Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Alex Putterman.
Babe Ruth accomplished quite a bit in the Major Leagues, to say the least. The game’s first—and arguably greatest—power hitter batted .342 during his career with 714 lifetime home runs. But Ruth’s consensus-signature moment didn’t count toward those totals. It was the Babe’s “called shot” on the biggest stage in baseball, the World Series, that crystallized his legend. A player who performs in the Fall Classic adds a whole extra layer to his legacy; he’s always remembered as a winner.
In honor of the soon-to-commence 2011 World Series, these are the players (not coincidentally all current- or future-Hall of Famers) at each position who had the most success when it counted most – in the World Series.
C Yogi Berra: Yogi holds World Series records for games, at-bats, plate appearances and hits, having played in more Fall Classics (13) than any man in baseball history. His team won 10 of those series, and the catcher did his part, batting .274 with 12 home runs and an .811 OPS. Johnny Bench posted similar World Series numbers (albeit in far fewer games), but Berra’s legacy is s0 closely tied to postseason baseball that this list couldn’t be complete without him.
1B Lou Gehrig: Ruth gets all the attention, but Gehrig was in many ways a more productive October hitter than his teammate. The Iron Horse’s .361 batting average and 1.208 OPS in seven World Series (of which the Yankees won six) place him comfortably atop the list of 1st base World Series performers.
2B Eddie Collins: Before the Yankees acquired Babe Ruth and dominated the ensuing 80 years of baseball, the Philadelphia A’s were the American League’s dynastic powerhouse and Collins was their best player. A career .328 World Series hitter with the A’s and later the White Sox, he beats out 1920’s star Frankie Frisch as the Fall Classic’s best 2nd baseman.
3B Home Run Baker: Another member of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s and a teammate of Collins, Baker hit .375 or better in each of his team’s three World Series victories, finishing his career with a .952 World Series OPS. Honorable mention to former-Yankees 3rd baseman Bobby Brown and his .439 batting average and 1.207 OPS in 46 World Series plate appearances.
SS Derek Jeter: Jeter is the most contemporary player on this list and also one of the most deserving. He’s hit .321 career in the World Series, highlighted by an MVP performance in 2000, and his 2001 “Mr. November” home run in the wake of 9/11 is one of the greatest Fall Classic moments of all-time.
LF Babe Ruth: In three World Series starts on the mound for the Red Sox Ruth went 3-0 with a .87 ERA in 31 innings, including a 14-inning complete game in 1916. The Babe’s postseason dominance memorably continued as a Yankee outfielder; he retired with a 1.211 career World Series OPS (second all-time minimum 50 Series at-bats) and one of the most iconic moments in baseball history, the aforementioned “called shot” in 1932.
CF Duke Snider: Center field was a surprisingly difficult position to fill. Willie Mays struggled in the World Series, and Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle often underperformed in October as well, while Tris Speaker and Kirby Puckett were good in the Series but didn’t get there often enough to compile viable sample sizes. That leaves Snider, who hit .286 in six career Fall Classics with 8 doubles and 11 home runs in 149 plate appearances, enough to earn him recognition here as the best ever World Series center fielder.
RF Reggie Jackson: Mr. October was perhaps the easiest choice for this list. Jackson hit .357 career in the World Series and boasts the best OPS in its history. His 1977 series was among the most remarkable ever and included arguably the best single game the Series has seen, game 6, in which Reggie hit home runs in three consecutive at-bats, each on the first pitch and each off a different pitcher. His .450 batting average and 5 total home runs in that series earned him his second World Series MVP award, making him one of three players (and the only non-pitcher) to receive that honor more than once.
SP Christy Mathewson: Matty threw 101.2 total innings in four World Series appearances, posting a .97 ERA in these outings and finishing all but one of the 11 games he started. He is second all-time to Sandy Koufax in World Series ERA and WHIP (minimum 50 innings) and first in complete games and shutouts. Mathewson’s 1905 series was essentially perfect; he threw three consecutive complete game shutouts, winning games 1, 3, and 5, in probably the greatest single-series pitching performance in the history of the Fall Classic.
SP Sandy Koufax: So I cheated and went with two starting pitchers, a righty and a lefty. I just couldn’t leave off Koufax and his .95 ERA (best all-time) in 57 career World Series innings. Along with Jackson and Bob Gibson (who would be my choice were I to add one more starter to this list), Koufax is one of three two-time World Series MVPs.
RP Mariano Rivera: 11 career World Series saves, 36.1 innings pitched in seven World Series appearances, and a .99 career ERA in the Fall Classic. One infamous blown save certainly doesn’t diminish Mariano’s unparalleled World Series career.