25 Best Subplots in World Series History

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IOctober 26, 2010

25 Best Subplots in World Series History

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    SAN DIEGO - 1988:  Outfielder Kirk Gibson #23 of the Los Angeles Dodgers with his helmet off during a 1988 season game against the San Diego Padres at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The best subplots in World Series history come from a variety of avenues

    Some are on-the-field matchups, some are bad blood between teams and/or players, some are just created by wacky characters who happen to be playing in the game.

    This years World Series between the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants is no exception.

    There are some great subplots out there, like Bengie Molina facing his old team, or the celebrated Cliff Lee-Tim Lincecum duels...and the possibility of being treated to that three times.

    Here's a look back at some of the best subplots throughout the century-plus of World Series drama.

No. 25: 2003 Florida Marlins

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    RONX, NY - OCTOBER 25:  The Florida Marlins hoist up pitcher Josh Beckett #21 the 2003 World Series MVP after defeating the New York Yankees 2-0 in game six of the Major League Baseball World Series on October 25, 2003 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Two related subplots overshadowed the 2003 World Series.

    The Marlins made baseball history in 1997, when they put together a team of high priced all-stars and bought a World Series title. Not long after, they blew up the team and rebuilt with youth and cheap players.

    Yet their unbelievably low payroll (minus Free Agent signee Pudge Rodriguez) managed to return to the Series in 2003. And their roster of young, lower-priced players not only won the championship, but they did so by defeating the enormously overpriced New York Yankees roster.

    That year, the Yankee rotation made more money than the entire Marlins roster.

No. 24: A Non-Yankee Dynasty, 1974

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    OAKLAND, CA - JULY 17: Reggie Jackson and Rollie Fingers wave as the Oakland Athletics celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1974 World Championship team before the game against the Chicago White Sox at the Network Associates Coliseum on July 17, 2004 i
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A's faced one another in the 1974 World Series. And although their were many compelling individual characters and  one-one-one matchups, the A's team was the best subplot.

    No franchise, other than the New York Yankees, had won three consecutive World Series.

    Oakland won the title in 1972 and 1973, setting up the chance to break the Yankee monopoly in 1974.

    They did, defeating the Dodgers in six games.

No. 23: First Subway Series In 44 Years, 2000

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    26 Oct 2000:  Jorge Posada #20 of the New York Yankees slides under the tag of Kurt Abbott of the New York Mets in the fifth inning during Game 5 of the World Series at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. The Yankees won the game 4-2 to clinch their third
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The classic Subway Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees was rebooted in 2000 when the Mets and Yankees squared of in the World Series.

    The results were pretty familiar: The Yankees won in five games.

    And although most places other than the "Big Apple" couldn't stand it, the matchup was still a nice stroll down memory lane for baseball.

No. 22: Worst-To-First Faces Worst-To-First, 1991

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    MINNEAPOLIS - OCTOBER 1991:  Pitcher Jack Morris #47 of the Minnesota Twins pitches during the 1991 World Series game against the Atlanta Braves in October of 1991 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Both the AL and NL representatives in the 1991 World Series had enjoyed a remarkable turnaround.

    After several years in the cellar—including a 65-win season the year before—the Atlanta Braves won the pennant in 1991.

    Meanwhile, the 1990 Minnesota Twins had won the World Series just three seasons earlier, but still managed to finish in last place in the AL West. They too went from worst-to-first, winning the AL Pennant in 1991.

    Fittingly those two great stories gave us an even greater World Series.

No. 21: John McGraw Vs. Babe Ruth, 1921

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    Although the Yankees and Giants shared the same city and the stadium (the Polo Grounds), they were two completely different teams. And for one reason: Babe Ruth.

    In 1921, Ruth had a second-consecutive season that defied baseball logic: 54 home runs, 177 runs scored, .846 slugging percentage.

    The Yankees won their first pennant and reached the World Series, where they faced John McGraw's Giants, who still relied entirely on pitching and what we today call "small ball."

    Anyone looking at the matchup had to be considering the obvious old guard-versus-new guard theme.

    And although the old guard (McGraw's Giants) won by limiting Ruth to just one extra-base-hit, the power game was here to stay.

No. 20: Expansion/Miracle Mets Reach World Series, 1969

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    The Mets stunned the baseball world in 1969 reaching the World Series in just their eighth season of play.

    They were still expected to be creamed in that year's World Series, because their opponent was the Baltimore Orioles, who had won 109 games that season. By contrast, the Mets were hovering around .500 in early June.

    The subplot of "will the Mets even win a game?" was great, considering that the Mets defeated the Orioles in five games.

No. 19: The Tigers Three-Year Plan, 2006

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    ST. PETERSBURG - JULY 27:  Pitcher Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on July 27, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    The 2003 Detroit Tigers were arguably the worst team in baseball history. Their record: 43 wins, 119 losses.

    Although turning into just a .500 team within three years would have been a tremendous goal, they managed to win the AL pennant in 2006.

    The Cardinals overwhelmed the Tigers in the World Series, but the story of that incredible turnaround was a great subplot.

No. 18: Roger Clemens Vs. Mike Piazza, 2000

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    22 Oct 2000:  #31 Mike Piazza of the New York Mets is restrained from pitcher #22 Roger Clemens of the New York Yankees by home plate umpire Charlie Reliford in the first inning during Game 2 of the MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New Yor
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Mets catcher Mike Piazza and Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens had a history even before Clemens hucked a half-broken bat barrel at the Mets catcher during Game One of the 2000 World Series.

    That summer, Clemens was accused of head-hunting when he hit Piazza with a pitch during the teams' interleague game. Piazza missed several games with a concussion.

    The Clemens-Piazza showdown only got juicier by Game Two.

    It's too bad the Mets lost Game Five: had they forced a Game Six, it's likely that Clemens would have pitched, setting up an interesting rematch between the two.

No. 17: Cleveland Indians Break 41-Year Drought, 1995

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    26 Oct 1995:  Pitcher Orel Hershiser of the Cleveland Indians winds up for the pitch during game five of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves at Jacob's Field in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Braves 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squire
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Indians had gone more than four decades without a postseason appearance when the franchise finally put together a winner in 1995.

    Snapping that franchise long streak was a major subplot when the Indians took on the Atlanta Braves in that season's World Series.

    But considering that NO Cleveland sports franchise had won a world title in 31 years, the Indians were carrying the city's entire sporting hopes on their shoulders.

    The six-game World Series loss to Atlanta was extra heartbreaking for that reason.

No. 16: Curt Schilling's Ankle, 2004

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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 19:   Pitcher Curt Schilling #38 of the Boston Red Sox grabs at his ankle as it appears to be bleeding in the fourth inning during game six of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees on October 19, 2004 at Y
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Prior to the 2004 ALCS, never before had a sock been so prominently featured on prime time national television.

    Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and his injured ankle/bloody sock triumphed over the Yankees in Game Six of the ALCS. That allowed Boston to set up a Game Seven and ultimately steal the series.

    So the questions about their ace's health naturally consumed the media's attention when the Red Sox reached their first World Series in 18 years.

    Gimpy ankle and all, Schilling was fantastic in his lone World Series start that year, shutting out the Cardinals in six innings and claiming his third World Series win.

No. 15: The Brooklyn Dodgers Just Can't Beat the Yankees, 1955

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    The Brooklyn Dodgers won pennants in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953, and each of those years' Octobers, they were defeated by the New York Yankees in the World Series.

    So when the Dodgers met the Yanks in 1955, only to loss the first two games of the Series, the subplot was: why do they even try?

    But the Bums rebounded to win Games Three, Four, and Five, and after losing Game Six, Johnny Podres shut out New York in Game Seven, and the Brooklyn Dodgers won their only World Series title ever.

No. 14: Cliff Lee Vs. C.C. Sabathia, 2009

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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 20:  CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees reacts after he struck out Mitch Moreland #18 of the Texas Rangers to end the top of the sixth inning of Game Five of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 20, 20
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    Game One of the 2009 World Series was not unique because it featured a pair of Cy Young winning, perennial all-Star pitchers. That's been a fairly common occurrence during the long history of the World Series.

    Nevertheless, when Cliff Lee squared off against C.C. Sabathia in that year's opening game of the World Series, it gave us an extra special subplot.

    Not only were Sabathia and Lee teammates with the Cleveland Indians for six seasons, but they were both Cy Young winners who the Indians were forced to deal away because of their impending free agency.

    It was fitting that the two would square off at Yankee Stadium, home stadium to their most hated rival. Mel Hall and Greg Nettles weren't there, however.

No. 13: The San Francisco Earthquake, 1989

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    SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 17:  Will Clark #22 of the San Francisco Giants and his son gather on the field after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the Bay Area, postponing Game three of the 1989 World Series against the Oakland Athletics at Candlestick Park
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Northern Californians were delighted in October 1989 to have to both their regions teams, the Giants and A's, playing against each other in that year's World Series.

    The favored A's got off to a great start, winning the first two games. But Game Three was interrupted by a massive 7.1 degree earthquake that rocked Candlestick Park.

    Whether or not the games would continue was a major question mark, and play did not resume for 10 days. Ultimately, the Giants were swept by Oakland 4-0.

No. 12: Doc Vs. The Rocket, 1986

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    Pitcher Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets looks on during a game at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York.
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    The two strikeout phenoms of the 1980s squared off in the series better remembered for Bill Buckner's error.

    23-year-old Roger Clemens won his first of seven Cy Youngs that year and was the AL MVP, while Gooden had won the NL Cy Young a year earlier.

    There may never have been a more hotly anticipated World Series Game Two.

    Neither one of the flamethrowers looked very sharp however, and the game did not live up to its billing. The Red Sox won 9-3, taking a 2-0 lead back home to Fenway Park.

    But after both teams won their incredible LCS clinchers, the matchup people waited most to see was Clemens versus Gooden.

No. 11: Kirk Gibson's Injury, 1988

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    LOS ANGELES - 1988:  Kirk Gibson #23 of the Los Angeles Dodgers runs the bases during a 1988 game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)
    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    The 1988 Dodgers had two great players (and a great manager) and not much more on their roster that season. But they managed to make it to the NL West title, then a victory in the NLCS.

    But their MVP outfielder, Kirk Gibson, was so bruised and banged up by the end of the season that he was not supposed to play in the World Series when LA took on the heavily favored Oakland A's.

    The "will he be able to play?" subplot was an interesting one leading up to the Game One. So was the question that Vin Scully asked the radio audience after Gibson's home run to win Game One in the bottom of the ninth:

    "Now the only question was would he be able to make it around the basepaths unassisted."

No. 10: Connie Mack Rebuilds The A's, 1929

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    Along with John McGraw, Connie Mack was the most accomplished manager of the pre-Babe Ruth era, winning five pennants and three World Series between 1901 and 1915. But to keep his franchise (he owned part of the team) in the red, Mack sold his stars off following the team's 1914 World Series loss.

    In the years that followed Mack's teams were awful. They finished dead-last in the NL from 1915-22.

    But slowly, Mack rebuilt the club, and by the late 1920s, he had another winner. With Lefty Grove, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, and Jimmie Foxx, the A's overtook the Yankees for the pennant in 1929.

    Mack was 66 years old when his A's finally returned to the World Series and at the end of his 35th season in the pros.

No. 9: No World Series, 1994

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    CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 15:  View of closed ticket windows at Wrigley Field as Baseball for the first time in modern history cancelled a World Series because of a labor dispute in which the players, having failed to reach an agreement with the owners, staged
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Prior to the 1994 season, the World Series had survived virtually everything. From 1905 to 1993. the Fall Classic went uninterrupted, overcoming two world wars, the earthquake in San Francisco, the Black Sox Scandal, the Depression, and the arrival of AstroTurf and the Designated Hitter.

    Yet the Series could not survive the players strike/lockout that hit the league in August 1994.

    There was no World Series that year, which is as much a story as there ever has been in baseball history.

No. 8: Mantle and Maris, 1961

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    No two teammates ever hit more home runs in a single season that Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit in 1961.

    That year, Maris broke the single season record with 61, and Mantle added another 54.

    Since the Yankees won the pennant in 1961, earning a spot in the World Series against the Reds, the nation eagerly anticipated what the duo might do on the grandest stage.

    Unfortunately, the injuries that forced Mantle out of the lineup late in the regular season limited him to just six at bats against Cincinnati. Maris was perfectly healthy but managed to hit just one home run in 23 at bats.

    This was a case of a potentially great subplot never materializing.

No. 7: The Red Sox Break The Curse

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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 20:  Johnny Damon #18 of the Boston Red Sox hits a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the New York Yankees during game seven of the American League Championship Series on October 20, 2004 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx boroug
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Red Sox coming back from down 3-0 (with Game Four virtually locked up by New York) in the 2004 ALCS may have been the single greatest story in the history of modern sports.

    So when Boston moved on from that historic win, and onto the 2004 World Series against a St. Louis Cardinal team that had Albert Pujols and and extremely deep rotation, the Red Sox were again counted out by some.

    Talk of them being "emotionally drained" and "ready for a letdown" entering Game One, proved to be ridiculous, however. The Sox swept the Cardinals to reverse the curse.

No. 6: The Yankees Chase History Yet Again, 1998

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    21 Oct 1998:  Pitcher Mariano Rivera #42 and catcher Joe Girardi #25 of the New York Yankees celebrate following the 1998 World Series Game 4 against the San Diego Padres at the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Yankees defeated the Padres 3-
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The 1998 Yankees set a new single season mark for wins, posting a 114-48 record.

    They swept the Rangers in the ALCS and, after a minor scare from the Cleveland Indians, advanced to the World Series.

    There they met a very overmatched San Diego Padres team, managed by Bruce Bochy.

    To most, it was forgone conclusion that New York would win their second title in three years. But because of what they had achieved in the regular season, a dominating performance in the World Series might establish them as the greatest singele-season team of all time.

    Better than the Murderer's Row team of 1927, better than the Big Red Machine in 1975.

    That's a debate for another list, but the overwhelming subplot of the 1998 series was the Yankees unparalleled dominance in the free agency era.

No. 5: Barry Bonds Finally Reaches The World Series, 2002

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    ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Barry Bonds #25 of the San Francisco Giants hits against the Anaheim Angels in game seven of the World Series on October 27, 2002 at Edison Field in Anaheim, California.  The Angels won the game 4-1 and the Series 4-3.  (Photo b
    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    In the early 1990s, Barry Bonds was as famous for his postseason collapses as he was for his home runs, stolen bases, and Most Valuable Player awards.

    Prior to the 2002 season, Bonds had never hit better than .261 in any single postseason series and only had one home run in 97 playoff at bats. That started to change in 2002, when he hit four home runs in 28 at bats during NLDS and NLCS series wins.

    Whether or not he could perform that well in his first World Series was a major talking point heading into the 2002 series against the Anaheim Angels.

    He not only matched his earlier totals, he far exceeded  them, walking 13 times, hitting .471 along with four home runs in just 17 at bats.

No. 4: Triple Crown Winner Vs. Cy Young Winner, 1966

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    Only twice in World Series history has a batter who won that season's triple crown faced a pitcher who won that season's Cy Young Award.

    The first time came in 1956 when Triple Crown winner Mickey Mantle faced Don Newcomb and the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Since Yankees get plenty of love on this list we'll move past them).

    Ten years later, it happened again, when the Baltimore Orioles and Triple Crown winner Frank Robinson won the pennant and a date with Cy Young winner Sandy Koufax's Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Koufax and Robinson only squared off three times, and it was essentially a draw. Koufax retired him in the first, walked him in the fourth, and surrendered a triple to Robinson in the top of the sixth.

    Too bad the Dodgers outfield made so many errors in that series or LA probably wouldn't have been swept, and another Koufax-Robinson showdown would have been set

No. 3: Chicago Black Sox Scandal, 1919

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    We probably will never know definitively whether Shoeless Joe Jackson and his seven Chicago White Sox teammates took money from gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. Field of Dreams and Eight Men Out dont really give us enough to make a definitive opinion.

    Jackson's individual stats suggest he was innocent (12-for-32, .375 average) but that's not an exact science. Neither are the subpar numbers that 29-game winner Eddie Cicotte posted in the three World Series starts.

    During the series, there were whispers that games might be influenced by gamblers. But the effect that the Black Sox Scandal would have on future Fall Classics makes it one of the most important "subplots" in World Series history.

    How many World Series that followed were suspected of being fixed even if there was absolutely no proof? In the immediate years that followed, there had to be at least some speculation.

No. 2: 9/11 And The World Series, 2001

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    NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 01:  Shortstop Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees looks on wearing a FDNY cap before game five of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Yankee Stadium in New York, New York on October 31 2001.  The Yankees defea
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Less than seven weeks had past since the tragedy of September 11 when the Yankees and Diamondback played in the 2001 World Series.

    So the sadness of those events was still fresh in peoples minds.

    But with the Yankees wearing those New York City fireman and police officer caps, instead of the classic "NY" hats, there was a theme of perseverance and resiliency present throughout every one of those games.

No. 1: Jackie Robinson Breaks the World Series Color Barrier Too, 1947

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    On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the Major League's long standing drought of white-only players when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Six months later, he became the first African-American to play in a World Series when the Dodgers played the Yankees.

    That series alone was one of the greatest ever played: Joe DiMaggio's heroics, Yogi Berra's "awful" catching performance, Bill Bevins' near no-hitter which Cookie Lavagetto broke up in the bottom of the ninth.

    Robinson's presence on the Dodgers roster—he collected seven hits and three RBI—was critical on the field but even more off.