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Even the greats rarely spend career with 1 team

Ryan an example of a legend who split time with multiple organizations

Hall of Fame right-hander Nolan Ryan spent a Major League Baseball record 27 seasons in the big leagues, pitching more no-hitters (seven), striking out more batters (5,714) and allowing fewer hits in nine innings per nine innings (6.555) than any pitcher in history.

As impressive as his accomplishments were, Ryan pitched for four organizations over his big league career -- the Mets (five years), Angels (eight years), Astros (nine years) and Rangers (five).

Ryan's career underscores just how unique it is for a player -- regardless of their greatness -- to spend his entire career with the same organization.

Tip your hat to Kobe Bryant, who has announced that this season will be his last, bringing to an end a career where he will have played 20 seasons in the NBA -- all with the Lakers, other than the two weeks he spent with the Hornets after being drafted by Charlotte in 1996.

Only two other NBA players have even appeared in 19 seasons with one team: John Stockton, with the Utah Jazz, and Tim Duncan, who joined the San Antonio Spurs in 1997 and is still playing.

Baseball is more conducive to lengthier careers than the three other major team sports in North America.

There are only three players who spent at least two decades in the NFL with just one team: kicker Jason Hanson, who played 21 seasons with Detroit, and defensive back Darrell Green, who played 20 seasons with Washington, and tackle Jackie Slater, who spent 20 years with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams organization. Slater and Green are both in the Pro Footbal Hall of Fame. Hanson will be eligible for the first time in 2017.

There are 11 hockey players who had careers of at least 20 years with the same organization, led by Alex Delvecchio, who played 24 years for the Detroit Red Wings. Defenseman Ken Daneyko, who played 20 years with the New Jersey Devils, and current Coyotes winger Shane Doan are the only two among the 11 who are not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The NBA has Bryant as the only player with a career of 20 years spent with one team, although Duncan signed a two-year contract with the Spurs in July, which would take him through 20 years in San Antonio, barring a change in plans for next season.

Then there is baseball.

According to, there have been 152 players in the history of the professional game to have played in at least 20 seasons, led by the 27 years of Ryan and Cap Anson, whose career came in the 1800s.

Only 18 of those 152 players, however, spent their entire career with one team, led by Baltimore's Brooks Robinson and Boston's Carl Yastrzemski, who spent 23 years apiece with their franchise.

Mel Harder, who pitched for Cleveland from 1928-47, and shortstop Alan Trammell, who played for Detroit from 1977-96, are the only players among the 18 who are not in the Hall of Fame.

Derek Jeter, who retired from the Yankees at the end of last season, has four more years to wait before his expected first-ballot election to Cooperstown.

Video: MLB Network features Jeter's legacy

Ten of the 15 who have been inducted were first-ballot electees. Craig Biggio was on the ballot three times, Mel Ott four, Luke Appling eight and Ted Lyons 11. Red Faber was voted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee.

At the other extreme of the 20-year veterans are the likes of Mike Morgan (12 teams in 22 seasons), Deacon McGuire (11 teams in 26 years), LaTroy Hawkins (11 teams in 21 years), Terry Mulholland (11 teams in 20 years) and Paul Hines (10 teams in 20 years).

Willie Mays and Hank Aaron both played with two teams, but only because at the end of their careers, they returned to the city where they began their careers. Mays, who broke in with the New York Giants and went with the franchise to San Francisco, finished with the New York Mets. Aaron, who moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta with the Braves, spent his final two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers.

And sometimes it's just a matter of circumstances, which Ryan's career underscored.

A part of a strong-armed Mets pitching staff, but faced with command issues, he was the pitcher the Mets felt was most expendable when they acquired veteran infielder Jim Fregosi from the Angels in a deal that led to Ryan having to be talked out of retirement by his wife, Ruth, the next spring.

A free agent after the 1979 season, during which he went 16-14 and helped lead the Angels to a division title for the first time in franchise history, Ryan wound up signing with the Astros and becoming the game's first $1 million-per-year player after Angels general manager Buzzie Bavasi announced that Ryan could be replaced "with two pitchers who go 8-7."

Video: [email protected]: Ryan gets his 5th career no-hitter

Ryan's time with the Astros ended after the 1988, season when Houston was reluctant to give the soon-to-be 42-year-old a multiyear deal. The Rangers, however, stepped up, and Ryan extended his career for five more seasons.

It was a gamble that paid off for Texas, as Ryan led the league in fewest hits per nine innings and most strikeouts per nine in each of his first three years with the Rangers. He also led the AL in WHIP and strikeouts twice while with Texas, including 301 K's in 1989. Circumstances, however, never allowed Ryan the chance to spend his whole career with one franchise.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
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