So your team is out of it, huh? With MLB’s pennant races in full swing and October around the corner, a great many baseball fans need to find some … let’s say backup rooting interests.
If you enjoyed the unburdening of Clayton Kershaw last season when the Los Angeles Dodgers finally got the legendary ace off the World Series hook, perhaps it’s time to find a new deserving veteran to rally around.
We put together a list of the six most appealing aging stars who have yet to taste the ultimate form of October glory.
The credentials: A late-blooming masher, Cruz is tracking toward an assault on the 500-homer mark about eight years and four contracts after the world thought he might be tapering off. Since leaving Texas for Baltimore in free agency at age 33, Cruz has walloped 291 homers, made five All-Star Games and become one of the most beloved clubhouse figures in the sport.
The rooting rationale: Cruz’s enduring postseason memory is not a positive one. His fielding mistake in the 2011 World Series was prelude to David Freese’s heroics. But what could have been a career-defining derp is long in the rearview mirror, overtaken by Cruz’s astounding staying power as an elite power hitter. He’s authoring one of baseball’s all-time best post-age-30 careers, and making a ton of friends along the way. (All hail the power of naps, apparently.)
The Minnesota Twins dealt him to the Tampa Bay Rays, now the AL’s best team, where he is the elder statesman on a young team that has very legitimate World Series aspirations.
Cruz is 41. The music will stop some day. And a great many people around baseball would love for him to have an enormous ring on his finger when it does.
Zack Greinke, Houston Astros
The credentials: By Baseball-Reference WAR, Greinke is now the best active pitcher and second-best active player — behind only Mike Trout — without a World Series ring. He came agonizingly close in 2019, dueling with Max Scherzer in Game 7 before the Washington Nationals came out on top.
The rooting rationale: Where to begin? The sheer volume of stories of Greinke’s unique personality and savant-like approach to the game are almost as notable as his pitching career. He only throws 89 mph now, but Greinke’s game has long been befuddling batters, not overpowering them. He is liable to throw an eephus pitch in the postseason, or follow a fastball with a changeup that is in fact faster than its setup offering.
Maybe more than anything else, root for Greinke to make the World Series so he gets a shot at batting during a game at an NL park. Madison Bumgarner gets the love for his homers, but (non-Shohei Ohtani division) Greinke is the best hitter of any active pitcher and perhaps the best all-around player of the millennium to ply his trade on the mound.
As a bonus, a win for Greinke would mean the first World Series win for manager Dusty Baker.
The credentials: A six-time All-Star and the 2010 NL MVP, Votto is the third-best active player by WAR (and second-best hitter) without a ring. Down seasons in 2019 and 2020 reasonably made people believe he was in decline and headed toward the end of a possible Hall of Fame career, but a raucous 2021 rebound has both likely secured his place in Cooperstown and extended the window for an October breakthrough.
The rooting rationale: He’s a lot like Greinke in that he spawns a seemingly limitless fascination among both fans and fellow players. Unlike Greinke, Votto has plied his trade for one team his entire career, often burdened with the question of whether his disciplined style of production was enough to carry a winner. Votto is of course one of the best hitters of his generation, and it’s not his fault at all that the Reds have been in a playoff lull, but it would be exceedingly satisfying for his resurgent, power-driven age-37 season to pay off as a “told you so” to his doubters.
— Yahoo Sports MLB (@MLByahoosports) September 18, 2021
On a different level, Votto is simply one of the most obviously human baseball players — or perhaps more accurately, the baseball player most willing to reveal his humanity in the course of doing his job.
The only problem? His Reds are fading fast. They are unlikely to make it to the postseason.
José Abreu, Chicago White Sox
The credentials: The reigning AL MVP is less of an MLB veteran than the rest, but he is already 34, having come over from Cuba when he was 27. He is among an elite class of players with MVP and Rookie of the Year nods.
The rooting rationale: A respected leader who stuck with the White Sox and has helped usher in a new era of contention, Abreu is especially revered for his role as a mentor to younger Cuban players like Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert. If he collects a World Series ring for his trophy case with this fun, diverse young team, he would rightfully be hailed as one of the game’s best contemporary ambassadors.
Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies
The credentials: McCutchen, the five-time All-Star and 2013 NL MVP, is in the final guaranteed year of his deal with the Phillies and turns 35 in October. He was the superstar catalyst of a Pittsburgh Pirates core that frustratingly fell short of deep playoff runs in the early 2010s and was then broken apart by stingy ownership.
The rooting rationale: Cutch is of course no longer with the Pirates. But between his delightfully odd social media presence and fan-friendly spirit, there are definitely plenty of people in Pittsburgh and beyond who remain deeply invested in his success.
Of course, he needs the Phillies to make it to October first.
Evan Longoria, San Francisco Giants
The credentials: Sneakily, Longoria is the 11th most accomplished active player overall by WAR, and the fourth-best without a World Series win on his resume.
The rooting rationale: Longoria is the rare Giants veteran without a ring, and a big part of their surprise success. While he’s been limited by injury, he has been dynamite when on the field, slashing .292/.387/.546 entering Wednesday.
The most delicious scenario here involves a Giants showdown with his former team, the Rays.