In this era of frequent free agency and unloading of big contracts, it is refreshing to see the occasional baseball star stay with a team for his entire major-league career (and not just because the money was “right”). For example, 2007 Hall of Fame inductees Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr., will always be remembered as great ballplayers for the San Diego Padres and the Baltimore Orioles, respectively. The uniforms of those teams are the only ones they ever donned in the the major leagues.

Trevor Hoffman and John Smoltz will always be remembered by baseball fans as great pitchers for the San Diego Padres and the Atlanta Braves, respectively. But alas, they will pitch for different teams next year after Hoffman signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, and Smoltz inked a deal worth at least $5.5 million from the Boston Red Sox.

Hoffman, 41, began his major-league career with the Florida Marlins, but he only pitched in 28 games for them before being traded to the Padres, where he spent the next 15 years accumulating enough saves to become the all-time leader. Had Hoffman retired as a Padre, he essentially would’ve played his entire major-league career with San Diego. (I call this exception the Ryno Rule, named after Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who played his entire major-league career with the Chicago Cubs except for 13 games for the Philadelphia Phillies before being traded to the Cubs.) Instead, Hoffman will add to his record 554 saves as a member of the Brewers.

Though Hoffman’s change of address is disappointing, it isn’t surprising after the Padres pulled back a $4 million contract offer in November. That seemed to signal that Hoffman’s days pitching for San Diego were over. But Smoltz leaving Atlanta is another story. His signing with Boston surprised me, especially after he was one of the faces of the Braves organization for 21 years. But according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Braves’ offer wasn’t close to what Smoltz will get from the Red Sox. The Braves offered Smoltz a guaranteed $2.5 million, rising to $5 million if he was on the major-league roster for 60 days. The Red Sox gave Smoltz $5.5 million in guaranteed money, with incentives that could net Smoltz as much as $10 million.

Of course, Smoltz, 41, is a multimillionaire who doesn’t need the extra money Boston offered, but as often is the case with professional athletes, the bottom line is whether they feel respected by a team’s contract offer. But that’s another topic for another day when I don’t mind writing about the ridiculous amounts of money athletes continue to get while the rest of us “regular people” suffer through a depressing recession.

The bottom line is this: When they likely are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Hoffman will wear a Padres cap and Smoltz will wear a Braves cap. And those lines near the bottom of their plaques, where their teams are listed in chronological order, will just seem like unnecessary clutter – just like the mention of the New York Mets on Willie Mays’s Hall of Fame plaque.

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Bread Line bonus: Chipper Jones is angry that his longtime teammate and friend Smoltz signed with the Red Sox. Read that story here: http://www.ajc.com/sports/content/sports/braves/stories/2009/01/08/john_smoltz_chipper_jones.html

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