5 players you won't believe were World Series MVPs

Profile Picture: Ashley Anderson

October 19th, 2020

Predicting which individual will collect the World Series Most Valuable Player Award is often more challenging than guessing the Super Bowl or NBA Finals MVP.

Unlike basketball and football, it is far more common for lesser-known names to emerge on baseball's biggest stage and become immortalized by unexpected, game-changing performances.

With the 2020 World Series, between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers, set to begin Tuesday, let’s look back at five players you may be surprised won the World Series MVP. 

5. Steve Pearce, 2018, Boston Red Sox

During his 13-year career, journeyman Steve Pearce had a .254 batting average, hit 91 home runs, and tallied 303 RBIs — hardly historic numbers.

But in the 2018 World Series, the first baseman carved out a slice of history on a Red Sox team that featured Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.

In Game 4, Pearce hit a game-tying home run in the top of the eighth inning. Then, in the ninth, he knocked in three runs with a double to put the game out of reach and hand Boston a 3-1 series lead.

The next game, Pearce hit a two-run homer in the first, off Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw. He homered again in the eighth, as the Red Sox clinched the World Series title with a 5-1 victory.

Pearce joined Boston via trade in June and became the second player acquired midseason to win World Series MVP. He is also the second major leaguer to play for every team in the American League East, and completed one full season with Boston (2019), before he retired.

4. Don Larsen, 1956, New York Yankees

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was commonplace to see a pitcher named World Series MVP. Nonetheless, in 1956, you probably would never have guessed Yankees pitcher Don Larsen would earn the honor.

In Game 2 against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Larsen was pulled in the second inning, after he allowed four earned runs in an eventual 13-8 loss.

Manager Casey Stengel probably didn't feel confident starting Larsen again in Game 5, but the result turned out better than anyone could have imagined.

With the series tied 2-2, Larsen pitched the only perfect game and no-hitter in World Series history.

He was named MVP after the Yankees’ win in Game 7 and won another World Series with the team in 1958.

From 1960 to his retirement in 1967, Larsen played for six more franchises and finished his career with a losing record (81-91) and a 3.78 ERA.

3. Pat Borders, 1992, Toronto Blue Jays

With Roberto Alomar and Dave Winfield just a few of the big names on the Toronto Blue Jays roster in 1992, Pat Borders hardly attracted the spotlight.

Borders hit .242 in 480 at-bats during the regular season, but under the greatest pressure of the World Series, his production skyrocketed against the Atlanta Braves.

While the rest of his team struggled against Atlanta's pitching, Borders batted .450, with a home run, three doubles, three RBIs, and a team-leading nine hits.

He won another World Series in 1993, with a less impressive performance, then left for the Kansas City Royals in 1995.

Over the next decade, he signed with nine different teams, including the Mariners twice, and never played more than 55 games in a season.

2. Rick Dempsey, 1983, Baltimore Orioles

Another journeyman to steal World Series MVP, Rick Dempsey landed on the Orioles in 1976, after brief tenures with the Twins and Yankees, where he saw limited action.

By the 1983 season, he was a regular starter and played alongside Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Jim Palmer.

Dempsey hit .231 with four home runs over 400 plate appearances during the regular season. He got worse in the ALCS, when he batted .167 against the White Sox.

For whatever reason, the World Series is where Dempsey found his stride. His batting average jumped to .385, and of his five hits, four were doubles and one was a home run.

His most crucial moment came in the seventh inning of Game 3, when the Phillies led 2-1 with the series tied. With one out to go, Dempsey hit a double deep into left center, which prompted a two-run rally.

The Orioles won the game, then the next two to seal the series.

1. Bobby Richardson, 1960, New York Yankees

Unlike the players above, Bobby Richardson spent his entire career with one team and was named an All-Star eight times.

Despite that, Richardson is the most unlikely World Series MVP, because of who his teammates were and the outcome of the 1960 Fall Classic.

Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Yogi Berra headlined the 1960 Bronx Bombers, who faced Roberto Clemente, Dick Groat, and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.

Richardson wasn't expected to do much, after he batted a mere .252, with one home run and 26 RBIs, in the regular season. But he shined in the World Series, with a .367 batting average, 11 hits, and a team-leading 12 RBIs.

Mantle hit .400. with three home runs and 11 RBIs, which still wasn’t good enough for World Series MVP.

Richardson’s most memorable highlight came in the first inning of Game 3, when he failed a bunt attempt, then swung away for a grand slam. By the end of that game, Richardson tallied six RBIs, a still-standing record for one game in the World Series.  

The wildest part of Richardson’s MVP is that New York lost the series in seven games. Richardson is the only player to win World Series MVP for the losing team.