Appearing in a World Series is one of those rare moments when childhood fantasies and grown-up, professional desires align totally. Each World Series contestant is a live wire, his whole being thrumming. But baseball being a team game, the sport’s best players are, it seems, no more likely than a journeyman to reach this grandest of stages. In his 22 flabbergasting seasons, Barry Bonds reached the World Series a single time—and once he got there, he saw his handiwork undone by Scott Spiezio. Spiezio, a bat-only veteran who hit fewer home runs in his 12-year career than Bonds did from 2000 to 2001, would naturally retire with two World Series rings (2002 Angels, 2006 Cardinals). In this year’s Series, Terrance Gore appears for the Royals with 11 career regular season games under his belt, and Hunter Strickland of the Giants has just nine. Torii Hunter, meanwhile, has played in 2,233 regular season games, has made it to the playoffs on eight separate occasions, and has never made it to the Series.
Having appeared in 14 World Series, winning 10, Yogi Berra has set a pair of records that are so outlandish it is impossible to conceive of them being broken, or even approached. The long-time Prince of October, Derek Jeter, was only able to attain exactly half of Berra’s fall bounty: Jeter appeared in seven World Series and won five. For all the other ballplayers born without the good fortune of being drafted by the Yankees during the correct era (sorry, Don Mattingly), World Series appearances are a little harder to come by. Consider: Nobody active today has appeared in as many World Series as Jeter won.
Among the game’s more competitive players (as opposed to those who play chiefly for business interests), it would be quite a compelling hypothetical game indeed to see what they would sacrifice—statistics, salary, body parts?—for the sake of additional World Series appearances. But who are baseball's lucky ducks who have gone back to the World Series again and again? Here is a ranking of the active players who have appeared in at last three World Series, with ties broken by the players’ personal record of Series won and lost as of this very moment, with those records subject to change in the precariously near future.
As a guideline: If a player made at least a playoff appearance for an eventual World Series team, I am counting this as a World Series appearance. Even if the player did not step on the field during the actual World Series, he was at least reasonably responsible for helping the team get to the World Series, and he was also at that exclusive nucleus at the center of Series excitement.
Unfortunately, this technicality has eliminated four worthy players from the rankings:
-Alfonso Soriano made regular-season cameos for the 1999 and 2000 Yankees, and owns World Series rings for those appearances, but did not participate in either postseason. Soriano was a starter for the 2001 and 2003 Yankees teams that lost in the Series, so he is, by my rules, 0-for-2.
-Adam Wainwright played very crucial (and also different-looking) roles for the 2006 and 2013 Cardinals. Wainwright’s 2011—a season which culminated in a Cardinals championship—was wiped out due to Tommy John surgery, so alas, Wainwright stands at 1-for-2.
-Matt Cain is injured while watching this year’s Series after victories with the Giants in 2010 and 2012, so he will stand at 2-0 going into 2015 no matter what.
-Yorvit Torrealba. That’s right: Yorvit Torrealba. For one, yes indeed he is an active player (kind of), with four games played for the Cubs’ Arizona Rookie League team early this summer. Also, Torrealba played for the 2002 Giants, the 2007 Rockies, and the 2011 Rangers, which would give him an improbable record of 0-3 for three different teams—only, he did not appear in the postseason for the Giants, so consider him 0-2. What a career!
On to the rankings!
10. Omar Infante, 0-2: 2006 Tigers, 2012 Tigers, (2014 Royals)
It’s been an unlikely late-career resurgence for the second basemen. Originally signed as a free agent by the Tigers, Infante made his big-league debut in 2002 for a Tigers team that went 55-106, and he also contributed 69 games to the infamous Tigers of 2003, who finished with the glorious record of 43-119. After a single World Series at-bat in 2006, Infante grew into baseball adulthood with the Braves and Marlins, eventually getting traded to the Tigers along with Anibal Sanchez at the 2012 trade deadline (a.k.a. Miami’s most recent fire sale). After being pursued in free agency last winter by the Royals, Infante has now been an every-game starter in the past three American League Championship Series, not to mention two of the past three World Series. He is also, somewhat tragically, the only member of this ranking to currently stand ringless.
T8. Randy Choate, 1-2: 2000 Yankees, 2001 Yankees, 2013 Cardinals
When Choate was a 24-year-old rookie, sharing the 2000 Yankees’ postseason locker room with all those classic players after just 17 brisk regular-season innings, he must have thought he was in for a blessed career indeed. While Choate has the distinction of having the longest active gap between World Series appearances, he has also not been victorious since all the way back at the turn of the century.
T8. Matt Holliday, 1-2: 2007 Rockies, 2011 Cardinals, 2013 Cardinals
Where has the time gone: Holliday has now appeared in more games for the Cardinals (799) than he did for the Rockies (698). While Holliday certainly had more people casually rooting for him when he was at the center of that manic Rockies team bid goodnight (“Sweep dreams!”) by the Red Sox in 2007, Holliday probably cherishes that 2011 ring quite a bit more.
T6. Share Victorino, 2-1: 2008 Phillies, 2009 Phillies, 2013 Red Sox
With a goateed-facial intensity that bothers the impartial and infuriates the dedicated, Victorino has nonetheless managed to win World Series with two different teams, a truly rare feat. Although there is the faint scent of postseason hero wafting around Victorino, he has slashed .200/.297/.236 in his 15 World Series games.
T6. Albert Pujols, 2-1: 2004, 2006, 2011 Cardinals
My, how things changed between Pujols’ first World Series and his most recent. In 2004, the Cardinals were a new presence in deep autumn, and ultimately just the foil to Boston’s epic, curse-busting victory. By 2011, the Cardinals were starting to be The Establishment, new standard-bearers of a staunchly moralistic postseason baseball. This is the truth: Pujols has won World Series while he was teammates with David Eckstein and Nick Punto, but has never done so while teammates with Mike Trout. Musta been the grit.
5. The Giants Boys of 2010, 2012 (and 2014), 2-0: Madison Bumgarner, Santiago Casilla, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, Sergio Romo, Pablo Sandoval
I can’t tell if this is a lot or a little carryover from the beginning of the Giants’ bizarrely even-numbered domination. While it feels like we have been constantly watching the exact same Giants, over and over, that 2010 team featured Pat Burrell, Edgar Renteria, and Aaron Rowand, among others, and don’t those players feel like they are from a long, long time ago? While Travis Ishikawa celebrated with these boys back in 2010, he could only watch from Milwaukee as they celebrated again in 2012. And these dudes who have stayed the whole time have changed. Sandoval, while still a valuable player, is no longer primed to become one of the premier faces of baseball. Romo has moved from set-up man to closer and back again. Casilla has been set-up man, closer, set-up man, and now closer once more. Bumgarner has moved from fascinating rookie to October institution, with 12 playoff games started already at age 25. Lincecum now has more postseason relief appearances (7) than starts (6). And Posey—well, I guess Posey hasn’t really changed, has he? Collectively, they have lost zero playoff series.
4. David Ortiz, 3-0: 2004, 2007, 2013 Red Sox
Being able to DH for all these years has no doubt been a useful way for Ortiz to be the only (on-field) holdover between the 2004 and 2013 Red Sox champions. Look for yourself: In the time after the first championship, Ortiz has played a total of 407 innings at first base. When Big Papi lifted the trophy last fall, his 2004 teammates Kevin Millar, Nomar Garciaparra, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Gabe Kapler were veteran on-screen commentators; Kevin Youkilis was a Yankee; Manny Ramirez had just played in Taiwan and Round Rock; Dave Roberts coached the Padres; and Bill Mueller was a scout. Chilling out in the dugout/clubhouse most of the game turns out to be a pretty effective way to avoid conventional aging curves. (Next year, at age 39, Ortiz will earn the highest salary of his career, at $16M.)
3. Yadier Molina, 2-2: 2004, 2006, 2011, 2013 Cardinals
Still only age 32 (!), Molina the youngest really was around for that 2004 World Series appearance. It was his rookie year, and also the first and last time he would be a backup. After 51 regular-season games, Molina was allowed only seven postseason at-bats that first year, which he has since followed with 82 playoff games and 328 more plate appearances. Fun fact #1: In 2004, Molina was backing up Mike Matheny, his manager on the 2013 Cardinals. Fun fact #2: The three Molinas have two World Series rings each, with Bengie earning them on the 2002 Angels and on the 2010 Giants (despite being traded to eventual World Series loser Texas in the middle of the season), and Jose Molina earning them on the 2002 Angels and 2009 Yankees. Fun fact #3: A Molina—and sometimes more—has appeared in seven of the past 13 World Series.
2. Jeremy Affeldt, 2-1: 2007 Rockies, 2010, 2012 (and 2014 Giants)
So Affeldt has pitched 13 big-league seasons and reached the World Series in four of them. That’s pretty spectacular stuff. But then consider: Affeldt’s only been on a team that finished above .500 seven times! The only postseason series that Affeldt has lost so far is that 2007 World Series, compared to 10 series victories, and a Wild Card game victory, and a Game 163 victory (and one series, obviously, still in progress). In 29 innings over 32 career postseason games, Affeldt has allowed three runs, and none since Game One of the 2010 World Series. As a player who has yet to take a pay cut, there certainly must be more to Affeldt than meets the eye when that eye takes in his career 3.95 FIP.
1. Javier Lopez, 3-0: 2007 Red Sox, 2010, 2012 (and 2014 Giants)
Behold, your new Prince of October! If you thought Affeldt was a nondescript candidate to have appeared in four World Series, well, here is somebody even nondescriptier. Back in 2006, Lopez surely must have felt disheartened, from time to time, as he was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Boston Red Sox mid-season. He was 28, it was his fourth big-league team in four big-league seasons, and in two of those he finished with an ERA over 7. And lo, in the eight seasons that have passed since, Lopez has appeared, somehow in half of the World Series games played. Like Affeldt, he too has only lost one playoff series (the 2008 ALCS to the Tampa Bay Rays—although the Red Sox did release him just days before their 2009 ALDS sweep at the hands of the Angels) up against 11 series victories. While Lopez has given up six runs in his 17 career postseason innings, he has not allowed a run since Game Four of the 2010 NLCS against the Phillies. That’s a full nine innings of shutout, three-hit ball.
As the 2007 World Series carried on, and the Rockies and the Red Sox bullpens sat so close to each other in the outfield, I wonder if Lopez and Affeldt ever noticed one another—the other nondescript left-handed reliever, just in different colors. Even if they did, there is no way they could have guessed at their eventual fate: That they would one day join forces and conquer October as their dominion.