In the first part of our series on the top players to spend their entire careers with one team over the past 25 years, we first examined some of the better players of the past quarter century, all of whom are worthy of recognition and discussion, then payed special tribute to Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, the longest-standing double play combination in Major League history.
In the next part of our series, we’ll begin to examine the Top 10 single-team players of the past 25 years. Here we present the 10, 9 and 8 spots on our list. These three players left undeniable marks on their respective franchises and the game of baseball.
10. Tim Salmon, California/Anaheim Angels, 1992-2004, 2006
“King Fish” was the “other ” Rookie of the Year in 1993, a year when a young catcher by the name of Mike Piazza took the world by storm 30 minutes up the 5 Freeway in Los Angeles. Tim Salmon, however, was ultimately the man who was more important to his franchise after a 1998 trade sent Piazza to the Florida Marlins and, later, the New York Mets while Salmon stayed the course in Anaheim and would eventually be rewarded with a World Series championship.
While Piazza took the baseball world by storm, hitting 35 homers as a rookie and helping to knock the San Francisco Giants out of the playoffs with two loud home runs on the final day of the 1993 season, Salmon quietly took the approach that he would take throughout his career and put up steady, if less spectacular numbers, hitting .283, knocking out 31 homers and driving in 95 runs while getting on base at a .382 clip.
While Piazza continued to steal the limelight, Salmon continued to put up solid, steady numbers. He followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign by hitting .287 with 23 homers and 70 RBI’s in just 100 games in 1994 before the Players’ Strike happened, robbing Salmon of the opportunity to match or exceed his Rookie of the Year campaign. Salmon came back with a vengeance in 1995, however, placing seventh in the American League Most Valuable Player vote by hitting a career-high .330 with a career-high 34 homers and 105 RBIs, while the Angels led the American League West for most of the year. Unfortunately, most baseball fans only remember the 1995 Angels for their late-season collapse in which an 11 1/2 game lead over the Seattle Mariners disappeared, leading to a one-game playoff in the Kingdome won by Seattle going away, by a score of 9-1, robbing the Angels of what would have been their first post-season appearance in 10 years.
Salmon continued to produce through the late 1990’s, putting up a career-high 129 RBI’s to go with a .293 average and 33 homers during the 1997 season. After suffering some injuries that reduced his playing time and caused some decline in his stats during the 1998 and 1999 seasons, a healthy Salmon came back during the 2000 season to hit .290 while matching his career-high of 34 homers and driving 97 runs in.
More injuries plagued Salmon during the 2001 season, but a mostly-healthy 2002 saw Salmon, at age 33, hit .286 with 22 homers and 88 RBI’s as the Angels won the American League Wild Card and Salmon won the American League Comeback Player of the Year award. Salmon continued his excellence into the post-season and played a major role in helping the Angels win their only World Series, hitting .346 in the Fall Classic and delivering with two big home runs for the team in Game 2 against the San Francisco Giants.
Salmon put up steady numbers in 2003 and 2004 before missing the entire 2005 season due to injury. Determined to play one more season, Salmon played 76 games in his age-37 season, hitting .265 with 9 homers and 27 RBI’s in a part-time role as a right fielder and designated hitter for the Angels. Salmon’s number 15 has not yet been retired by the Angels, but it has not been issue since his retirement. Salmon finished his career as the Angels’ all-time leader in career home runs (299) runs scored (983) walks (965) and slugging percentage (.499.) He also finished with 1,082 RBI’s, second only to Garrett Anderson, and a very solid .282 career batting average.
In an organization with more tragedy than success in their history, Tim Salmon stands out as an all-time great.
9. Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves, 1993-2012
During an era where the Braves were better known for their pitching staffs anchored by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, Chipper Jones was the steady offensive presence that helped the Braves win divsion titles year in and year out. After a rough period of time during the 1980’s where the Braves appeared to essentially be Dale Murphy and not much else offensively, and a terrible season in 1989, Chipper was the number one overall pick in the draft in 1990 when he was only 18 years old and fresh out of high school. From there, Jones was on the fast track to the Major Leagues, making his debut as a September call-up toward the end of the 1993 season at age 21 as a shortstop.
Jones spent the strike-shortened 1994 season on the disabled list, but burst onto the scene in his official rookie year of 1995. Taking over third base for a Braves team that wound up winning the World Series, Chipper hit at a .265 clip and clubbed 23 home runs and drove in 86, good for second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting to Japanese pitching phenom Hideo Nomo. In the post-season that year, Chipper hit 3 homers and drove in 8 and batted .364 (20-for-55).
As it turned out, Jones was just getting warmed up. He followed up a solid rookie campaign by breaking out in 1996, hitting .309 with 30 homers and 110 RBIs. The Braves returned to the World Series in 1996, but fell to the Yankees in six games.
Through the remainder of the 90’s and into he 2000’s, Jones was a steady presence in the Atlanta Braves’ lineup. Jones had at least 100 RBI’s in 8 straight seasons from 1996 through 2003, and 9 in total. He also hit 20 or more home runs for 14 consecutive seasons from 1996 through 2008. Jones even proved versatile in the field, volunteering to play left field in 2002 and 2003 so that Vinny Castilla could play third base, then moving back to third base in 2004.
For his career, Jones hit .303 with 468 homers and 1,623 RBI’s while collecting 2,726 career hits and posting a career on-base percentage of .401. He also was the only switch-hitter to ever hit over .300 for his career from both sides of the plate (.303 left-handed, .304 right-handed) and was third only to Mickey Mantle (536 career homers) and Eddie Murray (504) all-time among switch-hitters in total home runs. Among Jones’ accolades, he won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1999, was named to 8 All-Star teams, won two Silver Slugger awards, and impressively won the National League Batting title at the age of 36 when he posted a career-high .364 average in 2008. Jones is a strong candidate to make the Hall of Fame, and his first year of eligibility will be in 2018. The Atlanta Braves retired his number 10 in 2013.
8. Craig Biggio, Houston Astros, 1988-2007. Hall of Fame Class of 2015
From the time he broke in with the Houston Astros to the time he retired, there seemed to be very little that Craig Biggio could not do. Long before he became an All-Star second baseman and established himself as one of the greatest players in Houston Astros’ history, Biggio was a hot prospect catcher. Unlike many of the other catchers who played in the era when Biggio came up, he was spry and the Astros, in an effort to get his bat in the lineup and utilize his speed, would often play him in the outfield early in his career on days where he did not catch, similar to the manner in which the San Francisco Giants frequently use Buster Posey at first base when he is not catching.
Biggio got the call up to the Major Leagues midway through the 1988 season after hitting .344 in his minor league career. Biggio was only 20 years old when he made his Major League debut, and while he struggled to a .211 average in 50 games, he made enough of an impression on the Astros to win the starting catcher’s job by the 1989 season. During that first full season, Biggio hit .257 with 13 homers and 60 RBI’s, while stealing an impressive 21 bases in 24 attempts, a very high number for a catcher that inspired the Astros to use Biggio in center field occasionally. For his efforts, Biggio won the Silver Slugger Award as a catcher in his first season, though he could not be considered for the Rookie of the Year award due to having made too many plate appearances during the 1988 season. Biggio hit .276 in 1990, then delivered an All-Star campaign in 1991, hitting .295 with 4 homers and 46 RBI’s atop the Houston order, while stealing 19 bases and getting in time at catcher, second base and the outfield.
The Astros officially moved Biggio out from behind the plate in 1992, making him their everyday second baseman. Biggio responded by hitting at a .277 clip and getting on base 38.8% of the time, hitting 6 homers, driving in 39 runs and stealing 38 bases, though he was also caught a career-high 15 times. Biggio was rewarded with his second All-Star game appearance as he and another up-and-coming player in Jeff Bagwell began to establish themselves around the National League as “The Killer B’s,” with Biggio getting on base frequently and Bagwell driving him in.
Biggio’s best overall seasons at the plate came in 1997 and 1998. In 1997 he hit .309 with 22 homers and 81 RBI’s. He followed that up with a 1998 season in which he hit 20 homers, drove across 88 runs and hit a career-high .325.
Biggio’s defensive versatility came into play again in 2003, when the Astros acquired Jeff Kent. Biggio was asked to move back to the outfield to accommodate Kent at second base, and during the 2003 season was the starting center fielder. Biggio also split time between left and center field in 2004.
But the finest season his team had with him in the lineup also proved to be a big one. In 2005, the Houston Astros would make it to the World Series for the first time. That year, at age 39, Biggio moved back to second base and had a career-high in home runs with 26, hitting a respectable .265 in the process. Biggio hit .316 in the NLDS and .333 in the NLCS, but fell to .222 in the World Series as the Astros were swept by the Chicago White Sox.
Biggio finished with a career line of a .281 batting average, a .363 on base percentage, 291 home runs, 3,060 hits, and 1,175 RBI’s, while stealing 414 bases. He was a 7-time All-Star (6 times as a second baseman, once as a catcher,) a 5-time Silver Slugger (4 times as a second baseman, once as a catcher,) a 4-time Gold Glove award winner at second base, and the Houston Astros have retired his number 7. Helping Biggio’s on-base percentage was his willingness to “take one for the team.” His 285 career hit-by-pitch total is second all-time only to Hughie Jennings‘ 287 and is recognized as the modern-day baseball record (Jennings’ career spanned from 1891-1918.) Biggio was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame during his third year of eligibility and was inducted with the Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
We’re just getting warmed up. In the next part of our series, we’ll take a look at a 3,000-hit club member, a World Series hero, and one of the game’s most dominating pitchers.