This week I’m loosening the requirements for incumbency taking out the part about being the regular at a specific
position. Let’s call it seniority or tenure instead of incumbency. It still requires being with the same team without
being sent back to the minors for improvement. Last week I identified John Smoltz as having the longest Incumbency of any
pitcher – not as a starter or reliever, but just as a pitcher. I compared his Incumbency to Walter Johnson’s and
showed the incumbency crown was a little contentious depending on definition. Yet, another pitcher had an even longer one-club
tenure as a pitcher with the liberalization of the definition that a pitcher needn’t win his job back – just return
to the team. After being out of baseball for the last three years of WWII, Ted Lyons, the Sunday pitcher, returned to the
White Sox in 1946 for 5 more starts. That is not enough for my definition of incumbency, but he earns the longest tenure crown
of any pitcher.
Smoltz pitched for the Atlanta Braves for over 20 seasons. At the start of the season there were only a dozen pitchers
I could find who lasted with their teams at least fifteen years. And to include several of these pitchers, I had to count
their years missed during the war.
Pitchers with at least 15 years of continuous tenure with one team
starting date – ending date
P Ted Lyons White Sox late
1923 – early
P John Smoltz Braves
7/23/1988 – 2008
P Walter Johnson Senators 8/2/1907
– mid 1927
P Bob Feller
Cleveland late 1936 – 1956
P Red Faber White Sox
1914 – 1933
P Jim Palmer
1965 – 5/17/1984
P Warren Spahn
P Mel Harder Cleveland late 1929 – 1947
P Phil Niekro Braves
8/8/1966 - 1983
P Whitey Ford Yankees mid
1950 – mid 1967
P Red Ruffing Yankees
5/6/1930 - 1946
P Tommy Bridges Detroit
late 1930 - 1946
Neither Mel Harder, Red Ruffing, Tommy Bridges, nor Ted Lyons had much left after World War II, although Lyons would have made the list whether I counted those years or not.
Bob Feller’s arm my have had some extended life due the rest he received during WWII. At that point he was only 22 and
had already pitched 1448 Innings, including 1238 in his age 19-22 seasons.
No relief pitcher made this list. Trevor Hoffman came very close, though, with 14½ years on the Padres. Mariano Rivera
just passed John Hiller and Roy Face into the all-time second place among relief pitcher tenures and will no doubt pass Hoffman
by the end of the year. He will have to wait until next May to reach the 15 year mark.
RP Trevor Hoffman San Diego 6.24.1993 –
RP Mariano Rivera Yankees 5.23.1995 –
RP Roy Face Pittsburgh 1955 – 8.30.1968
RP John Hiller Detroit 7.1.1967 –
Besides Rivera, precisely one year away from cracking the 15 year list is Tim Wakefield. With Smoltz now a Red Sox,
his new team-mate and possible rotation rival becomes the current leading tenured pitcher. Wakefield has fluttered his knuckler at Fenway since May 27, 1995 – a remarkably late
start for such a long tenure. It was only about two months before his 29th birthday.
The long time old team-mate of Smoltz: Chipper Jones edges out Wakefield
as the leading tenured player at any position. Depending on your definition, his tenure for Atlanta began either at the very start of 1995 or in September of 1993. He was a call-up
then, but missed all of 1994 with an injury. He never returned to the minors, though, so I think we should back go to his
September ’93 call-up for tenure-ship, but start with April ’95 for his incumbency.
There are 9 players with active tenures of ten years or more seasons. Jason Varitek is another Red Sox in that category.
Their rivals down the coast New York Yankees have three 10 year players: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Rivera. Of course,
everyone would expect the Yankees to lead the league in players with long tenures as they have been able to afford to keep
their own stars. The other ten year men around the leagues are Todd Helton, Eric Chavez, and Paul Konerko.
If we look at players with 5 years of seniority, the Red Sox have only David Ortiz to add giving them three such players.
If Mike Mussina hadn’t retired, the Yankees would have had 6 players with over 5 years of tenure including Hideki Matsui
and Alex Rodriguez. Currently the Tigers are tied with the Yankees by having five 5 year men: Jeremy Bonderman, Brandon Inge,
Fernando Rodney, Nate Robertson, and Carlos Guillen. Each of those Tigers started their tenure in 2003, except Guillen who
was signed on January 8, 2004. To be fair to Inge, he was more up than down during ’01-’03 seasons until his final
call up in August of 2003.
Listed below are the most senior players on each team followed by the rest of the players with more than five years
of tenure on that team. Rehab assignments are overlooked as tenure breakers. The team leaders are listed first with the other
five plus year players indented.
Tenured Leaders By Team
(including others with more than 5 years seniority):
Pos. Player Team start of tenure
Jones Atlanta 9/11/93
Wakefield Boston 5/27/95
C Jason Varitek Boston 9/24/97
DH David Ortiz Boston 2003
RP Mariano Rivera N. Y. Yankees 5/23/95
SS Derek Jeter N. Y. Yankees 1996
Posada N. Y. Yankees
Matsui N. Y. Yankees 2003
Rodriguez N. Y. Yankees 2004
1B Todd Helton
3B Eric Chavez Oakland
Ellis Oakland 6/07/02
Crosby Oakland 9/02/03
1B Paul Konerko
P Mark Buehrle
Chicago W.S. 2000
OF-1B Lance Berkman Houston 4/30/00
P Roy Oswalt Houston 5/06/01
OF-SS-3B Melvin Mora Baltimore 7/28/00
2B Brian Roberts Baltimore 5/21/03
OF Ichiro Suzuki Seattle 2001
1B Albert Pujols St. Louis
C Yadier Molina St. Louis 6/03/04
SS Jimmy Rollins Philadelphia 2001
RP Ryan Madson Philadelphia 4/10/04
2B Chase Utley Philadelphia 5/08/04
2B-SS-3B Mike Young
P Jake Westbrook Cleveland 5/30/01
C Victor Martinez Cleveland
DH Travis Hafner Cleveland 7/12/03
P Cliff Lee Cleveland 8/16/03
SS Jack Wilson Pittsburgh 6/12/01
SP Roy Halladay Toronto 7/02/01
CF Vernon Wells Toronto 8/26/01
OF Alex Rios Toronto 5/27/04
LF Carl Crawford Tampa
Zambrano Chicago Cubs 4/11/02
3B Aramis Ramirez Chicago Cubs 7/23/03
SP Jake Peavy San Diego 6/22/02
RF Brian Giles San Diego
SP Jeremy Bonderman Detroit 2003
Rodney Detroit 6/23/03
C-3B-OF Brandon Inge Detroit 8/07/03
Robertson Detroit 8/18/03
SS-1B-3B Carlos Guillen
SP Brandon Webb Arizona
SS Jose Reyes N. Y. Mets 6/10/03
IF-OF Bill Hall Milwaukee
SP Aaron Harang Cincinnati
2B-3B-OF Michael Cuddyer
RP Joe Nathan Minnesota 2004
C John Buck Kansas City
Frank Francisco arguably could have been listed as he was called up after 15 relief appearances
in 2004, missed most of 2005, and spent 17 Minor League G of ‘06 gearing back up towards Texas. That is longer than
a normal rehab assignment.
David Wright will be past 5 years as the Mets’ thirdbaseman near mid-season.
Ryan Howard will pass 5 years of tenure by September.
Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer will also be 5+ men by year’s end.
Only if Pierzynski and Dye return to the White Sox next year, will they past the 5 year
Scott Downs will be a fiver, if he returns to Toronto
next year. How many relievers are on this list? Four: Rivera, Rodney, Nathan, and Madson. That is less than 8% of the players
on this list, while relievers make up over 28% of the players in Major League Baseball. Clearly, relievers do not last as
long as other players. That’s what makes Hoffman and Rivera’s length of service and consistency even more remarkable.
Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, and Cliff Lee each had their final call-up a month apart
from each other in the middle of 2003. Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore had their final call-ups a year later.
Zach Greinke was a star in the Royals rotation shortly before John Buck was called up.
However, he spent most of 2006 in the minors getting his mental game together.
Other Team Leaders in Seniority
Pos. Player Team start of tenure
RF Randy Winn San Francisco
SP Matt Cain
San Francisco 8/29/05
RF Jeremy Hermida Florida 8/31/05
3B Ryan Zimmerman
C Russel Martin
RP Jonathan Broxton L.A. Dodgers 7/29/06
Robbie Thompson was the Giants’ outstanding second-baseman from 1986 through
1993. Jeff Kent starred there from 1995 through 2002. Ray Durham seemed ageless there (’03 – ’08). Now,
let’s see how long the Emmanuel Burriss tenure lasts.
No former Expos remain on the Nationals’ roster.
All three 5 year tenures from the ‘08 Dodger ended this winter: Jeff Kent, Brad Penny, and Derek Lowe.
Chad Billingsley’s tenure is only about two months behind Martin’s and Broxton’s.
Coming soon: the longest tenured players of all-time.