Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Don Mattingly. You know the names because you've heard them a million times, and strung together you probably already know what the topic is: great players who never won a World Series.
In basketball, football and even hockey to a certain degree, greatness is measured with rings. Despite complete and utter statistical dominance, Wilt Chamberlain is considered by knowledgeable basketball fans to be inferior to Bill Russell. Why? Count the rings.
Dan Marino's offensive statistics blew away those of Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and John Elway, and yet we remember all three of those guys as better quarterbacks than Marino. Why? Count the rings.
But this is not the case in baseball. Ted Williams was the greatest hitter of all time, regardless of the fact that he never won a championship. Walter Johnson was the greatest pitcher of all time, regardless of the fact that he made the postseason exactly once during his career. In baseball, we measure ability based upon performance, which is why we have players whom we consider great who nevertheless never won a championship.
Let's take a look at the team-by-team power rankings of the best players never to win a World Series championship.
Obviously, we need to set some parameters here. For one thing, we are going to limit ourselves to players who never won a World Series even with another team. For example, Ivan Rodriguez is probably the greatest player in Texas Rangers history, and never won a World Series with the team. Nevertheless, he won one the year after he left Texas with the Florida Marlins, so he will not represent the Rangers.
Secondly, we will be appointing a player only from the current incarnation of each franchise. Thus, George Sisler will not represent the Baltimore Orioles, since he failed to win a World Series while the O's were still the St. Louis Browns. Nevertheless, for each team which has changed cities, we will also footnote the best player from that team's previous city never to win a World Series.
Most of the Kansas City Royals all time greats—George Brett, Hal McRae, Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen, Willie Wilson, Frank White—won a World Series in 1985. The long-suffering Jeff Montgomery, though, spent 12 long seasons in Kansas City accumulating over 300 career saves without sniffing the playoffs.
Despite his recently schizophrenic performances in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, David Wright remains one of the most talented players in baseball and is entering his prime. And besides, most of the greatest Mets of all time either won in 1969 or 1986.
They've only been around 13 years and they have a World Series title. Not a lot to choose from here.
A major league veteran and, according to his raw numbers, a great hitter, Helton has spent his entire career in Colorado and become the face of the franchise. Time is running out for Helton, though, who was turned away during his only trip to the World Series, against the Red Sox in 2007. Would the Yankees trade for him if they thought they were a bat short in August?
Larry Walker would also be a good answer.
Carl Crawford got to a World Series with the surprise 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team, but fell short. He ended his career in Tampa as the greatest player in franchise history, but also without a ring.
Many are predicting that Crawford and the Red Sox will be World Series favorites for the 2011 season, and if the Sox win it all, this will likely become Evan Longoria.
Eppa Rixey is a Hall of Famer of questionable value, but there is no disputing the fact that he pitched 21 seasons and won over 260 games but only made the postseason once, in a loss to the 1915 Boston Red Sox. There is also no disputing the fact that most great Cincinnati Reds have won a World Series.
Also remember Ted Kluszsewski, the Big Klu, who had a mighty-yet-brief career with the Reds and lost his only World Series to the Dodgers in 1959 as a member of the White Sox.
Juan Gonzalez represents a bit of a break down in this concept, since Ivan Rodriguez spent 12 seasons establishing himself as the greatest Texas Ranger of all time, then left and won a World Series as a member of the Florida Marlins. There have been lots of players better than Juan Gonzalez, who never won a World Series with the Rangers or with any other team, such as Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark, but Gonzalez has the best career as a Texas Ranger of players who never won a World Series without a doubt.
Washington Senators II: Frank Howard (though, again, Howard won a ring with the 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers).
It is actually pretty difficult to find a great Oakland Athletic who never won a World Series, for three reasons.
First, shortly after moving to Oakland, the team won three straight World Series from 1972 to 1974, so there is a dearth of non-World Series winning players from the early days in Oakland.
Second, between that team and the great team that won the World Series in 1989, the A's were loaded with lots of crap.
And finally, since the late 1980's, the A's have moved into the Billy Beane era, in which the team's top players move on to greener pastures after just a few seasons.
Thus, we could pick between Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Eric Chavez, when really the answer might have to be Mark Ellis. We'll stick with Giambi here.
Kansas City Athletics: Gus Zernial
Philadelphia Athletics: Bob Johnson, whom you've never heard of and who happens to be one of the most underrated players of all time.
Technically, this should be Frank Thomas, who missed all but 34 games in 2005 and did not appear in the 2005 World Series. However, he has surely been awarded a World Series ring, so we go with the next best option, Luke Appling, one of the greatest hitting shortstops of all time.
In theory, this could be Nolan Ryan, who pitched 89.1 innings for the World Series winning 1969 New York Mets, then spent the remaining 24 seasons of his career without ever getting back to the World Series.
But he did win a World Series, didn't he?
One of the tragedies of the last 20 years of baseball, whether you call it the steroid era, the home run era, the expansion era, or what have you, is that guys like Bobby Grich, Toby Harrah, Graig Nettles, Sal Bando, Ron Santo and Darrell Evans—great infielders who could really hit—have begun to fade from the record books as offense becomes readily available at all positions.
Grich was an outstanding player in his own time, even though historically his numbers pale in comparison to a guy like Jeff Kent, who accumulated gaudy, bloated numbers in an offense-friendlier time.
It is a testament to how terrible the Phillies have been in their history that between their World Series appearance in 1950 and finally winning a championship in 1980, the best player to not win a title was Johnny Callison.
There are really a few players worth discussing here.
One is Richie/Dick Allen, a tremendous talent and a poorly understood superstar whose behavior and reputation got him run out of baseball before his talent would have. A tremendous hitter, he deserved better than he got with the Phils or White Sox.
Another is Chuck Klein, who was one of the best players to not appear on a World Series winner ever. Klein was the 1932 NL Most Valuable Player and 1933 Triple Crown winner, though his career was, in total, relatively brief.
Ed Delahanty would be the no-doubt winner here if not for the fact that he played before the World Series era.
Pete Alexander would be the answer if he'd hadn't snuck a World Series title with the 1926 Cardinals.
And of course, no list of "damn-their-fate" Phillies stars would be complete without Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts.
In their 18-season existence, the Marlins have won two World Series, so the list of great Marlins without a World Series title is a short one.
I wanted to give this to Dale Murphy, but that would just be 1980's-kid bias on my part. It is a shame, though, that eventually, there is going to be a generation of baseball fans who don't realize that Dale Murphy was at one point considered a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, Andruw Jones is a clear winner here. In 1995, the Braves won their last World Series, and in 1996 Jones made his debut as a 19-year-old outfielder of the future.
Milwaukee Braves: Sid Gordon (because the pickins are slim).
Boston Braves: Wally Berger
This isn't the question we're asking, is it?
Montreal Expos: Vladimir Guerrero
Take your pick, really. This one could be Andre Dawson, Vlad Guerrero, Andres Galarraga, or even Dennis Martinez. What we do know, though, is that plenty of former Expos have won World Series, including Gary Carter, Pedro Martinez and Moises Alou.
All the greatest Orioles won World Series titles: Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Bobby Grich, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Dave McNally. Rafael Palmeiro is the Orioles' fifth-leading home run hitter all time, but he has no ring.
St. Louis Browns: George Sisler
There haven't been Blue Jays better than Roy Halladay, and most of the guys who are in the conversation won in 1992 and 1993. Carlos Delgado, who debuted with the 1993 team but only played two games and was not on the postseason roster, would also be a very good answer here.
With 27 World Championships in the 106 seasons of World Series play, the New York Yankees have won the World Series roughly once every four years. Thus, there aren't too many Yankees greats who haven't won a World Series ring. Don Mattingly heads a very short list that includes Mike Mussina, Dave Winfield (who won with Toronto in 1992) and Jason Giambi.
The All-Star team you could put together of great Pittsburgh Pirates who never won a World Series would kill the comparable All-Star teams of any other franchise, with the possible exception of the Cubs and Mariners. The list would include Vaughan, Ralph Kiner, Wilbur Cooper, Paul Waner, Barry Bonds (who, for these purposes, is actually a San Francisco Giant), Andy Van Slyke, Rip Sewell, Doug Drabek, Jason Kendall, Brian Giles, Jason Bay, Tony Pena and Al Lopez, amongst others. Of course, who needs four catchers?
Ted Simmons is to the St. Louis Cardinals what Don Mattingly is to the New York Yankees. It is difficult to believe that a guy could play for the St. Louis Cardinals for 13 years without winning a World Series, and yet there he is. Simmons is also a fantastically underrated player overall. The similarities between he and Carlton Fisk are too obvious to be ignored, and yet Fisk was a no-doubt Hall of Famer and Simmons never really got considered.
Robin Yount and the Brewers lost to St. Louis Cardinals in the 1982 World Series, the only shot the Brew Crew has ever had at a championship.The greatest Brewer in history is either Yount or Paul Molitor, and Molitor won a World Series with the Blue Jays.
Seattle Pilots: Mike Marshall
No member of the Houston Astros has ever won a World Series as an Astro, and the only former Astro we'd put ahead of Bagwell all time would be Joe Morgan, who won with the Cincinnati Reds.
You could put Barry Bonds here. Hell, you could put Bobby Bonds here. But I'm not trying to polarize people, and Willie McCovey was a brilliant offensive force whose contributions are hard to appreciate from our 21st Century lens.
McCovey's 521 home runs, in many ways, were more impressive than Barry Bonds' 700 and whatever.
New York Giants: Larry Doyle
This was Rod Carew, then it was called to my attention that Harmon Killebrew had never won a World Series. Whoops.
Harmon, of course, is one of the great home run hitters in baseball history, and would have hit 900 dongs had he played in the 1990's. Hell, he may have hit 700 playing in the 1970's and 1980's. And those Minnesota Twins teams of the 1960's should have eeked a World Series win at some point.
Poor old Rod Carew spent his career racking up hits, runs and batting titles but never won a postseason series. Maybe if his teams had had a halfway decent defender at second base all those years, the Twins could have gotten a little further. Jim Kaat would also be a good pick here.
Washington Senators (I): Joe Cronin
The greatest hitting catcher of all time, one of his teams may actually have won a World Series if it'd had a halfway decent defensive catcher who could handle pitchers and call a game behind the plate.
Dazzy Vance, Brooklyn Dodgers
I was going to make this blurb all about how absurd it is that Dazzy Vance isn't in the Hall of Fame. After all, he led in the NL in strikeouts seven straight times in the 1920's, won three ERA titles and a triple crown, all despite not becoming a major league regular until the preposterous age of 31. Yet, he still pitched 16 seasons, including 12 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and amassed 197 wins.
Only one problem: Vance is in the Hall of Fame.
One of the greatest hitters of all time, Tony Gwynn came close twice, going to the World Series in 1984 and 1998, but losing both times.
Ken Griffey Jr.'s overall career as a Mariner was better than both A-Rod and Randy Johnson, and they both also won World Series titles with their subsequent teams. Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki would both be excellent answers here.
A whole crop of great Cubs won in 1907 and 1908, and none have since. This list includes Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Stan Hack, Gabby Hartnett, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Sammy Sosa and Ferguson Jenkins. Argue if you will about whether Banks is the best of this group; he is certainly the face of this group.
One of the top 25 or 30 greatest players of all time, Lajoie left the Indians six years before they won their first World Series in 1920. Lajoie heads an impressive list of Indians to never win a World Series, which includes Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Earl Averill, Early Wynn and Addie Joss, amongst others.
From the ages of 20 to 22, Ty Cobb went to three straight World Series in 1907, 1908 and 1909, and lost all three. In the remaining 19 years of his career, he never made it back. As amazing as Cobb was, his Tigers were rarely in contention for the AL title for most of his career.
From 1919 to 2003, some of the Boston Red Sox's best opportunities to win the World Series came with the Ted Williams teams of the 1940's and 1950's. Williams and the BoSox were consistently vexed, however, by Joe DiMaggio's New York Yankees and then, later, by the Cleveland Indians. Williams performed miserably in his only World Series appearance, in 1946, hitting .200 in a seven-game series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Honorable Mention: Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz would be at the top of the list for a lot of teams, but is second behind the Splendid Splinter for Boston.