King Kaufman's Sports Daily

For Jason Giambi, sorry means never having to say you're sorry. Plus: Did baseball superstars really used to stick with one team?


Salon Staff
February 11, 2005 8:05PM (UTC)

Just want to say I'm sorry.

As you all know, there's been, you know, stuff that's gone on, and I'm sorry for it. I regret that it had to happen. I take full responsibility.

Sorry to all the fans and my readers and my family and everybody else. You know who you are.

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Ongoing legal matters, and some illegal ones, prevent me from telling you exactly what it is I'm sorry for.

Naturally, I wish I could come a little more clean, or, well, poor choice of words there but I think you know what I mean. I wish I could really be honest and call a syringe a syringe, but that would involve putting myself at risk of having to actually take responsibility for the things I'm sitting here telling you I'm taking responsibility for, which are things I can't mention.

Gosh, this is like a weight off my shoulders, a monkey off my back.

I feel I let down the fans, I feel I let down the media, I feel I let down the Yankees, and not only the Yankees, but the Red Sox and the Cardinals and the Astros and UConn and Georgia Tech and the Lakers and Pistons and Patriots and Eagles and some of those hockey teams too.

And maybe even Lance Armstrong.

Maybe not Lance Armstrong.

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But I hope everyone understands I'm not running away from my problems. That's what makes a man a man, to stand up to your troubles, face them, the way I'm standing up to, well, you know, that thing. Yessir, I'm standing tall and looking it right in the face and saying -- well, I'd rather not say what I'm saying.

I feel better already. Thanks. And sorry.

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Reggie the Oriole: Did big stars really used to stay put? [PERMALINK]

Last week, when I was waxing nostalgic, I wrote about seeing Reggie Jackson in a Baltimore Orioles uniform on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1976. "It's hard to convey now how strange that was," I wrote, "to see a superstar in his prime change teams like that. It happened from time to time, but it was rare."

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Reader Bill Cross argues that in baseball, "It is a myth that before free agency the best players spent most of their careers with the same team."

Cross writes that he's updating a study done in 1997 that found that the only group of players that showed any real difference in whether they changed teams or not were those who were "on the cusp of being Hall of Fame Caliber." Those borderliners changed teams during their careers a little over half the time before the advent of free agency and "essentially 100 percent of the time" since.

"The all-time greats, the greats, the goods and the long-time veterans showed no real difference between before and after free agency," Cross writes.

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I agree. And also I disagree.

What I mean is Cross is right that when fans complain about players changing teams so much these days and say old times were better because players stuck with their clubs longer, they're recalling a past that never existed. Players always jumped around from team to team, the difference being that only the teams could decide who went where.

Another reader, Bob Rothman, sent me the career stats of pitcher Bobo Newsom, who pitched for the Dodgers, Cubs, Browns, Senators, Red Sox, Browns again, Tigers, Senators again, Dodgers again, Browns again, Senators again, A's, Senators again, Yankees, Giants, Senators again and A's. Again.

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Newsom, whose career stretched from 1929 to 1953, was the most traded player in history, not least because he never had an unexpressed thought about a manager, but you can bounce around the Baseball Encyclopedia for a good long while without finding a player who had a substantial career with only one team.

But I also disagree with Cross because we're not quite talking about the same thing. Yes, it's a myth that great players didn't change teams before free agency, but what I wrote about was great players changing teams in their prime. That really was rare. Willie Mays and Henry Aaron were traded during their careers, but not in their primes.

I was writing about the era I grew up in, and without getting too deeply into my historiographical theories, let me just say I believe eras are pretty long. What are commonly referred to as eras -- the "steroid era," for example -- are almost always, in my opinion, developments within an era. I think modern baseball can be divided into four eras: Dead ball; live ball, or Ruthian, if you like; post-World War II, or post-integration, if you like; and the current era of free agency.

I grew up in the postwar era, which ended in the year I saw that Reggie Jackson cover, 1976. During it, great players changing teams in their prime were rare. I'll show you.

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Baseball-Reference.com lists two player measurements invented by Bill James. Hall of Fame Monitor "attempts to assess how likely (not how deserving) an active player is to make the Hall of Fame," the site says, and Hall of Fame Standards measures "the overall quality of a player's career as opposed to singular brilliance (peak value)." Neither is a definitive way of measuring a player's career, but they both give a rough list of the greatest players of all time.

Reggie Jackson, our 1976 cover boy, is 52nd all time in Hall of Fame Monitor, 58th in Standards. So I looked at the top 60 players and the top 60 pitchers on each list and found the ones whose prime landed in the postwar era.

I counted men whose careers started in that era and reached into free agency if they'd been around a while, like Pete Rose or Rod Carew, but not if they were still quite young when free agency dawned, like George Brett or Dave Winfield. I counted Joe DiMaggio as a postwar prime guy, even though he also was solidly in his prime before the war.

I ended up with 19 players and 23 pitchers.

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Two of the players had changed teams in their prime: Frank Robinson, famously given up on at 30 by the Reds, and Joe Morgan. And I think Morgan, though he was 28, did not yet look like the Hall of Famer he'd become. He'd been a two-time All-Star in six full seasons with the Astros, but he really became "Joe Morgan" after the trade to the Reds. I guess Cincinnati batted .500 at trading all-time greats during their prime in the postwar era.

Of the 23 pitchers, eight changed teams in their prime: Early Wynn, Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Tommy John, Fergie Jenkins, Bert Blyleven and Catfish Hunter. It seems to me that Wynn, Perry and John really didn't seem like superstars at the time of their trades. They were all good, but their reputations grew after they were dealt.

Then there was Hunter, who was a special-case free agent in 1975, before general free agency began. That leaves Bunning, Carlton, Jenkins and Blyleven.

I should mention that Nolan Ryan is one of the 23 pitchers in this category, and he was traded from the Mets to the Angels when he was 25, but he hadn't done much yet so I'm not counting him as having changed teams in his prime before the free-agent era.

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So, even counting those four guys who may not have seemed like superstars at the time of their trades, that's only 10 of 42 changing teams in their prime, 24 percent. The list of guys who didn't change teams reads like a roll call of All-Star regulars. Here it is:

Players: Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Pete Rose, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Mike Schmidt, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Yogi Berra, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Bench, Al Kaline, Eddie Matthews, Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks.

Pitchers: Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, Don Sutton, Juan Marichal, Phil Niekro, Hal Newhouser, Robin Roberts, Don Drysdale, Jim Kaat.

I think you can see why my impression at the time was that superstars just didn't change teams that often, and why I still think that impression was correct. And I'd like to thank all six of you who find this stuff as interesting as I do for reading this far.

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This column has been corrected since it was originally published.

Previous column: The NHL means it this time

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