MLB.com Columnist

Joe Posnanski

He played where? Majors' best 'irony jerseys'

From Babe with the Braves to Seaver with the Red Sox, we check off each team

He played where? Majors' best 'irony jerseys'

Every time you go to a baseball game, if you look closely, you will see a fan wearing a baseball jersey that doesn't make a lot of sense. If you go to an Astros game, for instance, you will see Jeff Bagwell jerseys, Craig Biggio jerseys, Nolan Ryan jerseys and jerseys of today's stars -- Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, etc.

But you will probably see one person wearing a Steve Lombardozzi jersey or a Danny Heep jersey or an Oscar Zamora jersey or something like that. And you will smile.

You can call these "irony jerseys." Maybe it's the jersey of a player who was not a star. Maybe it's the jersey of a player who had a troubled time with the team. Or maybe -- and these are my favorite kinds of irony jerseys -- it's the jersey of a really good player who is known for playing on other teams, a player nobody remembers played for your team.

Here then, team by team, are my favorite irony jerseys.

Angels: Bo Jackson's No. 22
There are those who insist that if Jackson had concentrated all his energy on baseball, he could have been one of the greatest to ever play the game. He did flash that sort of talent in Kansas City, particularly in 1990 when he hit .272/.342/.523 with 28 homers in 111 games. But then he badly hurt his hip playing football for the Raiders. You probably remember that he desperately tried to put his baseball career together again with the White Sox, but it didn't take. What you might not remember is that in 1994, the year of the strike, Jackson played 75 games for the California Angels. He was quite good -- he hit .279/.344/.507 with 13 homers -- but his heart just wasn't in it. During the strike, he said that he got to know his family ("That looks better to me than any $10 million contract," Jackson said) and he walked away from baseball.

Bo breaks bat over knee

Astros: Dwight Gooden's No. 16
Can you picture Gooden in an Astros jersey? I absolutely cannot … and it's no wonder, because he only made one start for Houston. It was April 2000 against Philadelphia, and he gave up a home run on the second pitch of the game to Doug Glanville. It did not get much better after that; Gooden lasted just four innings, gave up six runs, and had his contract sold five days later to his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Gooden's first Astros strikeout

Athletics: Joe Morgan's No. 8
The Hall of Famer played his last year in Oakland, his hometown. It was 1984, the final stop of his whirlwind post-Cincinnati tour. Morgan played in San Francisco and Philadelphia, and it's hard to see him in those uniforms too, but Morgan in an Oakland uniform really does not compute. He wasn't bad though; he only hit .244, but as usual, he walked enough that his on-base percentage (.356) was the second highest on the team behind Rickey Henderson.

Blue Jays: Phil Niekro's No. 35
Niekro played 20 seasons for the Braves, following the team from Milwaukee to Atlanta, and by the end of that run, he was already 44 years old. He then bounced around for a little while, and you would have to be a pretty obsessive Niekro fan to remember that he was traded to the Blue Jays late in the 1987 season to help out with the pennant race. It didn't work out too well -- Toronto lost all three of his starts, though Niekro wasn't bad the first two. In his final start for the Blue Jays, he lasted only two-thirds of an inning against Oakland and Toronto released him, allowing Niekro to fittingly make his final big league start for Atlanta.

Niekro's first Blue Jays K

Braves: Babe Ruth's No. 3
It is probably the most iconic irony jersey of them all -- Ruth was traded to the Boston Braves in 1935 in a disastrous move for all parties (except, of course, the Yankees). The Braves wanted Ruth to spark attendance. Ruth wanted the chance to be a manager. Ownership wanted Ruth to help invest a bit in the club. Nobody got what they wanted, Ruth hit just .181 with six home runs before finally being allowed to retire after 28 games. Still, Babe Ruth did indeed wear his legendary No. 3 for the Braves for a short time.

Ruth homers in exhibition game

Brewers: Willie Randolph's No. 30
I have no memory whatsoever of Randolph playing for any team but the Yankees, which is strange because he also played for the Pirates, Dodgers, A's, Mets and Brewers. Even crazier, Randolph had a fantastic season for the Brewers -- he hit .327 with a .424 on-base percentage for the 1991 Brew Crew, better than Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Randolph was a really, really good player. If you had to pick the most overlooked players when it comes to the Hall of Fame, several of them -- Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich and Randolph leading the way -- were '70s and '80s second basemen.

Randolph's walk-off double

Cardinals: John Smoltz's No. 30
Smoltz was 42 years old when he came to St. Louis in 2009 to provide spiritual support, as well as a few good starts for a Cardinals team that had World Series aspirations. He wasn't bad -- in his first start with St. Louis, he struck out nine in five scoreless innings, and in his next start, he gave up one run in six innings. He did give up a grand slam to Laynce Nix in his final big league start, though, and he retired after two shaky innings in the clinching loss against the Dodgers in the National League Division Series.

Cubs: Kenny Lofton's No. 7
Let's admit up front: This is sort of cheating. Truth is, Lofton can be an irony jersey for just about half the teams in baseball. Did you remember he played for the Rangers? For the Dodgers? For the White Sox? For the Giants? For the Pirates? For the Phillies? For the Astros, who he actually debuted with in 1991 before a trade to Cleveland? He put in one-year stints for 10 teams, which is incredible. But if I had to pick one that shocks me most, it's the Cubs. He came over to Chicago from Pittsburgh in the Aramis Ramirez steal of the summer of 2003, and he was superb for the Cubs in his 56 games there. Chicago fans probably haven't forgotten him because he was terrific in the postseason that year, though you might recall that one did not end too well for the Cubs.

Lofton collect four hits

D-backs: Adam Dunn's No. 32
For 44 games in 2008, for reasons that are not entirely clear even now, the D-backs had Dunn. They had picked him up for their pseudo-pennant race with the Dodgers (who ended up winning the NL West with an unimpressive 84-78 record). Dunn couldn't wear his usual No. 44 in Arizona because it belonged to Micah Owings, the best hitting pitcher in baseball. So he wore No. 32 and did what he did -- he hit .243, struck out a bunch, walked a bunch and hit eight home runs. The great part of those eight home runs is that when added to the 32 he had hit for the Reds, he totaled exactly 40 homers … for the fourth straight year.

Dunn's 40th homer of season

Dodgers: Jim Thome's No. 25
I consider myself something of a Thome expert; I've been following his career since he was a young third baseman in the Cleveland organization, and I've known him for more than 20 years. I have no memory whatsoever of him playing for the Dodgers, none at all, but he was traded to Los Angeles in late August 2009 (for Justin Fuller) and played 17 games with the club. Thome even got into five postseason games as a pinch-hitter.

Expos: Pete Rose's No. 14
Seventy-two of Rose's 4,256 hits were picked up with him wearing an Expos jersey in 1984. This should be easy to picture, because he did get his 4,000th hit as an Expo -- there's an iconic shot of him at second base after he hit the double. But I still have a hard time seeing it, and Expo Rose still looks wrong whenever I see it.

Giants: Darryl Strawberry's No. 17
The only time Straw wore that weird No. 17 (which had always been Keith Hernandez's number in New York) was the 29 games he played with the Giants in 1994. He got off to a very hot start, hitting homers in back-to-back games in Montreal and then doing it again with back-to-back homer days against the Rockies. At that point, Strawberry was hitting .303/.407/.530, but he promptly went 2-for-his-next-26, the strike came, and the Giants let him go.

Strawberry launches grand slam

Indians: Keith Hernandez's No. 17
Most people think Hernandez retired as a Met, but he actually played 43 games for a lamentable Cleveland team in 1990. Five years later, Cleveland would have one of the greatest offensive teams in baseball history -- this team had Candy Maldonado, Chris James, Cory Snyder, Felix Fermin and Brook Jacoby. Put it this way: Hernandez got 145 plate appearances with the Tribe. He scored seven runs. He drove in eight.

Hernandez hits two-run homer

Marlins: Mike Piazza's No. 31
This is one of the greatest irony jerseys ever. Piazza was traded to Florida on May 14, 1998, for a slew of players including Bobby Bonilla and Gary Sheffield. He played just five games for the Marlins, and he was flipped to the Mets eight days later. The highlight of the Piazza Miami Era, as it is known, was a triple he hit off a St. Louis pitcher named Rich Croushore. It was his only triple of 1998; he would not hit another one for four years.

Piazza's first Marlins hit

Mariners: Rickey Henderson's No. 35
Henderson played for nine teams, so if anyone asks you, "Did Rickey play for Team X?" you'd have a pretty good bet saying, "Yes." Still, those 92 games he played for Seattle in 2000 at age 41 are as unmemorable as anything the great man did. The best part of that span in Seattle? He still led the team in stolen bases, even at that age (and that was a fast team that finished second in the league in that category). Rickey was 31 of 40 on stolen-base attempts.

Henderson's three steals

New York Mets: Willie Mays' No. 24
Nobody forgets that Mays finished his career with the Mets; his falling down in the outfield is one of the most famous literary devices in sports history for showing how even the greatest players age. But Mays in a Mets uniform feels so wrong that -- like Johnny Unitas in a Chargers uniform, Wayne Gretzky in a St. Louis Blues jersey and Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards jersey -- it has come to represent jersey sadness.

Mays gets standing ovation

Nationals: Ivan Rodriguez's No. 7
Pudge finished his career with the Nats, playing 155 games across 2010-11, and it was kind of a bad scene all the way around. Rodriguez really was finished as a great player -- he posted a 72 OPS+ with Washington -- and the Nationals were a dreadful team. Still, Pudge was behind the plate for the first start of a phenom named Stephen Strasburg on June 8, 2010, which meant that he had started his career catching Nolan Ryan (in Pudge's second start), caught Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett and Mariano Rivera along the way, and he finished with Strasburg. Not bad.

Pudge's final big league hit

Orioles: Reggie Jackson's No. 9
Most irony jerseys come at the end of the player's career, but Jackson played for Baltimore smack in the middle, right between his dominant years with Oakland and his turbulent ones with the Yankees. Jackson led the league in slugging and OPS+ in 1976 with Baltimore, the last time he would do either, but he couldn't lead the Orioles past the Yankees in the division -- New York won by 10 1/2 games. Jackson promptly realized that if you can't beat them, you join them, and he signed with the Yanks, predating Kevin Durant by 40 years.

Jackson hits a single

Padres: Greg Maddux's No. 30
Maddux didn't seem to care much about uniform numbers -- he wore No. 31 with the Cubs and Braves, No. 36 with the Dodgers and No. 30 with the Padres. It's hard to picture him with San Diego, but he made 60 starts for the Padres after being acquired from the Dodgers in August 2007 and won an NL Gold Glove Award for them in '08.

Phillies: Fernando Valenzuela's No. 33
I just cannot picture it. I try … but I cannot see Fernando in that Phillies jersey. To be fair, I can't really see him in an Angels jersey, an Orioles jersey, a Padres jersey or a Cardinals jersey. But Philadelphia? He made seven starts for the Phillies in 1994 and proved to be pretty befuddling. In his last start against the Mets, he went eight innings, struck out seven and allowed just one run (a Jim Lindeman homer) in a 2-1 victory. Jaime Jarrín, the great Dodgers Spanish language announcer for more than a half century, said that no player in baseball history, not even Babe Ruth, brought in more new fans than Fernando.

Runner up: Pedro Martinez with the Phillies. His final game was actually Game 6 of the 2009 World Series (four innings, four runs) when the Yankees clinched their 27th World Series title, which is why Fernando wins the irony jersey contest, but Martinez still deserves mention here. Pedro in a Phillies uniform is plain weird.

Pirates: Kirk Gibson's No. 25
The Pirates jersey is so stark in black and gold that it's hard to forget the sight of a player wearing it. And so I can say this with absolute certainty: Gibson absolutely never wore that jersey. I don't care that record books show him playing 16 games for Pittsburgh in 1992. The record books show that the Kansas City Royals traded Gibson to Pittsburgh for Neal Heaton … but for that to be true, it would mean that Gibson played for the Royals, which also did not happen.

Rays: Manny Ramirez's No. 24
I actually know that this happened because I saw Manny playing for the Rays during 2011 Spring Training. It made absolutely no sense even as we were watching it, and if I remember correctly, he was picked off during the game because he forgot the number of outs. He played five big league games with the Rays in '11, going 1-for-17.

Manny's final Major League hit

Rangers: Carlos Beltran's No. 36
This should be easy to remember; it happened just last year. But I have already forgotten it entirely. Texas traded three prospects to the Yankees for 52 games of Beltran, and he hit .280 with seven home runs and then played in all three games of the Blue Jays' sweep of the Rangers in the American League Division Series. Beltran will have a fascinating Hall of Fame argument, but one thing that will hurt him is that there isn't a clear team with which he's connected. You can imagine him in a Royals uniform, a Mets uniform, an Astros uniform and a Yankees uniform. Even with that blurry picture, the Rangers uniform does not fit him.

Beltran's line-drive homer

Reds: Jim Edmonds' No. 15
This might be the most obscure of the bunch -- Edmonds played for four teams in short order as he tried to keep his career going at the end. He played briefly for the Padres, then he tried the Cubs, sat out a year, played for the Brewers and finished with the Reds in 2010. Cincinnati actually traded for Edmonds, which is strange, but apparently it was looking for some veteran leadership. He had one of the strangest career finishes ever. Edmonds' last plate appearance was a first-inning home run off Milwaukee's Dave Bush in late September 2010. He hurt his right Achilles rounding the bases and never again appeared in a big league game.

Edmonds' solo blast

Red Sox: Tom Seaver's No. 41
In late 1986, Boston traded Steve Lyons to get the 41-year-old Tom Terrific. The Red Sox were in a pennant race and they thought Seaver could help as a pitcher, but perhaps even more as a mentor, particularly for the young Roger Clemens. It worked surprisingly well; Clemens always said that Seaver was a big reason he became such a dominant pitcher. Seaver pitched reasonably well for the Red Sox too in 16 starts, but then hurt his knee and couldn't play in the AL Championship Series or in the World Series against the Mets.

Rockies: Dale Murphy's No. 3
Murphy went to Colorado in 1993 in large part to try and pick up a couple more home runs so that he could get to 400. He could not do it; he played 26 games and managed just six hits, one of them a double. Murph was a big man who spent much of his career in center field, and his body broke down quickly, too quickly for those of us who idolized him. As a 31-year-old, Murph hit 44 home runs and posted a .997 OPS in '87. He tallied just 64 homers the rest of his career.

Royals: Harmon Killebrew's No. 3
Killebrew was released by the Twins in January 1975, and he signed eight days later with the Royals. He hit just .199 for Kansas City, but his 14 home runs ranked third on the team. That year was the breakthrough season for a 22-year-old phenom named George Brett, who has said he learned a lot about how to carry himself from the aging Killebrew. Killebrew retired at the end of the year.

Tigers: Fred Lynn's No. 9
Most people agree that if Lynn had stayed in Boston his whole career, he'd probably be in the Hall of Fame. Lynn's game was made for Fenway Park. When he went to the Angels and then the Orioles, he was a very solid and consistent player, but no longer the dominant Hall of Fame-type player. The Detroit thing … no idea that even happened. He was traded to the Tigers for Chris Hoiles on Aug. 31, 1988, and he played 144 games for the club across two seasons, hitting 18 of his 306 home runs. He then finished his career in San Diego in '89, another move that rings no bells.

Fred Lynn's 300th home run

Twins: Steve Carlton's No. 38
Carlton, you might remember, did not want to retire. He was famous for his strange but intense workout routines. He used to exercise his arm in huge barrels of rice … weird stuff like that. Carlton fully expected to pitch, and pitch well, until he was 50. He won the NL Cy Young Award in 1982 at 37, and he led the league in innings at 38, so it did not seem too crazy. But he aged anyway because that's what people do, and between '86-88, Carlton desperately clung to his "I'll pitch until I'm 50" hopes and tried to play with the White Sox, Indians, Giants and finally the Twins. He made eight starts with Minnesota in parts of two seasons, the last a matchup with Cleveland's John Farrell on April 23, 1988. He was 43 and he lasted five innings, giving up nine runs. He was relieved by fellow 43-year-old Joe Niekro. Carlton's career ended there.

White Sox: Ken Griffey's No. 17
The White Sox traded for Griffey at the Trade Deadline in 2008. Griffey played 41 games and hit .260 with three home runs. He then played for Chicago in the postseason in a brief three-game sweep by Tampa Bay. Griffey returned to Seattle to finish his career properly. The pictures of Griffey in a White Sox jersey always look badly photoshopped.

Griffey goes yard

Yankees: Lance Berkman's No. 17
It sure seems like No. 17 is the quintessential irony jersey number. Berkman played 37 games down the stretch for the Yankees in 2010. He homered against Minnesota in the postseason. I had to look all that up; I have no memory whatsoever of Berkman playing for the Yanks.

Berkman's solo blast

Joe Posnanski is an executive columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.