Ask any ballplayer in the major leagues today what their ultimate goal is and they’ll say “To win the World Series.”
That’s at least what we hope they’ll say. After all, if you experience team success, individual success (and a big payday) usually follow shortly after. But in the more than 100-year history of the World Series, there have been many good players – some legendary – who have never made it to the World Series at all. Not even a sniff of the Fall Classic.
Here’s a team of great players who never appeared in the World Series.
Joe Torre – Catcher
Sure, Torre won four World Series rings and managed in six World Series overall, but as a player he never even came close. Joe was a very good ballplayer (probably good enough to garner a Hall of Fame nod before his managerial success with the Yankees) in his 18-year career that included a batting title and an MVP Award with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971. But Torre never played on a first place team, missing out on the pennant-winning Milwaukee Braves of the late 1950s by two seasons, and then playing for mediocre teams in St. Louis and with the New York Mets.
Honorable Mention: B.J. Surhoff, Joe Mauer
Don Mattingly – First Base
Poor Donny Baseball. He was one of the best hitters in baseball for 7-8 years in the 1980s and seemed destined for a Hall of Fame plaque, but then a back injury curtailed him in his mid-30s and ended his career just when his New York Yankees were poised to win a flag. Mattingly got one chance in the post-season in 1995, hitting .417 with 10 hits in a five-game series against the Mariners. The year after he hung up his first baseman’s mitt, the Yanks won the Series.
Honorable Mention: George Sisler, Rafael Palmeiro, Andres Galarraga, Carlos Delgado
Rod Carew – Second Base
The best pure hitter to never play in the post-season, Carew won seven batting titles, an MVP Award, the Rookie of the Year Award, and he was an All-Star 18 times, but he never got the chance to shine on the game’s largest stage in October. He and Nap Lajoie are the only members of the 3,000-hit club to play in the World Series era and not play in the Fall Classic.
Honorable Mention: Nap Lajoie, Ryne Sandberg, Bobby Grich
Ernie Banks – Shortstop
This is the portion of the article where we start to gang up on the Chicago Cubs. Sorry, Cubbies fans, but when your team hasn’t been in the Series in more than 65 years, you’re bound to have some players make this list. We could have selected a lot more Cubs players, but we restrained ourselves and wanted to spread the loser love around. Banks won three MVP Awards and is one of the best shortstops in history, probably in the top 3-4 with Honus Wagner, Derek Jeter, and Cal Ripken Jr. But those three guys all went to – and won – the World Series. Banks never came very close at all. His best chance was in ’69 when the Cubs were in first place much of the season before being overtaken by the Mets in September.
Honorable Mention: Luke Appling (sorry, Chicago)
George Kell – Third Base
So, we could have picked Ron Santo, but we chose Kell instead. The American League’s best third baseman from the late 1940s through the 1950s, Kell was great with the leather and the lumber. He won the batting title in 1949 and had several seasons where he was in the top 5-10 in that category. Seems like the Gentleman from Arkansas would have won a pennant somewhere in there – he played for five of the eight teams in the AL during his career. But Kell didn’t play for the Yankees or Indians and he didn’t play for the White Sox at the right time, so he missed out. Credit to the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee for overlooking the fact that Kell was overlooked, and selecting him for Cooperstown nearly 30 years after his retirement.
Honorable Mention: Ron Santo (sorry, Chicago), Buddy Bell
Billy Williams – Left Field
Williams is on this list for the same reasons that Banks is, of course. They were the main cogs in the Cubs lineup in the 1960s (along with Santo), and try as they might, they were never able to get the team into the post-season. The main reason, by the way, wasn’t as simple as their pitching staff, though that could have been better. No, during the Banks/Williams/Santo Era in the 1950s and 1960s, the lineup always had some holes in it that were just abysmal. The Cubs had seasons where they were 5th or 6th in runs allowed, but they finished 6th or 7th in runs scored. Hard to believe with three Hall of Famers on the team, but true.
Honorable Mention: Brian Downing, Jose Cruz
Ken Griffey Jr. – Center Field
Absolutely the best player to never appear in the World Series, it’s a shame that the October spotlight never shined on Junior. He came close in 1995 when the M’s beat Mattingly’s Yankees in the playoffs, but Seattle was bounced by Cleveland in the next round. His nine-year foray into Cincinnati only resulted in one winning season (his first season as a Red). His father won two rings with the Big Red Machine, which is the only thing Dad has on son. Only Rafael Palmeiro played more games without getting into a World Series.
Honorable Mention: Dale Murphy, Torii Hunter
Andre Dawson – Right Field
It would have been great to have seen The Hawk in the Fall Classic in his prime, he was a fantastic ballplayer to watch. There was something about Dawson, like Roberto Clemente, that made you want to keep your eyes on him all the time. His best chances were in the early 1980s with the Montreal Expos, a team that’s arguably as good as any in history who never went to the Series. Later, in 1989, Dawson made it to the NLCS with the Cubs (there they are again) but they lost in five games.
Honorable Mention: Harry Heilmann, Ichiro Suzuki, Sammy Sosa (sorry, Chicago)
Frank Thomas – Designated Hitter
The fourth player on our list who played a significant portion of his career win Chicago, Thomas deserves an asterisk. The Big Hurt actually won a World Series ring in 2005 when the ChiSox won the Series. But ironically, an injury kept the two-time MVP on the disabled list after late July. He never got a chance to even step into the batters’ box in the World Series.
Honorable Mention: Edgar Martinez
Phil Niekro – Starting Pitcher
It doesn’t seem possible that a guy could pitch for 24 years for four different teams in five different cities, win more than 300 games, and not once be on a pennant-winning team. But that’s the unlucky story of Phil Niekro in regards to the post-season. Knucksie started two games in the playoffs, 13 years apart for the Braves, but he never got a chance in the Fall Classic. If there was a World Series for nice guys, Niekro would have been in it every fall.
Honorable Mention: Gaylord Perry, Jim Bunning
Lee Smith – Relief Pitcher
This is the last time I’m going to pick on the Cubs, I promise. Twenty-five years after his retirement, Lee Smith still ranks as high as third all-time in saves, but he never pitched in a World Series. Amazingly, though he pitched his career during the playoff era, he only pitched for two teams that went to the post-season. Unfortunately it was for the two most snake-bitten franchises in baseball history at that time (’84 Cubs and ’88 Red Sox). Smith was finally elected to the Hall of Fame after being unfairly snubbed.
Honorable Mention: Joe Nathan