11 stars who need that first ring

August 18th, 2021

Many of our greatest baseball players have never won a World Series. Barry Bonds never got one. Ted Williams didn’t either. Ken Griffey Jr., Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks … heck, while we’re here, Mike Trout hasn’t either. (You may have heard he also has not won a postseason game.) This is not quite as big a deal in baseball as it is in other sports. Dan Marino, Karl Malone, Randy Moss, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley … never winning a title will be a part of their biography forever. But not winning a World Series isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bonds or Williams. It’s a very different sport.

Still, you’d like to see the all-time greats get a World Series title. Half the fun of the Dodgers’ title last year revolved around Clayton Kershaw adding that final line to his Hall of Fame resume. These are some of the greatest players we’ve ever seen, and it just feels right for them to win a title before they retire.

We look at 11 active players who have had the best, most storied careers but have yet to win a World Series … and they have a chance to do so this year. (The Angels have a 0% chance of winning the World Series, per FanGraphs, which is why you won’t see Trout listed here.)

Some of these guys are surefire Hall of Famers, some of them are still trying to build a case, some aren’t particularly close but have been among the best players in the game for years. They’re all stars who haven’t won one, but they are still in the race to do so this year. This could be their year to avoid the Marino Curse.

1. , RHP, Astros (age 37)
Greinke has to be a Hall of Famer by now, yes? He doesn’t have any of those “traditional” markers for starting pitchers like 300 wins (he has 219), but the way baseball is played now, no one’s getting 300 wins again for a long, long time. (Greinke and Justin Verlander are the only pitchers with more than 200 victories, and there are only 20 active pitchers who have more than 100 and every single one is over the age of 30.)

Greinke lost 17 games in 2005 and won 19 in '15 (in a year it is absolutely absurd that he didn’t win the Cy Young), and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if he won 15 in 2025. He’s the ace of the Astros again, but of course, he came to Houston right after its World Series triumph. If Houston wins it all this year, he might be the one Astro people are happy for.

2. , 1B, Reds (age 37)
Fresh off his 2,000th hit, Votto is in the middle of a resurgence, and he's making a solid, perhaps overwhelming Hall case for himself. He’s having his best year since 2017, with his third-highest slugging percentage (.575). The one prize that has eluded him is postseason success: Not only has he not won a World Series, he’s never even won a playoff series. (He’s 0-4.) The Joey Votto Appreciation Society has never been more powerful than it is right now. He could make this whole season his.

3. , RHP, Mets (age 33)
When healthy, he’s still the best pitcher in baseball, but that’s always the issue, isn’t it? It’s still up in the air whether he’ll even return this season, but if he doesn’t, it’s tough to see how the Mets are still in this race. deGrom actually struggled in his one World Series start in 2015. Will he ever get a chance to make another one? (At the rate the Mets are going, it may not be this year.)

4. , OF, Phillies (age 34)
It’s worth remembering that McCutchen -- the 2013 NL MVP -- was one of the best, most exciting players in baseball for a good half-decade there and the face of a beloved long-beleaguered franchise for which he offered a limitless future. Injuries have slowed him in recent years, but he’s key to everything the Phillies are trying to do. It would be a cruel irony if he got his title leading the other Pennsylvania team to the promised land. Maybe it makes him a modern-day Wade Boggs?

5. , 3B, Cardinals (age 30)
He’s a little younger than most of the players on this list, but that’s a feature, not a bug: He has been around long enough to build the foundation for a Hall of Fame case, and he has enough years ahead of him to make it a slam dunk if he keeps it going. It’s probably pushing it a little bit to have a Cardinal (two Cardinals, actually) on this list, but they are only four games behind the Padres in the NL Wild Card race.

6. , OF/DH, Yankees (age 31)
Injuries have derailed what sure looked like a possible 600-homer career: He had 305 at the age of 28, but only 25 since then. He’s still Stanton, the destroyer of worlds, and his transcendent power will make sure his legend far outlives his stats. But check out his resume if the Yankees win the title: World Series champion, NL MVP and, for Miami, the unquestioned top player for one of baseball’s 30 franchises. Oh, and he hit the ball harder than anyone ever has.

7. , 3B, Giants (age 35)
Longoria never became the inner-tier star for the Rays that they’d hoped when they signed him to that big contract extension, but, you know … it ended up turning out just fine for Tampa Bay and Longoria anyway. Longoria was having a resurgent season for the stunning Giants before being injured, and even though he was activated on Saturday, he’s got a ways to get back to form.

8. , 1B, Braves (age 31)
Freeman’s Hall of Fame case took a big leap forward with his MVP season last year, but it might take its biggest one yet if he is able to lead this Braves team, one that has been ravaged by injuries, to a World Series title. Can you imagine? No Ronald Acuña Jr. … and Freeman leads them to a title anyway?

9. , 1B, Cardinals (age 33)
Goldschmidt hasn’t put up his Arizona numbers in St. Louis, but he’s still been a rock for a team that often seems adrift. He’s admired in St. Louis without being revered like a Pujols or Molina or Wainwright, and if Cardinals fans are being honest, they’ve probably already moved on to Arenado anyway. But winning a Series in St. Louis would be the culmination of his career and elevate him to that top-shelf status.

10-11. , 3B, Padres (age 29) and , OF, Phillies (age 28)
Take your pick between either of the big free-agent signings of the 2018-19 offseason, both of whom are still in their late 20s and building Hall of Fame resumes that may need a World Series to boost them. They’ve both got a shot this year, and you never know: Maybe they’ll meet in a postseason series. Machado has been in eight of them so far, and Harper four (none of which he has won), but they haven’t run into each other yet. They’d be higher on this list if they were in their 30s, so check back in a few years.