Lots of major pro athletes switched to less-than-traditional teams
There is a scene in the film “Wayne’s World” where Garth looks down at the new studio that isn’t in an Aurora, Ill., basement and says, “Wow, it looks like we’re looking down at Wayne’s basement, only that isn’t Wayne’s basement. Isn’t that weird?”
I had had the same feeling the first time I saw Tom Brady superimposed in a Tampa Bay uniform. It was like seeing the Verizon guy working for Sprint, the milk poured into the bowl before the cereal, or Ice-T as a cop in a Law and Order. Something felt … off.
But this has actually happened more than you think in sports. While most fans would have enjoyed to see the ex-New England Patriots quarterback stay with the same team his entire career, some of the top players ever didn’t play their whole career with one team. Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Wayne Gretzky, LeBron James, Babe Ruth, Greg Maddux, Willie Mays and Joe Montana all played with multiple teams.
But some players felt more out of place in different uniforms than others, to the point where it’s almost not remembered. Here’s a look back at ten players that really felt out of place in a different setting.
Michael Jordan, as a Washington Wizard
Did you know Jordan, the best NBA player of all time, didn’t finish his career with the Chicago Bulls? He retired for three years after his Bulls won the 1998 NBA Finals and then showed up in 2001 to play again, as a Wizard. He didn’t play poorly, averaging over 20 points a game in his two seasons in Washington, but both teams finished with identical 37-45 records and failed to make the playoffs each year. Don’t forget that Jordan was also a Chicago White Sox farmhand but that’s a different column.
Johnny Unitas, as a San Diego Charger
After years starting as the quarterback for the Baltimore Colts from 1956 through 1972, Unitas turned in his helmet with a horseshoe on it for one with a lightning bolt. Sadly, Unitas couldn’t catch lightning in a bottle in his last year of his career. The man that threw 290 career touchdowns and led the Colts to a Super Bowl V victory as well as championships in 1958 and 1959, only threw three touchdowns while being intercepted seven times in 1973.
Jerry Rice, as a Denver Bronco
When the best wide receiver of all time left the San Francisco 49ers for the Oakland Raiders, it was weird. After all, he had helped the 49ers win three Super Bowls. However, he was still in the Bay Area. Seeing him as a Seahawk was also odd, but at least we could still watch him, as he played 11 games in 2004 and scored three touchdowns.
But what people really don’t remember is that he showed up to the 2004 preseason as a Denver Bronco. He never played a regular season game for them that year as he learned he would be at best the No. 4 receiver. Still, if you see a Rice Broncos jersey it’s got to be more rare than a butcher who doubles as a vegetarian.
Steve Carlton, as a San Francisco Giant
Carlton pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1972 through 1985. During that time he won four Cy Young awards. That’s one for each decision he had for the San Francisco Giants in 1986, when he went 1-3 with a 5.10 ERA and was quickly released. He would later pitch for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins for brief periods before calling it quits.
Emmitt Smith, as an Arizona Cardinal
From 1990 to 2002, Smith was so good of a running back with the Dallas Cowboys that he led his team to three Super Bowl wins and eventually became the all-time leading rusher in NFL history with 18,355 yards. The guy was born to run more than Bruce Springsteen or Forrest Gump. But it just looked awkward to see him donning the red and white. He actually played well in his last season in 2004, rushing for nine touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards.
Patrick Ewing with the Orlando Magic; Hakeem Olajuwon as a Toronto Raptor
For years, these two NBA centers were arguably the best, especially after Kareem Abdul Jabbar retired and before Shaq joined the league. They even played each other in the NBA finals in 1994, Ewing by then a longtime New York Knick and Olajuwon a longtime Houston Rocket since the mid 1980s. But father time comes to us all, as these two greats eventually couldn’t play like they used to in 2001. Olajuwon averaged just 7.1 points a game during his one year in Toronto during the 2001-2002 season. Ewing, meanwhile averaged 6 points a game that same year. For both players those totals were nearly 15 points a game under their lifetime stats.
Reggie Jackson, as a Seattle Mariner?
Jackson is known for his World Series and regular season fame with the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees, as well as a five-year period with the California Angels. He was even a Baltimore Oriole for one year in 1976. But did you know he was a Seattle Mariner (kind of) for … about 20 minutes?
During the 1979 All-Star game festivities Jackson had yet to receive his Yankees jersey for the team photo. So they gave Jackson a Seattle Mariners jersey to wear during the photos since that year’s game was being played at the Kingdome. There is about two chances you’ll ever see someone in Seattle wearing a Jackson Mariners’ jersey — slim and none.
Martin Broudeur, with the St. Louis Blues
Opposing NHL scorers had a “devil” of a time trying to get a puck past this New Jersey goaltender, as he played from 1991 to 2014 and eventually picked up the most wins of any player ever in the league. However, in his final year he played for the St. Louis Blues for seven games. I guess he didn’t “respect the team” as much as Seinfeld’s David Puddy.
Rickey Henderson, as a Dodger
Look, Henderson stole 1,406 bases in his career, the most of all time in MLB history and that’s a record that probably will never be broke. But did you know his last three steals came in 2003 as a Dodger? He stole three bases and played 30 games there.
Henderson as a Padre, Mariner or extending his career in indy ball was bizarre too.
But even Rickey will tell you that Rickey looked weird wearing the blue and white rather than the green and gold.