Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Greatest Team What Ever Was, Part III

Back despite popular demand!  The Greatest Teams Ever Nominees, 1980s and '90s.

1984 Detroit Tigers 104-58 3 HOF—This team got off, I think, to the greatest start ever, going 16-1 and then 35-5 out of the gate.  They never looked back, sweeping the Royals in the ALCS and taking the Padres in five in the Series.

Statistically, it's a little difficult to see just why these guys were so good.  There were few real stars. The Bengals had plenty of depth, though it wasn't outstanding; fortunately they had Sparky Anderson along to use it to best advantage.

Mostly, they hit home runs—a league-leading 187—drew walks, and got good, steady (if unspectacular) pitching.   Lance Parrish hit 33 homers as catcher, they had their terrific, longtime second-short combo of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell, and a very dependable outfield of Larry Herndon, Chet Lemon, and Kirk Gibson.

Trammell hit .314 and won the Gold Glove but missed 23 games with an injury, which probably cost him the MVP (Though why he should be in the Hall and not his double-play partner, Whitaker, is beyond me; they're virtually the same player.  Hmm, I wonder what the reason could possibly be??)

Instead, that award went to the big surprise on this team, Guillermo "Willie" Hernandez, a journeyman middle reliever who suddenly blossomed as a closer, winning the Cy Young and MVP.  He headed a reliable pen that backed up a solid top three starting staff of Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Milt Wilcox.

1986 New York Mets 108-54 1 HOF—The best young team ever. The Mets position players had a pretty normal average age of 28, but that was only because of the veterans Carter, Hernandez, and 37-year-old George Foster, and they got younger as they went along, jettisoning Foster in early August.

The pitching staff, though, averaged just 25.5, the youngest in the NL by two full years.  When you win your division by 21 1/2 games and you've got the youngest staff around, the future should be your oyster.  The fact that it was not, that these Mets would only win one more division title, is a blot on the escutcheon of their arrogant, often out-of-control manager, Davey Johnson.

Johnson believed avidly in encouraging the team's runaway carousing as a means of "bonding."  Instead, it helped send several of its key players into a spiral of addiction and dysfunction.  You'll note these Mets boast only one Hall-of-Famer, Gary Carter.  At the time, most observers would surely have thought there would be at least two or three more.

For 1986, though, they were a rampaging force, with a future MVP—Kevin Mitchell—coming off the bench, and a big five starting staff that has rarely been equaled, backed up by a deep bullpen.  The only real hole was at shortstop, with Rafael Santana, who would soon be banished to the Bronx (great).

This team had been built by Frank Cashen, who had also helped build some of the great Orioles teams of the 1970s.  And with a host of talent seemingly waiting in the wings—Gregg Jeffries, Dave Magadan, Kevin Elster, a still emerging Howard Johnson, and later David Cone—how could anything it NOT have been a dynasty?  All one can say is...Mets.

1990 Oakland Athletics 103-59 3 HOF—The Bash Brothers and Co. seemed unstoppable, coasting to the AL West title and sweeping the BoSox in the ALCS—before suddenly coming acropper against the Reds and their "Nasty Boys" bullpen in the Series.

This A's team had an incredible collection of veterans, many of them hitting their stride together.  Rickey Henderson, at 31, hit .325, stole 65 bases, and finally won the MVP he'd probably already deserved two or three of.  Bob Welch won 27 games and took the Cy Young.  Dave Stewart won 21.  Eckersley had another great season as closer, with 48 saves and a 0.61 ERA, heading a terrific bullpen.  Carney Lansford hit .336 at third, Jose Canseco hit 37 homers, and Mark McGwire hit 39.

And on hand as well were Willie Randolph, Terry Steinbach, Harold Baines, Dave Henderson, Walt Weiss, Willie McGee, and a cast of thousands.

Yet there is a permanent cloud over this team, and its 1988-89 predecessors, and it isn't just about their occasional October meltdowns.  The question is, how juiced were they?  Maybe not a whole lot, not yet; McGwire, for instance, hit only .235.  But the cheating had started, and it would spread.

1993 Toronto Blue Jays 95-67 4 HOF—The 1992 version of this team had somewhat better pitching, especially after it picked up David Cone late in the season.  But the 1993 squad had so many incredible, individual performances that I have to go with it.

John Olerud hit .366 at first, in one of the all-time great infields.  Robby Alomar hit .326 with 55 stolen bases and won a Gold Glove at second, and Tony Fernandez hit .306 at short.  Paul Molitor, mostly a DH, hit .332 at the age of 36, and Joe Carter slugged 33 homers, and another to clinch the World Series.  There was also Devon White catching everything in centerfield, and the ubiquitous Rickey Henderson, just to shore things up.

The pitching, as mentioned, was less than stellar.  Pat Hentgen won 19 games, but with an ERA of nearly 4.  The pen was better, with Duane Ward doing yeoman's work as closer, but even that wasn't spectacular.  Still, this team breezed past the White Sox and the Phillies in the postseason, for its second straight title.

1995 Atlanta Braves 90-54 (strike-shortened season) 5 HOF—A pitching team, mostly, this Braves edition alone, of all its winners from 1991-2005, put it altogether to capture a ring.

What's left to say about Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine?  And for a change, they had a solid bullpen behind them, headed by Mark Wohlers, who fortunately chose the following year, against us, to give it up big time.

Elsewhere, Ryan Klesko had a career year in the outfield, Fred McGriff hit a consistent 27 homers at first, Javy Lopez and Chipper Jones were already coming into their own at catcher and third, and David Justice as usual underperformed but still hit 24 dingers.  There was also a strong bench although this team, as usual, had little in the way of middle infielders.

But hey, it went 11-3 in the first ever, three-round playoffs, knocking off a truly great-hitting Indians team in the World Series.

So...what is The Greatest Team What Ever Was?  Tune in tomorrow!  (Or Friday, tomorrow is a bear!  I know you can't wait.)


KD said...

Of course, the greatest team what ever was would HAVE to win the series. Greatest team couldn't be a choker, right?

just to be sporting, how about another list of greatest team what didn't win the series? I only suggest this so redsock fans can see their team as being somewhat relevant in 20th century America.

HoraceClarke66 said...

I like the cut of your jib, KD!

And really, yes, the short playoff series is a distortion. We shall have to address this presently!

Joe Formerlyof Brooklyn said...

Re: Tonight

Neil Walker plays again. Gleyber rests, Toe in for him.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Well, really, why would you EVER take an all-around superman like Neil Walker out of the lineup?