We have come, at long last, to the wrap-up column for our best-of teams for the decades. Here we’ll cover the best (and briefly, the worst) that teams constructed from the decade’s best players have to offer. If you would like a refresher of any (or all!) of the squads, the complete columns found be found in my archive to the left.
Worst Position Player: Pie Traynor
Now, obviously, “worst player” is a pretty relative term here. The “worst” player who was the best at a given position is still, by any conventional measure of quality, a pretty good one. This is certainly the case with Traynor, a man who is often listed as one of the 10 greatest third baseman to play the game. He isn’t, as his receiving this dubious honor establishes. Among such elite company, Traynor’s career 107 OPS+ and failure to post a single season with a WAR above 4.5 puts him in this spot.
Worst Pitcher: Vic Willis
For the record, I excluded relievers from this category, since comparing them to starters in terms of “best” and “worst” isn’t really a viable concept. That leaves us with Vic Willis. Now, all the same caveats about “worst” apply here as they do Traynor. And Willis was no slouch; one could make an argument he was the most valuable pitcher during the 1906 season, when he finished fourth in ERA but threw nearly 50 more innings than leader Mordecai Brown. Nonetheless, his overall career ERA+ of 117 is not enough to avoid this spot when being compared the best of all-time.
(For the record, I’m not doing a best category for either pitchers or position players, since ultimately that just comes down to a debate about the best players of all-time, which isn’t really the point here.)
Best Infield: The Fifties
We’re counting catchers as infielders for these purposes, which presents us with—going around the diamond as you would in your scorebook—Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Eddie Matthews and Ernie Banks. That’s five Hall of Famers, two members of the 500 HR club, a 3000-hit player, and arguably the greatest catcher to play the game. There’s some pretty good infielders elsewhere, particularly in the Seventies (Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt and Bert Campaneris) but none to beat out this one.
|The Ace of the ’80s acknowledges his fans (US Presswire)|
Best Outfield: The Fifties
Well, that’s dull. But that’s the way it is. The decade features, left to right, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron. Those three men feature an average—an average!—of 609 home runs. The closest contender is probably the Forties, which features Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Musial, but that’s not quite good enough to top the Fifties. Other notable contenders include the Sixties (Frank Robinson, Willie Mays and Aaron) and Nineties (Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Larry Walker) but nothing is topped the slugging on offer here.
Second-Best Line-Up: The Forties
Since the Fifties have the best infield and the best outfield, there’s not much point in discussing which decade has the best line-up. So instead we’ll discuss second place. There’s serious contention for the spot, of course, but ultimately the Forties take the spot. I discussed their outfield above, but the infield features Hall of Famers Johnny Mize, Lou Boudreau and Joe Gordon, along with solid contributors Walker Cooper and Bob Elliott.
Other decades—including the Sixties and Twenties—can match that number of Hall of Famers in their line-up, but the overall quality of the Forties wins out.
Best Pitching Staff: The Sixties
The Sixties was a great decade for pitchers—at least until they started fooling around with the mound—but the men who make up this staff, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Jim Bunning in the rotation, with Hoyt Wilhelm in the pen, would have been great at any time. That’s six Hall of Famers (even if Bunning is an underwhelming choice), including two of the all-time strikeout kings (Koufax and Gibson both rank in the top 25 for K/9 pre-1990, when the strikeout rate began to soar) and probably the single best multi-inning reliever to play the game.
Worst Pitching Staff: The Eighties
Excluding the Nineties and the first decade of the 2000’s, every decade’s pitching staff features at least two Hall of Famers. Well, every decade but one. That decade is the Eighties. Bert Blyleven‘s election to the Hall of Fame was well-earned, but as the decade’s best pitcher he is not comparable to the likes of Cy Young, Tom Seaver, Warren Spahn and other aces. The rest of the pitchers are collection of pitchers who had careers that shone brightly, but briefly: David Stieb, Fernando Valenzuela, even reliever Dan Quisenberry.
Worst Team: The Teens
Everything I mentioned about the worst players being a relative quality goes doubly so for the worst team. It takes a lot for a “worst” team to feature the likes of Eddie Collins, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson. On balance though, this is the weakest of the squad, with players like Chief Meyers and Art Baker peppering the line-up. Though the pitching staff features the aforementioned Johnson, along with Pete Alexander that quality is unable to make up for the line-up’s weakness.
Second-Best Team: The Sixties
Given that this decade features the best pitching staff, they had an obvious leg—well, arm—up on their competition. (Sorry about that.) Of course, the decade didn’t earn second place merely on the basis of a strong pitching staff. I mentioned the outfield above and while the infield isn’t quite to that level, it does feature three Hall of Famers (Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose and Ron Santo) along with Joe Torre behind the plate.
Put together, that’s enough to give this spot to the Sixties, beating out the contenders for second place, notably the Seventies and Nineties.
Best Team: The Fifties
So perhaps that’s an anticlimax. The pitching staff for the decade can’t quite compare to some others, though with the likes of Spahn, Robin Roberts and Early Wynn they certainly have the arms to support the best of any all-decade line-up. And of course, if that were not enough, the team is managed by Casey Stengel, a man with seven World Series titles, a number not bettered by any skipper.