I am a former sports editor and currently serve as a historian with the Society of American Baseball Research and manage a valet operation.
Who Are the Best Players to Make the Final Out of a World Series?
Even some of the all-time greats have been unable to come through in the most clutch of situations.
The World Series has been played every year since 1903 (excluding 1904 and 1994), and with it has come some of the greatest moments in baseball history. But what about the player who hits into the final out that loses a World Series? There aren't any heroics in that situation, but there are quite a few Hall of Famers who fell victim to what is assuredly one of the worst moments of their careers.
There have been 105 instances of a World Series ending with an out throughout history—including twice when the same player recorded the final out in back-to-back years (Boss Schmidt in 1907 and '08, and Aaron Ward in 1921 and '22). Sure, there are also names on the list like Jack Bentley (1923), Sal Yvars (1951) and Michael Martinez (2016) who have been kicked into the annals of forgotten baseball past. However, you'll soon find that those players can be mentioned alongside some of the most recognizable names in baseball history.
10. Miguel Cabrera
- Year: 2012
- Team: Detroit Tigers
- Play: Struck out looking
- Pitcher: Sergio Romo
Miguel Cabrera would not have been many people's pick as the player who would end the 2012 World Series. The regular-season Triple Crown winner had already played hero in one World Series run (as a rookie in 2003, he hit three home runs while helping the Marlins win the NLCS), but only hit .231 in the 2012 Fall Classic, which saw the Giants sweep the Tigers. Trailing by a run in the bottom of the 10th inningofg Game 4, Cabrera was frozen by an 89 MPH fastball from San Francisco closer Sergio Romo, who was known for his slider.
In addition to Cabrera's Triple Crown, he is an 11-time All-Star and two-time MVP, and has hit 487 home runs so far in his 18-year career. It's expected he'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer once he retires and gains eligibility.
9. Pee Wee Reese
- Year: 1952
- Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
- Play: Fly out to left field
- Pitcher: Bob Kuzava
The 1952 World Series was a back-and-forth affair between the decade's powerhouses, but it was the Yankees who pulled out a 4–2 victory in Game 7 after Pee Wee Reese hit a routine fly to left field on a 2-2 count. For Reese to be the final out in the series was a bit a surprise. In the Fall Classic that year—which was the fourth of his career—Reese hit a team-high .345 with a home run and four RBI, including an RBI single earlier in Game 7.
Reese was a star for the Dodgers for 18 seasons. In that time, he garnered an All-Star selection every season from 1946 to '54. That streak probably would have been longer, but he served in the military from 1943 to '45. Reese was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 1984.
8. Goose Goslin
- Year: 1925
- Team: Washington Senators
- Play: Struck out looking
- Pitcher: Red Oldham
Goose Goslin was on his way to establishing himself as one of the American League's premier players when he made his second straight appearance in the World Series in 1925. And despite doing his part with three home runs and a .308 average throughout the seven-game series, Goslin was the second strikeout vicitm in the ninth inning of Pittsburgh's 9–7 victory in the rain and mud that defined Game 7.
For his career, Goslin was a .316 hitter over 18 seasons. He hit 500 doubles as part of 2,735 hits, and was inducted to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 1968. In the 1935 World Series, Goslin was also involved in the final play by hitting a walk-off single to give the Tigers a win over the Cubs.
7. Willie McCovey
- Year: 1962
- Team: San Francisco Giants
- Play: Line out to second base
- Pitcher: Ralph Terry
It feels wrong to include Willie McCovey on this list because he did everything right in the final at-bat of the 1962 World Series, even though it ended with an out. Neither the Yankees nor Giants had managed to win consecutive games in the series, and New York held a slim 1–0 lead going to the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7. With runners at second and third, McCovey smashed a hard-hit line drive that second baseman Bobby Richardson was able to snare by taking a couple of steps to his left.
Had the ball gone a few feet in either direction, McCovey could have added to his legacy with a walk-off World Series hit. McCovey was the 1959 Rookie of the Year and continued on to a 22-year career, which saw him crush 521 home runs. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1986.
6. Carl Yastrzemski
- Year: 1975
- Team: Boston Red Sox
- Play: Fly out to center field
- Pitcher: Will McEnaney
After the Cincinnati Reds broke a 3–3 lead in the top of the ninth inning, the 1975 World Series had a chance to grow into even more of an instant classic than it already had become. The Red Sox, however, were unable to come up with a clutch hit in the bottom of the ninth, and Game 7 ended in a 4–3 Reds win after Carl Yastrzemski lofted an easy fly ball to center field. Yastrzemski had a strong postseason, hitting .455 in the ALCS and adding a .310 clip in the World Series, but he just couldn't find the most important hit.
Yastrzemski is one of the greatest Red Sox players in history, with his crowning achievement being the Triple Crown in 1967. He played 23 seasons in Boston, hitting .285 with 452 home runs and 646 doubles among his 3,419 hits, and was an All-Star in 15 straight seasons from 1965 to '79. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1989.
5. Shoeless Joe Jackson
- Year: 1919
- Team: Chicago White Sox
- Play: Ground out to second base
- Pitcher: Hod Eller
The 1919 World Series was a black eye for Major League Baseball. It was determined that several members of the White Sox were paid by gamblers to throw the World Series and lose to the Reds. Making the final out was Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was among those banished from baseball. There's been controversy about Jackson's banishment, considering he hit .375 during the Fall Classic and didn't make an error in the field.
Jackson was a superstar during his 13-year career, hitting .356 and adding 307 doubles and 168 triples as part of his 1,772 hits. He very likely would have been elected to the Hall of Fame if not for the Black Sox scandal.
4. Tony Gwynn
- Year: 1984
- Team: San Diego Padres
- Play: Fly out to left field
- Pitcher: Willie Hernandez
Tony Gwynn was in just his third professional season, but he quickly proved he was among the game's best hitters by winning the National League batting title in 1984 to help the Padres reach the World Series. The Tigers held control of the Fall Classic from the start, and when Gwynn came to the plate in the top of the ninth with two outs in Game 5, his Padres faced an 8–4 deficit. Gwynn was just 5 for 18 before that at-bat, but he wasn't able to spark a rally by flying out to left.
Gwynn is remembered as one of the purest hitters in the history of baseball. Over his 20-year career in San Diego, Gwynn hit .338 and won eight batting titles along the way (including a high mark of .394 in the strike-shortened 1994 season). Perhaps more impressive, however, is that Gwynn struck out just 434 times in 10,232 plate appearances (once every 23.6 times up to bat). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
3. Pete Rose
- Year: 1972
- Team: Cincinnati Reds
- Play: Fly out to left field
- Pitcher: Rollie Fingers
Pete Rose had reached base in eight of his 12 previous plate appearances before coming to bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the 1972 World Series. With a runner on first, Rose's Reds trailed 3–2, but his shot into the left-center field gap was run down by Joe Rudi to give the Athletics the championship.
Rose wasn't dismayed by his tough luck at the end of that World Series, as he hit .338 on his way to winning MVP honors in 1973. He closed his 24-year career as baseball's all-time hit king (4,256), but he was banned from the game when he admitted to gambling on his own team while managing the Reds in 1989.
2. Honus Wagner
- Year: 1903
- Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
- Play: Struck out swinging
- Pitcher: Bill Dinneen
Honus Wagner had a brilliant regular season in 1903, but that success did not carry over into the inaugural World Series. Wagner led the National League with a .355 average, but struggled in the nine-game championship series, hitting just .222 and commiting several errors in the field. The Pirates built a 3–1 lead in the series, but the Boston Americans came back with four straight victories to claim the title—the final out coming when Wagner struck out in the top of the ninth in Game 8.
Wagner was among the earliest superstar players in baseball. He was an eight-time batting champion for the Pirates, and hit .328 over a 21-year career. Wagner collected 3,420 hits (including 252 triples and 643 doubles) in his career, which began in 1897, and he was inducted as part of the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1936.
1. Babe Ruth
- Year: 1926
- Team: New York Yankees
- Play: Caught stealing at second base
- Pitcher: Pete Alexander
The 1926 World Series remains the only one ever decided by a runner caught stealing—and the runner who was tagged out was none other than Babe Ruth, who wasn't exactly known for his swiftness on the base paths. The St. Louis Cardinals were nursing a 3–2 lead in the bottom of the ninth when Ruth drew a two-out walk to give the Yankees some life in a decisive Game 7. Fellow slugger Bob Muesel came up next and Ruth hoped to catch the Cardinals off guard by taking off for second base on the first pitch. A good throw from catcher Bob O'Farrell and a good tag from Rogers Hornsby, however, foiled Ruth's attempt at trickery.
Ruth was a 12-time single-season home run champion, and his 714 career home runs stood as the Major League record for decades. He was good for more than home runs, though, finishing his 22-year career as a .342 hitter and he also drew 2,042 walks (only three other players in baseball history gave more than 2,000 walks). Ruth was a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, which was inducted in 1936.
There are even more star players who made the final out of a World Series. Here are some other legends who didn't quite crack the Top 10 on this list.
In 2000, the "Subway Series" between the Mets and Yankees was a highly anticipated matchup. The Yankees, however, made it a blowout series victory, and Mariano Rivera got Mike Piazza to fly out to deep center field for the final out of Game 5 to end the Fall Classic. Piazza was one of the greatest offensive catchers in the history of baseball (career .308 average and 427 home runs), and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2016.
In the 1956 World Series, Jackie Robinson struck out swinging against Johnny Kucks for the final out of Game 7. Yankees catcher Yogi Berra couldn't handle the pitch, but threw down to first for an easy out. One day earlier, Robinson had forced a Game 7 with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning, but the Yankees were easy 9–0 winners in the final game. Robinson was the first Black player in baseball history, and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1962.
Pinch-hitter Earl Averill grounded out to second base to end the 1940 World Series in one of the final at-bats of his Hall of Fame career. Averill was well past his prime when he made his only appearance in a World Series, and after the Tigers and Reds tangled for six games, the decisive Game 7 came down to the wire. Cincinnati led 2–1 going to the ninth inning, and after two quick outs, Averill was brought in to hit for pitcher Bobo Newsom but couldn't spark a rally. He had just 19 plate appearances in his final season in 1941, but was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 1975.
The 1959 World Series was pretty well out of reach for the White Sox by the ninth inning of Game 6. The Dodgers led 9–3 and pitcher Larry Sherry shut down Chicago's hitters in order, including a weak flyball from Luis Aparicio to end the game. Aparicio had been one of three White Sox regulars hitting better than .300 during the World Series, but it would have taken quite the rally to overcome the six-run deficit. Aparicio was known for his speed and led the league in stolen bases in each of first nine seasons, and he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1984.
© 2020 Andrew Harner
CJ Kelly from the PNW on November 14, 2020:
Yaz is always the saddest for me. He went 8 years waiting for another shot and goes through another painful 7 game series only to lose. Then makes the last out in the '78 playoff too. Good guy. Great career.