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Ichiro Suzuki and "He Played For Them?" Franchise Stars at the End of Careers

Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the New York Yankees yesterday, and I know the common thought is “it’s the Yankees doing what they do”, I’m not sure that’s really true, at least when we look specifically at Ichiro and what it represents. Yes, the Yankees sign free agents and trade for known commodities. They often get them from other teams at younger ages than 37 or 38, though. Also, while they have plenty of professional hitters who bounced around to multiple teams and ended up in New York (Sheffield, Sierra come to mind), they don’t really have a history of acquiring guys singularly identified with another franchise as an end of career pickup.

You might be surprised to know that it is the Athletics who have acquired or signed more franchise stars at the end of their careers, from the Georgia Peach to the Big Hurt. I went through the best hitters from ages 27 to 36 (Ichiro was 27 when he came to Seattle) and found all of those that were with one team for at least a decade after age 27, then changed teams at least once at the end of their careers, at age 37 or older.

Here’s a list of the most prominent “franchise” hitters to change teams late in their careers. Ichiro should slot in comfortably in the middle of this group. Why twelve? Well, I had to get a slump buster on the list.

12. Davey Lopes from Dodgers to Oakland Athletics (1982)

11. Mark Grace from Cubs to Arizona Diamondbacks (2001)

10. Paul Waner from Pirates to Brooklyn Dodgers (1941)

9. Jose Cruz from Astros to the New York Yankees (1990)

9. Frank Thomas from White Sox to Oakland Athletics (2006)

8. Dwight Evans from Red Sox to the Baltimore Orioles (1991)

7. Billy Williams from Cubs to the Oakland Athletics (1975)

6. Harmon Killebrew from Twins to the Kansas City Royals (1975)

5. Pete Rose from Reds to the Philadelphia Phillies (1979)

4. Ty Cobb from Tigers to the Philadelphia Athletics (1927)

3. Hank Aaron from Braves to the Milwaukee Brewers (1975)

2. Willie Mays from Giants to the New York Mets (1972)

1. Babe Ruth from Yankees to the Boston Braves (1935)

 

We may think that current free agency will increase such movement; I think that would be more an excuse to make a move in a particular case. 1975 was the watershed year for franchise stars making a late cameo: Aaron to the Brewers, Killebrew to the Royals, and Billy Williams to the A’s. Most of these guys played only a year or two more, often as part time players. Grace and Mays did get to a World Series after changing teams. Davey Lopes and Frank Thomas experienced a career revival of sorts after they changed teams. Of course, there is also Pete Rose, who went on to play for several more years for the Phillies, Expos, and back to the Reds, mostly as a compiler. He did get the hit record, while hitting only 10 home runs over 8 more seasons and slugging .347 after age 37.

I suppose Ichiro could stick around compiling singles and not doing much else, but the more realistic scenario is that he plays about like he has played in recent years, maybe a small rebound as a platoon player, and retires after a season in the Bronx.

[photo via US Presswire]

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