(If you like some cardboard with your baseball trivia, read the rest of our related posts here.)
Labor Day is an opportunity for Americans to sit back and celebrate the work that we do all year round, usually with little fanfare. Most of the time, we just show up day after day, do our jobs to the best of our abilities and with little fanfare, and then come back for more.
Again and again.
And, while we sports fans often covet the life of our favorite players, the truth is that every job is a job sometimes, and that goes for baseball players as well as accountants and landscapers.
To help us celebrate the day, then, let’s take a look at the guys who have shown up in Major League lineups more than any others. They are the players who “come to work” day after day, for years on end, just like the rest of us. They’ve played more games than all the rest, in other words.
A few rules to help us make sure we’re getting a straight dose of the “workman” players who might empathize with our own daily routines:
- No Hall of Famers (sorry, Cal Ripken).
- No guys who would be in the Hall of Fame if it weren’t for their own foibles (sorry, Pete Rose and Barry Bonds). No matter what you think of them, these guys are like the CEOs who screw up their legacies through embezzlement or other shady practices.
- No guys who still have a decent shot at the Hall of Fame.
Now, on with our day laborers.
Rusty Staub, 2951 games
“Le Grand Orange” was a fan favorite everywhere he went in a 23-year career that included stops in Houston, Montreal, New York (NL, twice), Detroit, and Texas. Along the way, the big right fielder and first baseman accumulated 2716 hits and 292 home runs. Had he not played partial seasons in 1964 and 1972, Staub may have recorded 3000 hits and punched his Cooperstown ticket.
Graig Nettles, 2700 games
Nettles was the subject of one of the “greatest” error cards in hobby history — the infamous “C. Nettles” card in the 1981 Fleer set. On the field, Graig (not Craig) was a superstar for the New York Yankees in the 1970s and helped the San Diego Padres to their first World Series appearance in 1984. With 390 home runs and more than 2200 hits, Nettles is one of the best third basemen to not be elected to the Hall of Fame.
Darrell Evans, 2687 games
It’s no coincidence that the player with a career most similar to Nettles’, according to Baseball Reference, was Darrell Evans, who slugged his way through the Major Leagues for 21 years. During stops with the Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, and Detroit Tigers, Evans collected more than 2200 hits and slammed 414 home runs. He was also a key member of the world champion 1984 Tigers, one of the game’s all-time great teams.
Dwight Evans, 2606 games
The second of the Evans Brothers (OK, they’re not brothers) on our list, Dwight was one of Boston’s best players for nearly two decades. Aside from regularly smacking 20+ home runs and playing in goodly amounts of games, Dewey also nabbed seven Gold Gloves for his work in right field. It was painful even for non-Sawx fans to see Evans in an Orioles uniform in 1991, but that wound is salved by his career totals of 2446 hits and 385 home runs.
Steve Finley, 2583 games
Steve Finley got a late start on stardom, not landing a starting gig with the Baltimore Orioles until 1990 when he was 25 years old. He spent the next several seasons as an OK-hitting center fielder before turning on the jets at age 31 in 1996. From that point forward, he was a consistent power threat and ended his 19-year career with 2548 hits and 304 home runs.
Julio Franco, 2527 games
Julio Franco got his start in Major League Baseball way back in 1912 — OK, it was really 1982, but it sure seems like he was around forever. And he basically was, if you’ll accept 26 years as a form of truncated infinity. During a MLB career that took him into his (very) late 40s, Franco played for eight different teams, collected 2586 hits, clubbed 173 home runs, and stole 281 bases. And who knows? Maybe he’s not really done yet.
Bill Buckner, 2517 games
When Bill Buckner banged out 168 hits for the 1986 Boston Red Sox at age 36 after picking up 201 the year before, it looked like he just might make a strong late-career push toward 3000 and a spot in Cooperstown. Instead, he gimped his way to the most famous error in World Series history and never seemed to recover. Still, he ended up with more than 2700 hits and a spot on our list of Labor Day stars.
Gary Gaetti, 2507 games
Gary Gaetti often gets lost in the glare of history that emanates from the Minnesota Twins’ World Series teams of 1987 and 1991. After all, those clubs had Herbie and Kirby and Gladden and Viola and Hankies and Baggies and so many memories that you can’t even remember them all. And, heck, Gaetti wasn’t even in town for the second championship. But, man, he was really good for a really long time and ended his 20-year career with 2280 hits, 360 home runs, and the 1987 ALCS MVP award. Yes, without the G-Man, none of the rest might have happened at all.
Johnny Damon, 2490 games
Damon was “cursed” with being a first-round draft pick in the early 1990s, which meant that the hype around him came baked into every minor league at-bat and Bowman rookie, pre-rookie, super special chrome draft pick future star rated youngster baseball card. He had some mixed results early on after he made the Kansas City Royals roster in 1995 but quickly settled in as a star leadoff hitter who routinely recorded close to 700 plate appearances each year. Do that 18 years in a row, and you, too, might approach Damon’s final numbers of 2769 hits, 235 home runs, 408 stolen bases, and 1668 runs.
Vada Pinson, 2469 games
Pinson broke into the Major Leagues with the Cincinnati Reds at age 19 and kept slashing away for 18 years. Early in his career, Pinson was a dual threat, reaching the 20-homer/20-stolen base club five times by the end of 1965. Although his playing time became more spotty as he moved into his late twenties and beyond, Pinson was still consistent enough to make our lineup, ending with career numbers of 2757 hits, 256 home runs, and 305 stolen bases.
And, a bonus, because it’s Labor Day and because I’m such a Reds homer …
Dave Parker, 2466 games
After a couple of so-so partial season in 1973 and 1974, Dave Parker burst onto the scene for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1975 and, by 1978 — when he won the NL MVP award — was a regular part of “best player in the game” discussions across the nation. Sporting the size of an NFL tight end, Parker terrorized National League pitchers from the batter’s box and cut down NL runners from his right-field perch with a right arm that belonged on a battlefield. Though he hit a rough patch in the early 1980s, The Cobra came back strong with the Cincinnati Reds in 1984 and was once again in MVP discussions by 1985. In a 19-year career spanning six cities, Parker recorded 2712 hits, smacked 339 home runs, and hit a solid .290. Had he carried his 1970s swagger uninterrupted into the early 1980s, Parker might well be in Cooperstown today.
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