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Celebrating iconic franchise players who finished their careers elsewhere

As part of our ongoing series: three Hall of Fame Face-of-the-franchise’ players who ended their careers elsewhere. 

Baseball Player Harmon Killebrew

Over the last couple weeks, we have examined a number of players who are icons for a specific team, but ended their careers elsewhere. We started with Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, who were implicated in a gambling scandal. Last week we examined some bi-coastal players who hung their hats in New York and California.

This week, we take a look at three Hall of Famers who are well-known as franchise-players for a specific team, but ended up finishing their careers elsewhere

Harmon Killebrew

Last week we took a look at several players who moved with their teams from New York to California, this week we do a bit of the same, kicking off our list with Harmon Kellebrew. Killebrew served as a staple in the lineup for the Washington Senators who in 1961 moved to Minnesota, establishing the Twins franchise.

The 13-time All Star, and 1969 American League MVP played over two decades for the Senators / Twins franchise, and is third on the all-time WAR list behind only Walter Johnson and Rod Carew.

Washington called Killebrew to The Show in 1954 at the ripe age of 18, at which time he was the youngest player in the game, though it wasn’t until he reached his early 20s that Kilebrew really broke-through and reached his potential. From 1959 through 1969, Killebrew led the American league in homers six times, and led the league in walks three times. He made nine consecutive all star games,

The Twins named him team captain upon their arrival in Minneapolis, where he promptly set the franchise record for most home runs by a Senator / Twins’ player.

Killebrew helped drive the Twins to the 1965 World Series, where they brought the Dodgers to a decisive seventh game. Minnesota ultimately fell short, as Sandy Koufax out-dueled Jim Kaat in 2-0 series clinching victory. Over the course of that series, Killebrew managed six hits and six walks in 27 plate appearances (a .444 OBP) and he hit one home run.

Following his MVP season in 1969, the Twins offered him a new contract which carried Killebrew as the franchise player and face-of-the-franchise until the end of the 1974 season.

Due to injury problems and age (this being his age-38 season), the Twins offered Killebrew the option of serving as a Minnesota coach, managing a minor league affiliate, or being released. He opted for release, and ended up on the Kansas City Royals the last year of his career.

In 1975, Killebrew played in 106 games for the Royals, but he was a shadow of his former self. He managed only 14 home runs, when he generally averaged closer to 40, and he was a below-league-average hitter, posting a 93 OPS+. Upon his return as a visiting player to Minneapolis on May 4th, 1975, the Twins celebrated his career for the franchise and retired his uniform number. He managed to hit a home run in the losing effort, much to the delight of the local crowd.

He rejoined the Twins franchise upon his retirement, becoming an announcer and doing color commentary for the team, finishing his baseball career for the franchise that cemented him as a baseball icon.

Hank Aaron

Hank Aaron was at the top of his game in the National League around the same time period as Harmon Killebrew tore up the American League.

With over two decades in a Braves uniform, Aaron moved with the team from Milwaukee to Atlanta. He cemented his place in Braves history before finishing his career back in Milwaukee, where he played as a Brewer in 1975 and 1976.

Aaron led the NL in homers four times , and led the league in total bases eight times, during his tenure with the Braves. He regularly garnered MVP votes, and earned the award in 1957. He also managed to make his way to 18 consecutive All Star selections, and 21 in total (a standing MLB record).

Aaron is most notable for his home run prowess and consistency. He hit 24+ home runs in every season between 1955 and 1973, and hit 30 or more homers 15 times in his career. Most famously, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record for the most-ever career home runs, a record he held for 33 years.

Aaron is often listed as one of the best players to ever grace the game, and he garnered fifth place on The Sporting News’ list of baseball’s top-100 players of all time.

Aaron joined the Milwaukee Braves franchise at the age of 20, following some time in the Negroe Leagues. He played 122 games in 1954, garnering some rookie of the year votes, but ultimately finishing behind Wally Moon, Ernie Banks, and Gene Conley (a fellow Braves rookie).

In 1957, Aaron blasted 44 home runs, earning MVP honors, and leading the Braves to the World Series, which they won in seven games over the vaunted Yankees. In the Fall Classic, Aaron managed 11 hits in 28 at bats, posting an excellent slash line of .393/.414/.786.

When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Aaron was right there with them, remaining the face-of-the-franchise amidst the change in city. He set multiple career milestones after the move, becoming the eighth player in MLB history to reach the 500 home run mark, and collecting his 3,000th hit in 1970. The following season he reached the 600 home run mark, making him the third-ever player to do so. He went over the 700 homer mark in 1973, en route to breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974. The classic scene of the African-American Aaron rounding the bases to a standing deep-south Atlanta crowd is an iconic MLB image.

After opting not to retire at the end of the 1974 season, the Braves traded Aaron to Milwaukee, where he would finish his career in the same city it started. In Milwaukee, Aaron managed yet another career milestone, breaking the MLB record for RBIs, another held by Babe Ruth. That year he also played in his last All Star game. Aaron hit his final home run, number 755, on July 20th, 1976 back in Milwaukee.

Aaron holds the Braves’ record for the most career WAR, with a remarkable 142.6.

Ron Santo

One of the most beloved and iconic Cubs players of all time, and one of MLB’s best players to never play in a playoff game, Ron Santo had a storied career on the North Side of Chicago before finishing his career across town.

Santo played third base for the Cubs from his call-up in 1960 through the end of the 1973 season. Over the course of his 13-year career with the Cubbies, he made nine All Star teams, won five Gold Gloves, and cemented his place as one of the best third basemen of the ‘60s (he along with Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, Chipper Jones and a few others are in the conversation for best fielder 3B ever).

Known as a prolific fielding third baseman, Santo also posted strong numbers at the plate. He led the league in walks in four seasons, and managed a career .362 OBP.

Santo also was the first player to invoke the 10-and-five benefit for tenured players, who were entitled to a trade veto if they played in the league for 10 years, including five with their current team. Santo vetoed a trade that would have sent him to the Angels in 1973.

Despite the trade veto, the Cubs still managed to move Santo, who after a two-decade-plus career on the North Side, ok’d a deal that sent him to the crosstown rival White Sox.

During his one season with the Sox at the age of 34, he served primarily as a designated hitter, and was a shadow of his former-self, slashing a meager .221/.293/.299.

Despite a storied career in Cubbie-blue, Santo never played in a playoff game, and was dismissed by the BBWAA for selection into the Hall of Fame, something he earned post-mortem by the Golden Era Committee in 2011.

Santo’s 72.1 bWAR positions him second all-time in Cubs’ WAR behind only 19th century hurler Cap Anson, and remains a celebrated part of Cubs’ history even though he ended his career on the South Side of Chicago with the White Sox.

Next week we’ll wrap-up our series looking at the modern era of the game, where transience and free agency reigns. Despite the movement of players from team-to-team since the advent of free agency, we’ll take a look at Dwight Evans, Trevor Hoffman, and Felix Hernandez’ last years in MLB, following an iconic career for one franchise.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano