On Nov. 12, 1993, Bill Dickey died. The former Yankee catcher was an all-time great, a Hall of Famer, 11-time All-Star and career .313 hitter. Dickey also played on eight teams that won a World Series; only two players have more. But this week Richard looks back on the unfortunate souls not so lucky.
Much was made this year of the Yankees’ “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera winning “One for the thumb” in the World Series this year. And with good cause; only a handful of players have played for more than five World Series-winning teams. In fact, only a small handful even has as many as five.
Not surprisingly, most of these are high-quality players. Exactly 50 players fall into that group, and 17—more than a third of eligible candidates—are in the Hall of Fame. But of course, not all the players with that many rings were Hall of Fame, or even All-Star-caliber players.
Frankie Crosetti did make two All-Star teams and was a strong defensive shortstop, but was also a career .245 hitter whose primary offensive skill was apparently being hit by a pitch; he led the league in that statistic eight times.
Charlie Silvera spent most of his career backing up Yogi Berra and Elston Howard. He never appeared in more than 58 games in a season, and averaged fewer than 25. But having the good fortune to back up players like Berra and Howard, Silvera appeared on six World Series teams, although he appeared only in the 1949 Series.
I could go on with players like this—and would be remiss not to point out Art Jorgens, who was on five title-winning teams and never played in the World Series—but I think you get my point. When I see players like that, I cannot help but think of players who did have the good fortune to appear on dynastic teams, or even on one-year wonders. These times seem to inspire one to think about the players who have spent their whole careers without appearing in the World Series or postseason at all.
(And yes, this is a topic I have tackled in the past, notably in my piece for the Hardball Times Annual the past two years. But since I didn’t get it into the book this year, you can consider this a bonus. Don’t let that stop you from ordering the book, though; it’s outstanding. Sorry, plug over, back to the article.)
The all-time leader in the unfortunate category of most games without a single postseason appearance is Ernie Banks, who appeared in more than 2,500 games without his Cubs once making the playoffs. They did occasionally come close, as in 1969, but perhaps it is fitting that “Mr. Cub” be so associated with a franchise that has a history of such futility.
The active leader in this particular dubious statistic is Randy Winn, who has appeared in more than 1,600 games without tasting celebratory champagne. Winn has been on a couple of good teams—the 2003 Mariners won 93 games—but also some really dreadful ones in Tampa Bay and elsewhere.
|Rafael Palmeiro, perhaps dreaming of the World Series appearance that would never come (Icon/SMI)|
Winn’s time with San Francisco is seemingly over, but if he plays in 149 games for a non-playoff team next year he will join unfortunate company. Just 32 players have been in 1,750 Major League games without reaching the playoffs at least once.
If anyone can break Banks’ record, it might be Michael Young. Young played in only 135 games this year, but averaged 158 a year the seven years prior. Heading into his age 32 season, Young is just 150 games behind Banks’ pace. It will be no mean feat for Young to catch Banks—who played 155 games as late as age 38—but it is within reason. He is signed through 2013; a conservative estimate puts him at almost 1,900 games by the end of that contract at just age 36. Of course, one strong season by the Rangers could render this whole discussion moot.
Until 1969, reaching the playoffs and reaching the World Series were one and the same. Since then, it has not been so simple. Chipper Jones does not deserve any pity for missing out on postseason glory, but he has played almost 1,400 games since he was last in the World Series, despite appearing in the playoffs six times. Because of this, there is an entirely different list that exists: those players who have played the most games without a World Series appearance.
With more games to play, and the playoffs easier to reach, the World Series leader board features many more recent (and current) players. The all-time leader is Rafael Palmeiro. Palmeiro played in 2,831 games without ever reaching the World Series. He did appear in the playoffs three times in four years in the late ’90s, but had the misfortune of attempting to reach the World Series despite not playing on AL powerhouses New York (who knocked him out twice) or Cleveland (once).
And speaking of trying to reach the World Series in that period without being on the Yankees or Indians, we come to Ken Griffey Jr., who is No. 2 on the list. “Junior” is two seasons away from taking over the No. 1 spot, so it seems likely he will avoid that fate. Griffey has appeared in the playoffs three times, falling victim to Cleveland, Palmeiro’s Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.
As Jerry Hairston, who had played in nearly 1,000 games before his midseason trade to the Yankees brought him into the postseason and World Series, can tell you, it only takes one year to escape from these dreaded lists.
But the lists also reflect the unfairness of baseball. Ken Griffey Jr. and Ernie Banks are Hall of Fame talents, Banks already in and Griffey certain to join him. Yet neither has appeared in a World Series, or even played for a team that won one. Meanwhile, lesser talents like Silvera and Joe Collins appear multiple times for winners, in Collins’ case actually playing in five Series.
Griffey, Young and other active players who have appeared in thousands of games without varying levels of postseason success must hold out hope for one great moment, lest they join Banks and others as permanent members of the list.