Baseball is a sport that has been romanticized in history by the statistics. 511 wins. 755 home runs. 2130 consecutive games played. 4256 career hits. You get my point. But, in the same token, “fantasy” baseball has become a billion dollar industry based strictly on fans and the statistics of the game. Having been around for only the last 20 to 25 years it’s most certainly changed the way we view the sport. The REAL question I pose to you for the purpose of this article is as follows. What if fantasy baseball had been around since the beginning of time? Who would you select as your all-time fantasy baseball team? I’m not talking about the career statistics here; I’m talking about what are the best individual seasons of all-time at each position.
For the purposes of this team, my “All-Time Fantasy Baseball Team” has a 20 man roster, filling out catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infielder, middle infielder, five outfielders, one utility guy, five starting pitchers, and two relievers. This team takes into account the basic 5×5 rotisserie league format, factoring in batting average, home runs, runs scored, runs batted in and stolen bases for hitters, and wins, earned run average, strikeouts, saves, and WHIP for pitchers.
With that being said, introducing my All-Time Fantasy Baseball Team:
In what was Piazza’s greatest year with the Dodgers, he set career highs in all five categories in 1997. This was also the only season in Piazza’s illustrious career that he had 200 hits, finishing with 201. This was not an MVP season, however, as Larry Walker that year trumped him in every category. What Piazza’s season was, though, was the greatest hitting season any catcher has ever had. Apologies to Johnny Bench (1970), and Javy Lopez (2003).
I could have chosen a couple of different years to use for The Iron Horse, but why not use the year he set career highs in both RBI and stolen bases. Gehrig did win the Triple Crown a few years later in 1934 (the only year he won a batting title), but 1931 was his best all-around year. Granted, it took Lou 29 attempts to get those 17 stolen bases, but in fantasy, no one cares about times caught stealing. Sadly, we know how his career ended immaturely. Apologies to Mark McGwire (1998), Jimmie Foxx (1932), and Albert Pujols (pick one).
This man’s career numbers are astounding. But what Rogers Hornsby did from 1921-1925 could very easily be considered the best five year stretch in major league history, when he averaged an over .400 batting average. His year in 1922 was simply amazing and destroyed anything any other second baseman has ever done. This wasn’t his highest batting average (that would come two years later), but overall this was Rogers’ most dominating, setting career highs in HRs, RBI and SBs. Apologies to Craig Biggio (1997-1998) and Jeff Kent (2000).
Cabrera became the first person since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown on his way to winning the American League MVP award this past season. Never short on talent, Cabrera is very well on his way to a Hall of Fame career, with 321 career home runs already at the age of 29. The list of comparables at age 29 is astounding: Robinson, Aaron, Griffey, Pujols, Ott. That constitutes greatness. Apologies to Mike Schmidt (1973), George Brett (1980), Howard Johnson (1987), and Eddie Mathews (1959).
A-Rod was a phenom from the very beginning, selected as the number one overall pick by the Mariners in 1993. He was called up to the major leagues just one year later at age 18, and his career hasn’t looked back. (I’m ignoring the obvious skeleton in the closet, as well as the disgusting popcorn display with Cameron Diaz.) A-Rod’s season in 1998 was incredible, becoming the second man to hit 40 HRs and steal 40 bases in one season. The steals is why I selected this year instead of either 2001 or 2002. Apologies to Ernie Banks (1958).
We all know about the cream and the clear. Whatever it was that helped Bonds, it helped him to the tune of a major league record 73 home runs even though managers were afraid to pitch to the man (he AVERAGED 83 intentional walks from 2002-04, including an absurd 120 in 2004). Bonds might have set his career high in batting average in 2002 (.370), but how could I not include the all-time single season home run record in my analysis? I simply couldn’t.
This one man transformed a team that was a perennial second division team to an instant World Series contender after being sold to the Yankees by the Red Sox after the 1919 season. One of the most lovable figures in baseball history, Ruth’s 1921 season is considered one of the greatest in major league history, and it’s hard to argue that with the combination of average, power, and run production. Oh, and he even threw in 17 stolen bases to boot.
Wilson had a very short career in terms of Hall of Fame standards, but his 1930 season is why Wilson got elected into the Hall. Wilson set a major league record with his 191 runs batted in, and set a National League record (at the time) with his 56 HRs. Sadly, Wilson would only hit 53 more home runs for the rest of his career after this season, as injuries and a declining batting average would begin to slow Wilson down.
No, Stan The Man’s death wasn’t the motivation for writing this article, but it’s not a coincidence that he’s on the team. Musial led the National League in almost every major category in 1948, failing only to win the home run crown on his way to his third and final NL MVP award. Musial set career highs in four of the five roto categories in 1948, with only steals not being a career high. His consistency in this season is why Musial is on the team.
This team was lacking some speed, which is why I went with Rickey Henderson here over guys like Ted Williams, Jose Canseco, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron. Rickey’s 1985 season exemplified his five-tool ability, though his RBI total is the lowest on this team. This wasn’t Rickey’s fastest season (he stole 130 bases in 1982), but 1985 was his best overall season. The 72 RBI does represent Rickey’s second best RBI total, and the runs scored was a career high for the major league record holder in runs scored. Apologies to Williams (1941, 1942, 1949), Canseco (1988), Mays (1954), and Aaron (1963).
Jeff is the only first baseman to ever reach the 30/30 club, doing so in both 1997 and 1999, but it was his 1999 season that set Bagwell apart from everyone else. While his numbers in 2000 were better in every category but stolen bases, this is a fantasy team, after all, and Bagwell’s speed can’t be ignored. Bagwell finished his career as a near .300 hitter, with 449 career home runs, and while he has been a speculated steroids user, there has been no evidence of his usage of performance enhancing drugs. Bagwell will eventually end up in the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so.
Ryne Sandberg has an argument for being the second best second baseman in history behind Rogers Hornsby, and appropriately he makes this team as the backup second baseman to Hornsby. Ryne was the first second baseman since Hornsby to hit 40 HRs, and his combination of speed and power is why Sandberg made the team as the middle infielder over Ernie Banks. Sandberg went to 10 consecutive All-Star games from 1984-1993, but his 1990 season was the best of the bunch.
Another Triple Crown winner makes this team, edging out a third TC winner in Ted Williams. Mantle set career highs in the two run production categories in 1956, while his average and home runs represent the second highest totals of his career. Alcoholism and arthritis robbed Mantle of much of his strength and speed over the end of his career, but Mantle showed throughout the 1950s that he would become known as one of the greats in the game.
When I sat down to look at the best individual pitching seasons of all-time, my first inclination was Pedro Martinez in 1999 or 2000. But after taking a look at all of the pitchers in history, The Big Train set the standard exactly 100 years ago that no one has yet to reach. 36 wins. An ERA only surpassed by Bob Gibson in 1968. And he even threw in two saves for good measure. Johnson is widely regarded as the greatest pitcher of all time, and it’s hard to argue based on this phenomenal season.
For the first six years of his career, it would be hard to imagine that Koufax would have turned out to be a Hall of Fame pitcher. But for the final six years? Wow. Koufax’s six peak years rival anyone’s in major league history, winning three Cy Young Awards in an era when only one award was handed out. Any one of Koufax’s final four seasons could have been selected here, but I went with the year that Koufax set what was then the modern strikeout record with 382 strikeouts. Koufax’s ERA is the highest of anyone on this staff, but the rest of his numbers make him very worthy of being here.
1968 was the Year of The Pitcher, as seen by the inclusion of both Gibson and Denny McLain on this list (Luis Tiant was also considered). Gibson set the modern major league record with his 1.12 ERA, which makes the fact that he somehow lost 9 games in 1968 all the more stunning. Gibson would never again have an ERA below 2, but it doesn’t matter since this is a one year analysis. Gibson threw 13 shutouts in 1968, which in this era would constitute a career for most pitchers.
It’s hard to ignore McLain’s 1968 season, especially since McLain was the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season (whereas winning 20 games in this era is an accomplishment in itself). McLain did not win the ERA title in 1968 (going to the aforementioned Tiant), nor did he win the strikeout title (that going to Sam McDowell), but his numbers were definitely worthy of winning the MVP. I was surprised that McLain’s season ranked this high, because I had forgotten that McLain had these overall numbers.
Keep in mind that Carlton put these numbers up on a team that won only 32 more games than he won himself. Carlton put up numbers that any pitcher would dream of in 1972, and it was this season that launched Carlton as a perennial All-Star and future Hall of Famer. Many people forget that it’s Carlton who is in the top four all-time in strikeouts (behind only Ryan , Clemens and Randy Johnson). Apologies go to Pedro Martinez (1999), Dwight Gooden (1985), Randy Johnson (2002) and Roger Clemens (1997).
Talk about a season that came out of nowhere. Rodney had only been a closer once before 2012, and that was in 2009 for the Detroit Tigers. Only once in his career had Rodney seen an ERA below even 3, yet in 2012 Rodney had a season for the ages, setting a major league record for relievers with his 0.60 ERA. Rodney’s season will definitely go down among the greatest in history for the closer role, and it’s hard to imagine anyone having a better season.
Let that last number sink in for a minute. As great a year as Rodney had last year, I could easily argue that Kimbrel was even better. His WHIP was lower, he had 40 more strikeouts than Rodney, and even had one more win. Yeah, his ERA was slightly higher and he had six fewer saves, but if I had to choose one person right now to close a game, it would be Kimbrel and I wouldn’t even think twice. Apologies to Dennis Eckersley (1990), whose season would have been on the list if it wasn’t for these two guys.
When I set out to do this team, I was amazed that guys like Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mariano Rivera, Pedro Martinez, and Roger Clemens failed to make this list. It just goes to show you though how strong this team is in my view. Care to argue for someone else to make the team instead of these guys? Follow and tweet me at @DSEmpire_Tim to make your arguments, and follow along throughout the season as I give you your fantasy baseball start ‘ems and sit ‘ems on a daily basis.
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