Ranking the 10 best World Series of all time before the Dodgers and Astros face off
The Dodgers and Astros have their work cut out for them if they are to get into this list
LOS ANGELES -- We're gathered here for the 113th edition of the World Series, waiting for 101 degrees at first pitch. It's going to be the hottest start ever to a Fall Classic.
The question then becomes: Will it also become one of the best? The Dodgers and Astros combined to win 205 games this season. By Wins Above Replacement, they combine to rank fifth best among all World Series tandems. These are two power-packed rosters, and the potential is there for a barnburner seven-game series.
So what does the competition look like? What are the best World Series of all time?
To find the answers, we attacked the problem from two angles. First, we did a deep dive into the annals of baseball history, looking for unforgettable games, players and moments. Dramatic walk-off home runs, heartbreaking errors, legacy-changing umpire gaffes -- all these and other big moments create a backdrop for World Series that lead grandparents to regale their grandkids. Second, we took a trip to Statsville to break down the best championship battles from an analytical point of view. For that data-driven approach, we leaned on CBS Sports Director of Research John Fisher, whose talent for finding great statistical nuggets is second to none.
Here then are the 10 best World Series of all time, with all the memories and digits that helped make them great.
10. 1912 -- Boston Red Sox beat New York Giants 4-3
We're off to a fun start here, because this series actually went eight(!) games, with Game 2 ending in a tie after being suspended due to darkness. Game 3 ended early for the same reason, but the Giants won that one.
The great Christy Mathewson was the star of this series, starting three games, hurling 28 2/3 innings(!!!) and flashing a 0.94 ERA. By any statistical measure, this was (and remains) one of the greatest World Series performances of all time, part of a magical career that included four stellar Fall Classic performances to cap a legendary Hall of Fame career. Hell, Mathewson even authored one of the greatest baseball books of all time, Pitching in a Pinch.
His team didn't win, though. The series-deciding Game 8 went to extra innings tied 1-1. In the top of the 10th, Fred Merkle, author of one of the most legendary mistakes in baseball history -- the delightfully named "Merkle's Boner" -- seemed to atone for that mistake from four years earlier, cracking an RBI single to give the Giants the lead. Except Merkle would boner again, at the worst possible time. In the bottom of the 10th, Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass dropped an easy fly ball, opening the door for a Red Sox rally. Merkle then let a foul ball drop, escalating the threat. Boston scored two runs, winning the game 3-2 and taking the series.
9. 1968 -- Detroit Tigers beat St. Louis Cardinals 4-3
As tough as it was to beat Christy Mathewson in his prime, Bob Gibson's 1968 season might top all others ever achieved by a pitcher for all-time status. Gibson's 1.12 ERA set a major-league record for a full-season starting pitcher, one that likely won't ever be broken. Sure, 1968 was the year of the pitcher, with sky-high mounds and gigantic ballparks suppressing offense to levels not seen since Mathewson's prime in the Dead Ball Era. Adjust for league and park factors all you want, and a larger point still stands: Gibson at the height of his powers was absolutely terrifying, and it was hard to imagine anyone beating him in '68.
The Tigers looked like they would be the final team to fail at the task that year. In Game 1 of the World Series, Gibson bested Detroit's 31-game winner/Cy Young/MVP Denny McClain 4-0, firing a five-hit shutout while striking out 17(!!!!!!!); per Bill James' Game Score stat, that's the fourth-best World Series start of all time. In Game 4, Gibson totally slacked, this time actually giving up a run (gross) on five hits, while only striking out 10 (lame). That 10-1 victory put St. Louis up 3-1, putting the Cards in great shape to close out the series.
But Detroit proved resilient, winning Game 5 and 6 to set up a deciding Game 7. Even after two straight losses, the Cards were the favorites to win, with the game in St. Louis and Gibson back on the mound. Only this time, the Motor City Kitties finally got to him. After Gibson and veteran Tigers lefty Mickey Lolich went scoreless for six innings, Detroit finally broke through. Jim Northrup's drive to deep center should have been caught by Curt Flood, but instead went for a misjudged triple that knocked in the first two runs of the game. The Tigers held on to win 4-1, in the process becoming just the third team in World Series to ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win.
8. 1993 -- Toronto Blue Jays beat Philadelphia Phillies 4-2
Let's introduce one of my favorite stats: Win Probability Added. The idea behind WPA is to measure how profound an effect an individual player had on a game. For this article, our CBS stats guru John Fisher used WPA as an aggregate stat, to measure drama. Basically, the higher the total WPA in a series, the more you'll see big swings in action, with lead changes and other exciting happenings. Don't sweat the specific numbers per se, just enjoy our list of top 10 World Series by WPA (chart below).
The '93 World Series tops the list, thanks in large part to one game in particular. No, not that one (we will get to that one in a second). We're talking about Game 4, one of the wildest World Series contests ever played. Seeking to claim a 3-1 stranglehold on the series, the Jays jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, only to watch the Phillies come right back with four in the bottom of the first. Then the Phillies scored two more in the second. Then the Jays replied with four in the third. Then the Phillies tied it with a single run in the fourth, and seemed to blow the game open with five in the fifth. Sitting on a 14-9 lead with two innings to go, Philly's bullpen imploded, as Toronto erupted for six in the eighth. Final tally: 15-14 Jays win, with four lead changes and five different instances of a team scoring three or more in an inning.
Oh yeah, and Joe Carter hit a home run of modest importance.
SUM OF WPA
7. 1956 -- New York Yankees beat Brooklyn Dodgers 4-3
For the fifth time in six years, we got an all-New York World Series. After the Yankees and Giants met in '51, the Yankees and Dodgers linked up for four of the next five. The Dodgers won their first World Series in franchise history in '55, so this one marked a highly anticipated rematch. The Dodgers won the first two games, then the Yankees stormed back to tie it at 2-2. That set up a Game 5 for the ages.
On the mound for the Yanks was Don Larsen, a capable but mostly unspectacular right-hander. He would be facing a Dodgers offense that led the majors in park-adjusted offense, with Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges and Carl Furillo tearing apart National League pitching. (The '56 Yankees ranked second in park-adjusted offense.) The Dodgers seemed to hold the edge in that game's pitching matchup, sending the pitcher who finished second in both Cy Young and MVP voting -- behind teammate Don Newcombe -- that year, Sal "The Barber" Maglie, to the bump.
Then, Larsen reached baseball immortality. Twenty-seven Dodgers strode to the plate that game, and all 27 stalked back to the dugout in disappointment ... Larsen had thrown a perfect game, to this day the only one in World Series history. The Dodgers pulled off a 1-0 extra-inning win to send the series to Game 7, but the Yankees blew them out 9-0 to clinch it. Still, Larsen's perfecto was the memory that would, and will, last forever.
6. 1960 -- Pittsburgh Pirates beat New York Yankees 4-3
If we're being honest, most of the 1960 Series wasn't all that compelling. We got a few dynamic individual performances, led by Whitey Ford shutting out the Pirates in Game 3, then doing so again in Game 6. Still, three of the games were absolute blowouts, ending in scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0 -- the Yankees winning all three.
But oh, what a Game 7. The deciding game featured an avalanche of runs, with 10 of the 19 scoring in the final two innings. The Buccos looked like they would salted the game away in the bottom of the eighth, rallying for five runs to take a 9-7 lead. But the Yanks scored two in the top of the ninth off Bob Friend and Harvey Haddix (poor Harvey never did have much luck), sending the game to the bottom of the ninth tied at nine. When Bill Mazeroski came to the plate to lead off, few could have predicted what would happen next. After all, Maz was one of the lightest hitters in the league, compiling a weak .260/.299/.367 line for his career. But when Yankees right-hander Ralph Terry challenged Maz with a 1-0 fastball, the little Pirates second baseman clobbered it, sending it soaring over the wall in left for the winner. To this day, that's still one of just two home runs to ever end a World Series (hi again, Joe Carter).
The stats are bonkers to consider. The 1960 World Series featured the worst run differential by any team in a Series ... and it belonged to the winning team, thanks to those three blowouts that went in New York's favor. The '60 World Series still ranks as the second-wildest ever played by Win Probability Added, with Game 7 responsible for a huge percentage of those twists and turns. Also in Game 7, the two teams somehow combined to score 19 runs ... with zero strikeouts.
5. 1975 -- Cincinnati Reds beat Boston Red Sox 4-3
How many times have we seen the defining memory of a World Series come from a player on the losing team?
It happened in '75. With the Red Sox seeking their first World Series victory in 57 years but also on the verge of elimination, future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk turned the tide. Leading off the 12th inning against Reds reliever Pat Darcy, Fisk hammered a 1-0 pitch high and far to left. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that it was deep enough. All that remained was for the ball to sneak by the foul pole. Fisk was all too happy to guide it. Hopping from home plate, Fisk started waving frantically at the ball, willing it to stay just inside fair territory. He got his wish, and the Sox would live to fight another day.
When Boston took an early 3-0 lead in Game 7, it looked like the team's long World Series drought might be over. But the Reds rallied for two in the sixth, then tied the game with another run in the seventh. Finally in the ninth, another future Hall of Famer came to bat with two outs and two men on base. Joe Morgan stayed alive for four pitches, then laced a dunk-job single to center off Sox lefty Jim Burton. Arguably the greatest second baseman of all time knocks in the winning run in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series ... and almost no one remembers, because of Fisk's waving skills. Baseball is a funny game sometimes.
4. 1986 -- New York Mets beat Boston Red Sox 4-3
3. 1924 -- Washington Senators beat New York Giants 4-3
One of seven World Series to end with a run differential of just one (1975, '71, '64, '62, '25 and '18 were the others), the '24 Series was an absolute gem. Four games were decided by one run, with two of those going to extra innings.
Game 1 was the first to go to extra frames. With the Senators on the ropes, shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh whacked a double to left to cash the tying run in the bottom of the ninth. The Giants scored two in the top of the 12th, then held on to win 4-3. The player who drove in the eventual winning run was "High Pockets" Kelly, and if there's a better baseball nickname than "High Pockets," we've yet to see it.
In Game 7, the Giants entered the eighth inning looking like they would prevail. Then with two outs and two on in the eighth, Senators second baseman Bucky Harris rapped a groundball toward Giants third baseman Freddie Lindstrom. The ball somehow hit a pebble, then took a nasty hop right over Lindstrom's head, scoring two runs and trying the game. The game lasted all the way to the 12th inning. With one out and runners on first and second, Senators center fielder Earl McNeeley bounced another grounder toward third. Once again, the ball miraculously hit ... something, skipping by Lindstrom and into left field to score the winning run. Walter Johnson, arguably the greatest pitcher in baseball history, got the win with four innings of scoreless relief, sealing his only World Series title.
As for Lindstrom, Senators owner Clark Griffith summed things up best: "God was on our side in that one. Else how did those pebbles get in front of Lindstrom, not once, but twice?"
2. (TIE) 1991 -- Minnesota Twins beat Atlanta Braves 4-3/
2011 -- St. Louis Cardinals beat Texas Rangers 4-3
Good luck picking the better of these two battle royales.
The '91 Series featured not one, not two, not three, not four, but five one-run games, plus three extra-inning games, with the last of the three coming in Game 7. Game 6 was an epic battle in its own right. With the Twins facing elimination, the game wore on into the 11th. That's when Kirby Puckett launched the winning home run, triggering Jack Buck's famous call, "We will see you tomorrow night."
Somehow that was only the appetizer, with Game 7 considered by many to be the greatest World Series game ever played. Both teams battled to a scoreless tie for nine innings. Then finally in the 10th, a Gene Larkin single off Braves closer Alejandro Pena handed Minnesota its second World Series crown in five seasons. Jack Morris had the game of his life, tossing 10 (TEN!) shutout innings to win it for the Twins.
With all due respect to Game 7 in '91, Game 6 in the Series 20 years later supplanted it for the title of best World Series game ever; it's still the highest-WPA World Series game ever played. One strike away from elimination in the bottom of the ninth, Cardinals third baseman and St. Louis native David Freese slashed a line drive to right. Much as Bill Buckner shouldn't have been on the field at the end of Game 6 in '86, human statue Nelson Cruz was the last guy the Rangers would have wanted out there while nursing a lead. Cruz came up empty in his pursuit of the ball, allowing Freese to slide into third safely with a game-tying two-run triple.
Then in the 11th, Freese added one more magical moment to the "How Did This Happen?" game, blasting the winning homer to dead center to win it. See if you notice any similarities from Joe Buck's call of that home run to his dad's call of Puckett's shot two decades earlier.
1. 2016 -- Chicago Cubs beat Cleveland Indians 4-3
So much going on here. You had the only World Series ever to go seven games and have both teams score the same amount of runs. The road team dominated, winning five times (one of 14 times that has happened in World Series history).
And of course there was Game 7. As I, it was madness.
The Chicago Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in a mind-blowing, nerve-jangling, heart-stopping mess of a game, a 10-inning acid trip that tested the limits of your sanity, made baseball history and ended 108 years of anxiety.
Every inning of this game pushed the night closer and closer to becoming a Salvador Dali painting brought to life. It was surreal, it was painful, it was delirious. It was four hours and 28 minutes of madness, culminating in an ending that still doesn't seem real.
Still possibly not real: The Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series.
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