Since 2007, one World Series tradition has captivated more of America than anything else. Is it the presentation of the MVP trophy? Nope. Is it the greatest players shining on the biggest stage of them all? Not that. America has been fascinated with one thing, and one thing only-- a free taco.
Every year since 2007 (with a few missed seasons in the early 2010s), the MLB has partnered with Taco Bell for the "Steal a Base, Steal a Taco" promotion, which, when a player steals a base for the first time in the World Series, every person in America is rewarded with a free Doritos Locos Tacos from Taco Bell.
I am a huge baseball fan before anything else, but I find myself rooting on someone to steal a base right away every World Series. As I traveled to the closest Taco Bell with one of my friends earlier today and claimed my free taco thanks to Mookie Betts, a time-honored tradition, it's time to acknowledge those Taco Heroes who have come before us, and some interesting stats to go along with it.
2007- Boston Red Sox vs. Colorado Rockies: Jacoby Ellsbury
The first year of the promotion was in 2007, and Jacoby Ellsbury claims the honor of being the first-ever Taco Hero. Stealing off Ubaldo Jimenez and Yorvit Torrealba in Game 2 of that Fall Classic, Ellsbury earned America a free taco, and more importantly, won a ring, slashing .438/.500/.688 in the series with three RBIs.
Ellsbury has probably had the most interesting peak of any player on this list. 2007 was his first season in the Big Leagues, and in a 33-game stint at the Major League level that season, he hit .353 and stole nine bases without being caught stealing. To date, he is the only rookie to ever claim the honor of Taco Hero.
In seven years in Boston, Ellsbury cemented himself as a star, but his 2011 season came nearly out of nowhere. He stole 129 bases in his first three seasons in the MLB as well, so it was not out of the question for him to be the Taco Hero. In 2011, he exploded, hitting 32 home runs and 105 RBI, batting .321 and stealing 39 bases, claiming the only All-Star appearance of his career. He would never reach that production level or anywhere close to it again.
Ellsbury won another ring in 2013 and joined the team's biggest rival in the Yankees in 2014, where he became a shell of his former self after signing a contract. He virtually disappeared off the face of the earth after 2017, and I don't think anyone has heard from him since, but he can always claim the title of the MLB's first Taco Hero.
2008- Philadelphia Phillies vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Jason Bartlett
The most obscure player to be the Taco Hero is definitely Jason Bartlett, and if you were a fan in the late 2000's you may or may not have known who Bartlett was. He had a pretty pedestrian career up to that point. 2008 was his first season in Florida, and his best statistically to date. In the first game of the 2008 Fall Classic, he stole off Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz to become the second Taco Hero in history. Bartlett did not come out of the series with any more hardware, batting just .214 against the Phillies who won in five games, with Bartlett getting thrown out at home at a crucial juncture of the final game as well.
Bartlett was a member of the Minnesota Twins from 2004-07, where he was the everyday shortstop starting in 2006. He was traded with Matt Garza to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young which really helped his career take off. 2009 was the only All-Star appearance of his career. He batted .320 with 14 home runs and 66 RBI, which all were career-highs. After that year, he never reached that production, playing in San Diego and ending his MLB days in 2014 with the Twins, but will live on forever as a Taco Hero.
The MLB suspended the promotion for a few years but brought it back for the World Series in 2012. Here's who the Taco Hero would have been in 2009-2011:
2009- Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Yankees: Jimmy Rollins
2010- Texas Rangers vs. San Francisco Giants: Elvis Andrus
2011- Texas Rangers vs. St. Louis Cardinals: Ian Kinsler
2012- San Francisco Giants vs. Detroit Tigers: Angel Pagan
The promotion was brought back for 2012, and Mets legend Angel Pagan took second off Drew Smyly and Gerald Laird in Game 2 of the World Series, becoming the first National League Taco Hero, and the only NL one until 2019. Pagan left this series with a ring as well, despite batting just .125 in the series.
Pagan had spent time with the Cubs from 2006-07, but it was joining the Mets that made him become one of the most underrated players in the league. He played there from 2008-11, stringing together four good seasons before joining the Giants, where he would blossom during his prime and earn two rings, one that he was playing for, as he was injured in 2014. He stayed in the Bay Area until 2016 when no team signed him after being a free agent. He was the first member of the National League Taco Hero club and has since been joined by two others in the last two years.
The MLB stopped the promotion for another three years before bringing it back in 2015 for good. Here is who would have been the Taco Hero from 2013-14:
2013- St. Louis Cardinals vs. Boston Red Sox: Jon Jay/Pete Kozma (double steal)
2014- San Francisco Giants vs. Kansas City Royals: Gregor Blanco
2015- Kansas City Royals vs. New York Mets: Lorenzo Cain
Let me go on the record and say this is the only World Series I did not care about the taco promotion. Not only because I was rooting for the Mets to win, but also because the MLB decided that it would be a good idea to give everyone an AM Crunchwrap instead of a taco in 2015. "Crunchwrap Hero" just doesn't roll off the tongue as Taco Hero does. I'm glad it only lasted one year.
Lorenzo Cain wasted no time in stealing the first base of the '15 World Series, victimizing Matt Harvey and Travis d'Arnaud in Game One, earning everyone the AM Crunchwrap they were definitely looking forward to. Cain batted .227 in the series en route to his first-ever championship.
Cain played two more strong years in Kansas City before getting paid by Milwaukee, where he has earned his first well-deserved Gold Glove and an All-Star appearance for the first time since 2015.
2016- Cleveland Indians vs. Chicago Cubs: Francisco Lindor
MLB returned to giving out a free taco, this time a Doritos Locos Tacos, in 2016, and the promotion really gained popularity in 2016. Francisco Lindor was this season's Taco Hero, swiping second in Game 1 off Jon Lester and Cubs manager David Ross (who was catching at the time). While Lindor batted a cool .296 in the seven-game series, it was the Cubs who would walk out with a championship, "stealing" it right out of the grasp of the Indians, who led 3-1.
Lindor is one of the premier young stars in the game and is so much fun to watch. While he could be the face of the Cleveland Indians, lately, it seems that the Indians do not want that. In his short career, he has accrued 28.4 WAR, including batting .285 with 138 home runs. He is an incredible player and shortstop as well.
2017- Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: Cameron Maybin
Cameron Maybin, who had recently been traded to Houston before the playoffs, was the Taco Hero in 2017, stealing second off Yasmani Grandal and Brandon McCarthy in Game 2 during the 11th inning. He walked out with a ring and the Taco Hero honor, going 1-3 in the series.
Maybin, once a star-studded prospect, has bounced around on nine different teams since he left San Diego in 2015, most recently playing for the Cubs this season. He used to be one of the most exciting players, but now has become a veteran leader on whatever team he joins, and has that ring from 2017.
2018- Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: Mookie Betts (1)
Betts earned the first of his two Taco Hero honors and the first of his two rings by stealing off Austin Barnes and Clayton Kershaw in Game 1. Betts, despite batting .217 in the series with a home run, Mookie still was a big part of the team this series, and apparently loves to give America free tacos, I will touch more on that in the 2020 segment.
2019- Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros: Trea Turner
It was no surprise that this year's Taco Hero was Trea Turner, one of the speediest players in the league. He got America free tacos, and also got a ring in the series, stealing off Gerrit Cole and Martin Maldonado, despite batting .161 in the series he won a ring. He became the first NL Taco Hero since Angel Pagan in 2012.
Turner is one of the most exciting players in the game, as he is a great hitter and can burn pitchers on the basepaths by stealing almost at will, recording 171 steals in just five seasons in the league. He led the MLB with 78 hits this season and continues to be a solid player for the Nationals.
2020- Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Mookie Betts (2)
Mookie Betts made history with his steal off Tyler Glasnow and Mike Zunino in Game 1 of this year's series. He became not only the first-ever two-time Taco Hero, but the first player to do so in both leagues. Mookie must really like tacos because he was stealing almost immediately in Game 1. God bless Mookie Betts.
Mookie signed a long-term extension with the Dodgers to remain in California for years to come. As one of the league's best players, he deserved every penny. This season and postseason proved why Mookie Betts is one of the best players in the league. A career that has 2 World Series, an MVP, 4 Gold Gloves, 4 All-Star Games, and a Batting Title is something everyone would dream of having, and Mookie has all those honors.
A few interesting stats to highlight about the Taco Heroes. The first is something I mentioned before, and that is that the Taco Hero has resided in the AL more than the NL.
AL: 6 (Ellsbury, Bartlett, Cain, Lindor, Maybin, Betts)
NL: 3 (Pagan, Turner, Betts)
Another interesting stat is that winning the Taco Hero mostly leads to winning the World Series. All-time, Taco Heroes are 7-2 in the World Series, with Jason Bartlett and Francisco Lindor being the only losses.
As a whole, Taco Heroes have batted .241 with 3 home runs and 15 RBIs in World Series play (with all home runs coming from Mookie Betts, surprisingly). No Taco Hero has ever claimed World Series MVP honors, even though they are the MVP for everyone in America that they earn a free taco for.
The World Series holds many traditions and achievements inside of it and ultimately is the best baseball on the biggest stage. However, people look forward to their free tacos every year with a simple steal of a base, and I hope it's a promotion that stays in baseball for years to come.