Baseball in its purest form is truly a game of unmatched beauty. Look past the steroid scandals of the modern era and break the game down to its core: what do you see? The smiling faces of young and old brought together by the sound of a ball clacking against a piece of wood or leather glove. The excitement of a diving catch or double-play that brings you to your feet. The fist-pumping feeling of watching a home run sail over the outfield wall. Yes, baseball is a beautiful thing.
While the sport is referred to as “America's Pastime,” the game of baseball is played on an international level. The world is running bases and fielding ground balls and that is an amazing fact all its own. Kids are growing up and chasing dreams of one day playing in the big leagues – where their heroes hulk in the on-deck circle and spit seeds in the dugout. Major League Baseball is where the best, brightest, and most burly stars of the game come out to play.
The obvious dream of the little league dreamer is to one day play in the World Series – the grandest forum in all of baseball. To get a hit or make a play or, better yet, a game-winning hit or play in the World Series is beyond the wildest dreams of any hopeful prospect. Baseball binds talents and skill sets like no other professional sport. Baseball is a game where a team will have one specific player to pitch against one specific batter and usually under high pressure. Baseball is unique and universal.
However, with all the high stakes and glorification comes the pressure to perform. The pressure to stay at the top of your game. The baseball field is a place where your psyche can be your worst enemy. The slumps that players fall into can last for long stretches of time; drastically effecting the mindset of said player and quite often the team. Baseball is not all about physicality but a lot about psychology. Mind over matter may apply to baseball more so than any other professional sport. Which is why it becomes so easy to blow a big play, to cost your team the game, to choke – and that is what our article is all about.
These are the top 20 chokers in MLB history:
*All stats were taken from Baseball-Reference.com.
20 Clayton Kershaw
The 2014 MLB season was definitely the year of Clayton Kershaw. The Dodges ace posted an incredible record of 21-3 with an impressive ERA of just 1.77. Kershaw was awarded both the National League CY Young Award and Most Valuable Player.
However, when October rolled around, Kershaw looked nothing like pitcher he was for the past six months. The Los Angeles Dodgers would face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS – which proved to be a disastrous series for Kershaw.
Kershaw was called upon in games 1 and 4 of the series and in both outings blew the lead in the seventh inning. The Cardinals would eliminate the Dodgers in four games as Kershaw's postseason numbers did not reflect those of his CY Young season (0-2 record, 7.82 ERA).
19 Ted Williams
The great Ted Williams spent 19 seasons playing left field for the Boston Red Sox. Throughout his tenure in Beantown, Williams and the club would only appear in one World Series.
In 1946, Williams hit .342 with 38 HR and 123 RBI. When the Sox met the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, it was expected that Williams would produce big numbers and help bring home the championship. Such was not the case as Williams would hit a measly .200 (5-for-25) and the Cardinals would take the series in seven games.
Many years later – as an elderly man – when asked about the one thing he would have done different in his life, Williams replied: “I'd have done better in the '46 World Series. God, I would.”
18 Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson built a reputation on postseason baseball for his ability to come through in the clutch while playing with the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees. Jackson became known as “Mr. October.”
In 1982, Jackson would take his talent to the California Angels where he would hit 39 long balls and drive in 101 runs during his first season with the club. When the Angles made the postseason, the excitement of having “Mr. October” in town began to rise. Jackson was going to take the team all the way to the World Series – but that excitement soon fizzled.
Instead, Jackson struggled in the postseason, hitting a lousy .111 (2-for-18) as the Angels were eliminated by the Milwaukee Brewers in the ALCS. Just to be clear, with then entry, we're not talking about Reggie Jackson's career, but this one particularplayoff.
17 Scott Garrelts
Scott Garrelts spent his entire MLB career pitching for the San Francisco Giants – posting a career record of 69-53 over his decade with the club. Garrelts best season came in 1989 when he posted a record of 14-5 with a 2.28 ERA.
That year, the San Francisco Giants would face the rival Oakland Athletes in the “Battle of the Bay” World Series. Garrelts was given the ball in game one but was pulled in the fifth inning – eventually accumulating the loss.
When the Loma Prieta earthquake would cause game 3 to be postponed for 10 days, Garrelts was once again given the ball in game 3 of the series and once again was pulled early. This time in the fourth inning. The Athletes would sweep the Giants to capture the Commissioner’s Trophy while Garrelts ended the series with an 0-2 record and a 9.82 ERA.
16 2007 New York Mets
The 2007 New York Mets were poised to be a postseason team – maybe even a contender for the World Series. On September 12th, the Mets had a record of 83-62 – holding a seven game lead in the NL East Division.
Over the final three weeks of the regular season, the Mets fell apart – losing 12 of their final 17 games. The NL East Division was eventually won by the Philadelphia Phillies on the final day of the regular season.
15 Jeff Reardon
Jeff Reardon split his MLB career among seven different ball clubs and in 1992, set the MLB all-time save record when he closed out his 342nd game. Of course, a number of closers have since past Reardon as he is currently ranked eighth in the record books.
In the 1992 World Series as a member of the Atlanta Braves, Reardon would be called upon to help capture the title over the Toronto Blue Jays. Heading into the 9th inning of game 2, the Braves were holding tight to a one run lead until Reardon gave up a two-run home run to Ed Sprague. The Braves attempted to rally in the bottom of the inning but would fall short and drop the game to the Jays.
In game 3 of the series, Reardon would once again bust in the 9th when he gave up the game winning hit to Candy Maldonado whose single scored Roberto Alomar from second base – breaking the 2-2 tie and giving the Jays another victory.
14 San Francisco Giants Bullpen in 2002
The San Francisco Giants bullpen has come a long way since the 2002 World Series. The modern pen has been instrumental in the Giants taking 3 of the last 5 World Series titles.
However, in 2002, the blunders of the bullpen would prove costly to the club and their chances at winning the series over the Anaheim Angels. In the bottom of the 7th inning of game six, with the Giants up three games to two in the series and holding on to a 5-0 lead in the game, San Francisco were a mere eight outs away from being champions.
Dusty Baker would then pull starter Russ Ortiz from the game, depending on his bullpen to carry the rest of the weight. Felix Rodriguez, in for relief would give up back-to-back singles before giving up a 3-run home run to Scott Spiezio – making it a 5-3 ball game for the Giants.
In the bottom of the 8th inning, Tim Worrell now in for relief would cough up a home run to Darin Erstad – making it a 1 run ball game. Worrell would then give up consecutive singles which brought out Dusty Baker, who once again was calling to his bullpen.
In came Robb Nen to face Troy Glaus and put an end to the Angels rally – which was not the case. Glaus would double and drive home both base runners, giving the Angels their first lead of the game. Anaheim held on to win game six and eventually game seven to claim the World Series.
13 Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco
The Oakland Athletics managed to string together a streak of World Series appearances between 1988 and 1990. While the A's were successful in capturing the crown in 1989 – they were not so fortunate in their other attempts.
Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were the powerhouse hitters for Oakland. Known as the “Bash Brothers,” they were expected to smash when needed. Following the 1988 World Series; the duo were referred to as the “Bust Brothers” when they hit for a combined average of .056 – going a collective 2-for-36 at the plate. The A's dropped the series in five to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The “Bash Brothers' would redeem themselves the following year in the “Battle of the Bay” and all was forgiven with A's fans. However, in 1990, the “Bust Brothers” were back when the A's were swept by the Cincinnati Reds in the Fall Classic. This time McGwire and Canseco hit for a combined .154, having gone 4-for-26 at the plate.
12 1912 New York Giants
The 1912 New York Giants were made up of a dominant group of players. Their pitching staff put together one of the best seasons ever when Jeff Tesreau, Christy Mathewson, and Red Ames finished 3-4-9 respectively in league ERA.
The team went on to win the NL Pennant and face the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The series itself was decided in eight games, when game two was called a tie due to darkness. The deciding game would require extra innings and in the bottom of the 10th with the Giants up 2-1, they were heading for victory.
Clyde Engle led off the inning with a routine fly ball to center field – should have been an easy catch for Fred Snodgrass but he dropped the ball and Engle reached second base. The following batter would again send a ball into center. only this time Snodgrass would make the catch on a fine run. However, Engle would advance to third as the game-tying run. The following batter would draw a walk and now the winning run was on base.
This brought up Tris Speaker who would hit a foul ball on the first base side but for some reason pitcher: Christy Mathewson, first baseman: Fred Merkle, and catcher: Chief Meyers all allowed the ball to drop in foul territory, giving Speaker another swing who would then single and drive in the game-tying run.
The following batter was walked intentionally – as to put the force out at every base. However, Larry Gardner would then hit a ball deep enough to right field that allowed the winning run to score on the tag and with that; the Boston Red Sox were World Series Champions.
11 1978 Boston Red Sox
The 1978 Boston Red Sox season was dubbed the “Boston Massacre,” when the Sox managed to blow what was looking like an easy AL East title.
In July, Boston held a 14 game lead over rival New York Yankees. However, the Yankees worked their way back up to a division tie which was encapsulated by a four game sweep of the Sox at Fenway. The AL East would need to be decided with a division playoff which the Yankees won 5-4, officially putting the nail in the Red Sox season.
That year, the New York Yankees would defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
10 Grady Little
Grady Little was a manager for the Boston Red Sox in the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Despite popularity in the clubhouse, Little's time in Boston will always be remembered for his controversial decision during game seven of the ALCS against the New York Yankees.
In the 8th inning of the game, the Sox were holding on to a 5-2 lead over the Yanks. Pedro Martinez. who had started the game. was still throwing and had a pitch count nearing 120. After giving up three hits and a run, Little would take a trip to the mound but opted against pulling Martinez.
The Yanks would then tie up the game on the weary arm of Martinez, whose ERA was notably high when his pitch count exceeded 100, and would eventually win the game in extra innings. Backlash from Sox fans was brutal as the feeling throughout Boston was that Little made the wrong decision – that he should have called on the bullpen to help shut the game down.
Note: Grady Little is the only manager to make our list. Deciding to keep Pedro Martinez on the hill was a complete managerial choke.
9 Fred Merkle
The term “Merkle's Boner” was coined in 1908 when Fred Merkle – a member of the New York Giants – committed one of the most infamous and boneheaded plays in the history of professional baseball.
On September 23th, 1908 while playing the Chicago Cubs, Merkle came to bat with the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th inning and two outs against him. With Moose McCormick on first base. Merkle hit a single, advancing McCormick to third and edging the game winning run that much closer to home.
The following batter, Al Birdwell, would then lace a single, where McCormick scored and the Giants won the game – at least that's what everybody thought. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers knew otherwise – taking notice that Merkle had run directly to the clubhouse instead of second base. Evers would then take a ball and touch second base causing umpire Hank O'Day to call Merkle out on a forced play.
Therefore, the run was nullified and the Giants had not won after all. The game was then called a tie due to growing darkness and the thousands of fans who rushed the field from the stands in a short-live victory celebration.
8 1964 Philadelphia Phillies
The 1964 season looked promising for the Philadelphia Phillies. The team was playing solid baseball all throughout the summer, Jim Bunning threw the first perfect game in the NL since 1880, and on September 1st, the Phillies held a 5 ½ game lead over the Cincinnati Reds.
The Phillies would then collapse. What became known as “The Phold” saw Philadelphia struggle down the stretch – losing 10 straight games and finishing in a second place tie in the NL – one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
7 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers
The 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers breakdown lead to an epic three game playoff series with the New York Giants where Bobby Thomson hit what became known as the “Shot Hear 'Round the World” when he hit the walk-off home run of the deciding game.
What is now one of the greatest baseball moments ever would have never occurred had the Dodgers held on to the 13 game lead they had in early August. The Dodgers should have rolled down the stretch with ease but they could not hang on to their top spot.
6 Dave Winfield
The 1981 MLB season was divided into two halves when the players decided to go on strike. All told, each club would play 50+ fewer games than that of a normal season.
The start of the '81 season saw Dave Winfield as the newest member of the New York Yankees. George Steinbrenner had made Winfield the highest-paid player in baseball when he signed him to a 10-year contract that was worth $23-million due to cost of living adjustments. This maneuver fooled Steinbrenner and the negotiation led to a public feud between owner and player.
Still, this dispute would not disrupt the play of Winfield who managed to become an all-around productive force for the New York Yankees organization. Winfield would help take the club all the way to the World Series during his first season where they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 6 games.
Winfield had a terrible series at the plate; posting a batting average of just .045 (1-for-22).
5 2009 Detroit Tigers
The 2009 Detroit Tigers spent 146 days atop the AL Central Division – a team that looked like a serious World Series contender. Then, somewhere along the line, it all went wrong.
The Tigers would actually finish the season in a tie with the Minnesota Twins – forcing a playoff game between the two squads – a game in which the Twins were victorious. Unbelievably, the Tigers had a three game lead with just twelve games left to play but still managed to blow their division lead and not make the postseason.
4 Mitch Williams
Mitch Williams was a former relief pitcher known as “Wild Thing” during his MLB career, due to the sometimes unpredictable placement of his pitches. In 1993, while closing for the Philadelphia Phillies, Williams recorded 43 saves and was almost a sure thing when the game needed to be shut down.
The 1993 World Series had the Philadelphia Phillies against the Toronto Blue Jays – who were searching for their second consecutive championship. In game six with the Jays up 3-2 in the series, the Phillies were looking to even things up and force a deciding final game.
In the bottom of the 9th inning with Philadelphia leading by a score of 6-5, in came Mitch Williams to close out Toronto and make sure the series was going to go the distance. Williams began the inning by walking Rickey Henderson. The following batter, Devon White, would fly out and Williams seemed on track until Paul Molitor smacked a single and advanced Henderson into scoring position.
This brought Joe Cater up to the plate. Williams was obviously looking for the double-play ball to end the game. With a 2-2 count, Carter would crack the World Series winning home run over the wall in left field. Williams blew the save and walked off heavyhearted.
3 2004 New York Yankees
The 2004 New York Yankees finished the regular season with a record of 101-61, their third consecutive 100+ win season, and first time accomplishing the task in franchise history. The Yankees looked good heading into the postseason and were a heavy favorite to win the World Series.
In the ALCS, the Yankees would face their longtime rivals, the Boston Red Sox. The first three games of the series went to the Yanks and it seemed as though a World Series appearance was imminent.
In the 8th inning of game four, clinging to a 4-3 lead, Mariano Rivera – the best closer in the game – was brought in for the two inning save and to stamp the Yanks ticket back to the World Series.
Rivera would walk lead off batter Kevin Millar, who was then pulled in favor of pinch-runner Dave Roberts who in-turn stole SECOND base and placed himself in scoring position. Bill Mueller, who was at bat during the stolen base, would then single and drive in the tying run – sending the game into extra innings.
The game ended as only a Yankees/Red Sox game could end, in dramatic fashion, when David Ortiz hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th inning to breathe new life into Boston. The Yankees would never recover from the blown save as the Red Sox came back to win the series in 7 games – making New York the only team in MLB history to ever lose a 7-game playoff series after holding a three-game lead.
2 Bill Buckner
The story of Bill Buckner and his blunder in game sx of the 1986 World Series has been told time and time again for nearly 30 years.
It's the one mistake that Buckner will never forget, and even if he could somehow erase it from his own mind, there would still be some bitter fan there to remind him of the heartache he caused the city of Boston because of that ground ball. The kind of ground ball that should have resulted in a routine out, allowed the Mets to come back and win game six of the series before winning it all in the deciding game. Bill Buckner will forever be part of New England sports lore.
1 Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez is always one of the hottest topics in Major League Baseball. This season, A-Rod will make his return to the game following a year-long suspension for the use of performance enhancing drugs. It is hard to diminish the numbers that A-Rod has put up in his career but then again, it is also hard to place complete value on them thanks to his PED usage.
In 2009, A-Rod was instrumental in the Yankees World Series victory over the Phillies – putting up huge numbers: 0.365, 6HR, 18 RBI. However, if we take a look at A-Rod's performances from other postseasons; the numbers are not as impressive:
2005 Postseason: .133 (2-for-15) Yankees Eliminated by Angels in ALDS.
2006 Postseason: .071 (1-for-14) Yankees Eliminated by Tigers in ALDS.
2010 Postseason: .219 (7-for-32) Yankees Eliminated by Rangers in ALCS.
2011 Postseason: .111 (2-for-18) Yankees Eliminated by Tigers in ALDS.
2012 Postseason: .120 (3-for-25) Yankees Eliminated by Tigers in ALCS.
One great postseason cannot conceal all the bad postseasons. A-Rod is paid a hell of a lot of money to play and produce results for the most storied franchise in all of baseball. The numbers speak loudly enough and for all you Yankee fans, you better hope A-Rod is listening.