Jarome Iginla was traded from the Calgary Flames to the Pittsburgh Penguins this week. He’d been a Flame for his entire 16-year career and now he’s teammates with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and all the other talents on an already-loaded Penguins roster.
Chipper Jones has retired. Derek Jeter is on his last legs. Iginla is a Penguin. Peyton Manning is a Bronco.
For a variety of reasons, we’re seeing the end of an era. The one-uniform guy in sports isn’t extinct yet. It is moving in that direction.
There are a few left, sure. Kobe Bryant will finish his career as a Laker. It’s hard to imagine the Detroit Tigers ever letting Justin Verlander go anywhere else, no matter how much it costs.
Salary caps (which baseball doesn’t have), the escalating costs of keeping your stars together, changes in ownership from people who like to spend to people who don’t — they’ve all combined to make career loyalty to a team and locale a rarity.
In D.C., we’re beginning to assemble a collection of players across all the major pro sports who would be welcome to stay here as long as they desired. But how realistic is that? The message: don’t get too attached.
Just for fun, let’s take a look at a few of the local possibilities, listed in one man’s order of their one-uniform probability.
Ryan Zimmerman — The only person to play at least one game in each of the Nationals’ seasons in D.C., Zimmerman is signed through 2019. Eventually the Nats have to make room for Anthony Rendon, but they’re not going to trade Zimmerman to do so. If there is such a thing as a one-uniform lock, Zimmerman is it.
Alex Ovechkin — Whether this is a good thing can be debated endlessly, as the enigmatic Ovechkin can be absolutely delightful to watch and maddingly frustrating to watch. Sometimes in the same game. There’s no doubting his talent and he’s still young enough to lead the Capitals to something big. He’s also signed long term.
Robert Griffin III — If they keep messing with his knee, it might be a one-uniform career that is way too short. Let’s take the optimistic view and say the knee isn’t going to be an issue once RG3 fully rehabs the current problem. With his charisma and skills, he can play for the Redskins for 14 more years, lead them to four Super Bowl championships and then retire and move into the White House as President RG3. We wouldn’t even need an election. Commissioner Roger Goodell can just declare it so.
Bryce Harper — The Whiz Kid/Sports Illustrated cover guy says he wants to stay here for the duration. What else is he going to say at this point? By the time he’s won his third MVP award before celebrating his 25th birthday, he’s going to be looking at a contract that will make Joe Flacco’s $20 million annual pay in Baltimore seem like chump change. Will the Nationals be willing to pay that much? Let’s hope. The Nats will be able to see the end of the Zimmerman and Jayson Werth megadeals by then. Besides, Harper could be RG3’s successor in the White House.
Stephen Strasburg — Like the Tigers with Verlander, it is hard to imagine the Nats ever losing Strasburg. Stranger things have happened and the likelihood of all three Nats on this list staying for the duration is small. The Lerner family may be really rich but, as far as we know, it isn’t printing money. Strasburg is finally free of injury and innings limits and all that. Let’s revisit this one in a couple of years when we know what Strasburg Unleashed can really do.
John Wall — The No. 1 pick in the NBA draft three years ago scored 47 points Monday night when the short-handed Wizards really needed that kind of performance to beat the Grizzlies. It was an eye-opener. He’s not going for 47 every night, or even many nights. He is starting to show he can take over a game. He’s only 22. Lots of growth still to come.
The odds of all six on this list staying around Washington for the duration are really small. As nice as it might be, it probably isn’t going to happen. The first time you see Jarome Iginla with that goofy Penguin on his uniform will serve as your stark reminder. Absolutely nothing is permanent anymore.