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Friday Five: Unlucky players

SINGLE-SEASON DOUBLES: DON MATTINGLY (1986), 53 Runner up:

SINGLE-SEASON DOUBLES: DON MATTINGLY (1986), 53
Runner up: Lou Gehrig (1927), 52

Mattingly was a prototype pre-steroid era first baseman: High average, good power, great defense and lots of doubles. He wore out the left-centerfield grass at Yankee Stadium by driving so many of his shots up that alley. Only 25 MLB players have ever hit more doubles in a season than Donnie Baseball in 1986.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill

It's Friday the 13th! Ahhhh!

In honor of this momentous day, let's identify the five least lucky players in the history of...well, "in the history of the game" is probably pushing it. It's more like "The five least lucky players who came to my mind the other night."

1. BILL BUCKNER

 A few years ago, MLB Productions sent me the 1986 World Series on DVD. I recommend it. Shoot, I'd recommend a DVD of Vin Scully reading the horoscopes, and Scully calls the action here with Joe Garagiola.

You know what stood out most to me? Buckner's health is a constant source of discussion among the broadcasters. I mean constant. Multiple times, every game. The guy could barely move, and Scully and Garagiola were all over it.

So much so that, when John McNamara didn't remove Buckner for Dave Stapleton in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6, all sophisticated fans must have wondered what the heck was going on. Buckner, who had been replaced by Stapleton in Games 1, 2 and 5, never should've been in position to infamously let Mookie Wilson's grounder go through his legs.

On top of this injustice, of course, was Game 7. It's amazing how the fact that the Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Mets before blowing it has largely abandoned our consciousness. We just think of Game 6 and Buckner.

History has not been kind to Buckner, for sure. In recent years, he seems to have come to terms with his fate and capitalized financially off of it. He probably makes more money this way than if he were just a guy with 2,715 career hits. But it just isn't right.

2. KENNY LOFTON

Whereas Buckner makes the list for a specific moment, Lofton - "The Wheel," as he liked to be called - makes it for an entire career of October heartbreak. An underrated player, Lofton enjoyed a long run and played in 11 postseasons with six different teams. Pretty, pretty good.

He never won a World Series ring, however, and while he underperformed in the postseason - a .667 OPS in 438 plate appearances, compared to .794 in his 9,234 regular-season plate appearances - he surely can't be blamed for the string of October collapses he witnessed from the wrong side.

Check this out:

--The 1998 Indians blew a 2-1 lead over the Yankees in the ALCS

--The 1999 Indians blew a 2-0 lead over Boston in the ALDS

--The 2001 Indians blew leads of 1-0 and 2-1 over Seattle in the ALDS.

--The 2002 Giants blew leads of 1-0 and 3-2 over the Angels in the World Series.

--The 2003 Cubs blew a 3-1 lead over Florida in the NLCS.

--The 2004 Yankees blew a 3-0 lead over Boston in the ALCS.

--The 2007 Indians blew a 3-1 lead over Boston in the ALCS.

So if you're keeping score at home, that's three series in which his team held a two-game lead, one more series in which his team coughed up a three-game lead - the only series this ever occurred - and two series in which his team took multiple, one-game leads.

Again, it's not like he excelled while everyone else stunk. He has to take some hits, too. But you'd think that, at some point, someone else would've picked up the slack and gotten The Wheel a ring.

3. MARK PRIOR

Lofton was playing centerfield for the Cubs on October 14, 2003 when, with one out, a runner on second and the Cubs up 3-0 (and 3-2 in the NLCS), future beloved New Yorker Luis Castillo sent a flyball to foul territory. You know what happened: Steve Bartman tried to catch it, future robust New Yorker Moises Alou went ballistic and the Cubs - five outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945 - wound up losing the seires to Florida.

It's often forgotten, in the aftermath, that while Prior proceeded to walk Castillo and gave up a run-scoring single to Ivan Rodriguez, he got Miguel Cabrera to hit a grounder to shortstop Alex Gonzalez. It could've been an inning-ending double play. Instead, Gonzalez muffed it, Derrek Lee ripped a game-tying double and Prior was replaced by future clutch New Yorker Kyle Farnsworth, who basically poured gasoline on the game and lit a match.

Prior put up a Cy Young Award-caliber season in 2003, but not since. He could've been known as the guy who pitched the Cubs in the World Series. Instead, he has become the poster boy for pitch counts (check out how much Dusty Baker pushed him in that '03 season). He's currently in the Yankees' system, although he hasn't pitched in a game since April 20 due to a groin pull.
4. DON MATTINGLY

Like Lofton, this is more of a Career Achievement Award than an Individual Moment honor. Think about it: Mattingly put up a good enough career that he has stayed on the Hall of Fame ballot for 11 years (although I don't vote for him), but he was the Yankees' starting first baseman during their biggest title drought of their history, post-1923.

He made his big-league debut in 1982, the year after the Yankees lost in the Fall Classic to the Dodgers, and he retired in 1995, the year before the Yankees returned to the World Series by beating the Braves.

Now, to be fair, Tino Martinez deserves credit for being an upgrade over Mattingly in '96. But still. Given the money George Steinbrenner spent during Mattingly's career, you'd think they could've figured out a way to advance to the finals at least once. Ironically, even though Mattingly didn't have much left in '95, he put up a fantastic ALDS in what turned out to be a heartbreaking Yankees loss - giving Yankees fans one more reason to worship him.

5. IAN KINSLER

Video: Watch Kinsler's World Series double.

He doesn't really reach the epic scale of the other people here. I can't present his case and you make you go, "Awww." But man, did you see how close Kinsler came to hitting a homer in Game 2 of last year's World Series?

When that ball somehow stayed in AT&T Park, and Kinsler wound up stranded at second base, the feeling pervaded that this just wasn't the Rangers' series. The Giants took their first lead of the game in the bottom of the fifth, and it turned out not to be much of a Fall Classic.

--I'll check in later from Yankee Stadium as we kick off the Red Sox-Yankees series.


 

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