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Be Like Ernie
Tom Verducci
September 25, 1995
Maybe not. After all, the exemplary Ernie Banks, like many big-name players today, never saw the light of postseason play
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September 25, 1995

Be Like Ernie

Maybe not. After all, the exemplary Ernie Banks, like many big-name players today, never saw the light of postseason play

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Idle in October
Here are some of the most frustrated men ever to play baseball, based on the fact that they have never advanced to the postseason. The most deprived position players are ranked by major league games played through Sunday, and the pitchers are listed by career wins.

Alltime Leaders in Games

Ernie Banks, 1953-71


Luke Appling, 1930-50


Mickey Vernon, 1939-60


Buddy Bell, 1972-89


Ron Santo, 1960-74


Joe Torre, 1960-77


Toby Harrah, 1969-86


Harry Heilmann, 1914-32


Eddie Yost, 1944-62


Roy McMillan, 1951-66


Alltime Leaders in Wins

Ferguson Jenkins, 1965-83


Ted Lyons, 1923-46


Jim Bunning, 1955-71


Mel Harder, 1928-47


Hooks Dauss, 1912-26


Wilbur Cooper, 1912-26


Larry Jackson, 1955-68


Dutch Leonard, 1933-53


Bill Doak, 1912-29


Mark Langston, 1984-present


Active Leaders in Games

Don Mattingly, Yankees


Mickey Tettleton, Rangers


Andres Galarraga, Rockies


Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles


Joe Orsulak, Mets


Danny Tartabull, A's


Kevin Seitzer, Brewers


Dave Martinez, White Sox


Benito Santiago, Reds


B.J. Surhoff, Brewers


Active Leaders in Wins

Mark Langston, Angels


Mike Morgan, Cardinals


Greg Swindell, Astros


Randy Johnson, Manners


Chris Bosio, Mariners


Ramon Martinez, Dodgers


Kevin Brown, Orioles


Bob Tewksbury, Rangers


Mark Portugal, Reds


Bill Wegman, Brewers


Source: Ettas Spoils Bureau

For all the places the winds of baseball have blown pitcher Mike Morgan—14 professional teams with eight organizations over 17 years—never have they carried him deep into October. His tumbleweed life in the majors has not included a trip to the postseason. No active player has endured a longer playoff drought than Morgan, who debuted with the Oakland A's in 1978 as an 18-year-old right out of high school and now toils for the fourth-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.

Then again, no active player has played in more games without getting to the postseason than New York Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly, who is both the Ernie Banks and the Horace Clarke of his generation. His melodramatic odyssey has lasted so long (1,773 games at week's end, chart page 38) that he has succeeded Corey Pavin as holder of the dread title Best Current Player Never to Have Won a Major. Likewise, no presently employed pitcher has won more games (166) or thrown more innings (2,629) without playing on a title-winning team than Mark Langston of the California Angels. "Donnie blames it all on me," says Langston. "He says if I had signed with the Yankees [as a free agent after the 1989 season], both of us would have been in by now."

Worse, Langston, who's in his 12th big league season, did not play on a team that finished with a winning record in any of his first 11 seasons, a streak exceeded only by Bruce Bochte and Dan Meyer, whose 12-year famines began in 1974. "It's embarrassing, that's what it is," Langston said early last week. "I've been saving a bottle of champagne at home. When we win our 73rd game [guaranteeing the Angels a winning record in this 144-game season], I'm going to pop it open. You can bet I'll be loud in the clubhouse, too, after that win. Everybody else might be wondering what for, but believe me, I'm celebrating."

Morgan, Mattingly and Langston are the preeminent contestants in baseball's crudest pageant. You've heard of Mr. October? Every year these guys miss October. "Every year I watch on TV when guys jump on each other after winning the World Series," says Langston. "And just sitting there watching I get goose bumps on my arms. That's what it's all about."

Through Sunday, with two weeks left in the 1995 season, Langston, 35, seemed likely to reach the playoffs, even though California (72-60 and leading the American League West by three games over the Seattle Mariners) was staggering to the finish line with 16 losses in its last 21 games. Mattingly, 34, had a shot at getting there, too, as a member of the first American League wild-card team; the Yankees trailed the Mariners by one game in the race for the final playoff berth. Morgan, 35, was planning to hunt and fish, as usual, in Utah. "If I'm not in a tent somewhere, I'll watch it," he said of another postseason he'll spend vicariously.

The playoffs are like the talk-show business—they were once reserved for an elite few, but now almost anybody can get in. Consider all American Leaguers whose careers fell within the 18 years after 1946: Unless they were Yankees, those players had only three tiny windows of opportunity to play in the postseason: with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and '54 and with the Chicago White Sox in '59.

Now consider the past 18 seasons: Every American League team made it to the postseason dance except the Mariners, the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers. The Indians have already clinched the 1995 American League Central title, and at week's end the Mariners and the Rangers were in the thick of the wild-card chase.

The door to the postseason was pushed open with the start of divisional play in 1969, but that didn't help Banks, whose Chicago Cubs didn't make the playoffs until 1984—13 years after he retired. No one has ever played more games without appearing in the postseason than Mr. Cub (2,528, from 1953 through '71). And no pitcher ever won more games without getting there than one of his teammates, Ferguson Jenkins, who rang up 167 of his 284 career wins in two stints with Chicago (1966-73 and 1982-83).

This year, with the wild-card system being implemented for the first time, the door was thrown wide open. Eight teams—fully 200 players—will come rushing through, trampling the red velvet ropes of tradition. "The wild card is something to get more of the fans involved," says Florida Marlin outfielder Gary Sheffield, who is finishing his eighth year without postseason play. "I'm for the wild card, to give everybody a chance and add more excitement to baseball. But the guys who win their divisions are more deserving."

Even in its diluted form, the postseason remains elusive for some. For instance, while Steve Avery of the Atlanta Braves, who turned 25 in April, will soon be pitching in his fourth postseason, New York Met closer John Franco, 35, will remain the active pitcher who has appeared in the most games (657 through Sunday) without reaching the postseason. After finishing in second place with the Cincinnati Reds for four straight years, from 1985 to '88, Franco was traded to the Mets following the 1989 season. The next year the Reds won the World Series. Says Franco, "You start to think, What am I, jinxed? Maybe I'm the jinx."

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