games with their current team, sorted by Baseball Reference's Play Index.
20. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 827 games, debuted in 2010
This is how few of these players there are: Stanton, who still feels like he just got here, is No. 20 on this list.
19. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros, 829 games, debuted in 2011
Altuve was there for the losing, now he gets to be there for the wins. He's still only 26, by the way.
18. Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners, 846 games, debuted in 2011
You can imagine Seager's little brother someday passing him on this list.
17. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals, 886 games, debuted in 2011
Hosmer will be a free agent after this season, so this could be his last appearance on this list.
16. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants, 889 games, debuted in 2009
Posey has slowed down a tad in recent years, but he has won three World Series titles and might end up with a statue somewhere at AT&T Park.
15. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves, 909 games, debuted in 2010
Freeman survived the Braves' purge and now is one of the major selling points -- along with Dansby Swanson and the elderly pitchers -- at the new ballpark.
14. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians, 962 games, debuted in 2010.
It's sort of a surprise to see Santana on this list: He's only 30, you know.
13. Brett Gardner, New York Yankees, 1,067 games, debuted in 2008
Gardner has ridden out every Yankees transition … but he doesn't seem much a part of this team's long-term plans.
12. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1,190 games, debuted in 2009
Whether McCutchen is going to end up a Pirate forever is perhaps the single most compelling, urgent question surrounding this team right now.
11. Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers, 1,221 games, debuted in 2009
Andrus has been around forever for the Rangers, and with that contract running through 2022, he's not going anywhere.
10. Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals, 1,264, debuted in 2007
The rest of the Royals' veterans might be leaving after this season, but Gordon is signed through 2019.
9. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds, 1,268 games, debuted in 2007
Votto has made it through every Reds permutation, and if they haven't traded him yet, they're not going to.
8. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays, 1,279 games, debuted in 2008
Longoria played in a World Series his rookie year and hasn't been close since. His increased surliness this year bears watching.
7. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, 1,398 games, debuted in 2007
Braun is going to be one of the hottest trade commodities at the Deadline this year.
6. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox, 1,398 games, debuted in 2006
Laser show! Will Pedroia play in Boston for another decade? Why not at this point, right?
5. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals, 1,408 games, debuted in 2005
Giving Zimmerman more days off is a franchise tenet at this point, but he keeps plugging along.
4. Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1,433 games, debuted in 2006
Even with all the outfielders the Dodgers have had over the years, Ethier remains the guy who is always around.
3. David Wright, New York Mets, 1,583 games, debuted in 2004
What has happened to Wright -- who should have been one of New York City's most iconic, lasting stars -- is downright cruel. Here's hoping he can at least get on the field this year.
2. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins, 1,590 games, debuted in 2004
Mauer is not a catcher anymore, which should help him keep playing through the rest of a contract that is now considered an albatross.
1. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals, 1,611 games, debuted in 2004
Pretty wild to see a catcher atop this list, isn't it? As Ken Rosenthal wrote on Monday, the Cardinals have quite a decision to make with Molina. His defense has fallen off a bit, but he had a terrific second half with the bat and is still the most trusted guy in the clubhouse and the most beloved guy in the stands.
And for what it's worth: Molina is still 700-plus games behind Stargell to be in the top 20 all time.
If you're curious by the way, here are the 20 active pitchers who have thrown the most innings for just one team, also from Play Index.
20. Wily Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers, 647 1/3 innings, debuted in 2012
19. Josh Tomlin, Cleveland Indians, 687 1/3 innings, debuted in 2010
18. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians, 702 1/3 innings, debuted in 2009
17. Tom Koehler, Miami Marlins, 711 2/3 innings, debuted in 2012.
16. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays, 766 innings, debuted in 2012.
15. Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals, 791 1/3 innings, debuted in 2011.
14. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves, 821 1/3 innings, debuted in 2011
13. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros, 839 innings, debuted in 2012
12. Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners, 852 2/3 innings, debuted in 2012
11. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians, 887 1/3 innings, debuted in 2011
10. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals, 924 1/3 innings, debuted in 2010
9. Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox, 951 innings, debuted in 2012
8. Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles, 1,025 1/3 innings, debuted in 2009
7. Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds, 1,033 innings, debuted in 2007
6. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants, 1,397 2/3 innings, debuted in 2009.
5. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1,760 innings, debuted in 2008.
4. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals, 1,768 innings, debuted in 2005.
3. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants, 1,961 1/3 innings, debuted in 2005.
2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers, 2,339 innings, debuted in 2005.
1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners, 2,415 2/3 innings, debuted in 2005.
So no: Your memory is not deceiving you. Players are not staying with teams nearly as long as they used to. Enjoy your heroes in town while you can.