In the days of major league baseball before the appearance of the original Los Angeles Angels and re-incarnation of the Washington Senators in 1961, players could change teams only through trade, waivers, or outright release. The infamous reserve clause still held sway, player salaries were generally low enough players couldn't afford to rock the boat, and teams had no reason to let good players go. This isn't to say every player spent his entire career on one team. There were 4111 players who appeared in at least 100 career games from 1901-1975. The distribution of total franchises played for looks like this:
- 1 franchise: 800
- 2 franchises: 1136
- 3 franchises: 1042
- 4 franchises: 617
- 5 franchises: 313
- 6 franchises: 133
- 7 franchises: 50
- 8 franchises: 13
- 9 franchises: 6
- 10 franchises: 1
- 1 franchise: 498
- 2 franchises: 655
- 3 franchises: 743
- 4 franchises: 567
- 5 franchises: 348
- 6 franchsies: 217
- 7 franchises: 126
- 8 franchises: 68
- 9 franchises: 28
- 10 franchises: 6
- 11 franchises: 4
- 12 franchises: 1
The whole point of this post is to look at the guys who moved the most before free agency. In the interest of keeping this at a somewhat reasonable length, I'll only look at the players who spent time with nine or more franchises prior to free agency.
- Bobo Newsom - 1929-1953
Franchises: Dodgers, Cubs, Browns, Senators, Red Sox, Browns again, Tigers, Senators again, Dodgers again, Browns again, Senators again, Athletics, Senators again, Yankees, Giants, Senators again, Athletics again
I write all those out just to emphasize how often this guy switched teams. He wasn't a bad pitcher, putting together an career ERA+ of 107. He won 211 games against 222 losses and, in 1938, set a record for the highest ERA (5.08) among 20-game winners. He was a pretty colorful character, which might explain why he moved around a lot. He had some pretty good quotes too:
"When the president comes to see Bobo pitch, Ol' Bobo ain't a-gonna disappoint him." - Bobo Newsom, explaining why he stayed in a game Franklin Roosevelt had come to see, in spite of Newsom suffering a fractured jaw from a throw during the game (BR Bullpen)
Newsom was purchased (traded for cash) six times, drafted from other teams twice, traded five times, and released five times.
- Dick Littlefield - 1950-1958
Franchises: Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, Browns/Orioles, Pirates, Cardinals, Giants, Cubs, Braves
Littlefield spend nine seasons in the majors and played for nine different franchises. Since he was lefthanded, it's kind of surprising he didn't stick around past age 32, but then again, he wasn't that great. He went 33-54 with the majority of his appearances coming as a reliever. He was traded nine times (once for Jackie Robinson, who failed to report and thus voided the trade) and purchased once.
- Ron Kline - 1952-1970
Franchises: Pirates, Cardinals, Angels, Tigers, Senators, Twins, Giants, Red Sox, Braves
A righthanded pitcher, Kline began his career as a started and shifted to the bullpen at the age of thirty. He lasted nine seasons as a reliever and finished his career with a 114-144 record and career ERA+ of 101, probably qualifying him for the pitching staff of my Average Joes team. He was traded four times, purchased three times, waived once, and released twice.
- Tito Francona - 1956-1970
Franchises: Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, Indians, Cardinals, Phillies, Braves, Athletics, Brewers
Father of former player and current manager Terry Francona, Tito was an outfielder and first baseman for fifteen seasons. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1956 (losing to Luis Aparicio), fifth in MVP voting in 1959, and was selected to the All-Star team in 1961. He was a fairly decent hitter, finishing with a career OPS+ of 107. Francona was traded four times and purchased four times before being released to end his career.
- George Brunet - 1956-1971
Franchises: Athletics, Braves, Astros, Orioles, Angels, Pilots/Brewers, Senators, Pirates, Cardinals
His Baseball-Reference.com sponsorship claims he's the only player from Michigan's Keeweenaw County to play in the big leagues and, since I'm too lazy to verify that, I'll just go with it. In addition to that, he was a run-of-the-mill lefthander for sixteen years. There's something to be said for being just good enough to keep getting major league jobs, I suppose. He was traded five times, purchased four times, and released to end his career.
- Hoyt Wilhelm - 1952-1972
Franchises: Giants, Cardinals, Indians, Orioles, White Sox, Angels, Cubs, Braves, Dodgers
The only Hall of Famer on the list, Wilhelm racked up 227 saves in his career. An all-star five times, he finished twice in Rookie of the Year voting in 1952 (losing to...Joe Black?); that same year he placed fourth in the MVP balloting. He had a career ERA+ of 146 and the one year he was a starter he put up a 173 ERA+, so it's fair to say he was dominant no matter what. He was traded five times, waived three times, released twice (once to end his career), and drafted once in an expansion draft.
- Bob Miller - 1957-1974
Franchises: Cardinals, Mets, Dodgers, Twins, Indians, White Sox, Cubs, Padres, Pirates, Tigers (the only player with ten)
Born Robert Lane Gemeinweiser, Miller was one of two pitchers with the same name on the 1962 Mets. This Miller went 1-12 for the Amazin's that year, but had a pretty decent career thereafter. Usually a reliever, he managed to appear for ten different teams (six franchises) in a four-year period from 1970-1973. A career record of 69-81 belies his 106 career ERA+, but relievers aren't supposed to win many games. He actually got 51 saves, as well, so he wasn't always a middle reliever. Miller was a bonus baby, traded five times, purchased twice, waived once, drafted in the Mets expansion draft, and released three times (once to end his career). Quite a lot of traveling for a guy who presumably changed his name to fit in.