The Greatest Hitting Performances in the World Series: Unlikely October Heroes
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Regular season baseball is all about large sample sizes. The season is 162 games long; batters have over 500 plate appearances; starting pitchers throw more than 150 innings. These large sample sizes cause, for the most part, the cream to rise to the top. Those players who are great are the players who lead in ERA, WHIP, OBP, and WAR. The MVPs and the Cy Young winners are most often players who are great having great seasons.
The playoffs are a different matter. Instead of a 162 game sample, player stats in the playoffs represent what happened over a minimum sample of three games and a maximum sample of nineteen games. Now, look at the World Series. The sample size ranges from four to nine games. When the sample size gets that small, the odds of a great performance from a great player versus the odds of a great performance shrinks substantially. This has led to some memorable World Series performances from players who were nothing special during their careers. In this case, we are looking at high level World Series performances from players with a career WAR under 10. Here are the memorable World Series performances I found that fit the bill:
George Rohe (1901, 1905-1907), 3B, Chicago White Sox, 1906 World Series
George Rohe was a utility infielder for the White Sox. In fact, he was not the first choice to start in the World Series. Before the World Series, White Sox shortstop George Davis got injured. This led the White Sox to move their starting third baseman, Lee Tannehill, to shortstop and put Rohe at third base. His performance in the World Series helped the White Sox beat the Cubs in six and Charles Comiskey, the owner of the White Sox, stated that Rohe would have a place on the team for life. After putting up a .213/.274/.255 slash line as a starter, the White Sox released him and he never played professional baseball again.
Bobby Brown (’46-’52, ’54), 3B, New York Yankees, 1949 World Series
Probably better known for being the sixth president of the American League, Bobby Brown led the Yankees in AVG, OBP, SLG, hits, runs, RBIs, and triples among players with at least three ABs in the Yankees triumph over the Dodgers in five. On a team with Dimaggio, Berra, Henrich, Rizzuto, and Mize, it’s amazing that they were all outperformed at the plate by Brown. Had there been a World Series MVP in ’49, only Allie Reynolds, who outdueled Don Newcombe in Game 1 and closed out Game 4 with 3.1 innings of shutout ball, could have taken the award from him.
Billy Martin (’50-’53, ’55-’61), 2B, New York Yankees, 1953 World Series
Most remember him for his time as manager of the Bronx Bombers during the mid-to-late 1970s and the 1908s (George Steinbrenner is probably handing another pink slip to Billy Martin in Heaven right now), but his play in the 1953 World Series against the Dodgers may have been the second most remembered event during his time as a player. In the six game series victory over the Dodgers, Martin led the Yankees in hits, HRs, RBIs, AVG, SLG, and OPS. That’s no small feat on a team with Mantle and Berra.
Bobby Richardson (’55-’66), 2B, New York Yankees, 1960 World Series
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What we talk about when we are taking about WAR is the value (in this case wins) a player gives to a team above a replacement level player. In 1960, Bobby Richardson performed at the level of a replacement player. So it would have been hard to imagine, going into the 1960 World Series against the Pirates, that Richardson would end up leading the Yankees in triples, runs, and RBIs. He won the MVP award for the series making him the Chuck Howley of baseball (or does that make Chuck Howley the Bobby Richardson of the NFL?). That is not to say he was the Yankees’ greatest performer in the series. That distinction goes to Mickey Mantle. However, Mantle and Richardson, along with Maris, Berra, and Elson Howard, were not enough as the Yankees lost the fantastically lopsided 1960 World Series to the Pirates in seven.
Willie Aikens (’77, ’79-’85), 1B, Kansas City Royals, 1980 World Series
In a series with stars like George Brett, Mike Schmidt, and Steve Carlton, Willie Aikens outshone them all. In Game 1 and Game 4, he hit two home runs and until Chase Utley in 2009, he was the only player to ever hit two home runs in a game twice in the World Series. He also knocked in the game winning RBI in the 10th inning of Game 3. He led all players in the series in triples, HRs, RBI, SLG, and OPS and led the Royals in runs as well. Despite his performance, the Royals lost the series in six to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Billy Hatcher (’84-’95), LF/CF, Cincinnati Reds, 1990 World Series
The numbers say it all. Billy Hatcher, of all people, put together one of the greatest hitting performances in the history of the World Series. Let’s ignore how the performance stacks up relative to the other players in the series. He started out the series with seven consecutive hits. Hatcher set the record for batting average, and OBP in a World Series (min. 18 PA). He finished second in OPS for a series (behind 2.433 by Gehrig in ’28) and sixth in SLG (behind Gehrig ’28, Matsui ’09, Ruth ’28, Bonds ’02…ugh, Gowdy ’14 and tied with Jackson ’77). At I would argue that it is the third greatest of all time (behind Gehrig and Ruth in ’28). Hatcher and the Reds swept the favored Oakland Atheltics. Hatcher did not win the MVP for the World Series as that honor went to a deserved Jose Rijo.
Mark Lemke (’88-’98), 2B, Atlanta Braves, 1991 World Series
The greatest World Series ever played deserved a great performance from an unexpected source. That is not to say that Lemke’s series began well. In Game 2, a lack of communication by between David Justice and Lemke led to Dan Gladden reach second on a routine pop up. This led to the Twins scoring two in the first and they went on to win the game 3-2 with just four hits on an eighth inning home run by Scott Leius. However, Game 3 and Game 4 saw Lemke play the role of hero. In Game 3, Lemke’s single in the 12th with two outs scored Justice and the Braves won their first game of the series. In Game 4, Lemke’s hook slide allowed him to avoid the tag by Brian Harper and won the game in the bottom of the ninth. Lemke led all player in the series in triples, AVG, OBP, and SLG (min. 5 AB). Had the Braves won the series, the MVP would have gone to him or John Smoltz.
(All WAR numbers come from Baseball-Reference.com)
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