The all-decade team: the ‘60s

Everyone loves to write about all the changes of society during the 1960s. Baseball, of course, was no exception. By the end of the decade, the league would add eight teams, change the height of the mound, see the first indoor baseball stadium and see the end of the Yankees’ incredible run of dominance.

With all these changes taking place, was the game still able to produce the kind of players who could compete with the game during its more staid periods? I’ll go ahead and spoil it and say that the answer is yes, but you’ll have to read on to see just who the players are.

But then, we can’t begin to reveal them until we know the criteria under which they were selected. Thus we shall once again review the rules selecting this team: to qualify for any non-pitching position, a player must have played at least 500 games there during his career—though not necessarily during the decade in question. For starting pitchers, to appear on the team requires at least 200 starts in a given decade. Until we hit the more modern usage pattern (and we’re getting close) relief pitchers will be selected at my discretion, with no game or inning requirements.

Having dispensed with that, let’s move on to the fun stuff:

Catcher: Joe Torre
With the exception of the first baseman, it is an odd truth that everyone else in the infield is now better (or at least just as well) known for something other than his playing career. For Torre, of course, that was his tenure as a manager, specifically his runs with the Yankees and Dodgers during which he made the playoffs fourteen straight years, including 12 division titles, six pennants and four World Series titles.

Torre’s enormous success as a manager has relegated his playing career to the background. As his status on this team demonstrates, he was no slouch as a player. Though probably just below Hall of Fame quality, for his career Torre finished with better numbers than several catchers who have earned enshrinement. (Though it does have to be said that he played just more than 40 percent of his career games behind the plate.)

For the decade, Torre put up nearly a 130 OPS+, and slugged nearly 400 extra base hits.

Back in the dugout: Joe Torre managing Team USA in the WBC (US Presswire)

First base: Carl Yastrzemski
Just as Yankee fans were spoiled watching their center fielder transition from DiMaggio to Mantle, Red Sox fans were able to watch as Ted Williams gave way to Yaz. So why is a man most famous for patrolling the space in front of the Green Monster stationed at first base instead?

Well, it’s complicated. The short version is that Frank Robinson outplayed Yastrzemski for the decade, and thus earns the left field spot. Meanwhile, Yastrzemski outplayed the two men who might otherwise claim this spot—Willie McCovey and Harmon Killebrew—and since he played more than 500 games at first during his career, he is eligible for the spot. One wants to get the best talent out there, so here we are.

Yaz was never better than during his memorable 1967 campaign: in addition to being the last Triple Crown until Miguel Cabrera’s last season, Yastrzemski also led the league in runs, hits, on-base percentage and total bases. For good measure, he did it all while winning a Gold Glove in left field. In fact, by WAR—and maybe common consensus—his 1967 season is the best of the decade.

Second base: Pete Rose
Like, say, Aaron Hernandez, it’s hard to write about Pete Rose’s merits as a ballplayer without also reflecting his failures as a person. For our purposes though, we’ll leave the other stuff alone and just think of him on the field.

That Rose wins this spot is a testament to his talents on the field, given that he did not make his debut until the 1963 season. Of course, he was clearly ready, winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award that season. Despite the late start, he led all second basemen in the decade in runs and doubles, and was second to players with far more plate appearances in hits, doubles, and home runs.

Rose was not really a second baseman—he wasn’t really anything, except a hitter—but he did play primarily at the keystone during the’60s and earns this spot.

Third base: Ron Santo
Santo was Inducted into the Hall of Fame last year which, as I’ve probably pointed out, would have been nice if he hadn’t died in 2010. I suppose this is a case of better late than never, since Santo is a clearly deserving Hall of Famer. He built most of that case during the 1960s, when he nearly went 250/250 on doubles and homers, falling just three short on the two-baggers.

Brooks Robinson deserves recognition for his masterful performance during the 1960s, famously for his defense as he swept the Gold Glove for the decade. Santo was no slouch with the glove, though—winning five Gold Gloves himself—and was a far superior hitter.

Shortstop: Jim Fregosi
Best known today (to the extent he is at all, I suppose) as the manager of the Phillies’ 1993 NL-pennant winning team, Fregosi’s career as a shortstop is all but forgotten. This is in part because Fregosi spent his career toiling for teams that were mediocre at best. In 1964 he had one of the two or three best seasons by a shortstop in the decade—he put up a 141 OPS+ and ranked third in the league in WAR—but the Angels won just 82 games and Fregosi finished thirteenth in the MVP voting.

For the decade, though he led shortstops only in triples, his year-to-year brilliance (he made five All-Star teams in the decade and won the 1967 AL Gold Glove) wins out.

Left field: Frank Robinson
It was before the 1966 season that Robinson—famously derided as “an old 30” by Reds’ owner Bill DeWitt—was traded to the Orioles. For the decade to that point, The Judge already had won the 1961 NL MVP (leading the Reds to the World Series that year), had nearly 1,000 hits and only his all-’60s outfield mates had more home runs in the National League.

As we all know, though, Robinson was, if anything, a young 30. He promptly won the 1966 AL MVP and was, arguably, the best American Leaguer not named Yastrzemski the rest of the decade.

Center field: Willie Mays
You might remember that I said that WAR ranks Yastrzemski’s 1967 as the best of the decade. Well, the next four seaons are all owned by Willie Mays. In fact, they are consecutive: 1962-1965. During those years—in which Mays somehow not only won one MVP but also managed to finish as low as sixth in the balloting—he averaged more than 45 home runs and a .998 OPS, doing it while playing in Candlestick Park.

As I’ve said, great hitters–like Robinson–get statues (US Presswire)

Overall, Mays is in the top five for the decade in home runs, runs, RBI, and OPS. MVP voters might not have recognized his greatness, but there’s no question he belongs in center field on this team.

Right field: Hank Aaron
There are a lot of ways to define how consistently excellent Hank Aaron was in the 1960s. You can point to the similarities of his 1960, 1965 and 1969 seasons (7.9, 7.8 and 8.0 WAR, respectively) or you can note that he fell under 30 home runs in a season just twice in the decade, one of which came during the pitchers’ paradise season of 1968.

Perhaps the clearest measure is this, though: among all players during the 1960s, Aaron is second in home runs, first in runs, second in hits, third in doubles, first in RBI and even fifth in stolen bases. Mays’ peak is just ahead of Aaron’s—as is overall value for the decade—but no one was year-in, year-out excellent like Bad Henry.

Starting pitchers: Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning
I don’t suppose people often think of Juan Marichal as the best pitcher of the 1960s. His performance was, for lack of a better term, less sexy than that of guys like Gibson or Koufax. But the simple truth is that no one had more wins—no one is even close, really—or more shutouts. Only Koufax had a better ERA+, and Marichal pitched nearly 750 more innings. No one may think of Marichal as the defining ace of the decade, but there is definitely a case to be made.

Of course, the next two men in the rotation have a pretty good case of their own. One could argue that no pitcher has had a better season since Gibson’s 1968, and the list of contenders—which includes names like Steve Carlton, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez—is pretty brief. Gibby was no one-year wonder though, his 41 shutouts is just behind Marichal’s total and no one had more strikeouts in the decade.

Speaking of strikeouts, we come to Sandy Koufax, who put away more than nine and a half hitters per nine innings that way, the best number for the decade. I spent some time trying to decide how to explain how great Koufax was during his mid-’60s prime, and eventually came to the simplest way: for the decade only two pitchers had more WAR than Koufax. And this is despite Koufax retiring after the 1966 season. In other words, seven years of Sandy Koufax was, by at least one measure, better than a full decade of not only two of his all-decade rotation mates but also pitchers like Sam McDowell and Jim Kaat. And that’s not even getting into that Koufax earned a huge percentage of his value during his 1963-66 peak.

Slotting in behind Koufax—per usual—is Don Drysdale. Actually the innings leader for the decade, and winner of more games than anyone save Marichal and Gibson, Drysdale may have spent most of his career overshadowed by his left-handed rotation mate but he was an ace in his own right.

Similarly, Jim Bunning’s political career, especially its end (when his own party did everything short of locking him in a closet so he could not run for reelection) has overshadowed his career as a major leaguer. Bunning is also hurt by his somewhat pedestrian career numbers—he has fewer wins than names like Dennis Martinez and David Wells—and his status as a below-average Hall of Famer. Nonetheless, in the 1960s Bunning got the job done like few others, and whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame or no, he belongs in this spot.

Relief pitcher: Hoyt Wilhelm
In 1960, Hoyt Wilhelm was 37 years old. He had already pitched nearly a decade in the majors, doing so well enough to earn, of course, the reliever spot on the 1950s All-Decade team. Even throwing the knuckleball, it seemed reasonable to believe that Wilhelm’s best days were behind him.

Instead, “Old Sarge”—the nickname came from his World War II rank, of course—rattled off a series of brilliant performances. For the decade Wilhelm’s ERA was just 2.16 and he pitched to an ERA under one six times. His performance in the decade is also notable for reflecting his differing usage as relievers became more common. Though partly based on his age, for the 1960s Wilhelm had 152 saves; the decade prior he had just 59.

Manager: Walter Alston
For maybe the first time ever, picking a manager was the hardest part of this team. The Yankees won five pennants in the decade, but did it with three different managers. The Cardinals won two titles and three pennants but had two skippers themselves. The title then falls to Walter Alston.

This shouldn’t be taken to mean Alston earned the title merely by being the best of bad choices. The winner of more than 2,000 career games, four World Series—including two in the ’60s—and three other pennants, Alston guided the Dodgers for almost a quarter century. Under his stewardship in the ‘60s, the team posted four seasons of 90 or more wins in addition to their two titles. Some managers never achieve so much in their whole career, so Alston’s spot is well-deserved.

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  1. Carl said...

    Had been looking forward to this article for a while and glad it came.  Great job w this team and defending your choices.

    I predict this article gets the most vitriol of the series (SP, 1B, 3B, all 3 OF spots) and children of the 60s remembering their baseball heroes differently than the stats do.

  2. Ron said...

    Great Rightfielders from the 60’s and the same from the 50’s,
    Hank Aaron is and was the best of a group of All-Time Greats. You can pick in any order after Aaron; from the likes Kaline, Clemente, and Frank Robinson.

  3. AaronB said...

    Nice job Richard!  No, he wasn’t the best of the decade, but I’ve got to throw out Ken Boyer as a nominee for 3B.  MVP, gold gloves, very good offensive player…just had a peak that was too short.  He’s a very underrated 3B who slots in just a bit behind Santo & Robinson.

  4. dennis Bedard said...

    First base is a cop out.  I don’t think Yaz played first base at all in the 60’s.  I grew up in that area and just don’t remember it.  You might as well put Brooks at SS.  The nod here goes to Killebrew with McCovey a close second.  The fact that Yaz was the fourth best outfielder of the decade is no excuse.  And let’s not forget Billy Williams.  I will always think of Fregosi as the guy who got traded for Nolan Ryan and then fizzled big time.

  5. Jim said...

    Koufax only had 4 good years, those mentioned above.  Before that, he was terrible.

    However, I must be missing something, why are Clemens, Martinez (2 of them), Carlton, and Wells being mentioned in an analysis of the best players of the 1960’s?

    Brooks has never had an equal at third, defensively or offensively.  Oh well.

    And I agree putting Yaz at first is poor, but it is your opinions.

  6. Baltar said...

    Great list for a great era in baseball.  My fondest memories were all those NL all-star outfieldss with Mays, Aaron and Clemente.
    My next-favorite player was Hoyt Wilhelm.  He was in a class by himself when it comes to relievers.  All those innings and great SP, also.

  7. dennis Bedard said...

    Marichal had a much better decade than Koufax.  Everyone makes a huge deal about Koufax’s four year run but Marichal’s was 95% just as impressive and he pitched well before and after that time.  Brooks Robinson was a barely above average hitter but his fielding skills put him head and shoulders above Santo.  If you are going to put Santo in there ahead of Brooks, you might as well give an honorable mention to Dick Allen.  And though not within his control, how can you leave Killebrew off the list. Think about it?  You arrive from outer space circa 1930’s and you are introduced to a new born named HARMON KILLEBREW.  Is there any doubt in your mind, based on the name alone, that that child will end up hitting 500+ home runs in the big leagues?

  8. Ian R. said...

    @Dennis – You’re right, except for a handful of games there in 1968 and 69, Yaz didn’t play any first base in the decade. He did, however, play over 700 games there in his career, well over Richard’s 500-game cutoff. Brooks Robinson played SS a grand total of 5 times in his career.

    I don’t think it’s a cop-out so much as an attempt to recognize the very best players of the decade. The 60s were a golden age for outfielders, and the six or seven best players of the era all played out there. Putting Yaz at first allows both him and Frank Robinson to be on the team, and while Killebrew and McCovey were both great, neither was as good as the two guys who made it.

  9. Chris Waters said...

    I am a Ron Santo fan, but, seriously, look at the home field splits. If he wasn’t on the Cubs, he may not have ever been enshrined.

  10. Jim said...

    I think Freehan was better at catcher than Torre.

    But again, it is your opinion.

    Remember opinions are like noses, everyone has one and they usually blow it once a day.

    I may have just blown mine (:>).

  11. BobDD said...

    Yeah, top-heavy OF talent, yet the OF picks are easy to make and all the other spots (not P’s) end up being difficult.

    Brooks certainly was a prince of a man and my pick as best defensive 3B ever, but whenever I see someone pick him as the best overall 3B ever, I wonder if they are joking.  Is there really someone who thinks Brooks was worth more wins per season than Schmidt?  But then I’ve been expecting that Brooks and Clemente fans are gonna descend on this article’s comment section with fire.

  12. dennis Bedard said...

    Brooks Robinson and Koufax are similar.  Their greatness has been repeated over and over so many times that people just accept it as the gospel.  The 60’s had a very weak 3d base roster so Robinson gets it by default and I don’t think that is really close.  Was he as good as Schmidt or Brett?  Not even close.  And I never anyone compare them specifically and say Brooks was better.  Those that parrot the Brooks Robinson line probably watched too many Curt Gowdy broadcasts or too many replays of the ‘70 series.  Remember back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, there was no serious analysis of baseball numbers.  You had the Sporting News and the NBC Game of the Week.  That ‘70 series really catapulted Brooks into every fan’s knowledge base where they assumed his 5 game defensive and, more important, offensive numbers were a reflection of his every day play.

  13. BobDD said...

    Just for the fun of differing opinions Dennis, I tend to think of the 60’s as the best decade for 3B up to that time in history (random order):


    By the author’s definition Killebrew is eligible for 3B and since he covers the whole decade like Brooks and unlike Santo, Boyer, Allen and Mathews, I wonder if those two wouldn’t score the highest for all-decade.

  14. BobDD said...

    Like a fool, I did that last post from memory and then went and looked it up after posting.  Couple big mistakes; Santo was the whole decade after all, and Hoak was like just a couple years.  So Santo probably had more win value than Brooks or Harmon.  Now that I’ve spouted off again, I better go look that up.

  15. AaronB said...

    Ken Boyer was a much better player than his brother Clete.  From 1960-1964 Ken Boyer had bWAR totals of 6.9, 8, 5.6, 5.2, 6.1 & OPS+‘s of 143, 136, 114, 123, & 130.  He also won 3 GG’s, an MVP, and was an All-Star each season.  He also had 3 six + bWAR seasons in the 50’s, but we cant count those for this team. 

    His problem was that after 1964 he pretty well fell off a cliff.  Didn’t age well at all.  After 1964 he only had two full seasons of at bats but he played until 1969. From 1965-69 he had bWAR of 6.6.  Wound up with a career OPS+ of 116

    The Boyers also had an older brother Cloyd, who pitched for the Cards briefly, before injuries did him in.

  16. Marc Schneider said...

    You could take the starting outfield and pitching staff, put Clemente and Mantle in reserve(I understand Mantle’s peak was not in the sixties bu the did have a 54 home run year and win an MVP in that decade), and play Woody Woodward, Rod Kanehl, Marv Throneberry, Ron Hunt,and Bob Tillman (random names basically)at the other positions and still have a team that could probably beat the hell out of most current MLB teams.

  17. gary said...

    Great article in that it sends me back to the stat books to revisit some of my opinions/memories. 

    60s was super for outfielders, not so much at 3B and C compared to 70s(Schmidt, Nettles, Evans, Brett and Bench, Carter, Sanguillen, Tenace, Munson, Simmons)

    Love your comments on Marichal – what an amazingly consistent performer…and with such style.  Loved the all star games where he would stnad there on the mound popping bubble gum and grinning before he dazzeld AL hitters with a whole array of unhittable pitches.

  18. Randy said...

    The claim that Brooks Robinson is “the best third baseman ever” is just silly. The list of the greatest third basemen ever begins with Mike Schmidt and George Brett.
    However, neither Schmidt nor Brett played in the 1960s. I thought that perhaps Brooks did have a claim to be the best third baseman of the 1960s. It would take a while to compare all of his stats to those of Ron Santo, but I was surprised to see that Santo had the higher WAR score for the decade, 57.6 to 53.8.

  19. Randy said...

    Philip is correct in noting that Sandy Koufax certainly had more than four good years and was not “terrible” before 1963.
    In 1961 Koufax went 18-13 with a 3.52 ERA, but with a road ERA nearly a full run lower than his home ERA; Koufax also set a then NL record with 269 strikeouts in the ‘61 season. Terrible?
    In 1962 Koufax was 14-7 with a NL leading 2.54 ERA, a NL leading 1.036 WHIP, and 216 strikeouts. Terrible?
    Then came the four great seasons:
    1963: 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA and 306 Ks, the pitching triple crown, a 0.875 WHIP, NL MVP and Cy Young award winner.
    1964: 19-5 with a 1.74 ERA , 0.928 WHIP amd 223 Ks.
    1965: 26-8 with a 2.04 ERA, 0.855 WHIP, 382 Ks (major league record at the time), pitching triple crown, and Cy Young award.
    1966: 27-9 record with a 1.73 ERA, 0.985 WHIP, 317 Ks, pitching crown and Cy Young award. 
    All three of Koufax’s Cy Young awards came when only one award was given for both leagues.

  20. HP3 said...

    I am not getting the Fregosi at short thing.  He had a nice run in the 60’s, but how about Maury Wills?  I know that after his playing career he has been a train wreck, but he did win a MVP, a Gold Glove (such as it is), and was the starting SS on three World Series teams in the 60’s.  Wills also played almost 400 more games in the 60’s.

    Fregosi has a better OPS, but I think I would rather have Wills body of work in the 60’s.

  21. Dennis Bedard said...

    Hey Randy.  Will you at least concede that Marichal had a better decade than Koufax?  I have spent many hours during “last call” arguing this point with people who think Koufax is the second coming of Jesus Christ and could do no wrong.  Not to jump ahead to future disagreements, but I always wondered how Koufax would be perceived if he reeled off 5 or 6 18-18 seasons with an ERA hovering around 3.00 after ‘66 a la Vida Blue or Dwight Gooden after they completed their 2-3 year runs at immortality only to sink back to mediocrity.

  22. Philip said...

    Jim said:
    ‘‘Koufax only had 4 good years, those mentioned above.  Before that, he was terrible.’‘

    No, Sandy wasn’t ‘‘terrible.’’ He was simply a lefty pitching in hitters’ ballparks (Ebbets Field and then the Los Angeles Coliseum, with its 251 left field line).

    Some detractors also knock Koufax’s stats because his home park for his best seasons was Dodger Stadium.

    However, in 1961 (while the Dodgers still played at the Coliseum) Koufax’s ERA in road games was 2.77, lower than the league-leader (Warren Spahn, 3.01).

    In 1960, his road ERA was 3.00 (the Giants Mike McCormick lead the league at 2.70).

    In reality, Koufax actually had 7 good years, most of those outstanding ones, and helped the Dodgers win two World Championships and three pennants during the decade of the 60s.

  23. Randy said...

    Yes, Marichal had a better decade than Koufax.
    For the decade Juan’s won-loss records were, 6-2, 13-10, 18-11, 25-8, 21-8, 22-13, 25-6, 14-10, 26-9 and 21-11. That is six 20 win seasons, three of them seasons in which he won 25 or more games. He twice lead the league in wins (1963 and 1968), twice lead the league in shutouts (10 in 1965 and 8 in 1969), lead in winning percentage once (.806 in 1966), lead in ERA once (2.10 in 1969)and twice lead in complete games (22 in 1964 and 30 in 1968).
    What is amazing is that Marichal never won the Cy Young award and probably did not deserve to win. In his greatest seasons Koufax or Bob Gibson or Tom Seaver was just a bit better. Wondeful pitcher though.

  24. Randy said...

    Three more comments about Koufax.
    First, Koufax retiring at the very peak of his career at age 30 left him frozen in our memory at his best. I was recently shocked to see a contemporary photograph of Koufax. Sandy looked as if he was an old man in his late 70s, albeit an old man still in good shape. Well, Sandy IS in his late 70s, but my mental image of him is as he was nearly fifty years ago. He was like a James Dean or an Abraham Lincoln, leaving the scene as an icon at his peak.
    Second, it is impossible to know how Koufax’s career would have played out had he not been forced to retire because of his arthritic elbow. He might have put together several more 20 win seasons before age forced his decline or maybe he would have flamed out early; he did have more great seasons than Blue or Gooden, which is why he is in the HOF and they are not.
    Third, if I could chose any pitcher in MLB history to start game seven of the World Series, I would select Sandy Koufax, but that would be the subject of another, much longer post.

  25. bucdaddy said...

    Mighty damn tough lineup to crack that puts Clemente on the bench.

    He’s not going to beat Aaron in any case, but it’s probably worth noting his home ballpark cost Clemente probably 40-50 homers for his career. He actually hit more career triples (103) at home than home runs (102). His home/road homer split was 102/138; his home-road triples split was 103/63.

    Mighty damn tough ballpark for a RH power hitter.

  26. BobDD said...

    bucdaddy,  and early Yankee stadium, but Forbes was the worst for LF in my lifetime.  Can you imagine if football or basketball allowed different dimensions?

    I’ve often wondered about several players: Clemente in Forbes and Williams in Fenway, how much did it even out that they had the platoon advantage more often than other players.  Because to make up for the green monster, LH starters were rare for Williams to face at home, and to take advantage of Forbes left and center field, every team would throw most any LH pitchers they had at Forbes.  How much did the platoon advantage for such great hitters help them make up for hitting to the bigger part of the ballpark?  Dimaggio in NY too for that matter . . . among several other possible examples.

    If this were just an all-star team then you’d load up more OF’s by putting Aaron and Mays in the middle infield.  Strat and APBA players probably still remember which years they were eligible for the infield.  Foxx and Gehrig both had one year at SS too.  That’s not gonna make much sense to most readers tho.

  27. Jim C. said...


    The Brooks Robinson thing is intended to be a joke.  Google “Sleepless in Seattle Quotes” for context.

  28. BobDD said...

    Maury Wills OPS+ was below 100; probably Dick McAuliffe was 2nd overall to Fregosi. 

    Fregosi was really good from 1962 to 1970, but after that never even had one more full time season – he seemed to just have gained weight and gotten slow all at once.  So it’s understandable that anyone who saw him in the 70’s might have forgotten or never known that he was THE MLB SS stud for nine years.

  29. Jim C. said...

    And as far as shortstops go, somebody should at least mention Luis Aparicio.  Baseball Reference gives him 34.5 WAR for the decade, which may not be quite as good as Fregosi’s 37.3 but ain’t too shabby.

  30. Bill Rubinstein said...

    It’s good that Fregosi was chosen over the more obvious Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills- Fregosi was better. Similarly, Ron Santo was the right choice at third. But the obvious choice at second was Bill Mazerowski, who (see Total Baseball) was better than Rose in the 1960s. Torre was an okay choice, but Bill Freehan or Elston Howard were good. Yaz was the best AL player over the decade, and should have been in the outfield, instead of Mays. At first, it should have been Killebrew or McCovey. Mickey Mantle, Clemente, and do not forget Roger Maris should have been considered. The pitchers are good- Koufax made the greatest impression on everyone who saw him at his peak of almost anyone in baseball history- but Whitey Ford should have been one of the picks.Another, lest we forget, was Denny McClain, whose 31-8 in 1968 would obviously have won him the Cy Young award over Bob Gibson if only one was given out, not one per league. He also won 20 or more two other times, before his career and lifer disintegrated.

  31. BobDD said...

    Maz’ lifetime OB% is .299 – I don’t think defense can make up for that.

    re Freehan, Howard, etc:  I do wish these articles showed who came in 2nd and 3rd, and even why they weren’t first.  You kinda did that for 1B and 3B and I really liked that part.

  32. Marc Schneider said...

    I don’t quite understand the animus directed at Koufax and Brooks Robinson.  My impression is that if you asked hitters who played against them who they thought the toughest pitcher was, most would say Koufax.  That’s obviously not definitive but says something.  Marichal was a great pitcher whose reputation was probably hurt by the Roseboro incident and, obviously, he pitched longer in the sixties and had a better overall career.  And, as someone said, it’s ridiculous to say that Koufax was “terrible” before 1963.  If he had not developed a circulatory problem in 1962, he would have had another sensational season.  Speculating that he would have regressed like Vida Blue or Dwight Gooden is silly for a number of reasons; Blue only had one really great season so the comparison is specious.  Gooden was felled by drugs and arm problems.  There is no real reason to think that Koufax would have declined significantly assuming his arm had held out.

    As for Brooks, no, he was not as good as Schmidt, but he was still pretty damn good.

  33. Dennis Bedard said...

    Assuming his arm held out?  Why not assume Gooden never self destructed on cocaine?  Let’s say Koufax pitched with arm problems after 1966.  He ran off 6 years of stats similar to Sam McDowell or post 1975 Vida Blue.  Or maybe he was traded to the Red Sox for George Scott or Reggie Smith after faltering in ‘67 and ‘68 and got hammered at Fenway as Killebrew and Frank Howard broke a record number of windshields in Kenmore Square.  Then he called it quits after reverting back to his late 50’s form.  There is no animus towards Koufax.  Just a belief that a full career is an important qualification for greatness.

  34. Philip said...

    Dennis, one can also make assumptions on what Koufax’s career number would look like if he pitched *without* any arm problems after 1966. Might he have had six or seven career no-hitters? Lead the Dodgers to another championship or two? Perhaps broke Walter Johnson’s career strikeout record on his way to winning 300 games.

    Koufax came up with Brooklyn in 1955. He retired after the 1966 season. He spent 12 years in Major League Baseball.

    Joe DiMaggio spent 13. I don’t think anyone would say Joltin’ Joe didn’t have a full career. What if he saw combat in the Pacific and gotten hurt or, God forbid, killed? What he had accomplished from 1936-1941 would not have qualified him for greatness?

    Jackie Robinson spent ten years in the majors – and his last two could hardly be called stellar. But does that mean he didn’t have a great career?

    Jackie’s and Sandy’s teammate, Roy Campanella, also played ten years. Like Koufax, his career also ended prematurely due to injury. Bill James rated him as the third best catcher of all-time.

    The Baseball Hall of Fame sets ten years of major league service as the minimum for qualifying to be elected by the BBWAA.

    Granted, we all have our opinions on what makes one player rate higher than another.

    And I would concede that if on an all-60s team the qualifier was that you had to play the entire decade, Juan Marichal’s the man.

    But as Randy also said, if I had to select one pitcher to start game seven of the World Series? Without a doubt, Koufax. It did, after all, work out for Walter Alston in 1965. (and Koufax wasn’t too shabby in game fours, too, as Yankee fans found out in 1963)

    And that’s without even considering that against an all-time A.L. team he’d be facing lefthanders Cobb, Williams, Ruth, Gehrig and Berra.

  35. BobDD said...

    I fail to see any animus directed at Koufax or Brooks just because someone else is rated better.  Calling either one of them 2nd or 3rd best of some arbitrary time period is affirmative I’d think, rather than derisive.

    And why would we start making assumptions of what someone might have done if reality is different?  I thought we were just evaluating what actually was.

    I agree with Philip’s assertion that a majority would state that Koufax was the toughest to hit against, but that was not the stated criteria of this article.  Juan had the equivalent of 9 full seasons in the 60’s and Koufax had 7, and the author is opining that Koufax could not make up the difference of those two additional seasons.  A very reasonable opinion even if disagreed with.

    Two commenters have said that if they had to pick one pitcher to start a game seven it would be Koufax.  Now this isn’t animus or anything, but I would choose Gibson.  Unless I was the Black Sox; then I would have started Jose Canseco or Eddie Gaedel.

  36. Randy said...

    Someone posted that Yaz should have been in the outfield instead of Willie Mays. Really?
    It is true that Yastrzemski lead Mays in doubles for the decade, 318 to 259.
    Meanwhile Mays lead Yaz in hits, 1635 to 1517, in runs, 1050 to 795, in triples, 53-37, in home runs, 350 to 202, in RBI, 892 to 767, in stolen bases, 126 to 80, in batting average, .300 to .293, and in slugging percentage, .559 to .486. Mays on base percentage was higher as well.
    I do not have their decade home and away splits, but for his career Yaz’s stats were greatly helped by having Fenway Park as his home park, as Yaz hit .306 at home compared to .264 on the road, with similar splits in on base percentage, .402 to .357, and in slugging, .503 to .422. In contrast Mays hit virtually the same, home and away, for his career: (home number listed first) batting average, .302 to .301, on base percentage, .387 to .382, and slugging, .567 to .549.
    As for fielding, Yaz was a very good leftfielder, while Mays was a very, very, very great centerfielder.
    As the article also noted, while Yaz’s 1967 WAR score ranks as the best season of the decade, the next four highest WAR scores for the 1960s all belonged to Mays.
    Each player won a MVP in the 1960s, Mays in 1965 and Yaz in 1967, but Mays clearly should have also been named MVP in 1962 and arguably in 1964 and 1966.

  37. Sabertooth said...

    If, in 1970, you had a time machine, and you could go back to 1960 and trade Mays straight up for Yaz, would you?

    I wouldn’t. Wouldn’t trade Killebrew or McCovey either.

  38. Marc Schneider said...


    The animus comment was more directed at the guy that said Koufax was “terrible” except for four years.  That’s just blatantly ridiculous. If the issue was about leaving Marichal off the team entirely, I would probably agree that he deserved to be on because he had the longer career in the decade. , maybe if this was position player, Koufax’s relatively short career might make a difference.  But they are both on the team.And, perhaps there is a legitimate issue with Koufax being in the HOF because I agree that longevity is a factor.  So But the fact that Marichal played longer does not necessarily make him better and I suspect there are few hitters of that generation that would say Marichal was better than Koufax.  I can’t really see how you cannot say that Koufax was one of the greatest pitchers in the sixties, even if it was only for five or six years. 

    As for Yaz, I too found the argument that he should be on the team rather than Mays pretty astonishing.  Not only were his overall numbers better, but the National League was a significantly stronger league; so not only was Mays pretty up numbers in a ballpark that probably hurt him, he did it in a stronger league, and playing a more difficult position.  It’s not close; Yaz was a great player-at least for parts of his career-but no inner-circle HOFer.  Mays was. Being the “best AL player” hardly justifies picking Yaz over Willie Mays.

  39. Dennis Bedard said...

    For me, it is the angst of not knowing how it would have turned out if Koufax had stayed healthy.  Would he have gone the way of Steve Blass and the others I mentioned or replicated his 4 season demolishment of the NL hitters.  And another point that is worth mentioning and has always stuck in me as just suspicion:  Did Marichal’s skin color have anything to do with the way the media covered him vis a vis Koufax?  Or for that matter, the way the fans felt about each.  Ditto Mantle, Martin, and Ford.  If three black players did what they did after the 9th inning, so to speak, I doubt the media would have covered it up or that Weiss would have tolerated it for 5 seconds.  Again, just a suspicion.

  40. cooldrive said...

    It’s your team, so you set the standards.  But it does seem that a first baseman should play first base. 
        Why not a hockey player?
        I think I’d take McCovey over Bobby Hull.

  41. Marc Schneider said...


    My point is, it doesn’t matter what Koufax would or would not have done after 1966, any more than Blass’ later problems detract from his 1971-72 seasons.  Koufax was probably the best pitcher in the decade when he pitched; whether or not he would have been as good if he had pitched longer is, to me, irrelelevant.  It’s like saying that Roger Maris should not have been MVP in 1961 because Mantle had a better career.  (Although I suppose it’s arguable that Mantle had a better year but that’s another argument.) Koufax did what he did when he did it.  He was better, IMO, than Marichal when they both pitched. 

    As to your point about race, I’m not going to deny that race often has played an issue in how different players are covered, but IMO, it’s too easy to make race a blanket explanation for everything. I can, off the top of my head, think of several, non-racial reasons for why Koufax was covered differently than Marichal-if he actually was:

    1-Koufax played in a larger media market, which was especially important in the pre-cable, pre-internet era.

    2-the Dodgers were more successful, winning three pennants and two WS between 1960 and 1966.

    3-as a corollary to the first two, Koufax starred in three WS in the decade and dominated the Yankees (an even larger media market) in 1963, as well as pitching a shutout in Game 7 in 1965. Marichal pitched in one WS, which the Giants lost.  Again, given that there was generally only one game on nationally each week, the World Series was the only way that people would have seen players, so Koufax’s performance would have generated more attention. 

    4-Koufax put up huge strikeout numbers, which in itself made him more likely to get positive coverage.  Marichal was a great pitcher but did not put up huge strikeout totals like Koufax.

    5-Koufax was simply a better pitcher.  I’m not doing any extensive research and this probably isn’t definitive, but Koufax’s ERA+ between 1962 and 1966 was 143, 159, 186, 160, and 190.  In the same period, Marichal was 114, 133, 143, 169, and 167.  Obviously, Marichal was a hell of a pitcher-but he wasn’t as good as Koufax in the period when they both pitched-and, in fact, Marichal’s performance-in terms of ERA+ tailed off significantly over the remainder of the decade.

    6-Marichal’s incident with John Roseboro clouded his reputation. This undoubtedly-and probably unfairly-hurt created a negative public impression of Marichal.  But this is hardly an example of racial animus given that Roseboro was African-American. 

    With respect to the difference between coverage of white players and black players in off-the-field incidents, the fact is, the press rarely reported stuff like that for anyone, white or black.  Like President Kennedy’s sexual adventures, this was just not reported. The Copa incident was heavily reported because it was so public and, as someone noted, it resulted in Billy Martin being traded.

    Given how pervasive racial issues are in this country, especially in the 50s/60s, you can always “have a suspicion” that race played a role.  And, as I said, I have no doubt that it did at times. And, maybe Marichal wasn’t given the publicity that he deserved.  But I think it’s unfair to imply that Koufax did not deserve the coverage or that he simply was covered more positively because he was white.  After all, Koufax wasn’t exactly out of WASP casting either.

  42. Dennis Bedard said...

    It is a good thing that this argument takes place in cyberspace.  If we were all in a bar, half of us would end up with a pool stick across our backs and the other half would spend the night (or next morning) in the hoosegow.

  43. BobDD said...

    The criteria wasn’t who was the better pitcher when they both pitched, but who produced the most over the course of the decade.  Koufax missed three seasons and only had 5 seasons of at least 200 IP.  Marichal missed no seasons and had 8 seasons of at least 200 IP.  You can say Koufax was better when they both pitched and be right, but Marichal still will “win” the decade.  No knock on Sandy; he just wasn’t there any longer.

  44. Marc Schneider said...

    I acknowledge that Marichal had the more productive decade by virtue of pitching longer.  That’s why the author included Marichal on the team.  But the gist of what I read in several of the comments is that Koufax was overrated relative to Marichal, in part due to the shortness of his career, and that he was unduly celebrated and there was one suggestion that this was because of race.  That’s what I’m objecting to.  Clearly, Marichal should be on the all-60s team.  What I was reacting to was the sense that Koufax wasn’t that good and that Marichal was better.  I just don’t think that’s the case.

  45. Gary said...

    Wow, what a choice – Marichal or Koufax?  Two all time greats….and both really interesting figures beyong their obvious effectiveness.  Marichal the Dominican Dandy with the high leg kick and a dozen pitches from every angle that is etched in the mind of all fans of that era – Koufax, the epitome of power – the incredible fastball, the drop off the table curve, the intensity with those veins sticking out of his neck.  Both great pitchers with contenders, both in lots of big games.  I can’t get to caught up in arguing which was “better” – they were both uniquely fantastic.

  46. Philip said...

    Couldn’t resist.

    To answer Dennis’ question, Mick actually performed pretty good after the 9th inning. According to, his career numbers were .364/.522/.793 with 14 homeruns and 40 RBI in 121 ABs. In fact, Mantle’s extra innings number were better than any of his first nine.

    So, too, it seems with Billy Martin. A .257 hitter, Martin hit .343/.395/.429 in the extra frames.

    As for The Chairman of the Board, he actually pitched better after nine than he did in the first inning. And his SO/BB ratio was 1.75.

    As someone once said, ‘‘You could look it up.’’

  47. Philip said...

    Dennis asked, ‘’ If three black players did what they did after the 9th inning, so to speak, I doubt the media would have covered it up or that Weiss would have tolerated it for 5 seconds.’‘

    I think what George Weiss tolerated was his players winning five World Championships and eight pennants in the ten seasons from 1951-1960 until he was fired after the 1960 World Series.

    Ford and Martin came up in 1950, Mantle a year later. Martin liked to say later that the only year (1964) the Yankees didn’t win a pennant with him playing was when he was in the Army.

    Martin, by the way, was allegedly traded by the Yankees because of a bar incident. Martin felt betrayed by Stengel but they patched up their friendship in the 70s (and when Stengel died in 1975, Martin ironically was the Yankees manager).

    While celebrating Martin’s birthday with a number of Yankees players and their wives, a drunken member in the audience began making racial epithets directed at performer Sammy Davis, Jr.

    Hank Bauer got into a verbal argument with the loudmouth and Martin suggested they take the dispute away from the tables. According to reports, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford had to restrain Bauer who was charged for breaking the drunk’s nose (charges were dropped for lack of evidence). But Weiss blamed it all on Martin, who was traded shortly afterwards.

    Not sure there was much of a ‘‘cover-up’’ by the media.

    There were plenty contemporary reports of the Yankees partying ways in the 50s.

    Casey Stengel benched Ford and Berra after the May 16, 1957 Copacabana incident, telling the Associated Press: ‘‘I can’t pitch a pitcher who stays out to two in the morning and then the whole world knows about it.’‘

    Bauer was dropped to the 8th slot in the lineup. Mantle played, going 2/2 and belting a solo shot in the 3rd, the only run Bob Turley would need in a 3-0 shutout against Kansas City.

    Ford, who hadn’t pitched since May 4th when he didn’t even last through the second inning, would eventually start five days later then not pitch again until July. So there was more likely a nagging injury in play there.

  48. Philip said...

    (As for what roster moves Weiss might have made had his star players been black, one could write a whole article on that.)

  49. BobDD said...

    Hey Philip, I can top that.

    Two men leave on a train from the same depot going in opposite directions.  One is traveling 45 mph, and the other is traveling 60 mph, but stops at every city that begins with a “K”.  One man has never seen sunlight before and the other one is an older brother.

    For great applause and the win: which one is the greater clutch hitter on thursday night games that are played above the 37th parallel?

    Hint: Koufax was left-handed

  50. Philip said...

    (a typo re: Billy Martin. Meant to say “1954” in referring to the only season he played for the Yankees when they didn’t win the pennant)

    The author of the article set the parameters:

    ‘‘For starting pitchers, to appear on the team requires at least 200 starts in a given decade.’‘

    Unfortunately, in picking Marichal over Koufax Richard did not state much beyond: ‘‘But the simple truth is that no one had more wins—no one is even close, really—or more shutouts. Only Koufax had a better ERA+.’‘

    Take the American League in a certain decade and try to decide who was the best pitcher.

    ‘‘Pitcher A’’ won two MVP awards (yes, MVP awards) and, to borrow a phrase, ‘‘the simple truth is that no one had more wins — no one is even close, really — or more shutouts.’’  He pitched for a World Series winner and no one had a better ERA+.

    ‘‘Pitcher B’’ didn’t play at all during three full seasons in that decade. Still, he was second in wins, second in shutouts, second in shutouts and second best in ERA+. He also pitched for a World Series winner but didn’t win any MVP awards.

    ‘‘Pitcher B’’ (like Koufax of the 60s) was a dominant strikeout pitcher, leading the lead five times, and had less than 200 strikeouts fewer than ‘‘Pitcher A’’ despite pitching over 550 fewer innings than ‘‘Pitcher A.’‘

    Perhaps there are those who would say Bob Newhouser was the best American League starting pitcher of the 1940s (I believe Richard did as well), but I’d still take ‘‘Pitcher B’’ – Bob Feller, who lost three years of his career serving in the Navy during World War II.

    Sure, some will say, but that’s different. The war. But, as Dennis argued against projecting what Koufax might have done in the three years of the decade he didn’t pitch, how do we know what Feller might have done in 1942-44? He might have developed arm trouble, got traded to the Yankees for Buddy Rosar and then lead the league in homeruns allowed as visiting players launched ball after ball over the short porch in right field.

    Another argument might that, unlike Feller, Newhouser pitched against inferior talent in 1943-44 while Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio et all were at war.

    Of course, Koufax didn’t get to pitch against the expansion clubs in 1969. Marichal (who was 21-11 that year), went 6-2 against the expansion clubs. It was the only year in which Marichal lead the N.L. in ERA.

    There is no doubt that Marichal was a great pitcher. And I agree with Marc’s points about why perhaps Marichal didn’t get as much good publicity as he should have.

    But Koufax missing three years of the decade shouldn’t disqualify him for greatness.

    Another of the problem is that careers don’t fit nicely into a specific ten year period, they tend to overlap.

    Perhaps another way to look at is if you were the new G.M. of the New York Mets in the fall of 1961. It’s expansion draft time and the rules are different this time. You can pick any pitcher from any N.L. club as your first choice before those clubs can protect anyone.

    You also have something the Astros GM doesn’t: a fax from the future with the yearly stats of the both pitchers up to and including the 1966 season.

    Sure, Koufax is a little older, but less than two years. And you don’t know that he will develop arm trouble.

    Who do you pick?

  51. R W said...

    A few people compared Sandy Koufax’s career with Dwight Gooden’s.  If you check out their overall numbers, Koufax’s are clearly better, but Gooden’s are close to Hall of Fame caliber.  The big difference is this: Koufax had 5 or 6 season as a young pither learning the trade.  He was usually ineffective but had a great deal of promise.  He then had two good years in 61 and 62 and followed that up with four great years from 63-66.  He pitched through pain and led the Dodgers to three pennants and two championships during those last four years.  Arm problems forced him to retire early.

    In contrast, Gooden was a star right away, and he threw it all away with the cocaine.  If Gooden had put been hampered only by injuries and arm problems, rather than cocaine use, he migth well be a Hall of Famer today.

    That said, Koufax did have a signifantly better career.

    One other point: someone mentioned that Denny McClaine ( 31 – 6 ) would have easily beaten out Bob Gibson as the winner of the Cy Young Award in 1968, had there only been one winner as was the case until only a year or two before.  I’m not sure.  How could you deny McClain the award with 31 wins?  But how could deny Gibson the award when he had what was probably the greatest season any pitcher had post World War II?  ( It makes no sense to try to compare him with Christy Matthewson, cy Young or other early 20th century pitchers. )  If I were stuck voting I probably would have had to split the ballot.

    I agree with those who mentioned that Micky Mantle should have been given strong consideration.  But he probably falls a bit short.  If we were voting a different ten years (1955 – 1964) then I think Mantle should make the team.  The same goes for Whitey Ford.  And if we want to take the twenty years after World War II. then you can’t overlook Warren Spahn, who had greaet years from the late 40’s through the 50’s right into the early 60’s.

  52. Sabertooth said...

    @ Phillip:

    “Perhaps another way to look at is if you were the new G.M. of the New York Mets in the fall of 1961. It’s expansion draft time and the rules are different this time. You can pick any pitcher from any N.L. club as your first choice before those clubs can protect anyone.

    You also have something the Astros GM doesn’t: a fax from the future with the yearly stats of the both pitchers up to and including the 1966 season.

    Sure, Koufax is a little older, but less than two years. And you don’t know that he will develop arm trouble.

    Who do you pick?”

    Wow, the Colt 45s’ GM gets to know stats but not career-ending arm trouble through ‘66? Card stack, much?

    The Anti-Spec from Houston says:

    “Get me one of those yet-to-be invented NASA 01/01/70 fax machines, so that I can see whether Marichal or Koufax would help my young ‘67-‘69 Morgan/Staub/Wynn/Wilson/Cuellar/Giusti/etc roster more.”

    Play that hand, Phil.

  53. fred said...

    good article iwould haveazeroski over rose at2because of his defmore valuableat 2b i also wouldput ken boyerat3b over santo and brooks catcher freehan mccovey at 1b was better than ys mantle andmaystied cf too hard to choose pitchhers pretty good

  54. Marc Schneider said...

    Re: Gibson vs. McLain

    I think there is a good argument that Gibson had a much better 1968 than McLain.  His ERA was obviously significantly lower, he pitched in the stronger league, and had much worse run support than McLain (losing several 1-0 games).  McLain probably would have won the Cy Young because of the emphasis on games won, but Gibson was the better pitcher.

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