King Of The Sweeps
by Steve Lombardi
A World Series sweep is an exceptional incident. It also stirs either extreme jubilation or great sadness for hometown fans of the participants. For the winning side, the source of utmost delight is obvious—your team excelled while never experiencing the finality of a loss. For fans rooting for the eventual losing team, the pain is numbing—having the still somewhat fresh and resonating joy of the triumphant Pennant chase completely washed over by a tidal wave of their Series opponent's dominance, without striking even a single shot against their foe.
The sensations for players participating in the "sweep" must be very similar to those of their fans. Ignoring teams on the low end of the emotional spectrum, and focusing on the higher end, the next natural question may be: Who has experienced the thrill of the sweep most often? Or, more precisely: Which player has the most appearances in a World Series for a team that has swept?
In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been 17 World Series in which the losing team did not win any games: 1907, 1914, 1922, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1938, 1939, 1950, 1954, 1963, 1966, 1976, 1989, 1990, 1998, and 1999.
Two of these Series were not "pure" sweeps (1907 and 1922) as there were ties in each. (Game One of the 1907 Series was called after 12 innings with the score 3-3, and Game Two of the 1922 Series was called after 10 innings with the score also 3-3—both because of darkness.) Still, for the purposes of this analysis, we'll consider 1907 and 1922 to be sweeps.
Analyzing the boxscores from the various sweeps, it is concluded that 26 players have played on the sweeping (winning) team in more than one World Series. Of these twenty six, only eleven have done the "trick" at least three times. They are: Paul O'Neill ('90 Reds and '98-'99 Yanks), Joe DiMaggio ('38, '39, '50 Yanks), Frank Crosetti, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing (each on the '32, '38 and '39 Yanks), Babe Ruth, Earl Combs, Tony Lazzeri, George Pipgras (each on the '27, '28 and '32 Yanks) and, the "King of Sweeps," Lou Gehrig ('27, '28, '32 and '38 Yanks).
Therefore, Gehrig stands alone as the player who has appeared in the most World Series for a team who has swept with four to his credit.
Of all those with "three," only Paul O'Neill has a chance to tie (or pass) the Iron Horse—since the others in this group are all long since retired.
How about active players in the bigs with a shot? It would most likely have to be someone from both the '98 and '99 Yankees World Championship squads—a player such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, or Andy Pettitte would have a chance. However, the odds are against them.
To date, there have been 95 World Series and only 17 sweeps. This means that approximately one out of every six Series results in a sweep. Therefore, how many sweeps occur in a player's career? Maybe three? And, that's "occurring" which does not imply that the player "participates" in the Series.
Take another approach to the odds: There have been approximately 15,000 men to appear in the big leagues. Of those, only 26 have been on the winning side of a sweep more than once. So, maybe 1 out of every 575 big leaguers take out the broom more than once. And, to date, only 1 out of 15,000 (or so) has done it four times (Gehrig). Not very encouraging odds, indeed.
One last spin: Since 1939, only O'Neill and DiMaggio joined the three-peat club. That's two players in the last 60 years. Of course, there are many other probability inhibitors: More teams, less repeat champions, more player movement, etc.
Perhaps no one will break Gehrig's mark? (Wait a minute, we've heard that one before, haven't we?)
A quick "honorable mention" note before closing: Two other players failed to make the "Three Sweep" club on a technicality. Wilcy Moore and Herb Pennock were both on the 1927 and 1932 Yankees Championship teams that swept and they both played in those two Series. Moore and Pennock were both also members of the 1928 Yankees Championship teams that swept—however, they did not appear in any of the four games of the 1928 World Series.
Lastly, a fun numerological observation: There have been four instances where back-to-back World Series were sweeps (1927-1928, 1938-1939, 1989-1990, and 1998-1999). Notice a common thread? (Other than the fact these are all years in the 1900's.) In each of the four occurrences, one of the years in the couplings contains the number eight (1928, 1938, 1989, and 1998). And, there are eight wins which occur in back-to-back sweeps. What does this mean? Simple, if you analyze something long enough, and look for patterns, you're bound to find a happenstance result which can be rationalized into a surreal and eerie theorem. Nine years from now, if you have a chance to buy Game Five tickets for the 2008 World Series, don't be shy. Grab the ducats and enjoy the game.
Steve Lombardi is a lifelong resident of the American northeast coast and a baseball researcher with almost three decades of experience. In January 1999, he launched NetShrine (www.netshrine.com) which is designed to be an "easy-to-use" and low-tech mechanism for baseball fans to peruse and enjoy. NetShrine provides an accomplished, informative, and entertaining approach to the reporting of our National Pastime.