A few years back I wrote a series of blogs called “Lords of the Ringless” — a litany on the greatest baseball, football and basketball players never to win a championship.
Every baseball player dreams of winning a World Series. But at least those who get there and lose the Fall Classic can brag about winning a pennant.
Not so this group, which features Hall of Famers at every position except outfield and closer.
Those outfielders are Ken Griffey, Jr., below, and Sammy Sosa, who stand fifth and seventh on the all-time home run list respectively (with 630 and 609 home runs) and are not yet eligible for election. Sosa hit 60 or more home runs three times and led the National League in HRs twice; Griffey led the American League in homers on four different occasions.
The squad includes a two-time .400 hitter (George Sisler); a .342 lifetime hitter (Harry Heilmann); and a pitcher who won 20 games in a season seven times (Ferguson Jenkins).
The infielders combined for 10 batting titles lifetime, seven by second baseman Rod Carew, along with four MVP honors, two by shortstop Ernie Banks.
The starting rotation features two 300-game winners in Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry, a combined 1176 victories and three Cy Young Award winners — two by Perry, one in each league.
Coming out of the bullpen is Lee Smith, third on the all-time list with 478 saves.
Here’s the starting lineup: the best players never to make the World Series.
C — Rick Ferrell: Hall of Famer, played 18 seasons with Browns, Red Sox and Senators. 7-time All Star, .281 career batting average.
1B — George Sisler: ’22 AL MVP. two batting titles, .407 in ’20, .420 in ’22, .340 lifetime, Browns, Senators, Braves.
2B — Rod Carew: .328 career batting average, 7 batting titles, AL MVP in ’77 with .388 average, Twins, Angels, others; 4 times in ALCS, two with Twins, two with Angels.
SS — Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub, .512 lifetime homers, 277 as shortstop, NL MVP in ’58, ’59 as SS, later moved to IB. Cubs.
3B — George Kell: .306 career batting average, won AL batting title in ’49; Phillies, Tigers, Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles.
OF — Harry Heilmann: .342 career average, 4 AL batting titles, .403 in ’23, Tigers, Reds.
OF – Sammy Sosa: 609 HRs, 7th all-time, 3 years with 60 HRs, NL MVP ’98, Rangers, White Sox, Cubs, Orioles.
OF — Ken Griffey, Jr: Played for Mariners, Reds and White Sox. 630 HRs are fifth most in history. Won AL MVP in 97.
P — Ferguson Jenkins: 284-226 7 20-win seasons, 3192 Ks, ‘ 71 NL Cy Young; Cubs, Rangers, Red Sox.
P — Phil Niekro: knuckleballer, right, 318 wins, 24 years from ’64 to ’87, Braves, Yankees, Indians.
P — Gaylord Perry: 314 wins, AL Cy Young ’72, NL Cy Young ’78, Giants, Indians, Rangers, Padres, Yankees, Braves, Mariners.
P — Ted Lyons: 260 career wins, won 20 3 times, White Sox ’23-46.
R — Lee Smith: 478 saves; Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles. Angels, Reds, Expos.
Other Lords of The Ringless
Ken Griffey, Jr. slides home with the winning run as the Seattle Mariners beat the New York Yankees in the deciding Game Five of the 1995 ALDS.
The other night the MLB Network ran a replay of the fifth and deciding game of that fantastic 1995 American League divisional series between the Yankees and the Mariners. You remember, the one where the series was decided by Ken Griffey, Jr’s mad dash home on Edgar Martinez two-run double in the bottom of the 11th inning. Where the two teams combined for a record 22 home runs, 11 by each club.
Amazing how many players from that game have played a part in the destinies of the two teams in the 14 years since the Mariners won that 6-5 thriller. Consider this:
Randy Johnson, the big left-hander, won two games in the series, including the clinching Game 5 in relief. Later Johnson won three games against the Yankees for the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series, ending New York’s three-time championship run. And finally the Big Unit pitched two years for the Yankees in 2005 and 2006, winning 17 games each season but failing miserably in the playoffs both years. Yankee fans would later joked that Johnson killed the when he faced them, and he killed them again when he pitched in pinstripes.
Ken Griffey, Jr.: Had a terrific series with five homers and a .391 average, and of course he scored the series-clinching run. Griffey later went on to play for the Cincinnati Reds, but never experienced the glory of those halcyon days in Seattle. He came back to the Mariners in 2009 to wind down his career. Despite more than 630 career home runs, Griffey has never been to a World Series.
Tino Martinez: Hit .409 against the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS, then was traded to New York in the off-season along with Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock. Tino was the first baseman on four Yankee championship teams.
Jay Buhner: Traded to the Yankees for Ken Phelps and incidentals in the middle of the 1988 season, Buhner went on to a stellar career in Seattle, He hit .458 in the 1995 ALDS.
Alex Rodriguez: As a pinch-runner in Game 5, A-Rod scored the tying run. After signing as a free agent with Texas, Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees before the 2004 season. Although he has yet to play in a World Series, Rodriguez has won three American League MVP awards, including 2005 and 2007 with the Yanks.
Lou Piniella: Manager of the Mariners in 1995, Piniella was an outfielder with the champion 1977 and 1978 Yankee teams. He later managed the Yankees, won a World Series with the Reds, and managed the M’s, Devil Rays and now the Cubs.
New York Yankees
The Core Four
Four Yankees involved in the 1995 ALDS are still with the Yankees, 14 years and four World Champions later. Andy Pettitte started and took a no-decision in the Yankees 15-inning win in Game Two, and was in the bullpen warming up in Game 5 as Jack McDowell surrendered a one-run lead in the 11th inning. Jorge Posada was a backup catcher, but did score a run against the M’s. Mariano Rivera started his spectacular run of post-season success with 5 1/3 innings of scoreless relief and eight strikeouts, including a pivotal stint in the eighth and ninth innings of Game 5. And although a youthful 21-year-old shortstop named Derek Jeter, right, did not see any action against the Mariners, the familiar No. 2 was roaming the bench urging his teammates on, a captain in waiting.
Don Mattingly: Speaking of captains, Don Mattingly, in his only playoff appearance and his final season, batted .417 with a home run and six RBIs, including a go-ahead, two-run double in Game 5. In what turned out to be his final at bat, Mattingly took a called third strike against Randy Johnson in the 10th inning.
Bernie Williams: Another member of those four Yankee champions. hit two home runs and batted .429 in the series against the Mariners. It was Bernie, playing left field, who fielded Edgar Martinez’ hit in the left-field corner in Game Five but threw home too late to nab Griffey.
The catcher when Griffey slid across the plate and electrified the city of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest was star-crossed Jim Leyritz, who Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS for the Yankees with a dramatic 15th-inning home run in the rain at Yankee Stadium. Leyritz, no stranger to post-season heroics, later helped the Yankees to championships in 1996 and 1999. His dramatic three-run homer that tied the score in the eighth inning is considered the turning point in the Yankees win over the Atlanta Braves in 1996. He was later involved in a drunk driving accident in South Florida in which a woman was killed.
Randy Velarde, utility infielder who hit the go-ahead hit single in the top of the 11th inning in Game 5, signed on as a free agent with the California Angels after the 1995 season. He eventually returned to the Yankees, and helped lead them to a five-game win against Seattle in the 2001 ALCS. Ironically, Velarde recorded one of just 15 unassisted triple plays in major league history, playing second base for the Oakland A;s against the Yankees in 2000.
Derek Jeter, left, and Mariano Rivera are sure bets for the Hall of Fame.
From this catbird’s seat, the SportsLifer sees nine active players heading for the Hall of Fame.
Criteria for consideration includes at least a 10-year, major league resume. Players linked to steroids, who might otherwise be Cooperstown bound, are instead banished to the Mark McGwire waiting room.
The list of nine HOFers includes three infielders, three outfielders and three pitchers, two of them relievers. There are three other players on the cusp who will merit strong consideration by voters.
Of note, Pedro Martinez will qualify for this list once he takes the mound for the Phillies. He’s currently on the disabled list and hasn’t pitched yet this year.
Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki, each with nine years of service, will certainly be added to this list next year.
Lastly…and sadly…are five other players who would have made the list but for the needle and the damage done.
Hall of Famers
Ken Griffey, Jr, OF — Active leader, 5th all time with 621 HRs, 1798 RBIs, .286 BA, 184 SBs, 1997 AL MVP, played for Mariners and Reds, shown left
Vladimir Guerrero, OF — 396 HRs, 1289 RBIs, .322 lifetime BA, stole 175 bases, AL MVP with Angels in 2004
Trevor Hoffman, RP — All-time saves leader with 575, 2.76 ERA, played primarily for Padres, now with Brewers
Derek Jeter, SS — Captain of the Yankees, four-time World Champion, .316 lifetime BA, 216 HRs, 1039 RBIs, 292 stolen bases
Randy Johnson, P — The Big Unit, 303 lifetime wins, second all-time in strikeouts with 4867, five-time Cy Young award winner with Mariners and D’Backs
Chipper Jones, 3B — Played entire career with Braves, 417 HRs, 1416 RBIs, .310 BA, NL MVP in 1999, .364 NL batting champ in 2008
Mariano Rivera, RP — 505 saves, 2.29 lifetime ERA, post-season exploits with Yankees are unsurpassed, 34 saves, 0.80 ERA, 0.87 WHIP
John Smoltz, P — 211 victories, 154 saves, 3.27 lifetime ERA,, earned primarily with the Braves; 1996 NL Cy Young, record 15 post-season wins.
Jim Thome, 1B — 13th on the all-time home run list with 557 dingers, he also has 1545 RBIs for Indians, White Sox, Phillies
Pedro Martinez, P — Just signed with Phillies, three-time Cy Young Award winner with Expos and Red Sox, 214-99, 2.91 lifetime.
On the Cusp
Carlos Delgado, 1B — 473 home runs, 1512 RBIs for this slugger, who played for the Blue Jays and now Mets
Jorge Posada, C — Caught for the Yankees during their late 1990s dynasty, has 231 homers and 916 RBIs…276 BA
Johan Santana, P — 119-58 lifetime, 3.11 ERA, Cy Young winner with Twins in 2004, 2006, now pitches for Mets
Omar Vizquel, SS — Known as a slick fielder with 11 Gold Gloves, he has collected nearly 2,700 hits and 400 SBs
Nine Years And Counting
Albert Pujols, 1B — 353 HRs, 1066 RBIs, .332 BA, NL MVP 2005, 2008 with Cardinals, NL batting champion in 2003
Ichiro Suzuki, OF — 1936 hits, .332 BA, 334 steals, AL MVP in 2001 with Mariners, AL batting champ in 2001, 2004
First Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez to the Yankees. Then Ken Griffey, Jr. to the White Sox. And finally Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers.
In the long history of baseball, wonder if three sure-fire Hall of Famers were ever before traded in a 24-hour period?
Maybe the Elias Sports Bureau has the answer.