In baseball, the postseason is the time for players to shine, to give everything they got. More than likely, it’s the big stars who make the headlines but every so often we see the unlikely hero who steps up and gets the job done during the most important games of the season.
Here are 10 unlikely heroes of the baseball postseason because they are perhaps a little light with the stick, unknown players, or in one case, have no business getting on the field because of injuries.
Ozzie Smith (St Louis Cardinals, 1985 NLCS)
No doubt Ozzie Smith, the defensive whiz and speedster, has had his moments offensively but what happened in the 1985 NLCS must have surprised even the most die-hard Cardinal fan. With 13 career homeruns to name, Ozzie made himself a St Louis folk hero with one swing of the bat.
In Game 5 winner-take-all, the Cards and the Dodgers were locked up in a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the ninth. With one out and righty Tom Niedenfuer on the mound, Ozzie batted left. Not having hit a homerun in his previous 3,009 left-handed at-bats, he did the impossible. He hit a homerun. His four-bagger to right won the game for the Cardinals 3-2 and the series 3-2.
Bucky Dent (New York Yankees, 1978 one-game playoff)
This light hitting but slick fielding shortstop Dent was never known for his bat. His highest batting average was .274 in 1974 and for his career he hit .247. As for power, well, there wasn’t much. In his 12 year career, he hit forty homeruns with a career high of eight in 1977.
But Bucky Dent will always have a special spot in every Yankee fan’s heart for what he did in one-game AL East playoff against the hated Boston Red Sox in 1978. Down 2-0 in the seventh with two runners on, Dent hit a Mike Torrez pitch over the Green Monster to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead and sudden life. The Yankees went on defeat the Red Sox 5-4.
Dent wasn’t done. He batted .417 in the World Series against the Dodgers garnering the World Series MVP award.
Al Weis (New York Mets, 1969 World Series)
Among everyone on this list, Al Weis provides the widest disparity between his performance in the regular season and in the postseason. In his 10 year career, Al Weis was a .219 hitter with only seven homeruns. For the 1969 Amazin’ Mets, his average was even worse at .215.
But man, something change in him when it was time to face the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. For the Series, Weis not only hit .455 (5 for 11) but also hit a key homerun in the final game. His at-bat total may seem a bit low for 5 games but that’s because he also led the Mets in walks with four.
Donn Clendenon won Series MVP rightfully so (he hit .357 with three homeruns) but no one can dispute Weis’ contribution in the ‘69 series.
Kirk Gibson (Los Angeles Dodgers, 1988 World Series)
Rather odd that an regular season MVP would be chosen as an “unlikely” hero. But it fits. Gibson won the 1988 MVP award on the measure of his leadership of the Dodgers plus his good (but maybe not great) stats (.290, 25 HR). But by the postseason came around, the full season had taken its toll on Gibby’s knees and he was in no shape to play.
The Dodger’s opponents were the feared Oakland A’s who had among others, Dennis Eckersley who had one of best seasons a reliever ever had.
Do I need to go on? We’ve all seen it. Bottom of the 12th. Gibson vs. Eckersley. Gibby practically limping to the plate on two hobbled knees. And the look of pure victory on his face and the fist pumping as he rounds the bases. And the ecstatic Tommy Lasorda jumping up and down.
The Dodgers won that game, of course. That was the only at-bat Gibson would have all series. I’ve talked to Dodger fans who tell me that even though it was only Game One, they knew the Series was won by LA right then and there.
Jim Sundberg (Kansas City Royals, 1985 ALCS)
This defensive stalwart behind the plate wasn’t known for his offense prowess. Sundberg was a mainstay behind the plate for the Rangers for 12 years (and one season for Milwaukee) but he never hit the postseason for them. Once he got to KC in 1985, he got his Championship ring. And in the 1985 ALCS when the Royals took on the Toronto Blue Jays, he made a difference.
In the seventh and deciding game, Sunny practically won the game on his own. He went 2 for 4 with a triple and four rbis to clinch the Series and take the Royals to the World Series.
Jim Lindeman (St Louis Cardinals, 1987 NLCS)
Probably the least known player on this list, Jim Lindeman was a highly touted St Louis Cardinal prospect who came up in 1986. He managed to stick around for nine seasons but only accumulated 736 at-bats and 21 homers in his entire career. That doesn’t matter to Cardinals fans though. He had his moment in the sun in the NLCS in 1987 against the San Francisco Giants.
In Game 3 of the series, Lindeman came up to bat in the seventh inning down 4-3 with runners on second and third. Lindy hit a homerun to right-center and drove in three runs to make it 6-4. The Cards ending up beating the Giants 6-5 and defeated the Giants in the NLCS 4-3.
Billl Mazeroski (Pittsburgh Pirates, 1960 World Series)
Bill Mazeroski falls into same category as Bucky Dent. Light-hitting, good fielding middle infielder. Ok, maybe that’s not fair. For his time, Maz may have provided more offense than first glance might suggest. He hit .260 for his career in a pitching-rich era. Also, Maz did manage to hit 138 homers in his career.
The 1960 World Series pitted the big bully, the empire, the dynasty, the New York Yankees against the upstart, underdog Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s only appropriate that it end the way it did.
Any baseball buff knows about and has seen photos of Maz’ homerun off Yankee Bob Turley to win the the 1960 World Series. After all these years, it’s still the only walk-off homerun that has won a World Series.
It’s been rated as one of the most exciting moments in baseball history.
Billy Hatcher (Cincinnati Reds, 1990 World Series)
Billy Hatcher was one of those outfielders from the 80s and 90s that produced just enough to stick around for 12 seasons. He batted .264 for his career with 54 homeruns.
But boy, the Reds were sure happy to have him around for the 1990 World Series against the Oakland Athletics. Hatcher just caught fire. So much so that he broke many offensive records for a four game World Series. Batting second in the lineup, Hatcher hit four doubles, four doubles and a triple in 12 at-bats. Nine for Twelve!!
With Hatcher’s bat, Cincinnati went on to sweep the A’s,
Jim Beattie (New York Yankees, 1978 World Series)
I remember when Jim Beattie came up. Oh how he was going to be the next Ron Guidry! George Steinbrenner pinned his hopes on him and when he went 9-15 his first two years with the Yanks, he was little “disappointed”.
But Beattie came to the 1978 postseason prepared. He won his game against KC, pitching 5 1/3 innings. And in the World Series against the Dodgers, he really showed his stuff. In the fifth game, he pitched a complete game win allowing just two runs to give the Yankees a 3-2 series edge.
I’m sure the Boss’ private opinion didn’t change but outwardly he was glad of Beattie performance.
David Eckstein (Anaheim Angels, 2002 World Series and St Louis Cardinals, 2006 World Series)
At 5’6”, shortstop David Eckstein has had the adjective “scrappy” placed before his name on scouting reports more than anyone. And it’s probably deserved. With his ability, comes some ability to win.
This postseason look comes in two parts. In 2002, David Eckstein was part of the Anaheim Angels World Championship team. Eck batted .310 in the World Series with six runs scored. All told he compiled 20 hits in the postseason in 2002.
But it was in 2006 when Eckstein was recognized for his postseason work. Then playing for the St Cardinals who were taking on the Detroit Tigers, Eckstein actually started out 1 for 11 in the first couple of games.
Then he caught fire. In the final three games, he went 7 for 11 and in Game 4 went 4 for 5 with 3 doubles. For his performance, Eck was named World Series MVP for the Cardinals who defeated the Tigers 4 games to 1.
Honorable Mention: Scott Brosius (1998 WS), Jose Vizcaino (2000 WS), Wayne Garrett (1969 NLCS and 1973 WS)
Who am I missing?