9 Most Unlikely World Series MVPs
The 2011 World Series is in full swing, with the Rangers headed back to St. Louis for Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead over the Cardinals thanks to a huge 4-2 victory last night. And in such a tightly contested series—it looks like we have a pretty decent shot at a Game 7 for the first time since 2002—it’s anybody’s guess who will wind up being this year’s World Series MVP. Sure, Albert Pujols had probably the best single game in the WS history on Saturday night; but he followed that up by going 0-4 on Sunday. So, really, you just never know what’s going to happen.
To illustrate just how challenging it is to predict who will win the World Series MVP, and to give you a little crash course in World Series history, I thought we’d take a look at the 9 most unlikely recipients in this prestigious award’s history.
9. Gene Tenace (1972)
During the 1972 regular season, Gene Tenace was just a backup catcher who hit .225 with 5 HRs and 32 RBIs. The 1972 Fall Classic served as his coming out party, however, as he led his team by hitting .348 with 4 HRs and 9 RBIs. Of course, Tenace went on to become a star for the Oakland A’s dynasty that won two more Word Series Championships in 1973 and 1974. But he most definitely was not a star when he was named World Series MVP in 1972.
8. Scott Brosius (1998)
Former Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius had the second-best year of his career in 1998, when he hit .300 while smacking 19 HRs and driving in 98. Still, he played on a Yankees team that featured Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, and Paul O’Neill. So no one really thought he would be the one to lead the team in average (.471), HRs (2), and RBIs (6).
7. David Eckstein (2006)
David Eckstein is the Rudy of Major League Baseball. Sure, he was always a high-average hitter with a .280 average over 9 seasons. But he only hit 35 home runs in his career and batted in just 392 runs.
So no one could possibly have imagined that the 5’7” shortstop would be the most valuable World Series player on a Cardinals team that featured mashers like Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. And yet he most definitely was, hitting .364 with 3 doubles and 4 runs batted in.
6. Darrell Porter (1982)
Catcher Darrell Porter had a good series for the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Over 7 games, Porter hit .286 with a home run, 2 doubles, and 5 runs batted in—good for a .775 OPS. But he probably wasn’t the best player on his team.
Keith Hernandez hit .259 with a home run, 2 doubles, and 8 runs batted in—good for a .799 OPS.
Lonnie Smith (yes, Lonnie, not Ozzie) played 7 games and hit a superb .321 with 4 doubles and a team-high 6 runs scored—good for a .881 OPS.
Then there was pitcher Joaquin Andujar, who pitched a team-high 13.1 innings and gave up only 2 runs while walking just 1—good for a 1.35 ERA and a 0.825 WHIP.
Yet, surprisingly, it was Darrell Porter who came way with the World Series MVP.
5. Rick Dempsey (1983)
Numbers 6 and 5 were pretty much a toss up.
Both were catchers for the World Series champs, and both hit about .230 for the season in which they won the WS MVP. On the one hand, the World Series performance of Baltimore Oriole Rick Dempsey was more impressive than Porter’s in 1982, since Dempsey hit .385 with 4 doubles—a much greater leap from his subpar regular season numbers, and thus in a way far more surprising. On the other hand, the fact that Porter could win the World Series MVP in 1982 by hitting just .286 with 0 extra base hits is absolutely crazy.
So, with all these factors kind of balancing each other out, I just placed them in chronological order. Because, in my opinion, just as a tie at the bag always goes to the runner, so a tie in accomplishments always goes to the guy who did it last.
4. Johnny Podres (1955)
Johnny Podres was just 9-10 with a pedestrian 3.95 ERA for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955. In other words, he was not the type of guy you want going to the mound for you against the fearsome New York Yankees.
But in the 1955 World Series, Podres was Cy Freaking Young. The man went the distances in both Game 3 and the decisive Game 7, giving up only 2 runs and 4 walks to a team that featured Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Hank Bauer.
3. Donn Clendenon (1969)
Donn Clendenon had some good seasons early in his career—his career average was .291 through 1966, the year he hit a career high 28 home runs. But when he came to the Mets midway through the 1969 season, it most definitely looked like his best years were behind him. In 1967, 1968, and 1969, Clandenon hit .249, .257, and .248 respectively. In 1968, he led the league…in strikeouts. Things were just not looking good for poor Donn.
But in the 1969 World Series, Clandenon had a miraculous series for the Miracle Mets. In just 5 games, the first baseman hit for .357 with 3 home runs and 4 runs batted in.
2. Steve Yeager (1981)
In 1981, for the first time in history, the World Series had co-MVPs. In fact, there were three: third baseman Ron Cey, outfielder Pedro Guerrero, and catcher Steve Yeager.
Now, Yeager—he of a .209 average in only 42 games during the regular season—had a great World Series. In 6 games, he batted .286 with 2 home runs and 4 runs batted in. But Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero were better over almost twice at many at-bats. Cey batted .350 with a 7 hits, 6 runs batted in, and a home run. Guerrero batted .333 with 7 hits, 7 runs batted in, and 2 home runs.
So basically, Yeager got to be co-MVP simply because of two timely home runs. Maybe that’s fair, maybe it isn’t. But did we really need three “Most Valuable” Players?
1. Bobby Richardson (1960)
Bobby Richardson was named World Series MVP in 1960 after hitting .367 on 11 hits with 12 runs batted in. This was quite a surprise, since Richardson was a defensive specialist valued far more for his glove than his bat. In his 11 year big league career, he hit .266 and drove in a measly 390 runs. Thus, his RBI total (12) in the 7-game World Series was about a third of what he averaged per season (35) for his entire career.
However, while this disparity between Richardson’s regular-season performance and his World Series performance is glaring, what makes him the unlikeliest of World Series MVPs are two more bizarre facts. One: of the first 11 guys to win the award, he was the first and only non-pitcher. Two: his team lost.
Richard was and still is the only player from the losing team to be named World Series MVP. And he won it despite the fact that the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski hit .320 and smacked one of the most famous home runs in the history of baseball. (His walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 is the first and only in MLB history. Joe Carter’s home run for the Blue Jays in 1993 is the only other home run to end a World Series, but that came in Game 6.)