Ken Griffey, Jr. retired earlier this year. He was in the midst of the worst season of his career, failing to hit any of his career 630 home runs in 2010. Still he will go down in history as one of the greatest sluggers the game of baseball has ever seen.
But he left the game with one major accomplishment missing from his resume: a World Series ring.
And he’s not the only great player to retire without winning it all. Here are 10 of the best players ever to play the game of baseball without winning the World Series.
I did want to include a pitcher on this list, but each have fallen just outside the top ten. Perry, Sutton and Phil Niekro are the only three post-1903 pitchers to win 300 games and no World Series.
Perry pitched for nine different seasons over 22 years, but only pitched in one playoff series - a loss to the Pirates in 1971. He retired in 1983 with 314 wins - 17th most all-time - a 3.11 ERA and over 3500 strikeouts.
Sutton pitched from 1966 to 1988, mainly with the LA Dodgers. His Dodgers won the National League pennant three times, but lost to the Athletics in 1974 and to the Yankees in 1977 and ’78. When he left the game, he had amassed 324 wins, 3574 Ks and a 3.26 ERA.
As I said, I want to include a pitcher - and almost did. Unforgivably I forgot about Craig Biggio, who probably would have been on this list. I also did consider Barry Bonds. Really, I did. But I can never again consider him 'great'. Still, I almost put him in, but in the end, at number 10 I went with a man who was included in possibly the worst trade in baseball history.
1991 - 2005
1991 - 2005 Houston Astros
In 1990, in an effort to strengthen their bullpen for the pennant run, the Boston Red Sox traded the 22 year old first baseman Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for reliever Larry Anderson.
Andersen pitched 22 innings in 15 games for the Sox, posting a 1.23 ERA. The team were swept in the ALCS and Andersen was pitching for San Diego the following season.
Bagwell, on the other hand, was the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year. Three years later, he was the MVP. When he retired after the Astros’ loss in the 2005 World Series, he had hit 449 home runs, collected 2300 hits with a .297 BA, driven in 1500 runs, won a Gold Glove, three Silver Slugger Awards and been named to four All-Star Games.
He hit 30 home runs in eight straight seasons. His performance both offensively and defensively declined sharply towards the end of his career.
When the Astros reached the World Series in 2005, Bagwell was hardly playing, and when he did, he played poorly (his average, OBP and SLG were by far the lowest of his career). In the playoffs that year, he hit just .182 with a sole RBI and Houston were swept by the Chicago White Sox.
1953 - 1971
1953 - 1971 Chicago Cubs
When Ernie Banks made his Major League debut in 1953, he became the first black player for the Chicago Cubs.
Like Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays before him, and Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson after - who were all the first black player for their teams - Banks would end up in the Hall of Fame, after a career which saw him club 512 home runs and collect 1600 RBIs.
Banks was named to 14 All-Star Games, won a Gold Glove at shortstop and won back-to-back MVP Awards in 1958 and ’59. From 1955 - 1962 he had six 30-100 seasons, during which time his average fell below .285 just twice.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility but never appeared in the postseason - although how much of that is due to a foul-smelling goat is debatable.
1954 - 1975
Minnesota Twins 1954 - 1974 (Washington Senators 1954-1960)
Kansas City Royals 1975
Killebrew was one of the most feared hitters of the 1960s. When he retired, he held the all-time home run record for a right-hander with 573.
A 13-time All-Star, he hit 40 home runs in eight separate seasons in a 12-year span, including 49 in 1969 - the year he won the AL MVP.
He came close to winning it all, when the Twins reached the World Series in 1965, but fell to the Dodgers in 7 games.
Though he was one of the greatest sluggers of all time, it took four years for him to be elected to the Hall of Fame. His batting average was higher than .280 just twice and he only collected 2086 hits, 300 fewer than anyone else on this list.
1915 - 1930
1915 - 1927 St. Louis Browns
1928 Washington Senators
1928 - 1930 Boston Braves
George Sisler never even reached the playoffs. Yes, when he played the game, there were no divisions, so the postseason comprised only the World Series.
Regardless, during his 16-year career, he never even had the chance to win a championship. But he was certainly good enough to do so. He won the inaugural Most Valuable Player award in 1922 with a .420 batting average.
Had the award existed two years prior, he may have won that, too. His Major League record of 257 hits that season stood until Ichiro Suzuki broke it 84 years later.
Sisler also held another notable hitting record. In his MVP season of 1922, he hit safely in 41 consecutive games - the most ever, until Joe DiMaggio went 15 better in 1941.
He batted below .300 just twice - once was his rookie year - and retired with a .340 career AVG., good for 16th best all-time.
1982 - 2001
1982 - 2001 San Diego Padres
Despite playing in the so-called steroid Era, Gwynn, never a big home run threat, was not overshadowed. His career-high in homers was 17 and he got into double figures just five times. Rather, he hit for average, and batted at least .309 every year but his first. His 3,141 hits rank 18th all-time.
The Padres won the National League pennant twice with Gwynn, but lost the 1984 World Series to Detroit and again in 1998 to the Yankees.
Gwynn was elected to 15 All-Star teams in 16 years from 1986 - 1999, won five Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame with 97.6% of the vote on his first try.
He came closer than most on this list to winning a title. The Padres won the National League pennant twice with Gwynn, but lost the 1984 World Series to Detroit and again in 1998 to the Yankees.
1986 - 1916
1986 - 1900 Philadelphia Phillies
1901 - 1902 Philadelphia Athletics
1902 - 1914 Cleveland Naps
1915 - 1916 Philadelphia Athletics
He never played in a World Series but Nap Lajoie had a team rename themselves after him, so he was doing something right.
When Lajoie was traded to the Cleveland Bluebirds in 1902, he turned the franchise around. At the end of the season, the team’s name was changed to the Cleveland Naps. It remained that way until he left in 1914, when the team became the Indians.
His average was .300 or greater for each of his first 11 seasons. It first fell below that line in 1907, when it was .299.
The 1902 and 1910 batting titles are disputed. Even without them, Lajoie led the league in hitting three times but is best known for his first, in 1901. His .426 that year is still a record, and will almost certainly never be broken.
1961 - 1983
1961 - 1983 Boston Red Sox
Yaz had some big shoes to fill when he made his Major League debut with the Red Sox in 1961. He took over in left field from future Hall of Famer Ted Williams.
While ,obviously, he was never going to be able to replicate Williams, he more than held his own, collecting 3,419 hits (6th most in history) and 1,844 RBIs (12th most). Defensively, he was actually better, with a stronger arm, and won seven Gold Gloves.
Yastrzemski had his best year in 1967, when he won the batting Triple Crown (.326/44/121) and the MVP. He and Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg were the driving force behind the Impossible Dream, which saw the Red Sox win their first AL pennant since 1946.
Just as in ’46, Boston lost to St. Louis in seven games. Yaz played in another Fall Classic, in 1975, considered to be one of the best of all time. Once again, however, the Sox lost in seven games, this time to the Cincinnati Reds.
1989 - 2010
1989 - 1999 Seattle Mariners
2000 - 2008 Cincinnati Reds
2008 Chicago White Sox
2009 - 2010 Seattle Mariners
It’s quite remarkable that Ken Griffey, Jr. has never been linked to steroids, given the era in which he played and the performances he gave. Unlike Bonds, Sosa et al. there’s no evidence to suggest he wasn’t clean, however, which makes his stats even more extraordinary.
His 630 home runs are the fifth most in Major League history. He hit 40 home runs seven times and a career-high 56 home runs in 1997 and 1998. His ’97 performance won him the AL MVP.
He was also solid defensively, winning 10 consecutive Gold Gloves - all in the 90s, during which he never committed more than 9 errors.
The closest Junior came to playing in a World Series was 2008, when he was traded from the Reds to the White Sox to give him a shot at a title in what could have been his final season.
Chicago lost in the ALDS and he made an emotional return to the Mariners in 2009. He stayed in Seattle for 2010, but failed to hit a home run before he retired in June.
1905 - 1928
1905 - 1926 Detroit Tigers
1927 - 1928 Philadelphia Athletics
When Ty Cobb entered the league in 1905, Nap Lajoie was the best player, winning three of the first four batting titles. However, he faced a serious challenger in Detroit’s young outfielder.
His first two seasons yielded his lowest averages, .240 and .316. After that, he never batted below .320. Three times he batted over .400. After Cobb arrived in the league, Lajoie didn’t win another batting title. Cobb on the other hand was batting champion 12 times, including nine consecutive. He was in the top two 15 times in a 16-year period.
Cobb said he tried ‘daring’ things to see how opponents reacted. He set the single season stolen base record in 1915 with 96, which stood for almost 50 years. He is still the all time leader in steals of home, with 54.
His career batting average of .367 is unlikely to be broken, much less likely over a 24-year career. Cobb became the first person to collect 4,000 hits, something which only Pete Rose has managed since.
He played in three World Series in 1907, ’08 and ’09, but the Tigers lost each one, to the Cubs twice and the Pirates.
1939 - 1960
1939 - 1960 Boston Red Sox
As good as Williams was, his numbers are all the more impressive when one bears in mind that he lost three years in his prime to fight in World War II, and most of two other years to fight in Korea.
The two-time MVP and 19-time All-Star won the Triple Crown twice, and is one of only five players to lead the Majors in average, homers and RBIs in a single season. His career .344 average is the highest in the live-ball era and his .482 is the best all-time. His second-to-last season was the only one in which his OPS dipped below a thousand.
For all his achievements, it is 1941 for which the Splendid Splinter is best remembered. He finished the season batting .406 and no player has reached the .400 mark since.
Williams played in one Series, in 1946, but batted only .200 with one RBI as his Red Sox fell in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. In his final at bat in 1960, Williams hit a home run into the bullpen at Fenway Park, his franchise-record 521st.