I spend way too much time batting baseball frivolities around in my head. Things like whether a team made up of Hall of Fame snubs who hit the ballot before 2000 could beat a team made up of guys rejected in the last decade or so. Things like how the last-place Rays stack up against the first-place Blue Jays position-by-position. I’m sharing tonight’s frivolity with you.
As I put my son to bed tonight, I tried to mentally compile a team of great players who never won the World Series. Ok, I use the word “tried” in the second clause of that sentence, but it was probably easier than the former task. Anyway, the list I came up with was entertaining for a few primary reasons. One might expect the list to be loaded with Red Sox and Cubs, and it was. But Boston’s two best players between 1919 and 2003 both happened to play the same position as the greatest player who ever lived, and lest you forgot, his closest shot at a title was squashed by a Game Six rally in 2002. Still, I found room for those two Sox.
And the Cubs landed three players on the team in my head, but when I “checked my work” using Hall Rating from the Hall of Stats, a few of them were deposed. I used the Hall of Stats’s positional rankings as a guide, but I didn’t get too stuck on positional considerations, since I’m looking for a team full of the best players who fell short of the ultimate glory in October.
C: Carlton Fisk: I had Mike Piazza in my head, but Fisk played 24 seasons for two teams, neither of which won a title in the 51 years before he debuted or the 11 years after he retired.
1B: Jeff Bagwell: An easy one, though I had to exclude Cap Anson, Roger Connor, and Dan Brouthers, whose careers were over by the time the first World Series was played.
2B: Nap Lajoie: In my head, I went with Ryne Sandberg, assuming Lajoie must have been on one champion in the days when there were only 16 teams in the league and the Yankees weren’t good yet, so titles were spread a little more broadly. But Nap played 13 seasons in which a Word Series was played and his Indians and A’s never reached one. The only case I can make that Ryno was a better player involves lots of talk about population and globalization and evolution that you’ve read over and over if you’re not new to these pages, so I’ll spare you and take the guy with almost double the other guy’s Hall Rating.
SS: Arky Vaughan: So, about those three Cubs… As it turns out, Vaughan’s Dodgers lost in 1947, his only postseason appearance. And even if I counted Ernie Banks as a shortstop and ignored Vaughan, Luke Appling was well ahead of him in Hall Rating too. At least the Cubs get this one…
3B: Ron Santo: Whew. It took the 1996 Yankees carrying an ancient Wade Boggs on horseback and the 2006 Cardinals stealing one late in Scott Rolen’s career to finally get us a Cub.
LF: Barry Bonds: You were expecting Ed Delahanty?
CF: Ty Cobb: I had Ken Griffey, Jr. penciled in here before learning that Cobb’s Tigers lost the Series in ’07, ’08, and ’09. The Jim Kelly of centerfielders.
RF: Carl Yastrzemski: I feel like I’ve made enough hey you guys, Larry Walker was a lot better than you think statements here that I can take a left fielder and assume his bat would be worth what the team might (or might not) give up on defense. Yaz could’ve slotted in at first base, where he logged a lot of late-career innings, but Bagwell narrowly outpaces Walker in Hall Rating, 162-149.
DH: Ted Williams: He didn’t care about defense anyway.
RHP: Phil Niekro: As it turns out, most great pitchers won a title or two. I’m a little hesitant to trust Niekro in this fictional game, since it seems like his 12th-best-ever Hall Rating is driven more by longevity than peak, but the guy had a 1.87 ERA in 207 innings in 1967 and 10 WAR in 1978. Those are two pretty good peaks.
LHP: Chuck Finley: Did you know Steve Carlton pitched 4 innings in relief for the ’67 Cardinals? Me neither. Anyway, this one took some reseach, as each of the 63 pitchers with the best Hall Ratings were either right-handed, pitched all or most of their careers before 1903, or pitched for at least one World Series winner.
We’ll round out the rotation with righties- Gaylord Perry, Mike Mussina, and Ferguson Jenkins. Robin Roberts has to learn to pitch with his other hand to take Finley’s spot.
This exercise wouldn’t be complete without a lineup:
1. Cobb, CF
2. Williams, DH
3. Bagwell, 1B
4. Bonds, LF
5. Yastrzemski, RF
6. Vaughan, SS
7. Santo, 3B
8. Lajoie, 2B
9. Fisk, C
Where am I wrong?