On November 1, in the ninth inning of Game Five of the World Series at Chase Field in Phoenix, former Cal standout Marcus Semien planted an Arizona fastball deep into the left field bleachers for a two-run homer, sealing a 5-0 win and a series clincher for the Texas Rangers.
It was the Rangers’ first-ever World Series title, and the team’s surprise success was largely due to the hitting and double play combination of Semien and shortstop Corey Seager, the series’ MVP.
“How great is that, winning the World Series title as a star second baseman, and hitting such a key home run to seal the series.” exclaimed David Esquer, who was Semien’s coach at Cal in 2011, when the Bears baseball team learned it would be playing its last season, ever.
In September, 2010, while Cal baseball was in the middle of Fall practice, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour announced that the Cal Baseball program, along with four other Cal sports teams, would be cut from the roster for budgetary reasons.
As it happened, it wasn’t Cal baseball’s last season; the team and donors rallied to save it. It was, however, the last time the Bears made it to the College World Series.
Semien now joins Cal legend Jackie Jensen and shortstop Geoff Blum as Bears who helped Cal to the College World Series, then became world champions in the big leagues—Jensen with the 1950 Yankees, Blum with the 2005 White Sox.
However, no other Cal player has been as instrumental to his team’s World Series success. Semien led off the Rangers’ batting order and played in every single game of the season, breaking the Major League record with 835 plate appearances.
He is nevertheless modest about his role. “The ring comes from having a complete team. We played great defense all year…had veteran starting pitching, and we came through when it mattered the most.”
Semien, whose father Damien played wide receiver on the Cal football team that won the 1992 Citrus Bowl, didn’t vault directly to stardom. Coming out of Cal he was originally drafted in the sixth round by the Chicago White Sox, before being called up to the Major Leagues in 2013. He then played in Chicago for two seasons before returning home to join the Oakland Athletics, where he played shortstop and helped the A’s to three postseason appearances in his last three seasons (2018-20) with the club.
Semien then became a free agent and signed with Toronto, playing a single season for the Blue Jays, before landing in Texas, where he signed a stunning seven-year, $175-million contract.
He has played like he’s worth it. The World Series ring complements Semien’s two All-Star selections, in 2021 and 2023, as well as a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award in 2021.
But even the best sometimes struggle, as did Semien at the plate in the first three games of the World Series before rallying in the final two contests. In Game Four versus Arizona, he had a triple and a home run with five RBI.
“You just knew Marcus was going to eventually hit in the World Series, it was just a matter of time,” says MLB commentator Harold Reynolds, himself a former Major League All-Star. “And sure enough, he did in the last two games.”
Reynolds insists it’s Semien’s character that makes him so valuable. “When Texas signed Marcus, it was to change the team’s culture…show the younger players how to play the game.”
Seemingly everyone who talks about Marcus Semien mentions his calm demeanor. And it was that attribute that helped him and the Bears navigate that tumultuous 2011 season, when Esquer’s squad, having won a new lease on life (Cal baseball was reinstated late in the season), battled through the loser bracket to take on Baylor for the NCAA Regional title in Houston.
In that game, Cal fought back from a 7-1 deficit. In the ninth inning, Semien came up to bat with the bases loaded, one out, and a chance to either tie the game with a sacrifice fly or win the contest with a base hit. Unfortunately, he struck out on a high fastball.
As he walked to the dugout, the Cal shortstop just fist-bumped his teammate, Devon Rodriguez, the next batter.
“A lot of people might not remember, but Marcus was 4-for-4 at that point against Baylor, before striking out,” recalls Esquer. “But he didn’t hang his head at all and reemerged on the dugout steps to cheer on Devon. That just showed he’s a special guy who didn’t stop to worry about himself.”
It was as if Semien’s positive attitude helped will Rodriguez to his game-winning hit as Cal notched the 9-8 comeback victory. The Bears then went on to sweep Dallas Baptist in the NCAA Super Regional in Santa Clara, and place fifth in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
“So, I know he’s learned to stick it out…and that’s obvious because he played in every Major League game this season,” continued Esquer. “And his best games were games number 178 and 179. Marcus is so composed. He is just a great representative for himself, his family, and for Cal.
“What Marcus has accomplished is truly remarkable, and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
The El Cerrito native is appreciating getting back to family life after the post-season whirlwind. Semien’s family grew during his team’s title run. He and his wife Tarah Murray, a former Cal volleyball player, have three boys: Isaiah, Joshua, and Eki. The newest addition of the team, daughter Amelie, was born on October 12, two days after the Rangers’ American League Division Series victory over Baltimore.
While Semien is reveling in his championship moment, his is not the only ballgame on his mind.
“Things have been crazy the last month,” he said. “But I finally got a chance to go to my seven-year-old Isaiah’s little league game.”