Yesterday was Ernie Banks birthday. Mr. Cub would have been 86 years old. It got me thinking. Banks of course played one of the toughest careers in the game, playing 19 years with the Chicago Cubs and never once seeing the post season.
So which other superstars ended historic careers without winning a World Series?
Ernie Banks is the unluckiest of the bunch. Most on the list had been to the World Series at least once. Many of them had been to the playoffs multiple times. Banks was so good, he would win back-to-back MVP Awards in 1958 and 1959 for fifth place teams.
His 512 career home runs made him a no-brainer first-ballot Hall of Famer. His class would make him one of the most lovable losers in the history of sport. Sadly, he passed away in 2015 before seeing his beloved Cubbies break the curse of that dang goat.
Rod Carew was another legend whose postseason career was a very brief one. He was one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. Carew won the American League batting title seven times, and in a five-year span he led all of MLB four times. He led MLB in hits twice, getting over 200 four times. Most remarkably, he walked ten less times than he struck out in a career that saw 10,550 plate appearances.
Carew’s 1967 MVP year was insane. He led the MLB in runs (128), hits (239) average (.388), OBP (.449), OPS (1.019) and led the AL with 16 triples. Playing for the Angels and Twins, Carew never saw a World Series. His 3,053 hits made him a first ballot Hall of Famer anyway.
If Carew was one of the best hitters of all time, Ted Williams is arguably the best. Teddy Ballgame put up some of the most insane stats, all while missing three years in the prime of his career to serve our country in two wars.
Williams resume? Honestly, you could saw he won TWO Triple Crowns and the conversation could end there. But then you have to bring up that he is the last person to hit .400 in MLB history (.406 in 1941). Or that he led baseball in a statistical category 42 times in his career.
He had two MVP Awards. He narrowly missed a third one to the New York Yankees Joe Collins, despite winning the Triple Crown that season. He was a walks machine whose .482 on base percentage is the best in the history of the game. Had he played those three years he served, his numbers would be close to untouchable.
Aside from the World Series wins. That he never had.
How does one win SEVEN MVP Awards and never win a World Series? You have the bad luck of Barry Bonds, that’s how. What needs to be said about Bonds? Either you accept him as one of the best hitters in the game, or you think he cheated baseball history. At this point, you are likely set in your ways, and there is no converting to the other side.
Me? I think he was one of the scariest figures in baseball lore. I think his 762 home runs have earned him the right to be in the Hall of Fame. I watched skinny Barry Bonds play baseball in Pittsburgh, and that guy was unstoppable. Either way you cut it, PEDs didn’t make Bonds hit the ball, it just made his insane power go farther.
Bonds biggest negative was that he was mean, especially to the media. So perhaps his World Series shortcomings was his ultimate reward. Or it is hereditary, as his father never won a World Series either.
You didn’t think you would see an article on Wayniac Nation that doesn’t reference Tony Gwynn in this category. Anyone who has followed this blog knows that Gwynn was my favorite player ever. But he certainly was a good one.
Gwynn was as consistent as they come. He led the league in hitting eight times, and batted over .300 for the last 19 seasons of his 20-year career. He led the league in hits seven times, and had 200 or more hits five times. That includes his age-37 season in which he led the MLB with 220 hits and .372 average.
The most amazing stat Gwynn had? From 1991 to 1999 Gwynn, who had at least 450 plate appearances in each of those seasons, struck out LESS THAN 20 times eight out of the nine years. Think about that. He struck out less times in nine seasons than Chris Carter did last year. In 1998, he almost finished the season with more home runs than strikeouts, blasting 16 and striking out 18 times.
Gwynn did appear in two World Series and was a beast, particularly in the 1998 Fall Classic against the Yankees. He batted .500 and hit an uncharacteristic moon shot in Yankees Stadium.
He was mean. But he could hit. But Ty Cobb, The Georgia Peach if you would, never won a World Series. Cobb registered more hits than any other Hall of Famer in the game (I know, I know) and has the highest batting average of all time at .366.
Cobb has a Triple Crown (of course he only needed nine home runs to win it back then) and an MVP Award. He hit over .380 seven times in his career, including back-to-back seasons in which he hit above .400. Yet at the end of the day, Cobb’s Detroit Tigers lost three consecutive World Series from 1907 to 1909.
The Yaz. Carl Yastrzemski was simply a professional hitter. 3,419 hits will prove that. Early in his career, he had elite power, winning a Triple Crown in 1967. His power faded quickly though, and while he remained a 15-home run-type hitter, he fell short of 500 home runs, a mark he was well on pace for early in his career.
Yaz played 23 years, all with Boston. Not one of them ended with a ring.
Harmon Killebrew — aside from having one of the cooler names in baseball history — led the league in home runs six times and blasted 40 or more eight times in his career. He was a run producing machine by the time he settled into the big leagues.
It took 12 years from his debut until the Senators/Twins reached the World Series for him. It would be the only time in his career, as they lost to the Dodgers.
I always take heat when I say this, but Robin Yount was kind of always a bit overrated to me when it came to all-time greats. Maybe overrated is the wrong word. He had a lot of Craig Biggio appeal, someone who got the job done, but was kind of boring along the way.
If the Brew Crew of the early and mid-80s had pitching depth, they would have won more World Series. Yount was amid bashers like Ted Simmons, Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. In Yount’s 1982 MVP campaign, five Brewers smashed over 20 home runs, three of which were over 30. You youngsters may not see the big deal in that, but in the 80s, it was.
That year would be Yount’s lone World Series. He was magnificent, batting .414 with a home run. Alas, they lost to the Cardinals. Yount would never fade, winning another MVP Award for the 1989 Brewers club that finished fourth with an 81-81 record. His 3,142 hits gained him first ballot entry into Cooperstown, but there is no ring on his plaque.
Like Banks, The Kid never played in a World Series in his 22 year career. Ken Griffey, Jr. took the world by storm from the second he stepped on a baseball field. 630 home runs later he became one of the closest to a unanimous first ballot Hall of Famer (99.3 percent) there has been. He still had that child like smile. The hat is probably still backwards on his head. But no World Series ring.
Junior led the league in home runs for three consecutive seasons, a span in which he blasted 160 home runs. He was always injury prone, but 2000 was the game changer. He would play 12 more years but he was half The Kid he was early on. There is no question Griffey would have come close to 800 home runs if he stayed healthy.