From Kirk Gibson to Mr. October to … this October? The 10 greatest performers in World Series history

  • Senior writer ESPN Magazine/
  • Analyst/reporter ESPN television
  • Author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”

The day after the Los Angeles Dodgers lost the 2018 World Series to the Boston Red Sox, I was in a window seat on a plane headed homeward and someone on the other side of the aisle called my name. It was Kirk Gibson, who wore the biggest, happiest grin as he held out a baseball housed in a clear plastic box.

“Check this out,” he said, handing over a ball with two distinct signatures. One was Gibson’s, and the other was that of Dennis Eckersley, who threw the pitch that Gibson clubbed into the right-field stands on Oct. 15, 1988, to generate one of the most extraordinary moments in World Series history. I don’t believe what I just saw, Jack Buck said, and any baseball fan watching at that moment agreed. Eckersley and Gibson had shared in the pregame ceremonies at the 2018 World Series to commemorate the 30th anniversary of that home run, and given the gregarious nature of both men, they swapped thoughts and signed baseballs, and the joy in that connection radiated from Gibson in Row 5 of that flight the next morning.

Gibson is in the conversation as one of the greatest World Series performers of all time, not only for that staggering game-winning home run in his only plate appearance in the 1988 World Series. In 1984, Gibson hit .333 in the Tigers’ five-game rout of the San Diego Padres, including a couple of home runs — the last an upper-deck blast off Goose Gossage that punctuated Detroit’s dominance that year, following a famous exchange with his manager, Sparky Anderson, captured by cameras. Gibson’s World Series record: seven hits in 19 at-bats, with three homers, a 1.342 OPS — and two indelible moments.

What follows is a list of the 10 best World Series performers of all time, and in searching for ways to define the greatest World Series performers, I decided to eliminate the players whose Fall Classic legacy is built on one great game. Don Larsen, the architect of a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, is one example. David Freese, who contributed the biggest hits in arguably the best World Series game ever — Game 6 of the 2011 World Series — is another. I built this list instead on players who thrived in multiple opportunities on baseball’s most important stage.

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