The “Bash Brothers” really were the “Choke Brothers,” in the 1988 and 1990 World Series.
World Series games are the most important games of all. The 1972-74 Oakland A’s beat a highly favored Cincinnati Reds team in 1972, beat a gritty, gutsy dangerous New York Mets team in 1973, and easily beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974.
The 1988-90 A’s lost to an underdog Dodgers team in 1988 in one of the great World Series upsets. They beat the San Francisco Giants, a pitching-challenged team in 1989, and then lost to the underdog Reds in 1990.
Dynasties don’t lose two out of three World Championships.
During the 1988 regular season, Jose Canseco became the first player to hit at least 40 home runs and steal at least 40 bases. He hit .307/.391/.569 with 42 home runs and 124 RBIs.
In the World Series, against the Dodgers pitching staff, led by Orel Hershiser, Canseco batted .053/.182/.211 with one home run, which was his only hit in 19 at bats, and five RBIs.
Mark McGwire, who had been Rookie of the Year in 1987 when he hit 49 home runs and followed that with 32 home runs in 1988, had one hit, a home run, in 17 at bats for a .059 average. He had a .200 on base average and slugged .235.
The A’s managed to win only the third game of the five game World Series.
In 1990, the Cincinnati Reds, led by manager Lou Piniella, swept the A’s. What an ignominious development for the defending World Champions that had swept the San Francisco Giants in 1989.
Canseco batted .083/.214/.333 with one home run and two RBIs. McGwire was a “success” compared to his “Bash Brother,” hitting .214/.313/.214, but upon closer examination, all three of McGwire’s hits were singles.
Jose Canseco appeared in four World Series (1988-90 with the A’s and 2000 with the New York Yankees). He hit .152 with three home runs.
McGwire appeared in three World Series, batting .188 with one home run and incredibly, two RBIs.
Canseco and McGwire were losers. Both used performance enhancing substances that helped each produce some of the best seasons of all time, but it is obvious that nothing can enhance a player’s heart and desire.
The 1988 Dodgers were an offensively challenged team, but Mickey Hatcher managed to hit .368 and the Los Angeles pitching staff held the highly touted A’s offense to a .203 batting average and 11 runs. The Dodgers players had the heart and desire that Canseco and McGwire lacked.
In 1990, Jose Rijo, the Yankees answer to Dwight Gooden, won the first and fourth games of the World Series, allowing the A’s a single run.
Canseco and McGwire are not alone. Many players, some great and some not so great, have performed poorly in the World Series.
Ted Williams, the greatest left fielder of all, batted only .200 in the 1946 World Series. He never had a chance to make amends.
Gil Hodges didn’t get a hit in 21 at bats against the Yankees in the 1952 World Series, but he hit .318 in his other Series appearances (1947, 1949,1953,1955-56, and 1959).
Orlando Cepeda, the unanimous choice for MVP in 1967, had a horrible World Series against the Boston Red Sox, batting only .103.
In earlier days, catcher Billy Sullivan (21 at bats) in 1906 and Wally Berger (15 at bats) in 1939 went hitless. More recently, Rafael Belliard went hitless in 16 at bats in 1995 and Pat Burrell went hitless in 13 at bats in the 2010 Series.
Canseco and McGwire might have been viewed as great players, but their legacies have been tainted. We will never know if they had the help of performance enhancing substances in the 1988 and 1990 World Series, but even if they were clean, the perception is that each had help that allowed them to accomplish their achievements.
We all know how reality fares compared to perception.
Neither Canseco nor McGwire will ever be voted into the Hall of Fame.