Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Unlikely World Series Heroes

     I realize that many (most?) readers of the Coffin Hop, especially non-Americans, might not care about the World Series, so I understand that this post might not be very popular.  However, I am a baseball fan, and the World Series is ongoing, so I thought I’d include a post about it.  (Also, frankly, I needed a post for today, and I couldn’t think of another horror-related topic, so here we are.)
     Very often, of course, during baseball’s biggest series the heroes tend to be the best players.  What made players like Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, etc. so special is that they were great during the regular season and post season.  But, in a short series, anything can happen.  Sometimes the mediocre relief pitcher, or the reserve outfielder, or the pinch hitter play beyond their usual talent, and help their team at the most critical time.  Here are eleven of those unlikely World Series heroes.

1)      Dickie Kerr, pitcher, 1919 Chicago White Sox.  The star pitchers for the White Sox team that year were Eddie Cicotte (29 wins, 7 losses, 307 innings pitched, 256 hits allowed, 49 walks, 1.82 E.R.A.) and Claude (“Lefty”) Williams (23-11 won-loss record, 265 innings pitched, 265 hits allowed, 58 walks, 2.64 E.R.A.).  Kerr, meanwhile, was a good third starter/relief pitcher, with a record of 13-8, 212 innings pitched, 208 hits allowed, 64 walks, 2.89 E.R.A.  However, in the World Series it was a different story—Kerr was by far the best pitcher on the squad, going 2-0, 19 innings pitched, 14 hits allowed, 3 walks, and a 1.42 E.R.A. in his two starts, while Cicotte was 1-2, with 21.2 innings pitched, 19 hits allowed, 5 walks, 2.91 E.R.A. (good, but not up to his regular season standards) and Williams flat out stank, going 0-3, 16.1 innings pitched, 12 hits allowed, 8 walks, E.R.A. of 6.61.  The team overall lost 5 games to 3 to the Cincinnati Reds.  (For a brief period, 1919-1921, the Series was a best of nine format instead of best of seven.)  The next year, it was discovered just how special Kerr’s performance had been—7 teammates had taken money from gamblers to throw the Series (Cicotte, Williams, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Fred McMullin, and Hap Felsch), and one other (Buck Weaver) had known of the plot but not actually participated, or told.  All of these men, of course, were banned from baseball for life, even though, oddly (since they admitted their guilt) they were acquitted in a civilian court.
2)      Bob Kuzava, pitcher, New York Yankees, 1951 and 1952.  Bob Kuzava was an obscure, mostly relief pitcher for the 1951 Yankees.  As expected, he didn’t see action in the first 5 games of the Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  However, in the 6th and deciding game, reliever Johnny Sain loaded the bases with no outs, with New York clinging to a 4-1 lead.  Kuzava came in, and allowed no more base runners (although 2 runs scored on sacrifice flies), saving the series for the Yankees.  Incredibly the same type of scenario repeated itself the following year.  Again Kuzava was a spot starter/reliever during the regular season (with a record of 8-8, 133 innings pitched, 115 hits allowed, 63 walks, 3.45 E.R.A.) and didn’t get into the first 6 games of the series, which was once again versus the Dodgers.  Again Kuzava was called in to preserve the lead (4-2 this time).  He pitched 2.2 perfect innings to once again save the Series for the Yankees.  (This was back in the days when the “closer” relief pitcher wasn’t the norm, and Kuzava wasn’t the Yankees closer or main relief pitcher in either year.)  This was it for Bob’s Series heroics, though, as in 1953, yet again against the Dodgers, he got into a non-clinching game (Game 6) and pitched poorly, giving up a run in only two-thirds of an inning.  Overall, for his 10 year career he was pedestrian—49-44, 862 innings pitched, 849 hits allowed, 415 walks, 446 strikeouts, 4.05 E.R.A.
3)      Don Larsen, pitcher, 1956 New York Yankees.  Baseball fans recall Larsen, as he’s the still the only guy to pitch a perfect game in the post season (Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, in the Divisional Series vs. the Reds), in the 5th game of the 1956 Series.  But fewer know that Larsen was at best a third starter, going 11-5, 180 innings pitched, 133 hits allowed, 96 walks, 107 strike outs, 3.25 E.R.A., behind Whitey Ford and Johnny Kucks.  Also, in his first Series start that year, in Game 2, he was removed after pitching only an inning and two thirds, as he gave up 4 walks and a hit.  No hitters and perfect games can be freakish events, occasionally thrown by middling or bad pitchers like say, Len Barker, Joe Cowley and Philip Humber, to name a few, and Larsen fits that bill only on baseball’s biggest stage.  For his 14 year career, he went 81-91, 1549 innings pitched, 1442 hits allowed, 725 walks, 849 strikeouts, 3.78 E.R.A.
4)      Dusty Rhodes, pinch hitter/reserve outfielder, 1954 New York Giants.  Rhodes was a huge factor in the Giants’ upset of the powerful Cleveland Indians.  The Indians had put up a 111-43 record, or a .721 winning percentage, second ever only to the 1906 Chicago Cubs 116-36, .763 mark.  (The 1998 New York Yankees won more games, 114, but due to their 162 game schedule, rather than 154, their winning percentage was “only” .703.)  In game 1, Rhodes hit a pinch hit, 3 run walk off homer in the 10th inning.  In game 2, he pinch hit in the 5th inning and drove in the tying run with a single, then stayed in the game as an outfielder and hit an insurance homer in the 7th.  In game 3 his single drove in 2 runs in the 6-2 final.  For the series he was 4 for 6, with 2 homers and 7 rbi.  They didn’t award Series MVP’s then (that came a couple of years later), but if they had, surely Rhodes would have been the choice.
5)      Bobby Richardson, second base, 1960 New York Yankees.  Richardson was the starting second baseman, but he was of the “good field, no hit” variety.  For the season, in 460 at bats he managed only a .252 average, with 1 home run, 26 rbi, 6 stolen bases, and a .298 slugging average.  The Yankees offense that year (and many others) was led by folks such as Moose Skowron (.309, 26 homers, 91 rbi, .526 slugging), Roger Maris (.283, 39 homers, league leading 112 rbi and .581 slugging percentage), and Mickey Mantle (.275, league leading 40 homers, 94 rbi, .558 slugging, 111 walks).  Well, the 1960 Series turned out to be a 7 game classic, which famously ended on Pittsburgh Pirate second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s walk off, Series winning home run.  Somewhat surprisingly, though, Mazeroski, who had a good Series otherwise (8 for 25, .320 average, 4 runs, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 5 rbi) was not the MVP.  Little Bobby was—the only time a losing player has won, like Cowboy footballer Chuck Howley in Super Bowl 5.  Richardson hit .367 (11 for 30), scoring 8 runs, with 2 doubles, 2 triples, 1 homer, and a still record 12 rbi.  (Mantle did great, too, hitting .400, with 8 runs, 3 homers and 11 rbi).  Obviously, it was a weird Series.  The Yankees scored 55 runs to the Pirates 27, hit .338 to the Pirates .256, and won their games 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0.  But the Pirates did enough to prevail.
6)      Gene Tenace, catcher/first baseman, 1972 Oakland Athletics.  Tenace was a backup catcher/first baseman (and even a game at second and third, oddly) who was a poor hitter that year (.225, 5 homers, 32 rbi, .339 slugging in 227 at bats).  He was promoted to starting catcher in the ALCS and played terribly (1 for 17, 1 run, 1 rbi).  Despite this, he continued to start in the World Series, against the Cincinnati Reds.  In his first two at bats, in Game 1, he hit home runs, leading the A’s to victory.  His torrid hitting kept going throughout the 7 game Series, as he finished at .348 (8 for 23), with a double, 4 home runs, and 9 rbi.  He was about the only Athletic player to contribute on offense—they scored only 16 runs total, and no other player even had 2 rbis.  Rightfully, he was named MVP, and began to get more starting time as his career progressed.  The World Series magic was gone, though—although he played (and won) 3 more series (’73 and ’74 again with the A’s, ’82 with the St. Louis Cardinals), he played mediocre-ly or poorly in these.
7)      Kurt Bevacqua, reserve first baseman, third baseman, outfielder, 1984 San Diego Padres.  Kurt was a true reserve for the Padres that year, garnering 80 at bats in 59 games.  He made the least of these, batting .200 with 1 home run, 9 rbi, and .275 slugging percentage.  Oddly, though, manager Dick Williams put him at designated hitter for the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.  I guess Williams knew something that no one else did, as Bevacqua was the offensive star for the team.  He hit .412 (7 for 17), with 2 doubles, 2 homers, 4 rbi, including the game winning homer in Game 2.  Sadly, this remains the only World Series game won to date for the Padres, as they lost in 5 games in ’84, and were swept in ’98 by the Yankees.  Bevacqua defined journeyman for his career, as he hit .236, 27 homers, 275 rbi, and slugged .327.  Other than this Series, he’s probably best known for blowing the biggest bubble in a mid 1970’s MLB bubblegum contest.  (Disturbingly, I just read that he was also arrested for stalking and attacking his ex-wife and her new boyfriend in the 80’s—didn’t learn the eventual outcome.)
8)      Billy Hatcher, outfielder, 1990 Cincinnati Reds.  Billy was a starting, if unspectacular outfielder for the Reds.  He hit .276, with 5 homers, 25 rbi, 30 steals, and .381 slugging in 504 at bats.  Co-outfielders Eric Davis and Paul O’Neill, third baseman Chris Sabo, and shortstop Barry Larkin were the offensive leaders for the team.  However, in the World Series against Oakland, Billy outshined them all.  The reigning World Series champs, the A’s were heavy favorites, but were amazingly swept by the unheralded Reds.  Hatcher was nothing short of incredible—the A’s only got him out 3 times in the four games.  He batted .750 (9 out of 12), which is like a high school baseball number.  He also had 4 doubles, a triple, scored 6 runs, and drove in 2.  He wasn’t the MVP—that went to pitcher Jose Rijo, who was excellent (2-0, 15.1 innings, 9 hits, 5 walks, 0.59 E.R.A.)  And, to be fair, the entire Reds team did well at the plate (.317 average), with Chris Sabo (.563, 2 homers), Larkin (.353) and catcher Joe Oliver (.333, 3 doubles, 2 rbi) among the notables.  Hatcher’s batting average is still the all time record for a World Series participant, with a minimum of 10 at bats (although Boston’s David Ortiz is currently challenging this—stay tuned).
9)      Mark Lemke, second baseman, 1991 Atlanta Braves.  Lemke shared second base with Jeff Treadway during the season, and was considered a good fielding but weak hitting player.  He batted .234, 2 homers, 23 rbi, .312 slugging, in 269 at bats that year.  The Braves were led that year at the plate by outfielder Ron Gant (32 homers, 105 rbi, 34 steals), third baseman Terry Pendleton (league leading .319 batting average, 22 homers, 86 rbi) and outfielder David Justice (.275, 21 homers, 87 rbi).  However, in the World Series against the Minnesota Twins Lemke started in 6 games, and had the series of his life.  He batted .417 (10 for 24), with 4 runs, 1 double, 3 triples, and 4 rbi.  Included in these hits were driving in the winning run in Game 3, and scoring the winning run in Game 4.  The Braves, of course, lost in 7 games in agonizing fashion, but if they had won surely Lemke would have been the MVP.  Lemke went on to play in the ’92, ’95, and ’96 Series with the Braves, but returned to his usual mediocre to bad hitting ways.
10)  Gene Larkin, reserve outfielder and infielder, designated hitter, 1991 Minnesota Twins.  In 1991 he had a typical season for him—98 games, 255 at bats, 2 homers, 19 rbi, .286 batting average, .373 slugging.  He was relegated to pinch hitter in the ’91 Series against the Braves, appearing in 4 games. However, he did something really special in Game 7—he had a walk off hit in the World Series clincher.  Granted, it was no dramatic homer like Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 Series blast, or like Joe Carter’s homer in Game 6 of the 1993 Series (vs. the Phillies)—it was only a single, over a drawn in outfield (the bases were loaded with one out in a tie 0-0 game), but still, he came through in the most clutch situation a Major League player can face.  This was of course Jack Morris’s famous (or infamous, to Twins haters or Braves fans) 10 inning complete game shutout.
11)  Pablo Sandoval, third/first baseman, 2012 San Francisco Giants.  Sandoval, or “Kung Fu Panda”, is of course a fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why.  He has an engaging, likable personality, and his roly-poly physique is endearing in a Babe Ruth/John Kruk sort of way.  And he clearly can hit, as his lifetime .298 batting average, .351 on base percentage, and .476 slugging average, attest.  However, I think even his most devout fans would admit he’s been a bit of an underachiever—partially due to injuries, but not totally.  In 2012 he had a decent but not great year—396 at bats, .283 average, 12 homers, 63 rbi.  But he sure turned it on in the Series against the Tigers.  In Game 1, facing one of the game’s best pitchers in Justin Verlander, he hit 3 home runs (2 off Verlander).  He cooled off somewhat over the next 3 games, but still hit .500 (8 for 16) with 3 runs, 1 double, the 3 homers, and 4 rbi, and he was justifiably named MVP.  But his Game 1 feat of hitting 3 homers in a game has only been done by 3 players in World Series history, by (drum roll) Babe Ruth (in 1926 and 1928), Reggie Jackson (1977) and Albert Pujols (2011).  Or two Hall of Famers, and one sure to be Hall of Famer.  One of these things is not like the others, as the quote goes, unless Sandoval really picks it up for the rest of his career.


  1. Baseball + Coffin Hop. Didn't see this one coming.

  2. Yeah, it was a stretch, admittedly. I'm a baseball nut, and, I needed a post topic.