Zack Greinke and Baseball Lifers
The Kansas City Royals are announcing today that they’re bringing back Zack Greinke for the 2023 season, and I’m very happy. I don’t know how much longer Zack pitches, but he should end his career in Kansas. City. Whatever landmarks he might pass — 3,000 strikeouts, for example — he should pass in Kansas City.
Thinking about Zack, I started to think, as old fogeys do, “Aw, man, I miss the days when great players spent their entire careers with one team.”
And then, my inner Bill James jumped up and gruffly asked the question: “Wait, do you KNOW that great players don’t spend their entire careers with one team anymore?”
Um, isn’t it obvious? I mean: Hello? Free agency! Luxury taxes! We just saw the Red Sox trade off Mookie Betts, who should have been a lifer (i.e., a one-team-for-life guy). Isn’t it obvious that there are fewer baseball lifers than ever?
Then, my inner Bill James jumped in and said: “‘Isn’t it obvious’ are three of the dumbest words in the English language. Find out!”
OK, fine. Let’s start with this: Are there any baseball lifers who will be elected to the Hall of Fame over the next decade or so? No, right?
Well, actually, yeah. Todd Helton was almost elected this year! He will surely be elected in the next year or two or three. He was a Rockies lifer. So, yeah.
OK, but that’s just one guy. I mean there aren’t …
Well, hold on, wait: There are some lifer catchers who will be coming on the ballot over the next few years. There’s Joe Mauer, a lifelong Twin, he has a great shot of being elected. OK. And there’s Buster Posey, a Giants lifer, he will get elected for sure. And for that matter so will Cardinals lifer Yadier Molina. And if you want to look a little bit more into the future, Salvador Perez will probably retire a Royal, too. I don’t know if he’s a Hall of Famer, but he certainly might be.
All right, so maybe it’s not as rare as I thought, but …
As long as we’re talking, I’d say there’s a great chance Lou Whitaker gets elected by the veterans committee at some point. He’s a Tigers lifer. Dwight Evans is not officially a lifer because he played that last season in Baltimore, but he’s basically a lifer and he’s got a Hall of Fame shot.
Fine! There are a few lifers left. But if you look at today’s game, you hardly see any …
Just stop. Mike Trout could play his whole career with the Angels, and while that’s a mixed bag — the Angels have consistently let him down — he’s a possible lifer. Clayton Kershaw looks like a Dodger lifer. Aaron Judge is likely to spend his whole career with the Yankees now. You’ve got to figure Joey Votto is retiring with the Reds. José Ramirez might stay in Cleveland. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman might say in Houston. Atlanta has signed all those talented kids to super-long contracts.
OK, maybe I was mistaken. Maybe the whole baseball lifer thing isn’t quite as dead as I thought. But there’s only one way to find out: Let’s look at the Hall of Famers and see: Are there fewer Hall of Fame lifers than there used to be?
Here’s a trivia question for you: There are 10 lifers among the 29 Hall of Famers born since 1960. Can you name them? Give it a try, it’s fun!
You probably got Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera right away. That’s two.