Former MLB Stars Who Pulled a Tom Brady and Finished Career with Different Team

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2020

Former MLB Stars Who Pulled a Tom Brady and Finished Career with Different Team

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    When the 2020 NFL season kicks off, football fans will have to adjust to the idea of Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform.

    It will be an odd sight after he spent 20 seasons and won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots while establishing his legacy as one of the greatest players in NFL history.

    It's always jarring to see a superstar who has spent his entire career with one team close out his playing days elsewhere, and plenty of notable examples exist on the MLB side.

    Ahead we've highlighted 15 former baseball stars who spent the vast majority of their career with one club before changing uniforms for the twilight years of their career.

    Get ready for some confusing pictures.

RF Dwight Evans, Baltimore Orioles

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    Dwight Evans spent the first 19 seasons of his career with the Boston Red Sox, playing alongside Jim Rice and Fred Lynn to form one of the greatest outfields in history.

    A three-time All-Star and an eight-time Gold Glove winner, Evans remained productive well into his 30s, posting a 136 OPS+ and 3.0 WAR during his age-37 season in 1989.

    However, his production dipped the following year while he dealt with a back injury, and the Red Sox let him walk in free agency.

    He caught on with the Baltimore Orioles and hit .270/.393/.378 with 16 extra-base hits in 329 plate appearances. The 30-homer power he showed in his prime was gone, but a 16.4 percent walk rate still made him a solid offensive contributor. He was also 10-for-25 as a pinch hitter.

    The O's cut him loose the following spring while he was nursing a calf strain, and he retired.

    His 67.1 career WAR ranks in the top 15 among retired position players who are not in the Hall of Fame.

SP Dave Stieb, Chicago White Sox

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    FRED JEWELL/Associated Press

    Right-hander Dave Stieb was one of the best pitchers of the 1980s, and he still stands as the Toronto Blue Jays' all-time leader in WAR (56.9).

    He also sits atop the franchise rankings in wins (175), strikeouts (1,658), innings pitched (2,873), complete games (103) and shutouts (30).

    A seven-time All-Star who appeared in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting four times, he won the AL ERA title in 1985 (2.48) and twice paced the AL in innings.

    After 14 seasons with the Blue Jays, Stieb joined the Chicago White Sox, hoping to bounce back from a few injury-plagued years.

    Shoulder issues limited him to nine starts in 1991, and back surgery capped him at 96.1 innings in 1992. He made it just four starts with the White Sox in 1993 before the back issues resurfaced and he was forced to retire.

    However, he did briefly return to the majors five years later at age 40, posting a 4.83 ERA in 50.1 innings to close out his career in a Blue Jays uniform.

SS Jimmy Rollins, Los Angeles Dodgers/Chicago White Sox

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    With up-and-coming infielders Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez waiting in the wings, the Philadelphia Phillies traded Jimmy Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December 2014. He was entering the final season of a three-year, $33 million deal.

    Still productive at age 35, Rollins posted a 100 OPS+ with 22 doubles, 17 home runs and 28 steals in a 4.1-WAR season that proved to be his curtain call with the Phillies.

    The Dodgers were looking to replace Hanley Ramirez without blocking fast-rising top prospect Corey Seager, so a one-year rental of Rollins made perfect sense.

    Rollins played 144 games and posted a 79 OPS+ in 563 plate appearances before Seager eventually overtook him during the season's final month.

    He tried to continue playing after that and won a spot on the Chicago White Sox's roster in 2016 as a non-roster invitee to spring training, but he was cut loose in June after hitting .221/.295/.329 in 166 plate appearances to start the year, and that was the end.

    A three-time All-Star and the 2007 NL MVP, Rollins was worth 47.6 WAR during his 15 seasons with the Phillies, and he helped them win a World Series in 2008.

LF Billy Williams, Oakland Athletics

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    A Hall of Famer thanks in large part to the 16 seasons he spent with the Chicago Cubs, slugger Billy Williams finished his career serving as a designated hitter for the Oakland Athletics.

    The Cubs traded him to Oakland following the 1974 season for a package of three players that included second baseman Manny Trillo, who finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting the following season and earned an All-Star nod with the Cubs in 1977.

    Even though he was 37 years old, Williams had plenty left when he joined the Athletics.

    Hitting behind Reggie Jackson in a stacked Oakland lineup, he posted a 116 OPS+, 23 home runs and 81 RBI for a team that won 98 games in 1975.

    That season concluded with the only playoff appearance of his career.

    His numbers dipped across the board the following year, and he called it a career after the 1976 season—but not before racking up 2,711 hits, 426 home runs and 1,475 RBI to go with a 133 OPS+ and 63.7 WAR.

RP Trevor Hoffman, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Trevor Hoffman technically started his MLB career with the Marlins, appearing in 28 games in 1993 before he was traded to the San Diego Padres in June as part of the blockbuster deal that sent slugger Gary Sheffield to Florida.

    By 1994, he was one of the best closers in baseball.

    The changeup specialist went on to rack up 552 saves in 16 seasons with the Padres. He earned six All-Star selections and finished in the top 10 in NL Cy Young voting four times, including as runner-up in the balloting in 1998 and 2006.

    However, the emergence of Heath Bell made Hoffman expendable after the 2008 season, and he hit the free-agent market at age 41, fresh off a 30-save season.

    The Milwaukee Brewers scooped him up on a one-year, $6 million deal, and he rewarded their faith by converting 37 of 41 save chances with a 1.83 ERA and 0.91 WHIP to earn his seventh and final All-Star appearance.

    The Brewers brought him back on another one-year deal, but his ERA spiked to 5.89, and he converted just 10 of 15 save opportunities before he was moved into a middle relief role in favor of John Axford.

    One of the best closers in baseball history with 601 career saves, Hoffman earned Hall of Fame induction in his third year on the ballot in 2018.  

3B Ron Santo, Chicago White Sox

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    One of the most beloved figures in Chicago Cubs history, for both his time manning third base and his time in the radio booth, Ron Santo finished his playing career on the South Side.

    A nine-time All-Star during his 14 seasons with the Cubs, Santo was one of the best third basemen of his era, slugging 337 home runs while posting a terrific .366 on-base percentage and leading the NL in walks four times.

    However, the 1973-74 offseason marked the end of an era.

    After a 77-84 finish in 1973, the Cubs traded several roster staples, including catcher Randy Hundley, second baseman Glenn Beckert, outfielder Jim Hickman and future Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins.

    Promising young third baseman Bill Madlock was part of the return package for Jenkins, and that made Santo expendable amid the youth movement.

    He hit .221/.293/.299 with 12 doubles and five home runs in 418 plate appearances in his lone season with the White Sox, serving mostly as a designated hitter as Bill Melton occupied third base, before he retired.

    Santo was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2012.

SP Phil Niekro, New York Yankees/Cleveland Indians/Toronto Blue Jays

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    The fact that Phil Niekro spent 21 seasons with the Atlanta Braves and still pitched four more seasons after he left speaks to how impressive the knuckleballer's longevity was.

    Niekro debuted when they were still the Milwaukee Braves in 1964, and after three seasons in the bullpen, he joined the rotation in 1967 and promptly led the majors with a 1.87 ERA.

    All told, he won 268 games and posted a 3.20 ERA (119 ERA+) in 4,622.1 innings with the Braves.

    They released him at the end of the 1983 season after he went 11-10 with a 3.97 ERA in 201.2 innings, and he caught on with the New York Yankees for his age-45 season. In his first year in pinstripes, he went 16-8 with a 3.09 ERA and made his fifth and final All-Star appearance.

    He went on to top 200 innings each of the next two seasons, but with diminished results, before finishing his career in 1987. He spent time with the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays during his final campaign before making one last start with the Braves in September to wrap up his Hall of Fame career.

SP Juan Marichal, Boston Red Sox/Los Angeles Dodgers

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    One of the premier pitchers of the 1960s, Juan Marichal went 238-140 with a 2.84 ERA and 244 complete games in his 14 seasons with the San Francisco Giants.

    During a seven-year peak from 1963 to 1969, he posted a 2.34 ERA (146 ERA+) and 1.00 WHIP while averaging 289 innings per season. He made the NL All-Star team every year during that stretch and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times.

    Still productive in his age-35 season in 1973, he went 11-15 with a 3.82 ERA (101 ERA+) in 207.1 innings in what would be his final year in a Giants uniform.

    His contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox before the 1974 season, and he posted a 4.87 ERA in 57.1 innings.

    His final season was then spent with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, through his stint in Dodger blue was brief, as he was shelled for a 13.50 ERA in six innings before calling it a career.

    After falling short his first two years on the ballot, Marichal was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983, and a statue of him now stands outside Oracle Park in San Francisco.

1B Hank Greenberg, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    One of the most prolific sluggers in MLB history, Hank Greenberg spent the better part of five years of his prime serving in the military during World War II.

    Despite that missed time, he finished his career with 331 home runs and 1,274 RBI.

    Before his military service, Greenberg was a four-time All-Star and a two-time AL MVP with the Detroit Tigers. He led the AL in home runs three times, including a 58-homer season in 1938, and his 184 RBI in 1937 stands as the third-highest single-season total in MLB history.

    In his first full campaign following his return from duty, Greenberg led the AL in home runs (44) and RBI (127) at age 35. That performance led to a lengthy salary dispute, and when Greenberg threatened to retire, his contract was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates for $75,000.

    While serving as a mentor to rising star Ralph Kiner, he remained plenty productive in 1947, hitting .249/.408/.478 with 25 home runs and an NL-leading 104 walks. He retired after that season, and at the time, his 25 home runs were the most ever by a player in his final campaign.

SP John Smoltz, Boston Red Sox/St. Louis Cardinals

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    John Smoltz was everything from a Cy Young-winning ace to an All-Star closer during his 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves.

    After spending the 1990s as one of the best starters in baseball, Smoltz missed the 2000 season following Tommy John surgery, and when he returned, it was in a bullpen role.

    He served as the team's closer for three years from 2002 to 2004, converting 144 of 157 save chances and posting a 2.47 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 210 appearances during that span before moving back into the rotation.

    After a shoulder injury limited him to 28 innings in 2008, he hit the free-agent market at age 42 as a huge wild card.

    The Boston Red Sox took a chance, signing him to a one-year, $5.5 million deal, but he was knocked around for an 8.33 ERA over eight starts before he was released in August.

    The St. Louis Cardinals signed him two days later, and he logged a solid 4.26 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 38 innings down the stretch, with his final big league appearance coming in relief in the NLDS.

    He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2015.

1B/DH Frank Thomas, Oakland Athletics/Toronto Blue Jays

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    Frank Thomas was one of the faces of baseball during the 1990s, winning back-to-back AL MVP Awards with the Chicago White Sox in 1993 and 1994.

    He was still one of the most feared sluggers in baseball during his age-35 season in 2003, posting a 146 OPS+ with 42 home runs and 105 RBI, but injuries limited him to only 108 games combined over the next two seasons.

    The White Sox decided to let him walk after he hit .219 with 12 home runs in 34 games during the 2005 season, and the bargain-hunting Oakland Athletics scooped him up on a one-year, $500,000 deal.

    The "Big Hurt" then promptly found the fountain of youth in Oakland, posting a 140 OPS+ with 39 home runs and 114 RBI to finish fourth in AL MVP voting.

    The Toronto Blue Jays bought into his resurgence and signed him to a two-year, $18.1 million deal the following offseason. After a productive first season in Toronto, he played in only 71 games split between the Blue Jays and A's in 2008 before calling it a career.

    He finished his career among the all-time leaders in OPS+ (150, 20th), home runs (521, 20th) and RBI (1,704, 25th) and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2014.

3B Eddie Mathews, Houston Astros/Detroit Tigers

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    One of the greatest third basemen in MLB history, Eddie Mathews played 15 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, and he spent 12-plus of those playing alongside Hank Aaron.

    A 12-time All-Star, Mathews launched 40 home runs four times, leading the majors in that category twice on his way to 493 homers during his time with the Braves.

    After third baseman Clete Boyer was acquired from the New York Yankees during the 1966-67 offseason, Mathews became expendable and was traded to the Houston Astros in a five-player deal.

    He posted a 108 OPS+ with 10 home runs in 383 plate appearances to kick off the 1967 season, eclipsing the 500-homer milestone in the process, before he was traded again to the Detroit Tigers in August.

    He played just 31 games with the Tigers the following season before retiring with 512 home runs and 96.2 WAR in his Hall of Fame career.   

SP Warren Spahn, New York Mets/San Francisco Giants

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    Warren Spahn established himself as arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher in MLB history during his 20 seasons with the Braves.

    After a 15.2-inning debut in 1942 at age 21, he spent the next three years serving in the U.S. Army in World War II.

    He finally joined the Braves rotation full time in 1947 and promptly led the NL in ERA (2.33), WHIP (1.14), innings pitched (289.2) and shutouts (7).

    That was the start of an incredible 17-year run in which he threw at least 245 innings each season and posted a 2.96 ERA (124 ERA+) while winning 342 games and NL Cy Young honors in 1957.

    He was still going strong into his 40s, posting a 2.60 ERA in 259.2 innings with 22 complete games in 1963, but his ERA spiked to 5.29 in 1964 in his final season with the Braves.

    The 44-year-old's contract was sold to the New York Mets that offseason, and he served as pitching coach and an active player there. He ended up splitting the season between the Mets and Giants, posting a 4.01 ERA in 197.2 innings, before retiring.

C Yogi Berra, New York Mets

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    After 18 illustrious years with the New York Yankees, including a 1963 season spent as a player/coach, Yogi Berra retired as a player and was immediately hired as the club's manager.

    Despite a 99-win season and a trip to the World Series, Berra was fired after just one year. The New York Mets hired him as a coach serving under former Yankees manager Casey Stengel soon after.

    Early in the 1965 season, he made four appearances for the Mets, going 2-for-9 with three strikeouts. His final MLB game came three days before his 40th birthday.

    A three-time AL MVP, 18-time All-Star and 10-time World Series champion, Berra has a resume that stacks up to any catcher in history.

    And it will always be weird to see him in anything besides a Yankees jersey.

CF Ty Cobb, Philadelphia Athletics

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    Ty Cobb compiled 3,900 hits and a .368 career batting average with 144.7 WAR in 22 seasons with the Detroit Tigers.

    He broke into the league in 1905 at age 18, and he was still going strong in 1926 when he hit .339/.408/.511 in 273 plate appearances.

    After initially retiring following that season amid a betting scandal, Cobb opted to return for the 1927 campaign so he could go out on his own terms.

    He joined the Philadelphia Athletics as a free agent of sorts, and he hit .357/.440/.482 as the starting right fielder on a team that won 91 games and featured future Hall of Famers Lefty Grove, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx and Eddie Collins.

    Cobb played one more season with the A's, hitting .323 in 393 plate appearances, before retiring with an all-time great career.

CF Willie Mays, New York Mets

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    The image of an aging Willie Mays falling down in the outfield during the 1973 World Series is often used as a prime example of an all-time great who hung around too long past his prime.

    However, there were reasons beyond a simple love of the game that Mays was still playing at age 41.

    After 21 seasons in a Giants uniform, Mays was traded to the New York Mets midway through the 1972 season as the Giants looked to cut costs. The deal sent pitcher Charlie Williams and $50,000 the other way, while the Mets assumed the remainder of Mays' contract.

    It stretched beyond that, though, as Joseph Durso of the New York Times explained:

    "[The Mets] also promised to provide Mays with some of the long‐range financial security he had sought from the Giants, who have fallen into last place in the National League's West this season while playing before small crowds.

    "Besides assuming his current salary, the Mets agreed to keep him for at least three years as a coach at $75,000 a year after he quits playing — which presumably could be at the end of this season or next."

    Mays wound up hitting .238/.352/.394 with 14 home runs in 481 plate appearances in two seasons with the Mets while serving as a part-time player.

    It was a quiet end to one of the loudest careers in MLB history.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.         


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