Perhaps more than most other sports, there’s not always a strong correlation in baseball between great players and winning championships. It shouldn’t be that surprising when you think about it. After all, the best hitters only come to bat every nine spots in the lineup while the best pitchers play every few days in the MLB.
Winning championships is a true team effort with star players relying on supporting players to step up in big spots rather than always being able to seize control of the game. Unless you’re part of a dynasty or surrounded by other great players, there are few guarantees of winning a title. As a result, some of the biggest legends in baseball history failed to win a World Series during their career.
Let's start with one of the greatest hitters ever.
Obviously, nobody is going to show much sympathy for Bonds never winning a title. But it is a little odd that a guy who was a serious home run threat every time he stepped in the batter’s box was never able to lead his team to a World Series. He came close in the 2002 World Series when the Giants lost to the Angels in seven games. However, it was only after San Francisco swapped out sluggers like Bonds for elite pitchers that they won three championships in five years.
Until a battle with sinusitis caused Sisler to miss the entire 1923 season, he was one of the best players in the majors. He was able to return after a year away, but he wasn’t the same as he was before.
Sisler wasn’t able to win a title during that time either, spending most of his career with the St. Louis Browns.
Piazza was hands-down the best hitting catcher of his generation and arguably the best of all-time. However, he never won a ring. Piazza helped to carry the Mets to the 2000 World Series, only to lose to the Yankees in the Subway Series.
It’s a shame he never won a title because Piazza had some iconic moments, especially during his years in New York.
By today’s standards, it’s almost unfathomable that a player could spend 14 seasons with the Yankees and never win a World Series. In fact, Mattingly didn’t even play in the postseason until his final season in pinstripes.
Mattingly hit .307 in his career, won nine Gold Gloves, was the MVP in 1985 and played in six All-Star Games, so he’s not to blame for his team’s lack of success during his career. Of course, as soon as Mattingly retired, the Yankees won four of the next five World Series.
Okay, most fans don’t know Lajoie, but he was one of the best hitters in baseball during the early part of the 20th century. He won four straight American League batting titles from 1901 to 1904 and even won the Triple Crown in 1901.
Lajoie spent most of his career with the Cleveland Naps, including a few seasons as a player-manager. However, the Naps were sleepwalking through most of those seasons and never came close to the World Series.
Killebrew may have looked short and stocky, but he had an incredible amount of power. He led the American League in homers six times and took home MVP honors in 1969 toward the end of a career that included 13 all-star selections. Alas, two decades with the Senators/Twins got Killebrew to only one World Series, a loss to the Dodgers in seven games, meaning Killebrew never won a title.
During the 1960s, Marichal was the premier pitcher in baseball. While Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson received most of the accolades, Marichal won more games than any other pitcher during the 1960s. Alas, he appeared in only one World Series, as he and the Giants fell to the Yankees in 1962. Marichal surely falls into the category of pitchers who deserved better.
Carew was good enough to go to the All-Star Game in 18 straight seasons, but he was never on a team that won the World Series. In fact, Carew didn’t even play in a World Series during his Hall of Fame career. It’s almost unfair for a guy to be that good, hitting .328 in a nearly two-decade career, and never play in a World Series. For what it’s worth, his jersey has been retired by two different franchises.
If there’s one player from the last 20 years who deserved to win a World Series but didn’t, it's Ichiro. He was one of the best pure hitters of his generation and still holds the single-season record for hits. On top of that, he won 10 Gold Gloves and was both Rookie of the Year and American League MVP in his first season.
Unfortunately, he spent most of his career with the Mariners, who are allergic to the postseason. Even a few years with the Yankees couldn’t get Ichiro a World Series ring.
Ken Griffey Jr.
Speaking of the Mariners and their ineptitude, they prevented Griffey Jr. from winning a World Series, too. In fairness, Griffey was part of Seattle’s one golden era when they made the playoffs four times in seven years. But the Mariners never reached a World Series. Somehow, things got even worse for Griffey in Cincinnati. The Kid got 99.32% of the Hall of Fame vote on his first ballot, but he didn’t sniff a championship.
You would think that playing 23 seasons in the majors, Yastrzemski would have stumbled into a World Series title at some point. But that's not what happens when you spend your entire career with the formerly cursed Red Sox.
Yaz was an 18-time all-star, won MVP in 1967 when he took home the Triple Crown and helped take Boston to the World Series twice. However, the Red Sox lost both World Series appearances in seven games, keeping the curse alive and denying Yastrzemski a championship.
Banks is another example of a player who was great but wasted his career with a franchise that was allegedly cursed. In fact, Banks didn’t play in a single postseason game with the Cubs from 1953 to 1971.
Mr. Cub was selected to 14 All-Star Games and won two MVPs. However, Chicago finishing five games out in the NL East in 1970 is the closest he ever got to the postseason. Banks is one of the most lovable players of all of the lovable losers who played for the Cubs in those days.
There are few players in baseball history who could hit the way Gwynn did. He collected over 3,000 hits during his career and was a .338 hitter, settling for just 135 home runs over his 20 seasons. However, Gwynn was loyal to the small-market Padres and chose to stay in San Diego his entire career. We should all be so lucky to spend 20 years in San Diego.
However, opportunities to win a championship were few and far between for Gwynn. During those 20 years, the Padres reached the playoffs three times and the World Series twice, going 1-8 in World Series games, leaving Gwynn without a championship.
How could a legend like Cobb not win a World Series during a career that spanned 22 seasons? Early in his career, Cobb helped the Tigers reach the World Series in three straight seasons. Alas, all three were losses, culminating in the 1907 World Series when the Tigers pushed the series to seven games but lost to the Pirates.
Over the next 20 years, Cobb never got back to the Fall Classic despite winning 12 batting crowns and being MVP in 1911.
Not even the great Ted Williams could help the Red Sox reverse the Curse of the Bambino. Despite a legendary career that saw Williams hit .344 with over 500 home runs over 19 seasons, he could never win a championship in Boston.
Williams and the Red Sox came devastatingly close in 1946 right after Williams returned from serving during World War II. But Boston let a 3-2 series lead get away, losing 4-3 to St. Louis in Game 7 and making Williams the best player in baseball history to never win a World Series.
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