Will Pujols be the next Series hero to leave?
The Cardinals’ Albert Pujols(notes) just became the third player to join that rare pantheon: Hitting three home runs in a World Series game. In fact, Pujols’ mesmerizing performance in Game 3 might just be the best of all time in the long history of the Fall Classic.
All that means he’ll be back next season in a … gulp, Chicago Cubs uniform?
|Top departures of World Series heroes|
Yep, Pujols might very well be the next World Series hero to switch teams immediately after the season. The Yankees’ Hideki Matsui(notes) did that two years ago. After hitting over .500 and winning the series MVP, Matsui felt unwanted in the Bronx and opted to sign with the Angels. A couple of other Yankees World Series headliners did that in the late ’90s as well, as both John Wetteland and David Wells departed after winning it all.
But before you feel too sorry for the Yankees (is that even possible?), let’s set the record straight. The Yankees started this very trend themselves. At the dawn of free agency in the 1970s, it was new Yankees owner George Steinbrenner who routinely raided the best available players right off World Series-winning teams. That strategy did pay off, as the Bombers ended their championship drought by winning back-to-back titles in 1977-78.
Catfish Hunter was the first of Steinbrenner’s big-money acquisitions. After anchoring the Oakland A’s staff that had just won three consecutive World Series, Hunter put on the pinstripes after the 1974 season. The Boss’ next big get was another arm. Don Gullett, a mainstay of the Big Red Machine that had won back-to-back titles in 1975-76, also ended up in the Bronx, in 1977.
The first World Series MVP to defect was Ray Knight, who famously scored the winning run in the Mets’ improbable Game 6 win in the 1986 series. He also hit the go-ahead home run in Game 7 and finished New York’s amazing comeback with a .391 batting average. But he was already on the downside of his career and the Mets were ready to hand the third base job to Howard Johnson fulltime. So feeling unappreciated like Matsui, Knight signed with the Orioles after the season.
Instead of getting a ring with their teammates in the home opener the next season, these departing World Series heroes had to come back in another uniform to get feted in an awkward ceremony. That’s a decision confronting Pujols: Would he stay in St. Louis for life and get a statue alongside Stan Musial or follow the money after his World Series glory?
We’ll know in a couple of months. While he ponders that, here are our top 10 departures of a World Series hero:
• Hideki Matsui (2009 New York Yankees)
• Pedro Martinez (2004 Boston Red Sox)
• Ivan Rodriguez (2003 Florida Marlins)
• David Wells (1998 New York Yankees)
• John Wetteland (1996 New York Yankees)
• See more players