Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Greatest Team What Ever Was, Part I

All right, in order to distract us from a certain, ongoing collapse, and in conjunction with the Yankees' honoring of the 1998 team (blessed be its name) this coming weekend, I thought we should have a look at determining The Greatest Baseball Team What Ever Was.

Apologies to Bill James for stealing the title.  James seems to think the title belongs to the 1927 Yankees and you know, it's hard to disagree with whatever Bill James thinks when it comes to baseball. Many others go for the 1939 Yankees—and interestingly, I believe the very first Old Timers' Day game was between the veterans of the 1927 team and the 1939 team, to honor Lou Gehrig, the only man on both, at the memorable "day" given him on July 4th, 1939.

As for me...I ain't buyin' it.

To start, we should narrow this down.  I don't think any team before the advent of the "live ball"—or more aptly, the "Ball What Hasn't Got Spit, Elm Juice, Vaseline and All Kinds of Other Shit All Over It" era, that began in 1920.  The other forms of baseball played before then were just too different to effectively compare.

For that matter, I would eliminate all teams before 1947, the first time that black people, Asians, and Hispanics—including those not of "pure Castilian blood"—were allowed to play the major league game, in the modern era.

Finally, I would also eliminate all of baseball AFTER 1999, when to me, the game became just too soaked in juice to really judge it against other eras (yes, J.D. Martinez, we're looking at you).  "Better Baseball Through Chemistry" should not be what this is about.

In other words, we're really deciding the best team over 53 seasons, 1947-1999, the height of the game as it was and should be played.

The contenders, as far as I'm concerned, for the 1940s and '50s:

1948 Cleveland Indians 97-58, 6 HOF—Beat out superb Yankees and Red Sox teams, then took Spahn and Sain's Braves in six.  Terrific fielding-and-slugging infield of Eddie Robinson, Flash Gordon, Ken Keltner, and player-manager Lou Boudreau, who hit .355 and won the MVP.  At catcher was Jim Hegan, a weak hitter but a great fielder.  The outfield was spottier, but still had Larry Doby, first (known) black player in the AL, who hit .301, and Dale Mitchell, who batted .336, albeit without much speed or power.

The pitching staff boasted starters Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and kunckleballing sensation Gene Bearden, whom the Yankees had foolishly traded to them.  The bullpen was mostly little-known but very deep, including 41- or 42- or even-older- Satchel Paige, who also threw two shutouts in spot starts.

1950 New York Yankees 98-56 6 HOF—Blew off a tough Detroit squad and a Boston wrecking crew that was the last major-league squad to ever hit over .300 as a team, then made quick work of the Phillies' "Whiz Kids" in the World Series.

Featured a lot of strength up the middle, with Rizzuto having a career year and winning the MVP; Berra having a career year and missing out on what should have been his first MVP, and DiMaggio having his last great season in center.  The rest of the infield was spottier, but Bauer and Woodling had terrific years in the outfield, and there was great depth, as usual with the Yankees teams of this era—along with the greatest manager of all time to handle it.

The pitching staff had the great Reynolds-Raschi-Lopat triumvirate up top, and when Tommy Byrne founded, Whitey Ford came up and went 9-1, and won a World Series game.  The pen was as iffy as it is right now for the Yanks, with Joe Page having a wretched season, but Reynolds made 6 relief appearances, and Ford, eight.

1953 Brooklyn Dodgers 105-49 4 HOF (and as to why Gil Hodges isn't there, your guess is as good as mine)—The Best of the Bums, with MVP Roy Campanella behind the plate, Hodges having a near-career year at first, Gilliam and Pee Wee up the middle, premier gloveman Billy Cox on third, and 34-year-old Jackie Robinson enjoying his last great year, mostly in the outfield.  There he was joined by Duke Snider, who hit .336 with 42 homers, and Carl Furillo, he of the rifle arm, who led the NL in hitting at .344.

But the Dodgers fell down when it came to pitching, with little that was consistent after Carl Erskine. Built for their bandbox of a ballpark, they were only 45-32 on the road, and after a blazing 55-18 finish on the year, lost the Series in six to...

1953 New York Yankees 99-52 6 HOF—Won the AL in a walk, then beat the Boys of Summer.  Much the same as the 1950 team, only with a better all-around infield, and with Mantle replacing DiMag in center (though injuries limited him to 127 games).  The Chairman of the Board rejoined the Triumvirate after two years in the service, and had a terrific season.  The bullpen was deeper than in 1950, and led by Johnny Sain, who also spot-started and finished with 14 wins and 7 saves.

1954 Cleveland Indians 111-43 6 HOF—All-time great bottom feeders, they set a then-AL-record with 111 wins, but were only 22-22 against the next two best AL teams, the Yanks and ChiSox. Unheralded second baseman Bobby Avila won the batting crown, Doby had another excellent season with 32 homers and 126 ribbies, and Al Rosen hit 24 homers and batted .302 at third.  Very savvy manager in Al Lopez.

But mostly, this team was about pitching.  Its ERA was 2.78, almost a full run below the league ERA.  With Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Mike Garcia in the rotation, Feller was the No. 5 starter, and Hal Newhouser was in the very deep bullpen.

They were swept in the World Series by the Giants, though—and nobody was all that surprised.  The two teams had played each other repeatedly, coming north in the spring, and the Giants had won most of the time then, too.  May their fate presage that of the 2018 Red Sox!

1956 New York Yankees 97-57 6 HOF—Mantle's Triple Crown year, along with a career-year from Skowron at first, a superb season for versatile Gil McDougald taking over from the Scooter at short, and another great season from Berra behind the plate.  Stengel mixed and matched platoons of mediocre reserves incredibly well.

He also managed a deep but fragile pitching staff as probably no manager ever has, before or since.  Every pitcher made at least one relief appearance, and 10 made starts.  Ford had one of his best seasons.  The team coasted to the pennant, then edged the Dodgers in the last of the Brooklyn-NY series, featuring Don Larsen's perfect game.

1957 Milwaukee Braves 95-59 3 HOF—Rolled a very talented National League. The year featured Henry Aaron's one MVP season, and the Braves overcame an injury that cost the very talented Billy Bruton almost half a season in the outfield.

Ageless Warren Spahn led a very strong, four-man pitching staff, though the bullpen was rather spotty.  Former Yankee Lew Burdette won three games to take home the Series against his former team, but if not for an injury to Mantle (when Red Schoendienst deliberately sat on him at second) and the first, highly dubious "shoe polish" call, the Braves could easily have been swept.

Next up:  The 1960s and '70s!


TheWinWarblist said...

Has anyone noticed that Romine has better that average OPS+ and wRC+? Is that correct or am I seeing things? His best offensive season during his age 29 season?

TheWinWarblist said...

"a better than" !!! Dammit. I cannot type for shit.

Rufus T. Firefly said...

flop sweat in to make *US* sweat!

Rufus T. Firefly said...

I know it's humid but sheesh!, pouring after one batter?

I'm an old fat drunk and I don't sweat that much.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Hey, a win is a win. Boston scored 2 runs...and won AGAIN. This is unreal.

The magic number is 7!

HoraceClarke66 said...

Also, very glad to see that their stupid "opener" tactic didn't work.

TheWinWarblist said...

Ah-hem ...

TheWinWarblist said...

AAAA-AA-Ahh-AHHH-AAAHHHHH-AAaAaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHaaaaAAHHHHHHHHHHHaaaa-ah-ah-ah-aaaaaaaaAaAaHaHaHaaaAAAAAAhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh !!!!!!!!!

Ken of Brooklyn said...

I'll take it!

HoraceClarke66 said...

Nice work, TWW!

Tomorrow: Luis Cessa. Which I love. No going back to Sonny Gray, just because CC is hurt.

By the by, I wonder if there's any way Jetes would take Ice Cream Sandwiches AND Manchild—Sanchez AND Gray—for Realmuto? If we throw in Slo-Pitch (Bird)?

I know, probably not. But would it hurt to ask?

KD said...

Sonny Gray is like that contractor you FINALLY threw off the job after one too many fuck ups. even if you think you might need him, you really don't. good on the Yanks for keeping him in the pen.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Hilarious, KD! Yea, that's a perfect analogy.

"Sonny? Sonny? Look, the new kitchen sink faucets still don't work. That's right, the third set. You can't be here until a week from Thursday? And look, we didn't even get into the cupboards. What's wrong with them? They're not the ones we ordered! Look, Sonny, we talked about this. Sonny, if you can't get here today—that's right, TODAY—don't come in. We're done. That's right. I'll be glad to hear from your lawyer. I bet he's more reliable than you are!"