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Top Tenured Players & All-time Tenured Pitchers
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including every team's most senior player

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

 

Pos.      Player                           Team                 starting date – ending date

P     Ted Lyons        White Sox    late 1923 –      early 1946

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       Baltimore         1965 –      5/17/1984

P     Warren Spahn     Braves            1946 -      1964

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 14 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 –      2008

RP    Mariano Rivera   Yankees      5.23.1995 –

RP    Roy Face         Pittsburgh        1955 – 8.30.1968

RP    John Hiller      Detroit       7.1.1967 –      1980

 

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

  3B-OF    Chipper Jones    Atlanta        9/11/93

    P      Tim 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

    C         Jorge Posada     N. Y. Yankees  9/25/96

   OF-DH      Hideki Matsui    N. Y. Yankees     2003

    3B        Alex Rodriguez   N. Y. Yankees     2004

    1B     Todd Helton      Colorado       8/02/97

    3B     Eric Chavez      Oakland        9/08/98

    2B        Mark Ellis       Oakland        6/07/02

   SS-IF      Bobby Crosby     Oakland        9/02/03

    1B     Paul Konerko     Chicago W.S.      1999

    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         2001

    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       Texas          5/25/01

    P      Jake Westbrook   Cleveland      5/30/01

    C         Victor Martinez  Cleveland      6/28/03

    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 Bay         2002

    SP     Carlos 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      8/26/03

    SP     Jeremy Bonderman Detroit           2003

    RP        Fernando Rodney  Detroit        6/23/03

  C-3B-OF     Brandon Inge     Detroit        8/07/03

    P         Nate Robertson   Detroit        8/18/03

 SS-1B-3B     Carlos Guillen   Detroit           2004

    SP     Brandon Webb     Arizona        4/22/03

    SS     Jose Reyes       N. Y. Mets     6/10/03

   IF-OF   Bill Hall        Milwaukee      7/21/03

    SP     Aaron Harang     Cincinnati     8/09/03

 2B-3B-OF  Michael Cuddyer  Minnesota      9/01/03

    RP        Joe Nathan       Minnesota         2004

    C      John Buck        Kansas City    6/25/04

 

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 mark.

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  7/30/05

    SP     Matt Cain        San Francisco  8/29/05

    RF     Jeremy Hermida   Florida        8/31/05

    3B     Ryan Zimmerman   Washington     9/01/05

    C      Russel Martin    L.A. Dodgers   5/05/06

    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.

 

John Carter