It’s the storybook ending: great player at the end of his days ends it with a big clutch moment in the championship. It’s how a great player is supposed to go out, right? It’s supposed to be that one last great grasp of glory.
You see things like this happen in other sports. John Elway retired as Super Bowl MVP. Bill Russell retired after winning his 327th NBA title. Admittedly, these guys didn’t have the big climactic winning moment at the end, but close enough. Michael Jordan almost had the Hollywood ending as his last shot with the Bulls nailed down a championship. But Jordan messed up that storyline by coming back.
What about baseball? What’s the closest we’ve ever come to seeing the classic storybook ending? First, you have to end your career in the World Series, because that’s the biggest stage. Beyond that, it helps if your team wins the Series. Ideally, do something glorious that helps the team win. Best of all: the glorious action should cause the team to win the Series. Will there be such an ultimate career finale? Doubtful, but that gives us something to shoot for.
We’ll start with Hall of Famers. It turns out that only nine immortals ended their careers in baseball’s main event. Seventeen Hall of Famers ended their careers playing for pennant-winning clubs, but eight weren’t called on in the Series. Before moving on, let’s note them in order of their retirement: Stan Coveleski, Eddie Collins, Lou Gehrig, Phil Rizzuto, Larry Doby, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, and Dave Winfield.
The immortals who ended in the World Series are (in chronological order):
1. Frank Baker: 1922 Yankees
Frank “Home Run” Baker was not only the best-hitting third baseman of his generation, but he earned his fame and nickname in a previous World Series. With the A’s in the 1911 World Series, he hit clutch homers in consecutive games, an unheard of postseason achievement.
But by 1922, he was merely an adequate part-time player. His team got swept by the Giants (the same squad Baker had terrorized 11 Octobers before). Baker meekly grounded out to third in his only Series at-bat. He got to go out on a pennant winner, but there was no Hollywood sunset.
2. and 3. Travis Jackson and Bill Terry: 1936 Giants
This is the only time two Hall of Famers went out in the same Series. Unlike Baker, Jackson and Terry each played in every game. Like Baker, their teams lost. It wasn’t a sweep, as the Giants pushed the AL champion Yankees to six games, but it was one of the least competitive Series to go six games, as the Yankees outscored the Giants 43-23 overall. Jackson hit .190 and Terry .240 in it. Neither had an extra-base hit.
Bill Terry had a bit of glory in Game Six. Though the Yanks won it 13-5, they led only 5-3 when Terry singled in a run with none out in the seventh. From there, he made it to third, where Travis Jackson had a chance for some real glory.
The situation: with Jackson due up, the Giants had the bases loaded, two outs and were down 5-4 late in the game. They needed the win to keep the Series going. So what did Jackson do? Nothing. The manager—who happened to be Bill Terry—used a pinch hitter, who fanned. The threat was over, as was Jackson’s career. Terry had one more at-bat that game, but it was a generic out.
Fun fact: the pinch hitter was Mark Koenig, formerly a starter on the 1927 Yankees. Turns out that was Koenig’s last at-bat. He never played again either.
4. Joe DiMaggio, 1951 Yankees
Finally—not just a Hall of Famer, but an iconic one. Added bonus: his team actually won the World Series. In those ways, DiMaggio’s career lived up to the storybook finish. He also played well in the six-game victory over Bobby Thomson‘s Giants, hitting 6-for-21 with two doubles and a home run. Not the greatest batting average, but at least some nice power.
There was no great glory moment for the Yankee Clipper though. There wasn’t much chance as few of the games were riveting. In the finale, DiMaggio doubled in his last at-bat, which is a nice way to go out. Dampening that finish, he was thrown out at third on a fielder’s choice when the next batter bounced one back to the pitcher.
5. Johnny Mize, 1953 Yankees
Mize was one of the most fearsome hitters in his day. (Random fact: he’s still tied for the lead with most three-homer games: six.) But 1953 wasn’t that day. Mize managed three pinch-hit appearances in the Series, in which he struck out, flew out, and grounded out. He left five men on base and never even advanced a runner, let alone drive one in. Mize could be thankful for one thing: his team won it all in six games.
6. Jackie Robinson, 1956 Dodgers
Another icon. Unlike all the previously mentioned Hall of Famers, he went out in a World Series that went all the way to Game Seven. In fact, Jackie Robinson has the distinction of being the only Hall of Famer whose career ended in a plate appearance that ended an entire World Series.
Yup, Robinson was the last man standing for the Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs in Game Seven. Sounds like the perfect storybook scenario, doesn’t it?
Well, no: the Dodgers were losing 9-0 at the time, and he struck out. That ain’t in the script. Robinson had a decent series (6-for-24 with a double, homer, and five walks), but he went out with a fizzle. That said, he is the only Hall of Famer whose career ended in a World Series Game Seven.
7. Sandy Koufax, 1966 Dodgers
Another great, and one known for his brilliant postseason performances, perhaps most famously for his shutting down of the Twins in Game Seven of the 1965 World Series.
For the storybook ending, Koufax should’ve hung it up in 1965 as there was no chance for glory in 1966. The LA hitters set a mark for futility that still stands: two runs scored total, as the opposing Baltimore Orioles swept them in four games.
Koufax started Game Two, and it might be his worst postseason start. He allowed four runs in only six innings. Admittedly, three runs were unearned as center fielder Willie Davis made a pair of errors in one inning (and three in the game). Then again, Sandy fanned an un-Koufax-ian two batters while allowing six hits (including a triple and a Luis Aparicio double) and two walks.
8. Eddie Mathews, 1968 Tigers
Like Frank Baker, Eddie Mathews was a slugging third baseman playing out the string in a part-time role for a team with which no one associates him.
He didn’t play much in the Series, having a pinch hit in Game One and his only start in Game Four. Both games were against St. Louis’ Bob Gibson, who helped his team to dominating victories in both games. Detroit won the Series in seven games, so Mathews is one of only three Hall of Famers to end his career playing for a world champion.
9. Willie Mays, 1973 Mets
This wasn’t a storybook finish; it was a cautionary tale. Mays, one of the game’s greatest and most graceful players, looked completely overwhelmed.
In each of the first two games of the Series, Mays stumbled on the basepaths. And that wasn’t all. In the first game, he also booted a ball for an error. In the second game, he made an even worse looking defensive play that the scorer generously counted as an offensive double (Mays lunged for a ball and fell down, allowing the ball to drop safely). Mays also played in Game Three and didn’t embarrass himself, but that was the last time the Mets used him in the World Series against the A’s.
That’s not how a great is supposed to go out.
Willie Mays played as old in 1973 as he looked in 2010.
Incredibly, no Hall of Famer since 1973 has ended in a World Series. Then again, many of the guys who will go in haven’t yet. Along those lines, who are the Hall-of-Fame-caliber players who ended in the Series?
But in the 21st century, there are three (or two, depending on how you count them). Let’s look at them.
10. Jeff Bagwell, 2005 Astros
Will he go in? He belongs in. He was a great player for a long period of time, but that period of time was largely over by 2005. Bagwell was injured that year (which is why it was his last year) and couldn’t play the field. He played two games as a designated hitter and pinch-hit in the remaining two games. He ended up 1-for-8 in the Series with a single, which the Chicago White Sox won in a sweep. His last stand was a groundout to second.
11. Curt Schilling, 2007 Red Sox
Assuming he goes into Cooperstown, he’ll be the fourth Hall of Famer to end his career as world champion. He did his part in Boston’s sweep of the Rockies, as Boston won 2-1 in his only start. He only lasted 5.1 innings and left with the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on base. Still, it was a good performance.
It wasn’t his most glorious postseason exploit. His 1993, 2001, and 2004 postseasons were all better, and it falls short of the ultimate Hollywood ending, but he and DiMaggio are as close as we’ve come to that.
One of the only greats to end his career with a World Series contribution to a championship.
12. Pedro Martinez, 2009 Phillies?
As of this writing, his last MLB appearance came in the 2009 Series. Assuming he comes back, that won’t be the case, but at the moment it is. Philadelphia lost the Series in six games to the Yankees with Martinez losing two games with a 6.30 ERA. He really didn’t have that storybook finish.
Anyone else? The Hall of Fame is a good place to start, but all students of baseball history have a list of those who aren’t in but should be. For them, let’s look at something called the Hall of Merit. This was a massive undertaking in which some enthusiasts spent several years constructing a Cooperstown with the results done right. There are two Hall of Meriters not in Cooperstown who ended in the Series.
13. Sherry Magee, 1919 Reds
A Deadball Era slugger (which is why you’ve never heard of him), he played for a team that won the Series. But it was the Series that the opposing Chicago Black Sox threw. Magee, like Mize many decades later, was just a pinch hitter by this time. He did end his career with a successful pinch hit, but it was in a game the Reds lost.
14. Heinie Groh, 1927 Pirates
Groh, the best third baseman in the National League in his day, was a teammate of Magee on the 1919 Reds. Like Magee, Groh ended his days as a pinch hitter in the Series for the NL champion. In this case, however, the NL team was swept by the 110-win Yankees. He popped up in his only pinch-hit effort.
So the closest we come to the Hollywood ending are DiMaggio and Schilling: guys having good Series and contributing to their team’s successful championship. But even there, they didn’t have the final great moment with which to end their careers. That isn’t too surprising. There’s a reason these things are called Hollywood moments: they rarely happen in the real world.
Let’s broaden it then: has anyone’s career ever ended with a historic hit or in a great game?
Dale Mitchell almost did. Sort of. He was on the receiving end of such a moment. Mitchell, a fine hitter who batted .312 in an 11-year career, was the 27th out in Don Larsen‘s 1956 World Series perfect game. However, that pinch-hit appearance wasn’t his last one in the Series. He also had another pinch hit two games later in Game Seven (the same game Jackie Robinson ended his career in). That was just a generic out.
Cookie Lavagetto came a little closer. In 1947, he nailed one of the most famous hits in baseball history. In Game Four of the World Series, Yankee starter Bill Bevens was one out away from completing a no-hitter. Due to control problems, the score was only 2-1 and there were two on when Lavagetto stood at the plate in the bottom of the ninth. He doubled in two-runs, for a no-hit-busting Brooklyn walk-off victory. Like Mitchell, Lavagetto wasn’t done in that Series. He pinch hit in each of the next three games. But that ended his 10-year career. In fact, Bill Bevens never pitched again after that Series, but he did pitch once in relief in that Series after the no-hitter that wasn’t.
There was, however, one great game in which two veteran players ended their careers. During Game Four of the 1929 World Series, the Cubs took a 8-0 lead only to lose when the A’s scored 10 runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. George H. Burns, a 2,000-hit man, made his last appearance that game for the victorious A’s. In fact, he was a pinch hitter in that famous inning. However, his contribution was not the stuff of storybooks. Twelve of the first 13 batters in that inning reached base. The exception was Burns, who popped up for the inning’s first out. He also struck out for the inning’s final out.
In between Burns’ outs, pitcher Art Nehf (once a mainstay for John McGraw in the early 1920s), pitched in relief for the Cubs. He faced two men, allowing an inside-the-park homer and a walk. Not exactly “and they lived happily ever after.”
Darren Daulton‘s last game was also a great one. The longtime Phillie ended his career with the 1997 Florida Marlins, who won the world championship. Their World Series went seven games, with the last game going into extra innings. But Daulton was pulled for a pinch hitter late in the game.
Gil McDougald almost had the storybook finish. He last played in Game Seven in the 1960 Series—one of the all-time great games. He made a late contribution in it, scoring the game-tying run in the ninth inning after entering as a pinch runner. Of course, that didn’t mean too much, given that Bill Mazeroski followed that up by hitting the game-winning homer for the other team.
References & Resources
I used Baseball Reference for most of the research.
James H. Hirsch’s Willie Mays: The Authorized Biography came in handy for details on his 1973 World Series performance.
If anyone’s curious, the following players also ended their careers in the World Series: Brickyard Kenendy, Ginger Beaumont, Nap Rucker, Bobby Veach, Dutch Reuther, Jimmie Wilson, Paul Derringer, Pinky Higgins, Spud Chandler, Frank McCormick, Tommy Byrne, Wally Moon, Jim Gilliam, Roger Maris, Julian Javier, Don Mincher, Joe Horlen, Mike Jorgesen, Dan Driessen, Roy Smalley Jr., Ron Oester, Jim Clancy, Alfredo Griffin, Kevin Seitzer, Otis Nixon, Bobby Witt, and Geoff Jenkins.