Tuesday, October 22
Updated: October 23, 3:42 PM ET
Baker's Dozen: 13 who shined in the Series
By Jim Baker
At the age of 20, Francisco Rodriguez has come seemingly out of nowhere to win five games in the 2002 postseason for the Anaheim Angels. Rodriguez surprises not because he is obscure, but because he has but five regular-season innings to show for his career -- a complete and perfect stranger to all but the most discerning baseball follower. He also excites because we may well be seeing the dawn of a Hall of Fame pitching career, or, as too often happens with players of great promise, an early high water mark for a player destined for disappointment. What follows are 13 men who also surprised on baseball's grand stage. Few of them possess the talent and promise that Rodriguez offers, but all knew well what it felt like to capture the spotlight for at least one moment.
1. George Rohe (1906)
The 1906 White Sox put the dead in dead ball, assembling a squad that epitomized the period like few others. George Davis, a wonderful player, led the team with a .694 OPS and most players fell in the .580 to .675 range. Toward the bottom of the spectrum was George Rohe, a part-time third baseman who, at 31, had yet to play a full season in the majors. He had hit one career triple in 375 at bats prior to the Series against the seemingly unstoppable Cubs, but managed two, as well as a .333 batting average and a .988 OPS, out-pointing teammates Jiggs Donahue and Davis, who was limited to three games by stomach problems. Rohe mistreated one of the most highly respected starting rotations of all time (Three-Finger Brown, Jack Pfeister and Ed Reulbach) and had the game-winning hits in both the first and third contests, the latter of which was a three-run triple.
For his trouble, Rohe was rewarded with more playing time the following season, but did not distinguish himself and never played in the majors again after 1907.
2. Babe Adams (1909)
When you try to imagine Ty Cobb playing baseball, the last thing to come to mind is him in his prime, hitting weak grounders back to the mound. In the
deciding game of the 1909 World Series, that is just what he did -- twice -- against Pirates rookie Babe Adams, who threw a six-hit shutout at the Tigers for his third win of the Series. That he could pitch there was little doubt, as he won 12 games and posted a 1.11 ERA in 1909. That he would pitch in the Series was the real surprise. Adams, unlike a lot of the players to follow in the surprise role, went on to have a very nice career. In fact, he was still around 16 years later when next the Pirates were in the World Series..
3. Pat Duncan (1919)
By the end of the 1919 season, Reds outfielder Pat Duncan had had but 95 big league at bats. In the infamous Series that year, he started all eight games
and led the team with eight RBI, one more than Hall of Famer Edd Roush. Duncan became a regular after that and lasted five years in that capacity, posting decent seasons in 1920, '22 and '23. Someone should have put a governor on his base stealing, though, as he was an astonishing 12 for 40 in that department in 1922.
4. Tommy Thevenow (1926)
Did Tommy Thevenow really come out of nowhere? Well, yes and no. No in that he finished fourth in the MVP voting in 1926 and yes in that he polled that high solely on the strength of his defense. (His double-play partner, Rogers Hornsby, finished 18th.) Thevenow had a lower OPS than the man who finished ahead of him, Ray Kremer of the Pirates. This wouldn't be shocking except that Kremer was a pitcher. In fact, Thevenow had a lower OPS than anyone in the top 20 who wasn't a pitcher. What is it the voters of the time were seeing that we cannot 75 years later? His glove; of which the Spalding Guide had this to say, "Thevenow…was the most thoroughly improved shortstop at the end of the season of any in either league and possibly the best of any." On the other side of the ball, he was easily the least productive Cardinal regular that year but tore it up big during the Series like nobody's business, hitting .417 in 24 at bats with two doubles and a home run.
The homer is notable in that he only hit two all season and would never hit another for the rest of his career. How exactly it came to pass is amusing and added another black mark against Babe Ruth in a Series in which he is equally famous for hitting four home runs and drawing eleven walks as he is infamous for his ill-advised attempt to steal second base in the ninth inning of Game 7 when the Yankees were down to their last out. Steve L. Steinberg of SABR found this description from the New York Herald, describing the play: "Ruth came surging in like three or four white capped waves propelled by an eastern gale. He made a half dive for the ball which barely eluded his quivering finger tips and struck on the line. The impetus carried him headlong and he did a Brodie into the nearest right field box. His head disappeared and his fluttering feet were silhouetted against the dark background of the crowd. When he finally emerged he had no idea where the ball had bounded and before he could retrieve it and peddle it back to the plate, Thevenow came scurrying over..."
Flush with success, the 23-year-old Thevenow held out the following year and broke his ankle when he did come back. When the Cardinals again met the Yankees in the 1928 World Series, he was barely a participant. Later in his career he played for the 1930 Phillies and didn't hit .300, which probably says as much about his offense as does anything else.
5. Dusty Rhodes (1954)
Tell me the 2002 Giants couldn't use someone like him on their anemic bench right about now! Rhodes didn't really come out of nowhere in the same fashion as Francisco Rodriguez. He had been successful in a reserve role in 1952 and 1953 and put up fantastic numbers in 1954, including a .695 slugging average, albeit in 150 at bats. The Giants had an outfield crowded with two Hall of Famers (Willie Mays and Monte Irvin) and a third player, Don Mueller, who hit .342. Without checking, I would have to guess that Monte Irvin is the only Hall of Famer who was pinch-hit for three times in a single World Series. Considering the outcomes, Irvin himself cannot complain about getting lifted. Each time it happened in the Giants four-game sweep of the Indians, Rhodes was the replacement and each time he came up big: a walk-off three-run homer in the 10th inning of the first game, a game-tying single in the fifth inning of the second and a two-run single in the third inning of the third game. Rhodes continued in his specialized role with the Giants throughout the rest of the '50s, his numbers decreasing each year along the way.
6. Gene Tenace (1972)
Gene Tenace was a very good baseball player who had a very nice career for himself. However, at the time of his first Series appearance in 1972, he surprised everybody by coming up big. Tenace had had some promising numbers in 1970 and 1971 but fell off considerably in '72, not even posting a .400 slugging average. He had already shown a proclivity for drawing walks but even that failed him that year. Then, in the ALCS, he went a Dal Maxvill-esque 1 for 17. So, when he poled home runs in his first two at bats in Game 1 of the Series, an unlikely hero was born. He went on to hit two more as the A's bested the Reds in seven games and he was named Series MVP. Apart from that Series, Tenace has got to be one of the worst postseason performers in history. Subtracting his 1972 World Series, he hit .109 in 91 at bats with five runs scored, five RBI and two doubles. In his defense, he
did tie Babe Ruth's record for most walks in a Series when he drew 11 in 1973. He drew a total of 30 postseason walks, only two of which came in the '72 Series.
7. Brian Doyle (1978)
No team ever got more out of its eighth and ninth slot in the batting order than did the Yankees in the 1978 World Series. Bucky Dent and Doyle, the latter playing because of an injury to Willie Randolph, hurt the Dodgers unrelentingly. To me, Doyle gets the nod over Dent in the unlikely pantheon because Dent was a regular, at least, although one who had had a terrible season that year, save for his famous at bat in the tie-breaking game with Boston. Doyle, on the other hand, chose to have the finest 16 at bats of his career at just the right moment which proves that anyone capable of playing in the majors at any level of productivity -- no matter how substandard -- is capable of having some sort of insane outburst in the World Series. Consider that in the course of his brief career of 199 at bats, Doyle had an OPS of .392 and racked up a total of four Bill James Win Shares. In the Yankees' four games-to-two victory over the Dodgers, his batting average alone was 45 points batter than that. Yes, he only drove in two runs in the process, but the sheer random and opportunistic nature of what he did in contrast to his repeated failures in the regular season is what fascinates.
8. Kurt Bevacqua (1984)
"Dirty Kurt" was a career utility player who had lasted all or part of 13 nondescript seasons in the majors when he found himself in the World Series with
the Padres in 1984. With big names like Tony Gwynn, Steve Garvey and Terry Kennedy taking a powder, Bevacqua -- who had only had 80 at bats during the season -- hit two of the team's three home runs against Detroit and went 7 for 17 with an .882 slugging average. It was a high point and a noble effort in a losing cause for the 37-year old. 1985 proved to be his last year in the majors.
9. Buddy Biancalana (1985)
It might well be forgotten that for a brief time, Buddy Biancalana was a household name, thanks to a couple of timely hits for the Royals in the 1985 World Series and the auspices of David Letterman. The Late Night host was fascinated with the way the syllables of Biancalana's name rolled off the tongue and gave him much play, especially after he stood out in Games 3 and 5 of the Series. Back in the real world, Buddy was easily one of the worst players to don a major league uniform in the mid-1980s. But he had his moment and he made a contribution to getting something that few every do: a World Series ring.
10 and 11. The Hatchers, Mickey and Billy (1988 and 1990)
Both played 12 seasons in the major leagues. Mickey posted an OPS of .690 and Billy's was .676. Considering that Billy was an outfielder and Mickey
spent most of his time there and at first base and DH, those are not sterling numbers. What were sterling numbers though are what they -- unrelated by blood -- did on baseball's grand stage when given the opportunity.
Mickey, coming off a season in which he had hit one homer in 191 at bats, belted two for the Dodgers against the A's and hit .368 with five RBI. Billy went even further in the '90 Fall Classic, busting out a .750 batting average as his Reds swept those same A's. Although it was only in 12 at bats, it's 12 at bats when it counted the most, and presentation is the biggest part of perception.
12. Andruw Jones (1996)
If it seems like Andruw Jones has been around forever even though he has yet to reach his prime, it is because his first introduction to most of the sporting world was in the World Series of 1996 when he was just 19. He logged but 106 at bats during the regular season after being called up in early August. He did hit five home runs and showed the speed and glovework that has now established him as the best centerfielder in the league. As the playoffs wore on, he played more and more, starting all six games of the World Series and belting two homers and driving in six. Since then he has put together a career that most would envy but somehow seems to have fallen short of what was expected after that thrilling debut. The book is nowhere near closed on him, however, and we could still see him making an induction speech at Cooperstown in 2023.
13.Lifetime Achievement Award goes to...
Check out ESPN Insider
to find out who earns the lifetime achievement award, a player who compiled a .439 average in four World Series', but never quite found a full-time job and finished with a career average of .279.
Jim Baker writes Monday through Friday for ESPN Insider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.