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Best players on baseball's biggest stage

February 3, 2018

It was hard not to have Tom Brady on the brain this weekend, considering he's been on every TV and in every headline (and, for that matter, is in seemingly every Super Bowl).Brady has more Super Bowl rings (six) and more Super Bowl MVPs (four) than anybody, and on Sunday,

It was hard not to have Tom Brady on the brain this weekend, considering he's been on every TV and in every headline (and, for that matter, is in seemingly every Super Bowl).
Brady has more Super Bowl rings (six) and more Super Bowl MVPs (four) than anybody, and on Sunday, he added to his records for completions (256) and yards (2,838) on that Super stage in New England's 13-3 win over the Rams.
This got me thinking about baseball's answers to Brady -- the guys who have made the biggest individual impact, specifically in the World Series. And so I've assembled an All-Star squad -- for the purposes of this story, let's call it the Brady Bunch -- of Fall Classic contributors.
To be clear, because I don't want this list to devolve into a smattering of small samples, we are targeting guys who appeared in multiple World Series. (But shout-out to Billy Hatcher for going 9-for-12 in the Reds' 1990 World Series victory!) And because no single position in baseball has as much impact on game outcome as the quarterback position does in the NFL, I'm not going to hold World Series losses against anybody.
Catcher: Yogi Berra
14 World Series, .274/.359/.452, 38 runs created

There are catchers with multiple appearances who have higher OPS totals than the .811 mark Berra has. But how many of those dudes appeared in 14 World Series and won 10 of them? None, would be the answer. 
Berra essentially played half a season in the World Series alone … and had a pretty solid season. He even caught the only perfect game in World Series history. When Berra retired as an active player after 1963, he could say he had been a part of 23.3 percent of all World Series played, which is just insanity (he would go on to manage two additional pennant winners).

First baseman: Lance Berkman
Two WS, .410/.520/.564, 15 runs created

This will be a controversial selection, because I've taken Berkman over Lou Gehrig, who had a .361/.483/.731 slash line and 11 multi-RBI games in seven World Series appearances (with six championships).
But to be brutally honest, I'm going to go with the non-Yankee wherever and whenever it's somewhat statistically reasonable, so as to avoid a greater sense of Yankees fatigue (at a time when the football world is dealing with Patriots fatigue). So here's Berkman, who went 1-for-2 in World Series results (losing with the Astros in 2005, winning with the Cardinals in '11), but also went a fantastic 16-for-39 at the plate along the way. In 50 World Series plate appearances, he has the highest rate of runs created per 27 outs (17.8) among first basemen to have logged at least five at-bats.

Second baseman: Chase Utley
Three WS, .200/.357/.689, seven runs created
Bypassing Billy Martin here (did I mention the Yankees have had a lot of players step up in the World Series?) to go with a guy with a .200 career average in the Fall Classic. But suffice it to say Utley has made his nine hits count. He had a .689 slugging percentage in the Series, including two home runs in the Phillies' 2008 triumph and five in their 2009 loss to the Yanks. Utley also made that fake throw to first and then throw home to nab Jason Bartlett in what might have been the most pivotal play of the Phils' first World Series title since 1980.
OK, so Utley's bat was utterly absent from his Dodgers' loss in the 2017 World Series, but this list needed a Philadelphia sports hero to help balance out all the Brady/Patriots mentions.

Shortstop: Edgar Renteria
Three WS, .333/.391/.508, 12 runs created

There are better shortstops to have played in the World Series. And Derek Jeter (damn Yankees!) is one of them. But it's hard to dream up a better World Series career than the one Renteria had. He had one of the most dramatic hits imaginable -- the game-winning single in the 11th inning of Game 7 in the Marlins' 1997 win. And then, incredibly, Renteria did it again in the seventh inning of Game 5 in the Giants' 2010 win, culminating in World Series MVP honors.
Sometimes once-in-a-lifetime stuff happens twice in a lifetime.
And Renteria's .899 OPS in the Series is tops among shortstops with at least 50 plate appearances. Yes, even higher than that of Jeter (.832) … albeit it in about 100 fewer at-bats.

Third baseman: Paul Molitor
Two WS, .418/.475/.636, 17 runs created

Tough decision here between Molitor, Pablo Sandoval and David Freese. Non-Red Sox fans will always remember Panda for his three homers in the opener of a 2012 World Series in which he was eventually named MVP, and his 1.162 OPS in 50 Series plate appearances is a thing of beauty. Freese had the epic Game 6 in 2011 and added to his Fall Classic compilation by going 5-for-12 with a homer and a triple in the 2018 edition with the Dodgers.

But when in doubt, go with the Hall of Famer. Molitor's OPS of 1.112 in 61 plate appearances is equally amazing, and his 13.3 runs created per 27 outs is the third-highest all-time among players with at least 50 trips to the plate in the Series. Molitor had a record five hits in the opener of the Brewers' eventual World Series loss in 1982, and he was the MVP of the '93 Series in which he batted .500 (12-for-24) in his Blue Jays' six-game win. Yes, by that point, Molitor was primarily a DH, but he did play two games at first and one at third in that Series win over the Phillies.

Left field: Babe Ruth
10 WS, .326/.470/.744, 39 runs created

Yeah, I'm trying not to go too Yankees-centric here, but believe it or not, I'm not dumb enough to make this list without Babe Ruth.
Joe Posnanski already explained why the Babe is baseball's best comparable to Brady. But to repeat: In seven World Series appearances as a hitter, Ruth cranked out 15 home runs, including a pair of three-homer games in 1926 and '28, and -- maybe, possibly -- the called shot in '32 ("When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"). Ruth darn near pitched himself onto this list with the Red Sox, posting a 0.87 ERA over 31 innings in Boston's '16 and '18 wins. Of course, that was at a time when run scoring in baseball was -- ahem -- deflated.
I do want to add here, though, that in the event we need a late-inning pinch-runner and/or defensive replacement for Ruth on this squad, Rickey Henderson (1.055 OPS in three World Series) is our guy.
Center field: Lenny Dykstra
Two WS, .320/.424/.700, 17 runs created

Nobody has hit more World Series home runs than Mickey Mantle, with 18. But Dykstra hit one-third as many homers (six) in about 22 percent of the at-bats. He was the spark plug for the '86 Mets, and his leadoff homer in Game 3 at Fenway Park helped turn the Series around after the Mets had fallen into an 0-2 hole at Shea. Dykstra went on to hit .348 with four homers for the Phillies in their 1993 Series loss to the Blue Jays. Dude was Nails. His 12.7 runs created per 27 outs is the highest among Series center fielders with at least 50 plate appearances.

Right field: Reggie Jackson
Five WS, .357/.457/.755, 25 runs created

Another totally unavoidable Yankee.
Reggie came to be known as Mr. October during that 1977 Series against the Dodgers, which included the three-homer performance in the clinching Game 6. But the moniker fits the entirety of his five World Series appearances, in which he won four rings and earned two Series MVP honors.
Brady's pretty good, but would he ever have the incredible confidence to call himself "the straw that stirs the drink"? No, only Reggie could pull off a line like that.

Designated hitter: David Ortiz
Three WS, .455/.576/.795, 20 runs created

You've probably noticed I've honed in on runs created (times on base, multiplied by bases advanced, divided by opportunities) as an assessment of offense here. Well, Big Papi's 21.1 runs created per 27 outs is the highest of any player in World Series history with more than 30 plate appearances.
The man just had a knack for knocks on the game's biggest stage. Ortiz's three-run homer in Game 1 in 2004 set the tone for a sweep 86 years in the making. His four RBIs in four games propelled the Red Sox to another Series sweep in 2007. And in his 2013 run to the Series MVP honor, Ortiz homered in Games 1 and 2 and tied a Series record by reaching base nine times in a row.

Starting pitcher:Madison Bumgarner
Three WS: 4-0, 0.25 ERA, 36 innings
This guy won three rings before the age of 26, and the World Series has simply never seen the kind of dominance he's put together in those three title runs. Bumgarner holds the all-time Series records for lowest ERA, fewest hits per nine innings (3.5) and lowest WHIP (0.53), and what he did in 2014 -- pitching five shutout innings in relief on two days' rest in Game 7 after winning Games 1 and 5 as a starter -- won't soon be forgotten. You just hope we get to see him in that setting again.
If Bumgarner has the ball, maybe we don't even need a bullpen behind him. But we'll save a spot on our roster for somebody we feel reasonably confident can get the save.

Closer: Mariano Rivera
Seven WS, 0.99 ERA, .208 average against, 11 saves

All right, so Luis Gonzalez got ahold of one stray game-winning single in 2001. Not going to hold that against Rivera. He still saved a Series-record 11 games in 12 opportunities. Nobody else has more than six (Rollie Fingers went 6-for-9 in save opportunities). And none of the guys with lower ERAs than Mo's mark have more than 12 2/3 innings pitched in the Series. You want Brady in the fourth quarter, and you want Rivera in the ninth inning.
And somehow, I limited this roster to four members of the 27-time World Series-champion Yankees. That feels like an achievement.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.