One way to track player movement is to compare spring training rosters in consecutive seasons and count how many of the players were with a different major league club the preceding year. From 1951 through '77, while the old reserve system was in effect, an average of 4.7 players per club per year changed teams, mostly through trades. From '78 through '92, with limited free agency in effect, the average number of switches was 4.6. This season the average was 4.2, the lowest in five years and the seventh-lowest since 1951.
So whatever else free agency does, it does not increase the movement of players. That's one reasonable-sounding theory thrown out at the plate.
The corollary to that misconception is that the big stars no longer stay with the teams they came up with, which leads fans to complain that there's no player loyalty anymore. That, too, is easily disproved. Consider the 127 players who were named to the Hall of Fame before 1980 and were thus unaffected by free agency. Of those, 89 players, or 70%, played for at least two teams. And 14 of them played for at least five. Such immortals as Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, Napoleon Lajoie, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker and Cy Young were all sent to new teams in the middle of their careers. Hall of Fame shortstop Walter (Rabbit) Maranville came up with the Boston Braves in 1912. He was then traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals before being dealt one last time back to the Braves.
A sampling of Hall of Fame players from the era when free agency was available would be too small for a proper comparison, but consider these recent and potential Hall of Famers: Johnny Bench. Wade Boggs, George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Jim Palmer, Kirby Puckett, Cal Ripken, Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell, Carl Yastrzemski and Robin Yount. All were or have been players who played with only one team during their major league careers.
Despite what people seem to believe, it's clear that the players of today are showing at least as much—if not more—loyalty to their teams as the teams of yesterday showed to their players.
Tale of the Tape
Hypnotized Mare McDowell wins bowling's big prize
It was an offer Marc McDowell could have refused. But because he didn't, on Saturday in Fairlawn, Ohio, McDowell won the Firestone Tournament of Champions, bowling's most prestigious tournament.
In January, McDowell was approached by bowling fan Jack Blumenthal, a hypnotherapist in their hometown of Madison, Wis. Blumenthal offered the 29-year-old McDowell a hypnotic-suggestion tape if McDowell would give howling lessons to Blumenthal's children. McDowell agreed. "I was kind of skeptical at first, but I found that the tape helped me relax," McDowell said before Saturday's final round. "I started using it, and I won the first tournament of the year."
McDowell was the Professional Bowling Association's Rookie of the Year in 1986, and he won two titles in '89. But last year, despite reaching the final round in six tournaments, he failed to win a title. Feeling he had nothing to lose, he tried the relaxation tape and promptly won the AC-Delco Classic in Torrance, Calif. "On the tape," said McDowell, "Jack counts down—8, 7, 6.... Then he snaps his fingers. Then he tells me that I'm the Bowler of the Year, and that I'm courageous and brave.