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Granite Bay author Clay Sigg pens tribute to single-franchise MLB players

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Growing up in the 1960s, some of the Major League Baseball players Clay Sigg admired most—Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial—all had one thing in common.

Each spent their entire MLB career with one franchise. While technically the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Clemente before Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Branch Rickey plucked him as a minor leaguer via the Rule 5 Draft, and while Koufax moved with the Dodgers in 1958 to Los Angeles, each man never donned another big league uniform or had to have their baseball card airbrushed to show the hat of a different team.

It’s an increasingly rare feat in a baseball world where free agency has turned so many players in recent decades into travelling acts, vagabonds and mercenaries available to the highest bidder.

Sigg recently completed a 12-year project researching and writing about the 177 players in the 20th century who spent their entire career with one team. The Granite Bay resident—by day a broker married with a wife and three adult children—has a book published in June 2016, “Hometown Heroes: The Single Franchise Baseball Stars of the 20th Century.”

For Sigg, some of the players in the book initially were simply those he admired most as a child, not just for their playing abilities but their characters.

“Just about every single one of these players was a lifetime player (for the same team),” Sigg said. “The teams wouldn’t let go of them. (These players) didn’t want to leave. They were there for life.”

In his 10th year as a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, Sigg made his criteria 20th century players who’d logged at least 10 seasons in their careers, all for the same franchise.

All but five teams—the Arizona Diamondbacks, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins, and Texas Rangers—have had at least one player do this. One team, the Kansas City Royals who began as an expansion franchise in 1969, have had five players who qualify: George Brett, Frank White, Paul Splittorff, John Wathan, and Dennis Leonard.

Sigg included players in his book like Clemente, Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell, and longtime Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, each signed in the minors by one team but who each spent their entire MLB careers for another team.

Sigg made exceptions on his 10-season rule for the following players:

  • - Hall of Fame pitcher Addie Joss, who died of bacterial meningitis shortly after going to spring training in 1911 in preparation for his 10th season;
  • - Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman who was killed by a pitched ball during his ninth season in 1920;
  • - Houston Astros pitcher Don Wilson, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1975, months after his ninth season concluded;
  • - George Selkirk, whose career was cut short by his service in World War II.

Like any great research project, Sigg found himself surprised by some of the things he learned.

“It didn’t work out perfectly, because in my mind, Yogi Berra should be a lifetime Yankee but he had nine at-bats for the New York Mets,” Sigg said.

Other greats defined by their work for one franchise quietly had stints with other teams, Sigg noted: Christy Mathewson, Ryne Sandberg, Lou Brock.

“There are plenty of guys who blew that at the end, the Duke Sniders of the world or the Hank Greenbergs or the Harmon Killebrews,” Sigg said.

It took years for Sigg to complete his work, with him waiting in recent years for the retirement of the final player who’d played for one team entirely and logged at least one season in the 20th century, Derek Jeter. (Sigg also kept tabs on longtime Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, whose career began 2000, though the Phillies eventually let Rollins go.)

Now, after a project that “represented thousands and thousands of hours,” Sigg will need a new one. He’s thinking of a history book involving Abraham Lincoln.