When the Giants announced that they would not be picking up Edgar Renteria’s $9.5 million option for 2011, he became the second consecutive World Series MVP to find himself looking for work in the offseason. Although Renteria’s postseason heroics definitely put the Giants in an awkward position, the decision to cut him loose was really a no-brainer. It’s not easy being an unlikely hero with a lucrative team option.
Considering the performance of the Giants’ pitching staff, the selection of Renteria as World Series MVP has to qualify as one of the biggest surprises in the history of the award. So, with that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of the most improbable World Series heroes.
(Note: The World Series MVP award originated in 1955 and was originally voted upon by the editors of Sport magazine. In addition to a trophy, the honor also included a new car, which was a serious financial consideration in the era before large contracts. Today, the World Series MVP is voted upon by a larger pool of media members and officials, and includes a charitable contribution).
Edgar Renteria: 2010 World Series (Giants over Rangers, 4 games to 1)
At his best, no one would think twice about Edgar Renteria winning a World Series MVP. In his prime, he was a solid defensive SS with speed and an above average bat for the position. He also was the author of a walk-off World Series winning hit in 1997 as well as a strong .333/.412/.533 effort in the 2004 Fall Classic. In 2010, however, Renteria was coming off two awful seasons and by August had lost his job. Because of the poor defense of Pablo Sandoval, the Giants reinstalled Renteria at shortstop in the NLCS, but his offense showed no signs of a rejuvenation. Against the Phillies, Renteria hit .063/.118/.063 in 18 plate appearances. So, if the Rangers still don’t realize what hit them, you can easily see why.
Game 1: Solo HR in the bottom of the fifth, breaking a scoreless tie in a pitchers’ duel between Matt Cain and C.J. Wilson.
Game 5: Three-run HR in the top of the seventh against Cliff Lee. The blast provided the Giants with their only runs in the clincher.
David Eckstein: 2006 World Series (Cardinals over Tigers, 4 games to 1)
Because of his size and less than impressive raw talent, most people in the baseball world doubted David Eckstein over his entire career. So, it really shouldn’t be a surprise to see him show up on a list like this. Still, despite having a very solid season in 2005, Eckstein’s 2006 campaign was more in line with the two disappointing years that ended his Angels’ career. What’s more, his production over the first two rounds of the playoffs was a less than inspiring .195/.244/.293. Nonetheless, with all eyes trained on the monstrous Albert Pujols, it was the diminutive Eckstein who took home the hardware. It should be noted, however, that with the Cardinals’ having a team OPS of .675 and no standout pitching performance in the series, Eckstein really won the MVP by default.
Game 4: Run scoring double in the eighth inning against hard throwing Joel Zumaya that provided margin of victory.
Scott Brosius: 1998 World Series (Yankees over Padres, 4 games to 0)
In 1997, Scott Brosius had an OPS+ of 53 and WAR of -0.8, so when the Yankees acquired him in the offseason, it had many followers of the team scratching their heads. The Yankees must have seen something in Brosius because he responded with an outstanding campaign in the Yankees’ record setting 114-48 regular season. He also hit very well in both prior rounds of the playoffs, so his presence on this list really stems from the depths of his previous season as well as his presence in a lineup chock full of stars.
Game 3: Already trailing 2-0 in the series, the Padres had to win game three at home. So, when the first sign of trouble hit in the eighth inning, Bruce Boche immediately went to Trevor Hoffman, his dominant closer who had 53 saves in the regular season. After an out and a walk, Brosius sent a 2-2 changeup over the wall in center, catapulting the Yankees into the lead and setting the stage for a series sweep.
Livan Hernandez: 1997 World Series (Marlins over Indians, 4 games to 3)
|World Series||13 2/3||2||0||3||7||5.27||1.829|
|Reg. Season||96 1/3||9||3||5||72||3.18||1.235|
Before joining the Marlins, Livan Hernadez was a highly regarded professional pitcher in Cuba who defected from the national team. With that pedigree, any level of success really wouldn’t be a surprise, especially after his strong regular season campaign and outstanding NLCS against the Braves (albeit aided by the enormous strike zone of umpire Eric Gregg). However, Hernandez belongs on this list because he didn’t deserve to win the MVP. Despite winning two games, his ERA was 5.27 and he allowed nearly twice as many runners as innings pitched. Moises Alou (OPS of 1.101), Darren Daulton (OPS of 1.121) and Gary Sheffield (OPS of .943) were only three of the countless candidates who were more deserving. Nonetheless, Hernandez was honored with award and joined Larry Sherry of the 1959 Dodgers as one of two rookies to win the World Series MVP.
Matching up in both starts against Orel Hershiser, who had a 11.50 ERA in the series.
Pat Borders: 1992 World Series (Blue Jays over Braves, 4 games to 2)
For most of his career, including six years with the Blue Jays, Pat Borders was an “offensive catcher” who really didn’t hit much…at least not in the regular season. Despite being relegated to the background on several strong Toronto teams, Borders’ saved his defining moments for the biggest stage. From Game 4 of the 1991 ALCS until Game 2 of the 1993 ALCS, the light hitting backstop compiled a 16-game postseason hitting streak, a record for catchers that still stands today.
Game 5: Third inning solo HR off Tom Glavine that proved to be the only run over the first 7 ½ innings of the game.
Rick Dempsey: 1983 World Series (Orioles over Phillies, 4 games to 1)
Given the odds against that happening, they would’ve given it to me. I’d have asked for $200,000, they would have said, ‘Here, take $400,000.’” – Rick Dempsey, expressing regret over not asking for a World Series MVP bonus clause in his contract, New York Times, October 28, 1983
Rick Dempsey broke into the majors at the age of 19, but saw very little playing time until landing in Baltimore nearly 10 years later. Dempsey proved to be a strong defensive catcher capable of making an occasional offensive contribution, but mostly thrived on his work behind the plate. In 1983, at the age of 33, he had one of his weakest seasons with the bat, but saved the best for last. In a lineup that featured future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray, it was Dempsey who proved to be a difference maker.
Game 3: The Phillies seemed poised to take a 2-1 series lead as their ace lefty Steve Carlton entered the seventh inning ahead by a run. After two quick outs, Dempsey doubled deep into the left-centerfield gap, setting the stage for a two run rally that turned the tide of the series.
Bucky Dent: 1978 World Series (Yankees over Dodgers, 4 games to 2)
Bucky Dent was the prototypical light-hitting shortstop, but in the 1978 he had a moment that would ensure his place in baseball lore. After staging a dramatic second half comeback to erase a 14 ½ game deficit in the standings, the Yankees wound up tied with the Red Sox on the final day of the season. In the one game playoff that would decide the division, Dent lofted a three-run HR in the sixth to erase a 2-0 deficit. For the rest of his career, Dent would be known for that dramatic hit, but his work wasn’t done in 1978. Against the Dodgers in the World Series, Dent continued to play the role of unlikely hero by leading the team in hits and playing a terrific shortstop. The combination of his offensive and defensive contributions earned Dent the MVP nod, despite a strong series by Mr. October himself (2HR, 8RBI, 1.196 OPS).
Winning the MVP is obviously my biggest thrill…I think batting ninth in the order helped because pitchers often let up a little when they come to me…Besides, where else would I hit.” – Bucky Dent speaking to UPI after receiving World Series MVP, October 18, 1978
Bobby Richardson: 1960 World Series (Pirates over Yankees, 4 to 3)
Bobby Richardson was an All Star in 1959, but his the following season, his offensive numbers suffered a dramatic decline. On a team with the likes of Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, the Yankees really just needed Richardson to catch the ball, so his offense was always a bonus. In the World Series, the Yankees hit the jackpot. Richardson not only belted out 11 hits, but also led the team with 12 RBIs, nearly half as many as his regular season total. The ultimate irony, however, was the Yankees lost the series on Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off game winner off Ralph Terry in game seven.
Game 3: Richardson’s first inning grand slam helped cap off a six inning rally that allowed the Yankees to coast to victory behind Whitey Ford’s shutout performance. The hit itself was improbable because it followed a failed bunt attempt that was ordered from the bench, which kinds of tells you what Stengel thought about the offensive prowess of his second baseman. By the end of the game, Richardson had a series record of six RBIs in a single game, a total only matched by fellow Yankee Hideki Matsui in game 6 of the 2009 World Series.
Don Larsen: 1956 World Series (Yankees over Dodgers, 4 games to 3)
|World Series||10 2/3||1||0||0||7||0.00||0.469|
|Reg. Season||179 2/3||11||5||12||107||3.26||1.275|
Don Larsen was a relatively productive pitcher for the Yankees in the 1955 and 1956 seasons, but he was also very inconsistent and quite often wild. As a result, he wasn’t exactly the kind of guy you’d feel comfortable with in a big game (think AJ Burnett for a modern comparison). In the 1955 World Series, Larsen was shelled by the Dodgers in his only start, surrendering five runs in only four innings. Then, in his game two start in the 1956 rematch with the Bums, he was quickly lifted in the second inning after allowing four earned runs, which helped to squander an early 6-0 lead. So, when Larsen took the mound in a pivotal game five with the series deadlocked and heading back to Brooklyn, you can bet Casey Stengel had his bullpen at the ready. As we all know now, there was never a reason to worry. As Dick Young wrote after the game, “the imperfect man pitched a perfect game”.
Game 5: Don Larsen throws a perfect game against the Dodgers, becoming the only man to no hit the opposition in the World Series.
Imagine something like a perfect game happening to me? It can’t be true. Any minute now I expect the alarm clock to ring and someone to say, ‘Okay, Larsen, it’s time to get up.’” – Don Larsen, in an “as told to” column for U.P., October 9, 1956