This annotated week in baseball history: March 28-April 3, 1989

On April 3, 1989, Ken Griffey Jr. made his major league debut. Since then he has created a Hall of Fame career for himself, but one honor—a World Series title—has eluded him. Richard looks at other great players with no ring.

As you probably know, the Yankees won the World Series last year. Prior to that success, their most recent title was in 2000. Obviously one is unlikely to find a lot of sympathy for the Yankees, being that eight years between titles is not much.

But one must feel at least some pity for Mike Mussina. Mussina joined the Yankees prior to the 2001 season, and retired after 2008. Though the Yankees played in the postseason every year but one during Moose’s New York tenure, he never earned a World Series ring. No player has ever arrived after a team won a title, spent more years than Mussina, and left immediately before the team wins a ring.

Nonetheless, never having won a title as an active player is not that rare a feat. While a lucky few—Yankees, primarily—have multiple rings, many more do not. In honor of those who have never hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy, I give you the All No Title Team.

Catcher: Mike Piazza

Almost certainly the greatest offensive catcher in history, as a cursory look at his Baseball Reference page confirms: a 12-time All-Star, 10-time Silver Slugger winner, 1993 Rookie of the Year, all-time leader for catcher home runs and a host of other accomplishments. Piazza today is primarily remembered as a Met, although he was probably at the peak of his powers with the Dodgers.

Piazza made it to the playoff five times, reaching the World Series with the Mets, but never won a title. His overall playoff record is disappointing (just a .759 OPS), but he did have some strong performances, including back-to-back OPS lines over .900 in the 2000 NLCS and World Series. In the Mets’ defeat in that World Series, Piazza was a monster, scoring or driving in five of the team’s 16 runs.

First base: Jeff Bagwell

Like Piazza, Bagwell was an offensive force and a former Rookie of the Year. Playing his entire career in Houston, Bagwell made the playoffs six times, although he was severely limited by the time the Astros finally made it to the World Series in 2005.

Like Piazza, Bagwell’s postseason numbers are disappointing in total—a career .685 postseason OPS—but he did have some decent series. In 2004, after having lost the only four Division Series he had played in, including three to the Braves, Bagwell finally got his revenge as the Astros won the series and he hit .318 with four extra-base hits and five RBIs.

Second base: Craig Biggio

And speaking of Astros who didn’t experience much success in the postseason, here’s Craig Biggio! Like Bagwell, Biggio played in multiple postseason series, and like Bagwell, he struggled mightily. Four times in nine series Biggio put up an OPS of .500 or lower; in comparison he topped .750 just twice.

(For even greater comparison, Derek Jeter has also had four playoff series with an OPS of .500 or lower, but he has played in 28 total.)

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Not pictured: Jeff Bagwell, Ron Santo, et al. (Icon/SMI)

Given that Biggio and Bagwell were, with the exception of the end of their run in Houston, the two best players on the team, it is no surprise that when Bagwell’s postseason struggles are combined with Biggio’s, the team never won a title during their days in Houston.

Third base: Ron Santo

Criminally omitted from the Hall of Fame, unlike the players listed before, Santo never made it to the playoffs or World Series. But he remains one of the great hitting third basemen who ever played, just one who had the misfortune of playing for a famously inept franchise.

Shortstop: Ernie Banks

And speaking of men doomed to play for famously inept franchises, here’s Ernie Banks. There is surprisingly little overlap between the truly great periods of Banks’ and Santo’s careers. Banks had moved to first base by the time Santo really broke out as a player. They are linked in the popular imagination by the Cubs’ ruined 1969 season, but while Santo was outstanding that year, Banks was almost 40 and just a shell of the player he had once been.

Nonetheless, it is a testament to the failures of the Cubs franchise that they could come up with Hall of Fame-caliber players at both third base and shortstop within close proximity but still manage to win absolutely nothing.

Left field: Barry Bonds

No player on the list came closer to not being on it than Bonds. Had the Giants been able to hold their lead in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, it would be Ted Williams—another surly left fielder, though one ahead of Bonds as a person—occupying this space. But Felix Rodriguez, Robb Nen and others could not hold the lead, and Bonds is stuck on the list.

Center field: Ken Griffey Jr.

The only active player on this list, and while the Mariners might not be a favorite to make the playoffs this year, they have a fighting chance to take The Kid off this list. Were that to happen, it would also remove Griffey from unfortunate company; only Rafael Palmeiro has played more games without appearing in a World Series.

Were the M’s to win a title with their franchise icon this year, it is likely that this spot would fall to Jimmy Wynn, who did play briefly on the ’77 Yankees but was traded away in midseason and therefore remains eligible for the list.

Right field: Tony Gwynn

In 1984, Gwynn’s first full season as a regular, he hit .351, he finished third in the MVP, and the Padres made it to the World Series. The high batting averages and MVP finishes would remain, but the playoffs would not. For his career, Gwynn hit .338 and won eight batting titles. He received MVP support in 11 years of his career, including as late as 1998.

1998 was also the year Gwynn and the Padres finally returned to the World Series. Again it was not much of a Series, as the Pads were swept, a step down on their 4-1 defeat in ’84. But none of the blame can be placed on Gwynn’s shoulders; across two Series he hit .371 with an .893 OPS. As with his efforts to make the World Series in other years, Gwynn was let down by his teammates.

Pitcher: Bob Feller

A great, great pitcher, albeit one who has turned into rather a grumpy old man these days. Feller was nicknamed Rapid Robert for the velocity on his pitches, which were sometimes cited as being faster than Walter Johnson’s. I don’t know about that, but Feller did have for many years the fastest measured pitch (at over 98) until Nolan Ryan came along. Ryan also broke Feller’s record for most strikeouts in a season by a right-handed American League pitcher. Feller still has the highest non-Ryan total on that list.

Using his fastball, along with a big curve, Feller won 20 or more games six times, including 1939 through 1941 and 1946 and ’47. The gap in between there is for the Second World War, of course, when Feller served. Feller ended up with 266 victories; it is reasonable, although by no means guaranteed, that had he pitched at all during the war years, Feller would have finished his career with more than 300 wins.

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Comments

  1. Fuzzball the Magnificent said...

    Ahem. Bob Feller. 1948. Hmmmmm…

    You might make a more interesting list of players, such as Banks, Santo and Griffey, who never appeared in a World Series. Of course, with 30 teams now, that list should be growing at a much faster rate than it previously did.

  2. Richard Barbieri said...

    But he pitched terribly! That shouldn’t even count!

    No, that’s just a screw-up on my part. Dammit.

  3. Gilbert said...

    Marichal’s long-time teammate Gaylord Perry has no rings either.  Or if you want to focus on the 60’s Cubs, add Fergie Jenkins.  Phil Niekro probably has the most wins of a WS era pitcher to never play in one (swept in ‘69 with Aaron and Cepeda, swept in ‘82 with Murphy and Horner).

    Not sure about any old timers, 43 YO Dazzy Vance was unbeknownst to me on the ‘34 Cards (with Dizzy) and got into a game.  Check out the 20.3 K/9 rate, possibly the highest non-27.0 in WS history.

    Among modern pitchers, Halladay’s next postseason appearance will be his first.

  4. Richard Barbieri said...

    I did actually think of Cobb, and on pure merits he probably deserves the spot. (And if he didn’t hit .262 in the World Series, he might not be on it anyway.) But Griffey was the inspiration for the column so I left him on. You can imagine Cobb in that spot, however.

  5. Kahuna Tuna said...

    I was going to show a little bit of attitude about Ernie Banks, but I think I’ve talked myself out of it.  I was going to suggest Arky Vaughan and his 12 seasons of shortstop 137 OPS+ and two seasons of 3B-OF 111 OPS+ (and zero World Series rings) for the ‘30s/‘40s Pirates and Dodgers as a better choice for shortstop on this list.  However, Banks put up a 138 OPS+ in nine seasons at shortstop plus a 106 OPS+ in ten seasons at first base for the ‘50s/‘60s Cubs.  I think I’d stick with Ernie.

    Changing gears, how about Nap Lajoie for second base?  His pre-AL Phillies teams never finished higher than third.  He played for the A’s just before the World Series was invented, played 13 magnificent years in Cleveland without a WS appearance, then rejoined the A’s in 1915 as the lone marquee name on a bargain-basement roster.  Not an easy call, especially with the major differences in era, but Lajoie does have 39 points of OPS+ on Biggio.

  6. Kahuna Tuna said...

    Griffey was the inspiration for the column so I left him on.

    I do try to respect the premises of those who write for my entertainment.  Please cancel that page, Mr. Cobb.

  7. g money said...

    I think Bonds over Williams depends on how you evaluate the aughts for Barry.  I tend to look at the his father’s decline phase as a basis for comparison, making Barry great, but not the greatest LF.  Teddy also served twice.

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