The first 162 games of the Major League Baseball season are largely decided by the game’s biggest stars. But when the amount of games shrinks in the World Series, lesser-known players have often taken the opportunity to shine.
Every moment in October is meaningful and a plethora of role players have made history with their performances. From lights out pitching to monster home runs, baseball history is dotted with these stories. Below are the most unlikely World Series stars ever.
Steve Pearce – 2018 Red Sox
Steve Pearce was traded to the Red Sox during the 2018 trade deadline for a minor league player few had ever heard of. The Sox became the 7th team for the well-traveled First Baseman who spent his time between the majors and minors.
There was never much doubt that Pearce could hit but he didn’t do enough on defense to establish himself as a regular. When Mitch Moreland was inured, though, he became a starter for the Red Sox. He was named the 2018 World Series MVP after hitting .289 with 4 Homers and 11 RBI’s.
David Eckstein – 2006 Cardinals
David Eckstein did not look the part of an MLB ballplayer. Standing at only 5-7, he was almost always the smallest player on the field. But he did a lot of the little thing that helped a team win.
Starting his career with the Angels, Eckstein moved over to the Cardinals during the 2005 season. In the 2006 season, the Cardinals found themselves in the World Series. The shortstop was named the series MVP after hitting .254 with a homer and 6 RBI’s.
Ray Knight – 1986 Mets
Ray Knight had been a high-end producer for the Cincinnati Reds of the late 1970s. By the time he ended up on the Mets, he was 33 years old and on the back nine of his career.
On a team that included Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Lenny Dykstra, and Daryl Strawberry, though, the veteran put forth the best performance of any of the 1986 Mets. During the World Series, Knight had a number of huge hits and finished hitting .277 with a home run and 7 RBI’s.
Kirk Gibson – 1988 Dodgers
Kirk Gibson was not an unlikely playoff hero because he wasn’t a star player during the regular season. In fact, Gibson was named the 1988 National League MVP after he hit .290 with 25 homers, 31 steals and 106 runs scored.
By the time the Dodgers made the World Series against Oakland, though, the injured Gibson could barely walk. It was a major surprise in game 1 when he was called to pinch-hit against the unhittable Dennis Eckersley. The Dodger bashed a homer in one of the most famous World Series highlights.
Hideki Matsui – 2009 Yankees
Hideki Matsui was a terrific hitter, but not much of a defender. For the 2009 Yankees, that relegated him to the position of designated hitter. That meant that the lefty would only play half the World Series games against the Phillies.
Matsui only recorded 13 at-bats during the Series, but he made the absolute most of them. “Godzilla” crushed three homers en route to a .615 batting average and 8 RBI’s. He was named the MVP of the series.
Billy Hatcher – 1990 Reds
Billy Hatcher has worked his way into a nice career as a regular outfielder for the Astros, Pirates, and Reds. He was a capable guy, but never the star player on a Reds team that featured Chris Sabo and Eric Davis.
During the 1990 regular season, Hatcher had batted .276 for the Reds but only hit 5 home runs and knocked in 25 RBIs. When the Reds made the World Series, though, the outfielder exploded. Over the course of the World Series, Hatcher hit .750 notching 9 hits over 15 plate appearances.
Gene Tenace – 1972 Athletics
Gene Tenace was a fine defensive catcher but had never been much of a hitter for the Oakland A’s. The team made the 1972 World Series thanks to players like Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, not so much Tenace who hit .225.
Not much was expected of the backstop offensively, but he had his coming out party in the ’72 Series. Tenace hit 4 home runs during the event and then became a power hitter during the regular season from there on out.
Bucky Dent – 1978 Yankees
Bucky Dent was such a good defensive shortstop that he made three All-Star games despite little to no offensive ability. For his career, Dent was a career .240 hitter who knocked only 40 home runs over 11 seasons.
In 1978, at least in the games that mattered most, Dent experienced an offensive explosion. First, he hit a dramatic homer in the AL East tiebreaker against the Red Sox. Then, after the team made the World Series, he hit .333 with 11 RBI’s against the Dodgers.
Francisco Rodriguez – 2002 Angels
Position players are often more likely to be named MVP of playoff series than pitchers. They often play in all the games and have more opportunities to make an impact. Relief pitchers, though, can have an outsize role in any series.
Francisco Rodriguez had only pitched in five games for the 2002 Angels. At only 20-years-old, he was just getting his feet wet in the majors. K-Rod, as he came to be known, was nearly un-hittable in the World Series, striking out 13 batters in 8 2/3 innings.
Don Larsen – 1955 Yankees
Don Larsen spent 15 seasons in the Major Leagues and was the very definition of an average pitcher. He only made one start for the Yankees during the 1956 World Series but it was enough to make him a legendary figure.
Larsen had never won 20 games in the Majors. In fact, the most games he ever won in a season was 11. But during Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Larsen was perfect and for that one game he took home the World Series MVP award.
Ron Swoboda – 1969 Mets
Ron Swoboda was just a part-time player for the 1969 Miracle Mets. In fact, he didn’t even appear in the team’s sweep of the Braves in the NLCS. The outfielder did get his chance in the World Series against the heavily favored Orioles.
Not known for his defense, Swoboda made a spectacular catch of a low flying ball in game four. He also contributed with the bat as he notched 6 hits in 15 at-bats for a .400 average.
Geoff Blum – 2005 White Sox
How big of an impact can a player make if they only get one at-bat over the course of a series? Geoff Blum would be a good person to ask. The utility player played for eight teams over the course of his career and landed with the White Sox in 2005.
The team made the World Series and while Blum made the roster, he only received one at-bat in the Championship. He hit a massive homer in that at-bat winning game three. A statue of Blum now sits outside of US Cellular Field.
David Freese – 2011 Cardinals
David Freese just recently completed his 11th year as a major leaguer. He has always been a pretty good player, but never spectacular. During the Cardinals 2011 playoff run, though, he played like an absolute superstar.
The third baseman first won the NLCS MVP helping the Cards to beat the Phillies. In a legendary game six against the Rangers, he hit a triple to tie the game in the 9th, then won the match with a walk-off homer in the 11th.
Pat Borders – 1992 Blue Jays
The Blue Jays made the 1992 World Series against the Atlanta Braves. With fine pitchers on both sides, the series devolved into a low scoring affair. Pat Borders was behind the plate for all six of the games for Toronto and made his starts count.
Despite the grueling nature of catching that many games, the backstop offered more offense than some of his more prominent teammates. Borders had 9 hits over 20 at-bats with a homer and 3 RBI’s en route to the series MVP.
Edgar Renteria – 1997 Florida Marlins
Many players who later went on to be All-Stars had their first true taste of success in the biggest spots. Edgar Renteria, who would later become a superstar, hit .277 for the 1997 Marlins with little to no power.
The shortstop shined for the team during the 7 game series against the Cleveland Indians and knocked 9 hits over 31 at-bats. None of those hits were bigger than the grounder that snuck up the middle and won the championship.
Kurt Bevacqua – 1984 Padres
Kurt Bevacqua was a utility player who played fine defense and could barely hit at all. While he was only a .236 career hitter, he was known as the league’s top bubble blower.
At age 37, he played in every World Series game for the Padres against the Detroit Tigers. He ripped big hit after big hit including monster home runs in games 2 and 5. Bevacqua was named MVP of the series after hitting .412.
Tony Womack – 2001 Diamondbacks
Speed has a huge effect on the sport of baseball. And during short series, speed can become even more important. Tony Womack proved this with his performance against the Yankees in the 2001 World Series.
While the .250 batting average doesn’t look too shiny on the surface, Womack had a number of important hits against New York. The second baseman finished the series with 8 hits that included 3 doubles, 3 runs scored and 3 RBI’s.
Brian Doyle – 1978 Yankees
Brian Doyle only played 130 games over the course of his career and in those games, he hit 1 home run and knocked in 13 runs. When Willie Randolph was hurt during the 1978 World Series against the Dodgers, though, Doyle was pressed into service.
The back-up second baseman had an astonishing series. Doyle ripped 7 hits in his 16 at-bats including 2 RBI’s and 4 runs scored. Despite his short career, the second baseman has a special place in Yankees’ history.
Carlos Ruiz – 2008 Phillies
Carlos Ruiz eventually became an excellent hitter for the Phillies. In 2008, however, he had a very light bat. The catcher had hit .220 over the course of the season and had only launched 4 home runs.
Chooch, as he is affectionately known in Philadelphia, had an electric World Series with the bat. Against the Tampa Bay Rays, Ruiz recorded 6 hits in 16 at-bats for a .375 average. He also hit a home run and drove in three.
Bill Mazeroski – 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s not that it was surprising the see Bill Mazeroski play well. The former Pittsburgh Pirate is, of course, enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But a lot of his fame had more to do with his slick glove work than his bat.
One thing Maz didn’t have a lot of was power, hitting 138 home runs over his 17-year career. But during game seven of the 1960 World Series, Mazeroski smashed a home run against the Yank’s Ralph Terry winning the series as well as baseball immortality.