Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Who were the best players to spend their careers with one team?

There's something that just feels right when an elite player manages to spend their entire career with one Major League team. Free agency has made this a tougher task, but it still happens every now and then. The players below make up the post-free agency all-time team in this field. (Active players were ineligible since their careers aren't over yet.)
C: Johnny Bench (Reds)

Perhaps the greatest catcher to ever don the tools of ignorance, Bench just barely qualifies, but he was still a perennial All-Star when free agency came into existence in the mid-1970s. He remained in Cincinnati until the very end, when he homered on Johnny Bench Night in his farewell.
Honorable mention: Jorge Posada (Yankees)
1B: Jeff Bagwell (Astros)

The New England native was originally drafted by the Red Sox in 1989, but while he made it as high as Double-A with his favorite childhood team, they traded him before he could make his MLB debut.
Instead, Bagwell debuted in an Astros uniform on Opening Day 1991. He won the National League Rookie of the Year, earned Most Valuable Player honors three years later and never looked back.
Honorable mention: Todd Helton (Rockies)
2B: Craig Biggio (Astros)

It's fitting that Bagwell should be joined on the right side of the infield by Biggio, his Astros teammate of 15 years. Unlike Bagwell, Biggio was drafted by the Astros and actually debuted as a catcher in 1988. He moved to his longtime position of second base in 1992, which was appropriate for him -- his 668 doubles rank fifth among all players in baseball history.
Honorable mention: Lou Whitaker (Tigers)
SS: Cal Ripken Jr. (Orioles)

The number of Hall of Famers in the honorable mentions section is enough to demonstrate the sheer value that teams place on quality shortstops. As incredible as those players were, the top nod has to go to Ripken, who played literally every game for the Orioles during his unbelievable streak between May 30, 1982, and Sep. 19, 1998.
Ripken revolutionized the position, combining the excellent defense often expected of shortstops with outstanding hitting. Indeed, none have ever hit more home runs than Ripken, who belted 345 of his 431 career long balls as a shortstop.
Honorable mentions: Derek Jeter (Yankees), Robin Yount (Brewers), Barry Larkin (Reds), Alan Trammell (Tigers)
3B: Mike Schmidt (Phillies)

George Brett and Chipper Jones are upper-tier Hall of Famers, but the edge has to go to Schmidt.
He hit 548 dingers, captured nine Gold Gloves in a row at the hot corner and won the World Series MVP in 1980 as the Phillies defeated Brett's Royals to end a near-century of frustration with their first championship. There's a reason the Phillies have a statue of Schmidt right outside Citizens Bank Park.
Honorable mentions: George Brett (Royals), Chipper Jones (Braves)
LF: Carl Yastrzemski (Red Sox)

Yastrzemski narrowly qualifies, but similar to Bench, he remained a highly productive player as free agency got underway. At that point, there was no way that the Red Sox would ever let "Yaz" get away. He stepped into the seemingly impossible task of replacing Ted Williams in left field at Fenway Park, and all he did was belt 3,419 hits, 646 doubles and 452 homers.
Honorable mention: Willie Stargell (Pirates)
CF: Kirby Puckett (Twins)

Maybe the story about Puckett would have been different had retinal damage not caused an early end to his superb career. That being said, Puckett is so connected to Twins lore that it would have been utterly bizarre to see him in another jersey.
Puckett was an All-Star for 10 of his 12 seasons in Minnesota and was pivotal to the only two World Series titles in their history. Simply put, if he didn't rob Ron Gant of a homer in Game 6 of the 1991 Fall Classic a mere couple of hours before walking it off with a blast of his own, the Twins lose to the Braves right then and there. Instead, he's a legend in Minnesota, forever a Twin.
Honorable mention: Bernie Williams (Yankees)
RF: Tony Gwynn (Padres)

For 20 years, the Padres had Tony Gywnn, one of the most gifted hitters ever.
Gwynn was also deeply loyal and happy to play in San Diego for the duration of his career. He didn't enter free agency until just before his final season in 2001, but re-signed for one last ride. He hit .324 in 71 games and, six years later, stood alongside fellow single-team icon Ripken on the stage in Cooperstown as a Hall of Famer.
DH: Edgar Martinez (Mariners)

It's hard to imagine the Mariners before Edgar Martinez. They signed him out of Dorado, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 19, 1982, just five years after playing their first game. He debuted in Seattle in 1987, and it's no coincidence that the Mariners' most successful stretch of seasons coincided with his 18 years of torturing opposing pitchers.
No one in their franchise history has more games, doubles, RBIs, walks or a higher on-base percentage than Edgar. The career Mariner retired in 2004 as one of the most revered DHs of all time.
SP: Jim Palmer (Orioles)

Any discussion of the greatest pitchers of all time has to include names like Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. All of them spent plenty of time with other teams, though, so one name stands alone for the single-team starters -- Jim Palmer.
Palmer was the perfect match for Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who knew just how to motivate him to his peak performance, which netted him three AL Cy Young Awards. The last two came in back-to-back seasons from 1975-76, just as free agency got underway, but the Orioles renegotiated his contract in early 1977 to lock him up for the next five years. All three Orioles championship seasons included World Series wins from the best pitcher that Baltimore has ever seen.
RP: Mariano Rivera (Yankees)

It could never be anyone else. All six relievers in the Hall of Fame spent time with multiple teams, but the greatest of all the closers was a one-team man. When Rivera threw his first pitch for the Yankees on May 23, 1995, he was a starter. By year's end, he was a lights-out reliever in the postseason and one year later, he became one of the best in the game.
Rivera amassed 652 saves and was the most important member of the Yankees' bullpen for all five of the World Series titles they won between 1996-2009. The Yankees kept him in pinstripes through extensions and, later, year-to-year contracts before he finally called it quits in 2013. The love was felt from the Yankees and their fans when he walked off the mound for the last time.