World Series Winners
What It Takes to Claim Baseball's Ultimate Prize
By Ross Bernstein
Triumph Books Copyright © 2012 Ross Bernstein
All rights reserved.
What Does It Mean to Be a World Series Champion?
Winning the World Series is the pinnacle of professional baseball success, and when it happens the players really pause and reflect. In this chapter I wanted to find out just what it meant for them to win it all and to finally become a champion. Each player's journey to get to that point in his career is truly unique. For some it happened right away and at multiple times during their career, while for others it came after 10, 15, or even 20 seasons of hard work and determination. When the reality of living out a childhood dream finally comes true, however, the emotion is raw, and the tears begin to flow freely. Some laughed, some cried, and some were just still too numb to feel anything. Yes, it was that profound.
"Beating the San Diego Padres back in '84 with the Tigers, that was very special to me. It was something I'd dreamt about for a long, long time, winning a championship. I will never forget it. Every opportunity that I had, it was incredibly nerve-racking. Knowing that all of those millions of people were watching both in the United States as well as in my home country, Panama, it was incredible. Every game was so close, and I just wanted to do my part to help my team win. Then, to win it again just three years later in Minnesota, that was so exciting. I got there in '87, and we won it that season. What a thrill that was. We had some great pitchers on that staff too, who really helped me along, guys like Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven. Everybody worked so hard that year, and we all came together as a team. We had great players and a great manager in Tom Kelly. He deserves a lot of credit for our success that year, no question. That Metrodome was so loud that year and fans were so supportive. It was amazing, just amazing. Holding that trophy and kissing it, and then the parade, wow, what great memories."
P, Tigers, 1984; Twins, 1987
"It was an incredible thrill to win it. I will never forget the exulted feeling of accomplishment right after we had beaten the Cardinals for that final out. Winning it is the pinnacle of success in this sport. It's such a long season versus other sports. It's a real grind, so to win it after such a long period of time is really a gratifying and satisfying feeling. You go through lots of ups and downs along the way, but when you finally get there, it's almost indescribable. I had never even dreamed of playing in the World Series. It was too large of an event to even fathom. So to not only play in it but to also win it, it was extremely profound — almost life changing for me. In fact, I would say that it was very impactful in forming my life going forward."
SS, Royals, 1985
"Well, this is your dream. It starts out when you're a kid playing Wiffle ball in the backyard when you sign a professional contract. Players talk about winning awards sometimes, whether Cy Youngs or MVPs, but they always deflect that to, 'I want to win the World Series.' That's what the game is about, being in this moment right now. So I'm living a dream. ... I was numb at first, because you understand how hard this is to do. As long as I've been fortunate to be in this game, you dream about this. And last night I didn't sleep, to be honest. I was thinking about it. You're on the verge and you know how close you are, and you put this on such a pinnacle that you get butterflies, as you mentioned earlier. I'm sure the players were thinking about it. But it makes everything worthwhile, whatever you do when you get to this point. It's a lot of hard work....
I've been fortunate to be in this game and manage for quite a while and have never been to this point. It's what you dream about, and the last Series didn't go well. I was just hoping to get one more chance at this. You know, it's a euphoric feeling that's so hard to describe. For us to win for our fans, it's never been done there and with all those great teams. And what was neat through all this is Willie McCovey and Willie Mays, Will Clark, J.T. Snow, Shawon Dunston, all those guys that played on World Series teams, they were in the clubhouse. They were pulling for these guys. They wanted them to win, and the players felt that along with the fans. Oh, I couldn't be happier for them. They helped us get here. Their energy, enthusiasm down the stretch, in the playoffs, it's been crazy, in the ballpark, around the city. I know how bad they wanted it. The players, they wanted it as bad for the fans as themselves because they know how long it's been."
Manager, Giants, 2010
"For a baseball player it's the ultimate dream come true. That's why you play the game at the highest level. To experience something so profound as a member of a team that all went through it together, that makes it even more special. You get to share it not only with your teammates but also with your manager, your coaching staff, the organization, and even the fans. I was fortunate to have won two of them and think of them often. In fact, I have my two replica Commissioner's Trophies sitting right over my TV, so I see them all the time and they remind me about two of the most amazing years of my life. So many wonderful memories."
P, Pirates, 1979; Twins, 1987
"It had been 10 years since I had been back to the World Series, so I was completely focused on getting the job done this time. I couldn't help but think of the '94 season too, which was the best Yankee team I played on. We were dominant that season. Unfortunately we had the strike that year, though, and the season got canceled in August. That threw a big monkey wrench into our entire season, no kidding. I'm convinced we would have won it that year. We were just that good. So I knew that I might not have many more opportunities and really wanted to get that ring. Losing to the Mets in 1986 was so tough, and I certainly didn't want to go through an experience like that again. Believe it or not, this go-round was actually kind of relaxing. I remember giving a speech in the back of the plane on the way to Atlanta after losing Games 1 and 2 to the Braves in New York. I could see that a lot of the players were feeling the pressure. Well, I had been in that position Atlanta was in, being two up, and I told the guys that the Braves were probably a little overconfident. I think it put the guys at ease, to be honest. So we went into Atlanta with sort of a chip on our shoulder and wound up winning three straight down there to regain the lead. When we got back to New York for Game 6, our confidence was sky high. I will never forget when Joe Girardi hit the triple late in the game to seal it for us. The house almost came down. What a thrill when that final out came. I'll never forget it. Your whole career sort of flashes before your eyes at that moment; it's kind of surreal. What a rewarding moment, something I will never forget, that's for sure. Then to be a part of that ticker tape parade, that was the greatest spectacle I've ever seen. That's New York. No other city can top that."
3B, Yankees, 1996
"I think it's every player's dream to get to the World Series and feel like you've played a part of the team getting there and the team winning. So there's certainly some satisfaction in how this has worked out, but I also just feel very lucky to be in this position, how things have changed from last year, it's just an unbelievable turnaround. ... I always knew what the Yankee fans were like as a visitor, but I gained more respect with the fans here. If you could truly win a championship for a city to appreciate and enjoy, it's there in New York. And there's no better place to win it all. ... I think just the biggest moment is that third out, throwing the ball and knowing it's going to end the game and end the season. There's nothing better than coming up and seeing the players' eyes and that sense of achievement and accomplishment and excitement. It was just a great scene."
3B, Yankees, 1998
"I'm blessed to be a part of it. To come in here [in my] first year, I think the veterans that have been here, I thank [Jorge] Posada and Jeter and [Andy Pettitte] and [Mariano Rivera], and all these guys, for bringing us new cats under their wings and showing us the way of New York."
P, Yankees, 2009
"This is what everybody said it was all about, and I think I now finally know what it feels like to be a Yankee. And I remember a talk that Skip [Joe Torre] and I had in Seattle. He called me in his office and said, 'You kind of need to be yourself and just let loose.' I think all year, even when I walked into spring training, I just wanted to kind of fit in with these guys. I definitely wanted to fit in, given their situation. I appreciate the opportunity Mr. Steinbrenner gave me in getting together, getting me over here, whatever it took to get me over here. I just knew we could do it with this team. These guys from day one, I said it before, even after they were presented their championship rings on the field, they walked in the clubhouse — I was sitting there watching them on TV receive them — they said, 'We're going to get you one.' Every one of them told me the same thing tonight."
P, Yankees, 1999
"It took me a long time to get to the major leagues. In fact, the title of my book is called The 33-Year-Old Rookie. I spent 13 years in the minors before getting my chance. There were a lot of times when I didn't think I was ever going to get there, but I hung in there and kept paying my dues. Eventually my opportunity came, and I was determined to make the most of it. When I finally got my call-up, every single game I played in felt like the World Series. So when I actually got to the World Series, oddly, I actually felt extremely prepared. Not relaxed — I was nervous — but prepared. People oftentimes ask me what it felt like to win the World Series. The only way I could possibly describe it is to say, 'Imagine you woke up one morning and you found out you won the lottery.' It's a feeling of disbelief, like there's no way this could be happening to me. It's too good to be true. All of those emotions come screaming out. It's crazy. The celebration afterward on the field and then in the clubhouse with all the champagne, followed by the parade — it's a nonstop party that you just don't want to ever end. The best way for me to describe it is that it's the most extreme positive emotion that any human being can experience."
C, Phillies, 2008
"It feels unbelievable, something I never will forget. It's been a long time since they've been in the World Series and won. So it means a lot, not only to us in the clubhouse but to the organization, to the fans, to the city, and it's just a great feeling. We're just happy to be able to bring a championship to the city of Chicago. It's really special."
OF, White Sox, 2005
"It's unreal. When you suit up in spring training, your main goal is to win a world championship. That's all you play for. I remember last year losing here and just feeling so pretty much out of it because you worked so hard to accomplish something. Now being able to accomplish it, it's unreal. Just a dream come true. And all the little things that you do to get to this situation are well worth it to be able to hold up the championship trophy and come next year put on the ring....
As for the MVP, it's a great honor, but I feel like I was just trying to do what I usually do. I just got very fortunate. I found some holes. But this club is unbelievable. I think one of the main contributors to this club was Yadi Molina. Yadi did such a great job behind the plate controlling the pitchers, calling the games. And then coming up so big with his bat. I feel like he definitely could [have won it too], along with the rest of the guys. Just stuff like that, just the team coming together and playing within themselves and trying to find a way to help the club win."
2B, Cardinals, 2006
"In a word, it was unbelievable. It's almost hard to explain it because it's such a profound moment. I will never forget that last out in Game 7 against Cleveland in the World Series. It was the best play of my life. We were in extra innings at that point, in the bottom of the eleventh inning, and the bases were loaded with two outs. I was on second base at the time, and Edgar Rentería wound up getting the game-winning hit. The celebration started a few seconds after he hit the ball, and everything from that moment on is just a blur. We were in Miami when we clinched, and our fans went crazy. We stayed on the field after the game for a good hour, just walking around with our families and enjoying the moment with the fans. I don't think we left the clubhouse until around 5 o'clock in the morning. What a party that was, just incredible. We just sat around telling stories, talking about the season, enjoying the moment.
You know, ever since I started playing this game, winning the World Series had always been the ultimate goal. So to be a part of that, it was just an incredible moment and something I will never forget. It was certainly the pinnacle of my career, without a doubt. You play all your life and you finally make it to the big leagues. Then, you play and you work hard and you put in the time and effort, but in the end you never really know if you're going to get that opportunity. It's a team game, and you have to be lucky enough to be on in the right situation at the right time. Fortunately, this was my year, and we were able to get the job done."
OF, Marlins, 1997
"The thing I will treasure the most from winning the World Series was seeing that joy and emotion in my teammates' eyes when we got to the top of that mountain together. Seeing their excitement and satisfaction, that's what it was all about for me. And it was tough to see at times too, with all the champagne burning in my eyes in the locker room after we won it. That's the greatest feeling that you can have in sports, that burning sensation. I would never, ever wear goggles like some guys do. No way. They're missing out on the best part — the burn. That's the highlight for me, to see my teammates' eyes through that haze of champagne and just cherish the moment. That was the best burn of my life!"
OF, Angels, 2002
"It meant a lot to me because it happened late in my career at a time when I wasn't sure if it would ever happen. I'd been on the losing side of it in '81 with the Yankees, and then I was on the '84 Cubs team that was up 2–0 only to lose three straight to San Diego. We thought for sure we were going to break that curse that year, but we couldn't get it done. As you get older you start to look around, and you realize just how many great ballplayers never won one, guys like Nolan Ryan. The crowning moment is when you get to put that ring on your finger. You can read the headlines and see all the accolades and all of that, but until you put that World Series champion ring on — it doesn't really set in. When you look down and see that big thing on your hand, though, that's when it really hits you. It's at that moment when you realize what you have accomplished. They can take your clothes, your house, your cars, and everything else from you — but they can't take that championship. It's there forever. I retired after that season as a champion. I figured it couldn't get any better than that, so I decided to go out on top."
P, Twins, 1987
"I've had plenty of days of my life where I thought I wouldn't be even close to being a big-leaguer. I'm here because of everybody around me. They've put so much trust in me to accomplish not only baseball but just stuff in life, and to do this is — I'm just full of joy, finally. ... I've tried to soak in this whole postseason as much as I can because you never know if it's your last attempt at a title. You know, it's going to take me a little bit, I think, to realize what we've accomplished. And the funny thing is, if we go down tonight and we're NL champs, we still did a ton that nobody thought that we could accomplish. And then just to win it is an incredible feeling."
David Freese (Continues...)
3B, Cardinals, 2011
Excerpted from World Series Winners by Ross Bernstein. Copyright © 2012 Ross Bernstein. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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