Say the name of any legendary baseball player and the team they played for instantly comes to mind… Yogi Berra? New York Yankees. Hank Aaron? The Braves. Harmon Killebrew? Minnesota Twins.
The image of most of these legends are so strongly associated with a single team that the idea of them playing elsewhere isn’t even considered. But it happens. In fact the three players mentioned above – Berra, Aaron, Killebrew – all ended their careers playing for another franchise.
Crazy thought, isn’t it?
They’re not alone, some of the biggest names in baseball history had a season or two playing in an unfamiliar big league uniform, in this weeks article I’ll be taking a look at some of the game’s best ballplayers playing in the “wrong” uniforms.
We’ll start things off with “The Babe”…
Babe Ruth, Boston Braves (1935)
Babe Ruth is forever linked to the New York Yankees, that’s just the way it is and the way it always will be. We all know he started off his playing career as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and how he was sold to the Yankees just in time to become the greatest home run hitter of all-time. But baseball didn’t end with the Yankees for the Babe. After being released by the Yanks just prior to the 1935 season Ruth signed on with the Boston Braves with hopes of one day managing the club. On May 25, 1935 just a week before retiring as a player, Ruth smacked three home runs in one game for the Braves, his last three homers as a big leaguer.
In 1938 Babe signed on to be the first base coach of the Brooklyn Dodgers in a last-ditch effort to become a Major League manager, when it was obvious it wasn’t going to happen Ruth left the big leagues for good.
Willie Mays, New York Mets (1972-73)
“Say Hey” Willie Mays played 21 seasons with the New York/San Francisco Giants clubbing an astounding 646 home runs with the franchise before being traded a month into the 1972 season back to New York to join the Mets. Over his one-and-a-half seasons with the Mets, Mays didn’t play his best baseball, hitting .238 with 14 home runs over 135 games. Willie hung the cleats up after his 1973 season with New York at the age of 42.
Ty Cobb, Philadelphia Athletics (1927-28)
Sure, everyone remembers Ty Cobb in his days with the Detroit Tigers, but do you remember where were you when you heard that he signed on with the Philadelphia Athletics? The Georgia Peach spent 22 seasons with the Detroit Tigers before joining the A’s, and despite being in his forties was still a productive hitter. While with the Athletics in 1927, Cobb collected his 4000th career hit – an achievement only one other player has matched in the several decades since (the other player also achieving this feat in a “wrong uniform”, you’ll see later). Cobb retired after the 1928 season following a season in which he had his worst batting average in over 20 years, finishing with a .323 mark.
Hank Aaron, Milwaukee Brewers (1975-76)
Henry Aaron began his Major League career as an outfielder for the Milwaukee Braves in 1954… 21 seasons, 733(!) home runs, and a franchise shift to Atlanta later and good old Hank missed playing up in The Dairy State… plus the idea of being a designated hitter didn’t seem so bad either. On November 2, 1974 the Atlanta Braves shipped Hammerin’ Hank back to Milwaukee, this time to join the relatively new Brewers team. Aaron spent 2 seasons with the Brewers, appearing in 222 games and hitting 22 home runs, deuces were runnin’ wild! Aaron retired after the 1976 season having amassed 755 career home runs, a Major League record at the time.
Ted Williams, Washington Senators/Texas Rangers (1969-72)
No, Ted Williams never played for a team other than the Boston Red Sox, but the Splendid Splinter did wear the uniform of the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers for four seasons as their manager following his retirement from the Sox in 1960. In his first season as manager, Ted guided the Senators to a respectable 86-76 record, but it was all downhill from there. The Senators relocated to the Dallas area for 1972 and the Williams-led Rangers finished dead last in the AL West with a record of 54-100, that was it for Ted – he never suited up in a big league uniform ever again.
Yogi Berra, New York Mets (1965)
Yogi took over as manager of the New York Yankees in 1964 following an 18 year stint as their everyday catcher, despite leading the Yanks to the seventh game of the World Series in his only season as their manager he was fired following the season for a perceived loss of control of the club. The Mets seized this opportunity and hired Berra to be a player-coach. Berra appeared in only four games as a player for the Mets collecting 2 base hits in 9 at bats before retiring to focus on his coaching duties.
Berra spent the next 7 seasons as a Mets coach before the unexpected death of manager Gil Hodges in 1972 gave Berra another shot at managing a Major League club. Under Berra the Mets would go on to win the NL Pennant in 1973 but were a disappointment every other year. Berra would go back to coaching following his firing from the Mets in 1975 when he re-joined the Yankees eventually becoming their manager for a season+16 games from 1984-85. Yogi joined the Astros as a bench coach for 1986 where he remained until he retired from baseball in 1989.
Pete Rose, Montreal Expos (1984)
Coming off an impressive 21-season stretch with the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies, which included 6 World Series appearances, 16 All-Star Game selections and over 3900 hits, Pete Rose dusted off his passport and headed north signing as a free agent with the Montreal Expos before the 1984 season. Pete collected 72 hits in his 95 games played with the Expos, none of them more famous than his 4000th career hit, joining Philadelphia’s Ty Cobb as the only other player to achieve that mark. After only half-a-season the Expos traded Rose to the Cincinnati Reds where he would act as baseball’s final player-manager for three seasons before retiring to focus on managing and gambling for the remainder of his career.
After his lifetime banishment from baseball in 1989 Pete opened a restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida, where in 1996 he refused to autograph a photo for a 13-year-old straight-A student named Chris Creamer, just terrible.
Harmon Killebrew, Kansas City Royals (1975)
This one still seems strange to me, Harmon Killebrew as a Kansas City Royal? It happened, albiet it didn’t last long. After 21-seasons of smacking over 550 home runs with the Minnesota Twins franchise, Killer signed up for a one-year deal to be Kansas City’s designated hitter in 1975. The results weren’t the prettiest, Killebrew ended up hitting only .199 on the season with 14 home runs and 44 runs batted in. The Royals released Harmon following the season and he retired, joining the Twins as a colour commentator for the 1976 season.
Jose Bautista, Baltimore Orioles-Tampa Bay Devil Rays-Kansas City Royals (2004)
Certainly not a legend like those mentioned above, I had to throw a current player into the mix. Jose Bautista had a very interesting debut year in the Major Leagues back in 2004. Entering the off-season as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jose was selected by the Baltimore Orioles from the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft. After 16 games with the Orioles, the Kansas City Royals plucked Jose away via waivers. Thirteen games later and the Royals had sold Bautista to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Twelve games with the Rays and they had traded him to the New York Mets. The Mets being the Mets wasted no time and dealt Bautista within hours, sending Jose back to the team he started the off-season with, the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he was able to remain for the next 4 seasons.
I’ll continue the wrong-uniform fun next week, check back next Wednesday to see more photos and read some more stories.