The old Tiger Stadium had an especially large corner in its locker room reserved for the team’s player with
the longest tenure. For 15 years that spot belonged to Al Kaline, who was admitted into the Hall of Fame on his first try.
When Kaline retired, it was passed onto eleven time all-star Bill Freehan, then to four time Gold Glove winner and World Series
hero Mickey Stanley. Next, John Hiller held the honor for a few years. Hiller was most famous for suffering a heart attack
in January of 1971, and then recovering to break the Saves record in 1973. Oddly, this succession of stars was followed by
a back-up catcher and part time DH with a funny batting stance: John Wockenfuss. The length of time players stay with one
team has always fascinated me, but it is rarely discussed. Although it
doesn’t predict anything or indicate how good a player is, it is a measure of stability and how well a team and
a player are matched.
As I recall, Bill James came up with the term “Incumbency Kings”. Strangely, I can’t trace it back
to any of his Abstracts. Even stranger, Bill James himself doesn’t even remember
writing about it. He sent me an e-mail saying so, admitting
it sounds like something he would do. The concept of Incumbency Kings takes team seniority and adds one more step.
Players with the longest single team tenure as the primary player at their position are Incumbency Kings. This winter, two record long Incumbency Kingships – those of John Smoltz
and Trevor Hoffman – came to an end.
A player could be injured or serve in the military, but as long as he returns to the same team as the primary player
at his previous position, he is deemed to have been the incumbent all along. An incumbency is lost if a player goes back to
the minors (except for a rehab assignment), traded, or becomes the primary player at another position. I credited Smoltz as the all-time Incumbency King “pitcher”. His four years as a reliever cut short his incumbency
as a “starting pitcher”. The top four starting pitcher incumbencies
are shown, because teams used four man rotations throughout the bulk of Major League history. More than three outfielders
are shown, so that you can see the top incumbencies at either any outfield position
or at each of the three outfield positions.
All Time Incumbency Kings
Walter Johnson Senators
8.02.1907 – 1927
Ted Lyons White Sox 1924 –
Warren Spahn Braves
Bob Feller Cleveland 8.23.1936 – 7.04.1955
RP/Clsr. Trevor Hoffman
San Diego 6.24.1993/1994
Gabby Harnett Chicago (NL)
1924 - 1939
Pee Wee Reese Dodgers
mid 1940 - 1957
Bid McPhee Cincinnati 1882 - 1899
Brooks Robinson Baltimore
Anson Chicago (NL) 1879
OF1/LF Ted Williams Red Sox 1939/1940 - 1960
Willie Mays Giants
OF3(tie) Al Kaline
OF3(tie) Ty Cobb
1906 - 1925
Roberto Clemente Pittsburgh 1955 - 1972
DH (tie) Hal McRae
Royals 1976 - 1985
DH (tie) Edgar Martinez
Mariners 1995 - 2004
The degree by which the Braves’ John Smoltz broke Walter Johnson’s pitcher incumbency record with the
1907-1927 Washington Senators is so small that it is contestable. Both Smoltz and Walter Johnson pitched 12 starts their rookie
seasons and both ended their time with those teams 21 seasons later. The difference is that Smoltz’s first start was
on July 23, 1988, while Johnson’s first start was on August 2, 1907. It doesn’t matter that Smoltz’ last appearance with the Braves was on June 2, 2008, while Johnson’s
last start was on September 22, 1927. Despite shoulder surgery, Smoltz was still property of the Braves all year and is expected
to return to the Majors as a pitcher. Due to his accumulated injuries and a two year stint as a reliever, Smoltz ended
up with 3,395 innings for the Braves, while Johnson tallied 5,915 innings for the Senators.
Trevor Hoffman is the all-time Incumbency King of relievers as well as closers. Mariano Rivera may be closing in on
both of Hoffman’s incumbency records, but he’ll have to continue for a few more years. On June 24, 1993, Hoffman
was traded by the Marlins to the Padres along with two pitching prospects of ultimately no consequence (Andres Berumen
and Jose Martinez) for Gary Sheffield and Rich Rodriguez. The next year Hoffman
was the Padres’ closer. Rivera’s career with the Yankees began on May 23, 1995 and started one more game than
he relieved that rookie season (10 to 9). He had to wait another year for John Wetteland to retire, before taking over as
the Yankees’ closer in 1997. If you count Rivera’s rookie season as a reliever, then he will have passed Roy Face
as the no. 2 all-time incumbent relief pitcher by the time you read this. Although, Face was pitching
for the Pirates in 1953, he was back in the minors in 1954. He returned to the Pirates in 1955 and mostly relieved for them
until was traded at the end of August in 1968.
Below are the current Incumbency Kings. Pitchers whose incumbencies were not purely as
a starter or as a reliever are indicated by a “P” instead of “SP” or “RP”. The in-season starting dates for a starter begin when his starts come on a regular rotation
basis. For a reliever, it is based on his first appearance after his last call-up. If an incumbency begins due to a trade,
the trade date becomes the starting date.
Current Incumbency Kings
Pos. Incumbency King Team
Beginning of Icumbency….…….
Wakefield Boston 5.27.1995 (SP: 7.31.02
Mark Buehrle Chicago
Oswalt Houston 6.02.2001
SP3 Roy Halladay Toronto
7.07.2001 (+ m.98–m.00
Jake Westbrook Cleveland 7.01.2001 (SP: 7.12.03
Zambrano Chicago Cubs 4.11.2002
SP4tie Jake Peavy San Diego 6.22.2002
SP4tie John Lackey L.A. Angels‘A
P/RP/Cl’s Mariano Rivera N. Y. Yankees
Jorge Posada N. Y. Yankees 1998
SS Derek Jeter N. Y. Yankees 1996
Mark Ellis Oakland 6.07.2002
Aramis Ramirez Chicago
1B Todd Helton Colorado 8.02.1997
David Ortiz Boston
OF1 Ichiro Suzuki Seattle 2001
Vernon Wells Toronto
Carl Crawford Tampa Bay
Brian Giles San
Chipper Jones has been with his team longer than any active player. However,
he doesn’t make the list of Incumbency Kings, because he was shifted to the outfield in 2002 and 2003. The Team Seniority
list will come with a future article. It will include each team’s most senior player.
By merely four days Mariano Rivera beats out Tim Wakefield as our current
Pitcher Incumbency King. Wakefield’s claim as an Incumbency
King is “longest single team tenure as mostly a starter”.
Mark Buehrle’s rookie season was 2000. In 2001, he began his incumbency
as a starting pitcher. He is now MLB’s leading incumbent starting pitcher.
Similar to the Smoltz vs. Johnson contention, if Jake Westbrook never comes back, then his incumbency as a pitcher
for the Indians conceivably ended early last year. That would make Carlos Zambrano’s incumbency the 5th longest
of pitchers who have been primarily starters.
John Lackey had one more MLB start than Jake Peavy in 2002, but his first
start came two days later. That’s a tie. Zambrano
misses by less than two weeks of having one of the top 5 longest incumbent starting pitching gigs.
Perhaps, utility player should be counted as a position to have their own Incumbency King. Willie Bloomquist had a
kingly Mariners tenure as a utility player from 2003 to 2008. No one is currently comparable, unless you count the Brewers’
ever regular playing Bill Hall as a super utility guy.
Say “adios, amigo” to the others who lost their Incumbency Kingships in the past year: Ben Sheets, C.C.
Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, and Pat Burrell. When he was traded, Manny’s time in Boston
had just passed his length of service to Cleveland. This year,
Brian Giles’ time in San Diego is set to pass his length of service to Pittsburgh.
Finally, say “fare well - please” to Brad Ausmus, whom the Astros allowed to be their no. 1 catcher for
eight straight years starting in 2001 - after having been their starting catcher for a previous two seasons (’97-’98)
broken up by a second stint as Detroit’s no. 1 catcher. Chris Biggio – Ausmus’s Astro team-mate until Biggio
retired just over a year ago - played longer for one team than any other second-baseman or catcher in modern times. That is
another Team Seniority tease for the upcoming article.