Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Five years is a long time

The arrival of 2011 cards means that five years have passed since I returned to modern card collecting. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was in Wal-Mart on a weekly basis feverishly buying rack packs of 2006 Topps so I could complete my first modern set since the '80s.

But actually, it was quite awhile ago. When you reach my age, it's easy to dismiss five years time as nothing. It goes by so quickly that it seems laughable to describe it as "long ago." School-age kids will do this all the time. At 12 years old, they'll tell you how they did such-and-such when "they were little," and you sit there and think "you're little now." But you don't dare say it.

Kids are an excellent reminder of how much can change in five years. There's a hell of a lot of a difference between a freshman in college and a junior high student.

Another excellent reminder is baseball cards. There has been a lot of upheaval in half a decade. But I'm not talking about the business side of cards. (I leave that for the folks who don't find business topics coma-inducing). I'm talking about the players pictured on the cards.

If you look at the 2006 Topps set, it's staggering how much change has gone on in just five years. Players retired. Managers fired. Stars changing teams once, twice, three times. But instead of looking at all of the cards in the set, I thought I'd examine each of those so-called combo cards that popped up at the end of the '06 set.

Let's see what the Combo Class of 2006 is up to five years later:

The Bronx Zoo: Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi.

Damon is now with his second team since his Yankee days. He signed with the Rays after a year with the Tigers. Giambi is also on his second team since leaving the Yankees. The Sweaty One is starting his third year with the Rockies.

Twin Fundamentals: Lew Ford and Rondell White

Neither are playing in the majors anymore. Both ended their careers with the Twins in 2007.

Brothers Orlando: Orlando Hernandez and Orlando Hudson (what a stupid title)

The two of them have played for a combined nine teams, not including minor league affiliates. El Duque's last major league season was in 2007, although he recently tried to get back to the majors with the Nationals last year. O-Dog is on his FOURTH team in four years, leaving Arizona after the 2008 season.

Big Reds: Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr.

Dunn has traveled as much as Hudson. Since he appeared on this card, he's played for Cincinnati, Arizona, Washington and is now with the White Sox. Griffey, meanwhile, returned to Seattle, retired, and is now doing something nebulous for the Mariners. I believe his title is Showing His Face in Public and Smiling.

Philly Phanatics: Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal.

Burrell left Philadelphia for Tampa Bay, tanked, then ended up in San Francisco and somehow won a World Series title. Scientists are still trying to figure out how that happened. Lieberthal played one more year for the Phillies, then went to the Dodgers and retired, no doubt demoralized by playing in only 38 games in 2007.

Mets Middle Men: Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui.

Hey! Someone who is still with the same team! Reyes is still a Met, annoying Phillies, Braves and Yankees fans around the world. Matsui signed with the Astros after the 2007 season. Last year he played in the minors for the Rockies and has signed to play in Japan this year.

Lone Star Sluggers: Hank Blalock and Michael Young.

Blalock's contributions to the Rangers slowly declined and he ended up with Tampa Bay until the Rays released him in midseason last year. Young is still with the Rangers and trying really hard not to be cranky about it. Now that Carmelo Anthony has been traded, we are probably going to get daily reports on which team will be acquiring Young.

Brew Crew: Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder

Two players still with the same team. On one card. Speechless.

Power Rays: Travis Lee and Rocco Baldelli.

Lee hasn't played since Tampa Bay released him in 2006. Baldelli recently retired. And the Devil Rays don't even exist anymore.

Cub Corners: Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee.

Ramirez is still with the Cubs but seemed to play in a stupor last year. Lee was shipped to the Braves and is now giving the Orioles a try.

Cleveland Rocks: Grady Sizemore and Aaron Boone.

Sizemore is coming off an injury-plagued 2010 but still with the Indians. Boone, however, has played for the Marlins, the Nationals, the Astros, had open heart surgery, retired, and is working for ESPN.

D'Back Thunder: Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and Koyie Hill.

Three players with Dodger connections. Gonzalez wound up with the Dodgers in 2007 and whined about L.A.'s youngsters. His last year was 2008. Green went to the Mets and has been retired for three years. Hill has played for the Cubs the last four years.

Up the Middle: Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen

Rodriguez is still hanging on with the Nationals. Guillen remains a Tiger. He's not a shortstop anymore, though.

Bronx Bombers: Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield

First of all, there's just no reason for this card to exist.

Now that I've gotten that out of my system ...

A-Rod will be annoying legions of non-Yankees fans on MSG again this year. Sheffield, meanwhile, is out of baseball and presumably in one of his many mansions writing angry letters to every contractor, interior decorator, landscaper and automobile salesman who has slighted him.

Angel Arms: Ervin Santana and Francisco Rodriguez.

Santana is still quietly effective for the Angels. Rodriguez? Yeah. The exact opposite of that.

So here is the total damage:

Total players: 31
Total players who have changed teams: 19
Total players who have changed teams more than once: 12
Total players who have retired or aren't in the majors: 11
Total players who have remained with the same team: 9

This really isn't a surprise. With free agency, expansion and team cost-cutting, players have become more and more transient in nature. It's actually a relief to see nine players who have stayed put.

But as someone who remembers watching one-team lifers like Carl Yastrzemski, George Brett and Dave Concepcion when wearing the same uniform for a career wasn't all that rare, and as someone who has been working for the same company for 20 years and living in the same house for 13, it's a little disconcerting.

That's because a lot has happened in five years. But my brain tells me 2006 was just last month.

One of those two things must be wrong. And my brain is really sick of being wrong.


  1. Excellent post, eye opening and informative.

  2. Awesome post!

    Also...Sheff for the HOF. lol.

  3. That looks like Cuddyer, not Ford. And I count nine that are on the same team now as they were then.

  4. The card says Ford. You expect me to know what Minnesota Twins look like?

    You're right on the total. I must've already had Michael Young in a different uniform. It's updated.

  5. Cool update post.

    You know though, the player who stays with the same team for his entire career is rare and has always been rare. They tend to be more memorable players, so they stick in our heads more, but in reality, tons of stars switched teams in baseball history.

    In fact, if one were to be bored and look at all the HOF'ers (who would seem to be the most logical players to stay with the same team), I'm sure they'd be relatively rare.

  6. I was going to complaing about all the movement, but then I realized:

    In the last five years, I've:
    * Moved to a new state
    * Moved back to my home state
    * Moved to the city of my alma mater
    * Moved to another apt. in the same city
    * Moved back home
    * Got a job teaching
    * Got a second job teaching
    * Quit the first job
    * Got an offer to go back to the first job, but didn't take it
    * Bought a new car
    * Got another offer to go back to the first job, still didn't take it
    * Traded the new car for new 4 Wheel drive vehicle
    * Moved again

    At least I didn't have open heart surgery.

  7. The 66 players who have played for one team for at least 15 years:

    Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, George Brett, Dave Concepcion, Carl Yastrzemski, Bill Russell, Bob Feller, Derek Jeter, Frank White, Jim Palmer, Ernie Banks, Craig Biggio, Robin Yount, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Barry Larkin, Ted Williams, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Mickey Mantle, Edgar Martinez, Charlie Gehringer, Al Kaline, Ted Lyons, Mike Schmidt, Ed Kranepool, Bernie Williams, Johnny Bench, Bob Lemon, Mariano Rivera, Bill Mazeroski, Jim Rice, Willie Stargell, Carl Hubbell, Bill Dickey, Luke Appling, Pie Traynor, Cap Anson, Pee Wee Reese, Travis Jackson, Bob Gibson, Red Faber, Whitey Ford, Jorge Posada, Ossie Bluege, Chipper Jones, Bill Freehan, Jeff Bagwell, Roy White, Lou Gehrig, Bid McPhee, Paul Splittorff, Vern Law, Stan Hack, Tommy Bridges, Mickey Stanley, John Hiller, Mel Harder, Clyde Milan, Tony Oliva, Jim Gantner, Carl Furillo, Hooks Dauss, Frank Crosetti.

    Four of those players are still playing.

    My point in that sentence was not that it isn't rare -- it is. My point was that it wasn't as rare when I was younger as it is now. That's strictly a perception on my part. I guess this list will help anyone determine whether that is true or not.

  8. A better comparison might be how many players play for at least 15 teams, and of those, what percent stay with one team?

    Most players may switch teams, but most players don't last 15 years, so their switching of teams isn't really relevant to the larger issue (that of the "star" or "better" players who typically stay in the big leagues for a longer time period).

  9. Brilliance and the reason so many of us follow you.

  10. Greg,
    I only see three active players on your list (Jeter, Posada and Chipper). Is Todd Helton the fourth since 2011 will be his 15th season with the Rockies?

    Also, I'd note that Dave Concepcion wouldn't have made the list if he'd made the Angels out of Spring Traing in 1989 as a non-roster invitee (as a result of the Reds releasing him after the 1988 season).


  11. It would be intereseting to do this with some dual player cards form the 60s or 70s and see where those folks were 5 yrs later (hint) I would take this on but I am far too lazy and my PC is down.

  12. That was a great post. I was just looking through my 2008 Topps set last night and thinking many similar thoughts.