Seems that every time the World Series comes around, there’s always a little talk about the players that are appearing there for the first time. I got to thinking. Really great players are often on great teams; the kind that win pennants on a regular basis. And they have careers that are long enough so that even by chance, they might wind up in the World Series. We even take it as granted that being in a World Series – even if your team doesn’t win – is one of the key factors in being a “great” player.
So I got to wondering. What great players had the bad luck to never be on a pennant winning team, and therefore never appear in a Fall Classic? Heck, you could probably go through the Hall of Famers and put together a full nine-player team….
1B: George Sisler
In a big league career that lasted 15 seasons, “Gorgeous George” batted over .300 13 times, including league-leading averages of .407 in 1920 and .420 in 1922. His 257 hits during the 1920 campaign remained a modern major league record until Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki broke it in 2004. A skilled base runner as well, he led the league in stolen bases four times.
“In that one season (1922), Sisler was the greatest player who ever lived.” – Branch Rickey
“The nearest thing to a perfect ballplayer” – Ty Cobb
In 1922, his MVP year, the Browns finished a single game behind the New York Yankees. Over the course of Sisler’s career with them, they’d never finish better than ten games back.
2B: Larry “Napoleon” Lajoie
For his career, Lajoie batted .338, topping the .300 mark 15 times and leading the league five times. He cranked out 3,243 hits, 657 doubles, scored 1,504 runs, and drove in 1,599. Lajoie swung the bat so hard, that on three separate occasions in 1899, he literally tore the cover off the ball.
“Lajoie was one of the most rugged hitters I ever faced. He’d take your leg off with a line drive, turn the third baseman around like a swinging door, and powder the hand of the left fielder.” – Cy Young
In 1908, the Naps (now the Indians) finished a mere half a game behind the Tigers for the pennant. For some reason, it was decided that Detroit would NOT make up a game that was rained out; by winning their last game they finished with a 90-63 record compared to Cleveland’s 90-64.
SS: Ernie Banks
3B: Ron Santo
Banks was an excellent defensive player at two positions, shortstop from 1953-61, and first base from 1962-71. At the former position, he led the league in fielding percentage three times, picking up a gold glove in 1960, when he led all NL shortstops in fielding percentage, double plays, games, put-outs, and assists. As a first baseman, he led the league in put-outs five times, assists three times, and double plays and fielding percentage once each, compiling a .994 fielding percentage at the first sack.
It was with the bat that Banks really shone, however, hitting over 40 homers five times and leading the league twice in homers and twice in RBI. He was a three-time .300 hitter who compiled a lifetime batting average of .274, along with 2583 hits, 1305 runs scored, and 1636 runs batted in. On May 12, 1970, he hit the 500th home run of his career, becoming just the ninth player and first shortstop to reach the plateau. He finished with 512.
Santo was named to his first All-Star Game in 1963, and won the first of five straight Gold Glove Awards in 1964. From 1963-70, Santo averaged almost 29 homers and 106 RBI per season. He also led the NL in walks four times between 1964 and 1968, and paced the league in on-base percentage twice in that same span. Santo led all NL third basemen in putouts seven times, assists seven times and total chances nine times – and retired with NL records for most assists in a season by a third baseman, most double plays by a third baseman in a career and most chances accepted at third base.
Unfortunately, when the Cubs were really good in the 60s, there was always a better team. Those were the days of the Dodgers (with Koufax and Drysdale) and Cardinals (with Gibson). Most would pick the Cubs’ best chance at the playoffs to be 1969, when they were overwhelmed by a black cat and the New York Mets. But they finished even closer to the prize in the next year (1970), when they wound up just five games in back of the Pirates for the NL East title.
LF: Ralph Kiner
For a decade Ralph Kiner was the game’s premier power hitter; he was the first National Leaguer to hit 50 home runs twice, he became the first major leaguer to hit home runs in four straight at bats on two separate occasions, and was also the first major league player to lead the league in home runs in seven consecutive seasons.
“Kiner can wipe out your lead with one swing” – Warren Spahn
Stuck with the second division Pirates and Cubs for most of his career, Kiner found himself traded to the Indians for the 1955 season, his final one before back troubles pushed him into retirement. The Tribe couldn’t repeat their pennant-winning success of the previous year; they finished three games behind the Yankees.
CF: Ken Griffey Jr
630 career home runs, including two straight seasons where he hit 56. Thirteen All-Star Game selections. Most Valuable Player in 1997. Ten consecutive Golden Glove Awards.
“Junior was one of the finest young men I’ve ever had the opportunity to manage. When we were in Seattle together, I believe he was the best player in baseball and it was truly an honor to be his manager.” – Lou Pinella
In 1995, he scored the winning run on “The Double” that sent the Mariners to the AL Championship series. Alas, they’d lose that series to the Indians in six games.
RF: Ichiro Suzuki
After nine years of starring in his native Japan, Suzuki was signed by the Seattle Mariners in 2001. He continued to excel, winning the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year awards that year. He was named to ten All Star Games, and earned ten Gold Gloves. In 2004, he set the record for base hits with 262. By the time he stopped playing, he had collected over 4,300 hits in both Japan and MLB. He was traded at his request to the New York Yankees in 2012, and then moved to the Miami Marlins for the 2015 season. In 2018, he returned to the Mariners. On May 3, the Mariners announced he would move to the front office as a special assistant. He has not officially retired from active play, but it honestly doesn’t look like he’ll put on a uniform again.
“There’s nobody like Ichiro in either league—now or ever. He exists strictly within his own world, playing a game 100 percent unfamiliar to everyone else…. Ichiro, a man of wondrous strength, puts on impressive power-hitting displays almost nightly in batting practice. And he’ll go deep occasionally in games, looking very much like someone who could do it again, often… [but] the man lives for hits, little tiny ones, and the glory of standing atop the world in that category.” – Sportswriter Bruce Jenkins
In 2001, he led the Mariners to the AL Championship Series, where they lost to the Yankees in five games. He helped the Yankees to the ALCS in 2012, but they were swept by the Tigers.
C: Rick Ferrell
An eight-time All-Star, Ferrell played for the St. Louis Browns, Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators between 1929 and 1947. He retired with the American League record for most games caught, at 1,806, and was second in career putouts. Hit over .300 four times, finishing with a career average of .281.
“Brother or no brother … he was a real classy receiver. You never saw him lunge for the ball; he never took a strike away from you. He’d get more strikes for a pitcher than anybody I ever saw, because he made catching look easy.” – Wes Ferrell
Spending time with the Browns, Red Sox, and Senators, he came the closest to the pennant in 1945, when in a season where rosters were still depleted by the war, his Senators finished in second place, one and a half games behind the Tigers.
P: Gaylord Perry
A five-time All-Star and five-time 20-game winner, Perry won 314 games and notched 3,534 strikeouts. He was the first to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues, winning in 1972 with the Indians and in 1978 with the Padres.
“I watched Gaylord like a hawk. I’ve never found anything. I’ll tell you what he’s got: a good curve, a fine fastball, a good change, and a fine sinker. I’ll tell you what Perry is: He’s one helluva pitcher, and a fine competitor.” – Umpire Bill Haller
Perry spent time with eight teams over his long career; the closest he got to the World Series was in 1971, when the Giants lost the NL Championship Series to the Pirates, three games to one.