Frank Thomas had his number retired in a ceremony in Chicago and was rightfully remembered as one of the greatest White Sox players of all time.
He played 16 of his 19 big league seasons in the South Side and will no doubt have the letters S-O-X on his cap when he gets his Hall of Fame plaque.
And no doubt it will surprise baseball fans in the future that he actually had his biggest post season hits wearing a different uniform. His homers lifted Oakland to the ALCS in 2006. And as well as he played in Oakland, it looked a little strange seeing him play for a title in another uniform.
And that got to me to thinking… I wonder what other players that are strongly associated with another team played in October in a strange uniform… one they just looked out of place in.
So that naturally meant I had to write a 25 man Roster.
Now before I write this up, let me explain what this roster ISN’T.
Reggie Jackson brought his star from Oakland to New York and Anaheim and looked right at home each place.
Curt Schilling was post season money whether he was in Philadelphia, Arizona or Boston.
I’m not talking about them.
Robbie Alomar… Gary Sheffield… Randy Johnson… Jeff Kent… they put up great numbers wherever they went and wound up playing with a bunch of different teams in October.
I’m not talking about them.
Pete Rose to the Phillies… Frank Robinson with the Orioles… Tom Seaver to the Reds… Barry Bonds to the Giants… Mickey Cochrane to the Tigers… Willie Mays to the Mets… Catfish Hunter and Wade Boggs to the Yankees…
That fellow named Babe Ruth…
I’m not talking about them.
Kirk Gibson with the Dodgers… Jack Morris with the Twins… Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield with the Blue Jays… Pudge Rodriguez with the Marlins… Grover Cleveland Alexander with the Cardinals.
I’m not talking about them.
Guys like Lonnie Smith, Danny Jackson, Mariano Duncan, Mike Stanton, Lenny Harris, Alan Embree, Mike Timlin and Bobby Bonilla jumped from team to team and always managed to be playing ball in October.
Nope. Not talking about them.
I’m talking about the players who the second you hear their name you think of one team… and seeing them play for a title (and sometimes winning one) in a uniform you have no clear memory of them wearing.
If I haven’t been clear, then just take a look at the roster I put together. I am sure there are a few players wearing a uniform that will make you shake your head and said “Man, that just looks STRANGE!”
I’m talking about THEM!
As with all of my rosters, there will be 25 members. 1 starter for each position (including DH)… 5 starting pitchers… 5 relievers… 2 reserve infielders… 2 reserve outfielders… 1 reserve catcher and a 25th man who could be any position.
MIKE PIAZZA, 2006 San Diego Padres
When Piazza’s glorious 7 1/2 year run with the Mets came to an end after the 2005 season, he returned to Southern California. Not to the Dodgers but to the Padres, fresh off of a Division Title.
Piazza supplied some pop but also needed to sit many games. In the playoffs he was reduced to a part time player and wasn’t a factor. The Padres were eliminated, as was any hope of a Mike Piazza vs. the Mets NLCS. He went to Oakland the next year and then retired.
When I was living in the Bay Area during the late 1980s and early 1990s, I can honestly say I saw no ballplayer loved as much as Will Clark. He was the heart beat of the Giants and carried them right into the 1989 World Series. But evidently San Francisco wasn’t big enough for the Thrill and Bonds and off he was exiled to Texas and Baltimore. But the Cardinals needed a bat at first when his former cross Bay rival Mark McGwire went down to injuries (what could have been wrong with his body?) Clark excelled in his cameo in St. Louis, posting a 1.081 OPS, hitting .345, hitting 12 homers and driving 42 in only 51 games. He continued his hot hitting in the playoffs, batting .412 with a 1.206 OPS against the Mets in the NLCS. He clearly had his stroke back… but oddly never played again.
He still gets long ovations in San Francisco, where he belonged.
STARTING SECOND BASEMAN
ROGERS HORNSBY, 1929 Chicago Cubs
I always associate Hornsby with the Cardinals and with good reason. In the 15 seasons where he played 100 or more games, 12 with were the Cardinals. He won 6 batting titles with the Cardinals and batted over .400 three times with the Redbirds (including his .424 campaign in 1924.) He also was the player manager of the 1926 World Series champs, the first in St. Louis’ history. But after that series he got traded around a bit. He had one spectacular season with the Giants in 1927 and another great season with the Braves in 1928.
In 1929 he won the MVP with the Cubs and led them to the World Series against Connie Mack’s A’s. In the World Series he wasn’t much of a factor, striking out twice to Howard Ehmke in Game 1 and the Cubs were taken care of in 5. Hornsby never played more than a 100 games in a season after 1929 and he played a little bit here and there over the next 8 years, falling 70 hits shy of 3,000.
BERT CAMPANERIS, 1979 California Angels
And like all of the A’s stars, he was shipped off elsewhere by the time free agency took hold.
He ended up in Anaheim and playing in the 1979 ALCS for the Angels’ first ever Division winner. I literally had no clue he played for the Angels until I started researching for this post. I literally paused and said “He played for the Angels? REALLY?” That’s as good a reason as any to be included here.
STARTING THIRD BASEMAN
EDDIE MATHEWS, 1968 Detroit Tigers
The future Hall of Famer played for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. Somehow he ended up in Houston and then in Detroit for the 1967 pennant run.
He was a part time player and only played 33 games in 1968, but 2 of them were in the World Series where he got to finish his career on a champion.
Later he returned to the Braves where he was the manager when Hank Aaron hit his 715th homer.
STARTING LEFT FIELDER
RICKEY HENDERSON, 1993 Toronto Blue Jays, 1996 San Diego Padres, 1999 New York Mets and 2000 Seattle Mariners
It’s so easy to think of Rickey Henderson with the A’s (where he spent 14 years and played in the post season under Billy Martin and Tony LaRussa).
And perhaps you have a recollection of his brief time with the Blue Jays (where he was on base for Joe Carter’s homer)… and maybe you remember him being Bobby Bonilla’s card playing partner in the 1999 NLCS. But do you remember him with the Padres in the ’96 post season? Or playing in the 2000 ALCS in Seattle along side A-Rod? I doubt it.
STARTING CENTER FIELDER
KEN GRIFFEY JR., 2008 Chicago White Sox
I have no problem listing Ken Griffey Jr. as one of the all time great talents in baseball history. And his brief cameo with the White Sox should rank with the other “Great players in uniforms you don’t remember them wearing” through history.
In football you have Franco Harris and Jerry Rice with the Seahawks and Johnny Unitas with the Chargers. In hockey there is Wayne Gretzky with the St. Louis Blues and Bobby Orr with the Chicago Blackhawks. How about Michael Jordan with the Wizards or Shaq with the Suns (or Cavs or Celtics for that matter.)
In baseball you have Babe Ruth with the Braves, Ty Cobb with the A’s, Pete Rose with the Expos.
But unlike Ruth, Cobb and Rose, Griffey actually played in October with his strange pit stop team.
Junior came to Chicago, didn’t do much in the regular season. Didn’t do much in the playoffs and the White Sox were eliminated in 4 games by the Rays. He finished his career, one of the best I ever saw, in Seattle where he belonged.
Willie McGee might not have been as flashy as Ozzie Smith, but anyone who saw him play for his 13 years with the Cardinals knew that in many ways he was “The Man.” A Gold Glove winner and batting champion, he helped win the 1982 World Series with his home runs and leaping catches. He led the Cardinals to the 1985 pennant as the NL MVP. And also was a big part of the 1987 NL Champs and the 1996 Cardinals who came within a game of another World Series.
Sandwiched in between his two tours in St. Louis were brief cameos in October. In 1990, while qualifying for the NL batting title he was almost traded to the Red Sox who needed a spark. GM Lou Gorman, showing his usual imagination, reportedly said “Where do we play him?” Ahhh the Yawkey era. No room for an MVP batting champ! The A’s, who also had a crowded outfield, pulled the trigger on the trade. McGee helped the A’s sweep the Red Sox (thanks Lou!) before Oakland lost the World Series.
Under Dan Duquette, McGee finally did show up to Boston in 1995. It took me literally days to find a single image of him in a Sox uniform. It wasn’t a memorable stay but he DID get a hit in the Division Series against Cleveland, which is more than Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco could say that October!
STARTING DESIGNATED HITTER
BILLY WILLIAMS, 1975 Oakland A’s
Swing Swinging Billy from Whistler put together a Hall of Fame career in his 16 years with the Cubs. He was a Rookie of the Year, an MVP runner up, a batting champion and an All Star many times over. His number is retired by the Cubs and he has a statue outside of Wrigley.
But because he was a Cub in that stretch between 1945 and 1984, he never played an October game in the North Side.
After the 1974 season, he was dealt to the three time defending World Champion Oakland A’s for Manny Trillo. When the A’s won their 5th straight Division Title, it looked like October glory was right around the corner for Williams. It was short lived. The A’s were swept by Boston and Billy went 0-7 with a walk. Alas the Billy Goat found its way to the East Bay.
DON SUTTON, 1982 Milwaukee Brewers and 1986 California Angels
The Hall of Famer pitched 15+ seasons in Chavez Ravine, beginning as a member of the 1966 NL Champs and ending with the 1988 team that would go on to win the World Series.
But he made several pit stops along the way and wore an array of uniforms that looked odd on him. He wore the Orange Astros uniform for the team that lost the 1981 Division Series to his former Dodger mates, but he didn’t get into a game. The next year he helped pitch the Brewers into their only World Series while wearing the cool M-B glove hat. Then back to California (back then the Angels didn’t play in Los Angeles) and he helped get the Angels to within one pitch of the World Series.
All the while, he never changed his look with the white guy afro sticking out of each hat.
DIZZY DEAN, 1938 Chicago Cubs
The biggest star of the Gashouse Gang era Cardinals broke his arm during the 1937 All Star Game and looked washed up going into the 1938 season. The Cubs owner wanted Dean on the team as a box office draw.
He came back from injuries to go 7-1 and pitched well in Game 2 before Joe DiMaggio’s home run in the 9th inning padded the Yankees lead. He came out of the bullpen in Game 4 but couldn’t stop the Yankees. He played a few injury shortened seasons before becoming a broadcasting star.
GREG MADDUX, 2006 and 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers
I have no hesitation saying that Greg Maddux is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He put up Hall of Fame caliber numbers… 200+ innings a year, double digit complete games a year, around 20 wins a year, many sub 2.00 ERAs… and he did it at the height of the steroid era.
He won the Cy Young as a Cub and a Brave, and yet finished his career as a middle reliever in L.A. He started in the 2006 playoffs and came out of the pen in 2008. His last appearance was in relief in the 5th inning of the final Game 5 of the NLCS. Rafael Furcal committed 2 run scoring errors. The next inning Jeff Kent pinch hit for Maddux and that was the end of BOTH of their carrers.
DAVID WELLS, 1995 Cincinnati Reds, 1996 Baltimore Orioles, 2005 Boston Red Sox and 2006 San Diego Padres
Didn’t it seem like David Wells was a Yankee for a long time? He played 21 years in the bigs and only 4 of them were in the Bronx.
His two stints in Toronto were memorable as well, but he played for 9 organizations all together and played in October with 6 of them. If you blinked, you missed his time in Cincinnati (where he won a playoff game in 1995), Baltimore (where he won 2 playoff games in 1996) and with the 2005 Red Sox and 2006 Padres, where he started games in October both years without much luck.
He’s best remembered as a fan favorite (and a tormentor of Joe Torre) with the Yankees, but he was good luck almost everywhere he went (and kept the caterer in business too.)
DWIGHT GOODEN, 1998 Cleveland Indians
It is impossible to hear Doc Gooden’s name and NOT think about New York… whether it was the crazy partying 1980s and his time with the Mets or his redemption with the 1990s revived city and the Yankees.
Along with Strawberry, he is the only other player to play in a World Championship post season with two different New York franchises.
But between the 1986 and 2000 World Series, he found himself in Cleveland for a few years. He started the critical Game 4 of the 1998 ALCS with the Indians up 2-1 on the heavily favored Yankees. Doc could ironically K-O the Yankees. It didn’t happen. El Duque got the win and the Yankees never lost again that year. In a few years, Gooden would be back in New York… where he belonged.
SPARKY LYLE, 1981 Philadelphia Phillies
Lyle, the former Red Sox reliever who starred in the Bronx after one of the worst trades in Red Sox history (which is saying something) was possibly the most disrespected Cy Young winner in history.
He dominated out of the bullpen for the 1977 World Champion Yankees… and his reward was having Steinbrenner bring in Goose Gossage to replace him. (“Cy Young to Sayonara” according to Graig Nettles.) He was dealt away to the Rangers and ended up with the Phillies in 1980 (but didn’t play in the World Series.) He DID however play in the Division Series mandated by the 1981 strike. Lyle pitched in a losing cause against Montreal. The next year he pitched for the White Sox and then retired, his time with Philadelphia mostly forgotten.
Here’s why I am including Hall of Famer Eckersley. I am a huge Eck fan… at least during his Sox days. I had him sign my glove when I was 12 and I love how he has becoming a wonderful TV personality with a great sense of humor about himself.
Of course he broke in with Cleveland, became a star with Boston and a Hall of Famer in Oakland. His cameos in Chicago and St. Louis (where he pitched in near miss NLCS’s in 1984 and 1996) were not as well known.
But when researching for this post I saw him in the 1998 Red Sox… a team I followed day in and day out. MY TEAM. And I found myself thinking “Wow… he finished his career with the Red Sox. I almost forgot that!”
I am sure many of you DID forget it.
JOHN SMOLTZ, 2009 St. Louis Cardinals
Like his former Braves teammate Greg Maddux, Smoltz finished his wonderful (and in my opinion Hall of Fame worthy) career doing a long relief appearance on a team that NOBODY remembers he played for.
After 20 years in Atlanta, Smoltz had a disastrous half season in Boston before coming over to St. Louis where he was “eh.” In the third and final game of the 2009 Division Series, Tony LaRussa brought in Smoltz from the pen to pitch the 6th and 7th innings. He let up an RBI single to Manny Ramirez and got Casey Blake to pop up for the final out of his career.
FERNANDO VALENZUELA, 1996 San Diego Padres
As I go to several Dodger games a year, I think the most popular jersey worn by fans at Chavez Ravine remains #34. Fernando is simply beloved in Los Angeles. He just LOOKS like a lot of the fans. I don’t mean that as a racist statement. It’s true. He looks like a regular guy with a belly who loves baseball. And oh yeah, he won a Cy Young Award a World Series and threw a no hitter!
When his career was winding down, the Padres picked him up and gave him an incentive clause for attendance when he pitched, assuming that he would draw a large Mexican audience. (Safe to say that wouldn’t fly in Arizona.)
So he did indeed pitch in San Diego and appeared out of the bullpen during the 1996 Division Series sweep by the Cardinals. No word on how the attendance was in the one playoff game in San Diego that year.
OREL HERSHISER, 1999 New York Mets
Like Fernando, Hershiser was an incredibly Cy Young winner of a World Champion Dodger team who bounced from team to team. He helped lead the Indians back to the World Series (and was 1995 ALCS MVP) before arriving on the Mets, a team he kept FROM the 1988 World Series.
A starter most of the season he came out in relief and had his highlight as a Met in Game 5 of 1999 NLCS. With the Mets on the verge of elimination, he pitched 3 1/3 shutout inning from the pen, striking out 5 and keeping them in the game. The Mets would win that one in 15 innings but lose Game 6. Hershiser retired the next year as a member of the Dodgers, his time as a Met lost to obscurity.
TONY LAZZERI, 1938 Chicago Cubs
“Poosh Em Up” had a Hall of Fame career as a member of the Yankees and was a starter on 6 pennant winners and 5 Champs in the Bronx as a member of “Murderer’s Row”, including the 1937 World Series winners.
But in 1938 Joe Gordon took his job and he was off to Chicago where he met his former club in the World Series. He was not a factor and neither were the Cubs for that matter as the Yankees swept Chicago. At that point Cubs fans had been waiting 30 whole years for another title!
WILLIE RANDOLPH, 1975 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1990 Oakland A’s
Willie Randolph was a fixture with the Yankees for so long, and became one of the few Captains in team history, that it is easy to forget that he neither started nor ended his playing career in the Bronx.
Willie was a 1975 September call up in Pittsburgh and played in the NLCS against the Big Red Machine. He was dealt to the Yankees that winter with his rookie eligibility in tact. After Steinbrenner pushed Willie out the door in favor of Steve Sax, Willie eventually landed in Oakland during the 1990 stretch run and started in the World Series after an injury sidelined Walt Weiss and forced Mike Gallego to shortstop.
He’s coaching in Milwaukee now… but he will find his way back to the Bronx.
CHUCK KLEIN, 1935 Chicago Cubs
Klein’s entire Hall of Fame career seemed to be boosted by being a Philadelphia Phillie. He played in the Baker Bowl, which was a band box, and his power numbers were obscene there. He was an MVP once and a runner up twice and won the triple crown in his first 6 year run in Philly.
Then he was dealt to the Cubs where he had his lone taste of Post Season play. He played in the 1935 World Series. He got a 9th inning pinch hit single that helped sparked a game tying rally in Game 3 and in Game 5, his 2 run homer off of Detroit’s School Boy Rowe gave the Cubs the lead.
That was at least ONE homer you couldn’t credit to the Baker Bowl!
As a Red Sox fan, you are DAMN RIGHT I think of Mookie Wilson as a member of another team. I think of him fouling off approximately 3,291 pitches… each one could have won the 1986 World Series for the Red Sox.
That at bat is probably the greatest moment in Mets history. And just saying his name invokes smiles to Met fans everywhere.
So why the hell is he in a Blue Jays uniform? The Mets inexplicably decided to rip the heart and soul of the championship team out midway through the 1989 season. Jesse Orosco and Kevin Mitchell (the ’89 MVP) were already gone and producing elsewhere. Lenny Dykstra, Roger McDowell and Rick Aguilera were on the block. And Mookie, not liking the odd rebuilding, didn’t want any part of it. So he was sent packing to Toronto where he played in the 1989 and 1991 ALCS.
By 1991 each of the Mets deals had backfired and they were becoming one of the laughingstocks in baseball. Just goes to show you don’t deal away players like Mookie… guys whose value can’t all be found on the back of a baseball card.
ELSTON HOWARD, 1967 Boston Red Sox
Howard was a significant figure in Yankees lore. Not only did he break the color barrier for the Bombers, but he was an AL MVP, World Series hero and became Yogi Berra’s heir. Later he was a coach for two more Yankee World Series winners and stayed in the organization until his death. His #32 is retired in Monument Park.
However he helped take part in the revival of the Red Sox, who had not made the World Series since integration. Ellie joined the Red Sox in August of 1967. He was terrible at the plate (batting .147, 1 HR, 11 RBI) but he handled the pitching staff well down the stretch. The Red Sox trailed the White Sox by 2 1/2 games when he arrived, but finished the season winning the pennant by 1 game over the Twins and Tigers.
The Red Sox franchise was revived, and Elston Howard was there.
JOSE CANSECO, 2000 New York Yankees
I always wondered what Don Mattingly thought about the fact that he never got a ring after all his time with the Yankees and Jose Canseco got one after a few months there.
The Yankees tried to block his trade elsewhere by claiming off of waivers from Tampa. They expected Tampa to take him off waivers. Instead they said “Have fun with him” and Canseco was on the defending champs with nowhere to play. He didn’t play much. If you blinked, you missed his playoff appearance… a pinch hit appearance in the 2000 World Series. And I am betting most fans at Shea that night were thinking “Wait, Jose Canseco is on the Yankees? Since when?”
He got a Ring. Poor Mattingly.
So there you have another roster.
Maybe someday soon someone will be saying “Frank Thomas played in the post season for the A’s? Jim Thome was on the Dodgers? When did I miss THAT?”
You’ve got to have good eyes, my friend.