The all-decade team: the ‘80s

Though it featured, most notably, the birth of me, the 1980s were something of a mixed decade for baseball. Low points included the 1981 labor stoppage and the Pittsburgh drug trials, revealing that the cocaine problem in baseball was so widespread that even the “Pirate Parrot” was purchasing the drug.

On the brighter side, the decade saw maybe the greatest postseason of all time in 1986 and the parity achieved throughout the decade that saw a different team win the World Series in each of the decade’s first eight years.

But does parity in teams make for greatness in players? You’ll just have to read on to find out.

I have gone over the rules for qualification on these teams multiple times, so I will spare you this week. The one exception is for the reliever spot, whose qualifications were introduced regularly only as the idea of a reliever became a more common thing. Thus, to be eligible for a reliever spot, a player must have appeared in at least 400 games in relief in the decade while starting no more than 30 games.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s find out who made the squad:

Catcher: Gary Carter
There are some great positional battles upcoming, but catcher does not have one. In fact, “Kid” towers over the competiton, more than a win and a half better per season than his nearest competition. An All-Star every season save 1989, Carter put up a .782 OPS in the decade while slugging more than 200 home runs.

At the time of his death, far too young, from brain cancer, Carter was remembered as the man who provided “championship fiber” for the dominating 1986 Mets.

First base: Eddie Murray
From 1981 through 1984, Eddie Murray put up an OPS+ of 156, 156, 156 and, finally, 157. Perhaps it is becoming clear why he was known as “Steady Eddie.” Though I remember Murray as something of a bat-for-hire, bouncing around during the later part of his career, this decade saw his glory days as an Oriole. For the decade, no one drove in more runs and Murray ranked first or second among first baseman in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, walks. He also won three Gold Gloves for his defense and slugged three home runs during the Orioles’ World Series winning 1983 postseason run.

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All-80s shortstop Cal Ripken being honored in Baltimore (US Presswire)

Second base: Lou Whitaker
In the 1980s alone, Lou Whitaker won three Gold Glove awards, made five All-Star teams and led all second baseman in hits, runs, homers and RBI. Naturally, when it came time to vote for the Hall of Fame, Whitaker earned a grand total of 15 votes.

Anyway, as all that shows, Whitaker was a terrific all-around player. The decade saw some pretty good second baseman—including Ryne Sandberg, who cruised into the Hall of Fame despite not being a noticeably better player than Whitaker—but the career-long Tiger was the best.

Third base: Wade Boggs
Maybe this is just me, but it seems that for a truly great player, a doubles machine, five-time batting champion, and so on, Wade Boggs is remembered for an inordinate amount of what might be loosely termed “other stuff.”

There’s the superstitions—Boggs ate chicken before every game and performed certain pre-game rituals at the same time every game—and the Margo Adams thing. There’s Boggs’ apparent fondness for pro wrestling: He appeared in a promotional video with “Mr. Perfect” Curt Henning and later inducted him into the WWE Hall of Fame. There’s Boggs’ own Hall of Fame controversy, with rumors that he was paid by the then-Devil Rays to enter the Hall wearing their cap. There is the possible apocryphal story that Boggs could drink 50 or 60 Miller Lites during the travel from New York to Seattle for a road trip. And of course, for Yankee fans, there’s Boggs riding the police horse around Yankee Stadium after winning the World Series.

None of this changes anything about the Boggs the player—well, maybe the beer thing—but it seems unusual to me that a player capable of being remembered for his talents would have so much to go along with it.

Shortstop: Cal Ripken
This was, by a fair measure, the toughest spot to pick for any all-decade team. Four players are within five WAR of each other for this spot. One of them I managed to remove by sticking him elsewhere (you’ll see in a moment) but the others are even more tightly bunched. Among Alan Trammell, Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken, the difference is less than a quarter of a win per season.

So how did Ripken get the spot? The short answer is that he was slightly better at his best than either of the other two. His 1983 and 1984 seasonsAlan Trammellwhen he averaged more than 9 WAR per season to go along with a .311 average and 145 OPS+Alan Trammellare enough to put him on top.

That having been said, it would certainly not be “wrong” to put either Trammel or Smith in this spot, and it is possible that by the time all is said and done in the comment section I will have changed my mind.

Left field: Rickey Henderson
Bill James—once moronically accused of minimizing the contributions of Rickey Henderson on the grounds of racism—has written that if you split Rickey Henderson in two you would have two Hall of Famers. This statement has, predictably, been analyzed a lot of ways. But you could make a good case that the numbers Henderson put up in this decade would be a Hall of Fame career all on their own. Of course, it starts with the stolen bases: He nabbed 838 in the 10 years, leading the league every season save 1987. (He played just 95 games that season and was fifth in steals anyway.)

But there was more than just speed to his success. He led the league, variously, in runs scored, hits and walks. He made the All-Star team eight times and had five top-10 MVP performances. (He probably deserved more, particularly for his 1980 season when he finished a criminally low 10th in the voting.)

One might argue that in the ’80s alone Rickey Henderson did not quite do enough to reach the Hall of Fame. No player in the decade came closer.

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The one, the only: Rickey (US Presswire)

Center field: Robin Yount
I mentioned earlier that one way I solved the shortstop logjam was by moving a player to another position. Well, here’s that man. After putting up the best shortstop season of the decade—and earning MVP honors—in 1982, Yount moved to center field for the 1985 season.

Given that he would win the 1989 MVP award playing the position, I think we can safely say that the move worked. Of course, a big part of this was that Yount hit wherever you stuck him. He would lead the league, at various times throughout the decade, in hits, doubles, triples and OPS. In fact, he is the decade’s leader in hits and doubles, and behind only the speedy Willie Wilson in triples. That much offense coming out of a man capable of playing two of the toughest defensive positions on the diamond meant there was no question the all-decade team would find a place for the longtime Brewer.

Right field: Andre Dawson
Like some others—Jim Rice leaps to mind, as does that other ’80s mainstay, Jack Morris—the controversy around Andre Dawson’s Hall of Fame induction has for some overshadowed his legitimate greatness. It is true that Dawson was never a big taker of walks. Only nine players had more plate appearances in the decade, but 81 drew more walks. On the other hand, when Dawson swung the bat, he did some major damage.
Overall he slugged 250 home runs in the ’80s and just three players had more extra-base hits. And Dawson did all that while playing the kind of defense that earned him eight Gold Gloves and justified his childhood “Hawk” nickname.

Starting pitchers: Dave Stieb, Bert Blyleven, Bob Welch, Fernando Valenzuela, John Tudor

Two thoughts on that rotation: first, most obviously, it is not quite as eye-catching as that of say, the 1910s or 1960s. Second, I suppose Jack Morris is conspicuous in his absence. While he did lead all pitchers in wins during the decade, there are more important things than simply wins for a pitcher, so he’s not on the squad.

Stieb is one of the great underrated pitchers in baseball history, twice leading the league in ERA+ during the decade and earning himself just a pair of seventh place finishes in the Cy Young voting for his trouble. His undoing, perhaps predictably, was his win totals. Despite posting a major league-best 126 ERA+ among qualifying starters, Stieb won just 140 games. During the 1985 season, while leading the league in ERA, he went just 14-13.

I’ll spare you yet more (digital) ink spilled on Blyleven—who made the all-decade last decade as well, of course—and move to Bob Welch. There were seasons, like 1981 and ’84, when Welch was a relatively mediocre starter. On the other hand, when things were good, they were very good. In 1985 Welch went 14-4 with a 150 ERA+, and in 1987 he led the National League in shutouts.

In the popular memory, it seems many believe Fernando Valenzuela made his Fernandomania! debut in 1981, winning the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards and then more-or-less immediately ate himself out of baseball. Of course, this is somewhat belied by Valenzuela’s numbers the rest of the decade. Even excluding 1981, he won more than 110 games and posted strong seasons as a workhorse for the Dodgers in 1985 and ’86.

As 1982 rolled around, it would have seemed hard to believe that John Tudor would someday be making this team. A three-year, 27-year old veteran, Tudor had pitched less than 200 innings in his career with an ERA just a shade better than league average. But for the rest of the way, Tudor was outstanding. He posted a 3.06 ERA and threw 15 shutouts, including a league-leading 10 in 1985.

Relief pitcher: Dan Quisenberry
I’ve written about Quisenberry before, in large part for his wit: “Natural grass is a wonderful thing for little bugs and sinkerball pitchers,” “I found a delivery in my flaw,” and so on. Of course, as his place on this team demonstrates, “Quiz” was as adroit on the mound as he was with his words.

The league leader in saves five times during the decade, Quisenberry threw the kind of innings totals unseen by modern closers, averaging just shy of 100 per season for the decade. (Of course this might go some ways in explaining why he was basically finished as a pitcher at age 34.) During his 1980-85 peak, Quiz led the league in saves every season save ’81—he was third—and posted a 165 ERA+. Though he pitched many fewer innings than most men on the list, Quisenberry’s career 146 ERA+ remains the eighth best all-time.

Manager: Whitey Herzog
In the 1970’s Whitey Herzog managed the Royals to three straight division titles, and three straight losses in the ALCS to the Yankees. In 1980 the Royals finally defeated the Yankees except Herzog had by then left the Royals to take over the St. Louis Cardinals. So at first blush it might seem that the man born Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog had made the wrong choice.

Of course, it turned out quite the other way. Over the next decade, Herzog would win three more division titles. Unlike his time in Kansas City, these division titles came with playoff success as the Cards won the 1982 World Series and appeared in the 1985 and ’87 Fall Classic as well. For good measure Herzog won nearly 800 games in St. Louis and was the most successful manager of the decade.

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Comments

  1. Ctwink said...

    Regarding Whitaker, no writer on this entire site should use gold gloves as a justification for a player’s spot in history.  Gold Gloves have been a popularity contest since before I was born (and I’m 43).  In fact, I think if a write DOES site the number of gold gloves to push one player over another, he/she should be banned from the site…

    That being said, the Whitaker/Sandberg debate is an interesting one.  I’ve had a continual debate with a clearly dyed-in-the-wool Tigers fan about how Whitaker was ROBBED of HOF status while a “clearly inferior” Sandberg waltzed in.  Considering their WARs for the decade and career WARs are so close (and Whitaker ranks higher in both) its an interesting character study of the voters reasons for excluding Whitaker.

  2. Marc Schneider said...

    No real quibbles with the team.  The interesting thing, to me, about Ripken vs. Trammel is that Ripken was far more productive early in his career and began declining at a relatively young age (maybe due to playing every single game?) while Trammel’s peak was later.  At his best, as you say, Ripken was better, but, frankly, he had a lot of seasons later in his career where he was pretty pedestrian.

  3. Bill said...

    I started to write a response to this that objected to John Tudor being one of the five pitchers in place of Dwight Gooden.  To my surprise, on looking at the data, as good as Doc was, Tutes really was better.  He’s mainly remembered for his brilliant St. Louis years, but they overshadow the fact that he also pitched well in Boston and Pittsburgh, but flew under the radar since he was playing for bad to mediocre teams.  There is a curious parallel with Dave Stieb.

    This said, I wouldn’t have a quarrel with putting Gooden in that last spot instead of Tudor.  Maybe let them share the spot, in recognition of their great rivalry during the middle part of the decade, and also the fact that they were extreme opposites in pitching style, Gooden the great right-handed power arm and Tudor the left-handed soft-tosser with perfect control.  Incidentally, I’d be tempted to name Ripken and Smith the co-recipients of the shortstop honor, in much the same yang/yin way.

  4. Dennis Bedard said...

    Interesting that the name Dwight Gooden is nowhere to be found.  He had a run in the mid-80’s that puts him at the cusp of inclusion if not so outright.  I agree with Eddie Murray but Keith Hernandez should get an honorable mention.  Putting Yount in centerfield is not as bad as putting Yaz at first but it still does not pass the smell test.  He is the shortstop on this team.  Ask yourself this: If Ripken had not played in all those consecutive games, would he be the SS choice.  I doubt it.  Ripken is overrated.  It amazes me the way the media treats him:  the golden boy who can do no wrong.  Playing in so many consecutive games is meaningless and counterproductive.  Think about it.  It is late September and you have clinched first place.  You have a Monday night game in NY that ends at 11 and then fly to LA for a day game on Tuesday that starts a meaningless 4 game series.  The playoffs start the following week.  What good does it do the Orioles to start Ripken in all of those games?  In a word, nothing except to achieve something that is the equivalent of getting a perfect attendance star in grammar school for showing up every day of the year.

  5. Richard Barbieri said...

    I probably should have mentioned this in column proper but arguably the two “best” 80s pitchers, at least if we’re discussing peak are Roger Clemens and Gooden. But neither one actually made the requisite 200 starts in the decade.

  6. Carl said...

    Richard,

    I am surprised that you have Boggs rather than either Brett or Schmidt @ third.  Brett was an MVP (and a second place finish), won a batting title and 3 times led the league in slugging, OPS and OPS+ in the decade.  He was also a 9 time All-Star in the decade. 

    Boggs was a 5 time All-Star and lead the league in OPS twice and OPS+ once in the decade.

    Also, how about Mike Schmidt?  Schmidt was a 3 time MVP in the decade and lead the league in OPS 5 times and OPS+ six times in the decade.  An 8-time All Star during the decade, he lead the league in homers 6 times during the decade as well.

    Seems to me that Boggs is the third best 3B of the decade.

    And still no DH?

  7. Marc Schneider said...

    Dennis,

    Given that the Orioles were almost never in contention after Ripken’s first two years, your scenario about having clinched first place is probably not a realistic issue.  But your point is well-taken and I often thought the same thing.  Ripken went through some periods where he really struggled and I wondered if he might not be better off taking a day off.  Having said that, I think your conclusion that Ripken is overrated is a bit harsh.  I don’t see that much difference between Ripken’s stats and Yount’s.  Yount has a slightly higher OPS+ but Ripken accumulated more WAR and had a lot more home runs.  It’s not obvious to me that Yount is the better player.

  8. Matthew said...

    I’ll second what Carl and Dennis said, but lets also mention that Schmidt was also an above-average defensive third baseman as well. What’s really mind-boggling is that you don’t even give a passing mention to Schmidt; it’s almost as if you were looking for the internet to troll you on this particular piece.

  9. Crazy Horse said...

    Eddie Murray is probably my favorite player ever, and I do not care for the Yankees at all, but you have to at least mention Don Mattingly in the first base discussion.

  10. Craxy Horse said...

    I will throw out another name for first base – Kent Hrbek.  If he would have had the same number at bats as Murray, his numbers would have been practically identical.  I agree with Murray, but if Hrbek or Mattingly had started a year or two sooner either one could easily have been the choice.

  11. Joe Distelheim said...

    These teams have been fun to read about and debate, and I agree with you most times.  But I think you give Jack Morris short shrift.

    I know he’s the poster boy for those who scorn traditional stats.  But in every one of the other teams you’ve named, you’ve cited games won as you pick the best pitchers.  Wins aren’t everything, but they’re something. Morris had more ‘80s wins than anyone else by a long shot.  And more complete games by a wide margin.  His WAR in the decade is comparable to Tudor’s, his annual strikeout average second only to Valenzuela, his ERA+ close to Welch and Blyleven and better than Valenzuela.

    Morris was very good at a lot of things for a long time.

  12. Frank said...

    I’m kind of surprised that no one has made mention of Nolan Ryan yet. He pitched for the full decade, led the NL in ERA twice, and had these numbers: 2094 IP, 2167Ks, 1.192 WHIP (Tudor 1.204, Welch 1.225), 3.14 ERA (Tudor 3.13, Welch 3.21). Somehow, Ryan is behind those two in ERA+, even though they all spent the bulk of the decade in pitchers’ parks. If I had to chose two of those three, I take Ryan, as he’s by far the most overpowering, and by a nose, John Tudor over Welch.

  13. cooldrive said...

    I really enjoy this series, but anyone over Schmidt at third?  Schmidt let in OPS+ 6 times, Boggs once (Brett 3 times).  Boggs had a tough time figuring out how to play third, where Schmidt was great.  Schmidt was fast, Boggs was slow. 
        Gotta be: 1. Schmidt
              2. Brett
              3. Boggs

  14. Bill McKinley said...

    Unbelievable! Nary a mention of Dale Murphy on the 1980s squad. Two-time MVP winner and arguably the best player in the league from 1980-87. Granted he faded fast to end the decade but he deserves better here….

  15. Ian R. said...

    I was a bit surprised by the Boggs choice as well, but he actually beats Schmidt in WAR for the decade (by both Fangraphs and B-R), and he does so despite not coming up until 1982. It seems weird to leave off Schimdt, who won 3 MVPs during the decade, but by the numbers it makes sense. It helps that Boggs led the league in OBP six different times.

  16. Paul G. said...

    Somehow, Ryan is behind those two in ERA+, even though they all spent the bulk of the decade in pitchers’ parks.

    There are pitchers’ parks and then there is the Astrodome.

    Using the baseball-reference.com multi-year park factors, which is what ERA+ is using I believe, Nolan Ryan always pitched in a better pitcher’s park than John Tudor except in 1989 when Ryan moved to Texas and Tudor barely played.  Fenway was a hitter’s park, Pittsburgh basically neutral, Busch basically neutral, and LA was almost as bad as Houston in 1988 but not quite.

    Moving onto Welch, Dodger Stadium was a pitcher’s park for Welch’s run but it was was always better than the Astrodome except for 1985 (both 96) and 1986 (LA was worse: 93-96).  After Welch moves to Oakland 1988 is a draw (both 96) and finally the Nolan Ryan Express has to deal with a significant more hostile abode in 1989: 102-95.

    Vs. Tudor, Nolan is pitching in a more favorable environment every year except 1989 when Tudor pitched 14 innings.  Vs. Welch, Bob has the worse of it 6 seasons plus 2 draws.  Well, yeah, Nolan Ryan is going to have the worse ERA+ in that case…

  17. dennis Bedard said...

    I think the following second string team is stronger than the first:
    3b Schmidt
    SS Young
    2b Sandberg
    1b Hernandez or Mattingly
    OF:  Rice, Murphy and Winfield
    C: Lance Parrish
    P:  Jack Morris

  18. Mike Green said...

    That’s a helluva weak rotation for an all-decade team.  Three of the best pitchers in the decade came up in the middle (Clemens, Saberhagen and Gooden).  Each of them delivered 30 WAR+ in 6 years.  That’s what you want to see out of an all-decade pitcher…

    When Bill James did his all-decade teams, Spud Chandler made the grade in the 40s despite pitching less than Clemens, Saberhagen and Gooden.

  19. Carl said...

    Mike – Saberhagen also does not have 200 GS (178) in the decade.

    Cardsblo – Baines would be a great DH for the decade.

    Dennis & Ian – bWAR for defense really helps Boggs and hurts Winfield. Boggs, who I recall (as Matthew does) as a bad fielder when he came up got dWAR of 9.5 during the decade while Schmidt got only 5.2 dWar.  Wow. 

    Also, Winfield, who I recall as a pretty versatile player with a rifle of an arm (and who got 5 gold gloves during the decade) got NEGATIVE 11.1 dWAR during the decade.

  20. gdc said...

    Dennis had me stumped for a minute with
    SS Young
    Thinking of Michael Young kept me from changing the last letter in my head.

  21. Dennis Bedard said...

    Sorry about that.  Side effect of old age. But the upside is that I know the difference between Bo Belinsky and Bodiddily.

  22. Marc Schneider said...

    I’m not expert at advanced sabermetrics but my understanding is that the defensive metrics are not well accepted as the offensive so that you might want to take the Boggs/Schmidt dWars with a little grain of salt.  I’m not sure I would rely on that particular statistic to rank Boggs ahead of Schmidt.

  23. BobDD said...

    yeah, what Marc said

    but then again, Boggs was in his prime and Schmidt was just starting his downturn.  Putting Boggs so very slightly ahead based on that seems justified.

  24. BobDD said...

    I also think this decade was the most closely contested.  Only Carter and Henderson among the position players were relatively easy calls.

  25. Ian R. said...

    Carl – Defense tends to peak early. Schmidt turned 30 in 1980, so it makes sense that his best years in the field were already behind him. Meanwhile, Boggs was in his 20s for the bulk of the decade, and by the numbers he was an above-average defender.

  26. John C said...

    The main issue is that this is the all-1980s team, and a lot of outstanding players came into the league between 1984 and 1986, which makes it hard to argue for them on an all-star team of 1980-1989. A 1986-95 team would kill this team.

    Third base is tough. Boggs didn’t come into the league until 1982, but Schmidt in 1988 and 1989 was washed up. Except for 1988 and 1990, Brett’s greatest seasons were all between 1976 and 1985—his brilliant ‘76 and ‘79 seasons give him no boost here. He was a good player every year, but Wade Boggs was a superstar from the day they called him up (he hit .349 as a rookie) to the end of the decade.

    I would have taken Jack Morris over Fernando. The only reason Fernando’s raw stats look better is because one guy was pitching in Tiger Stadium, in a DH league, and the other one was pitching in Dodger Stadium. Fernando was great in 1981-82 and 1985, but other than that, he was just a slightly above-average starter through ‘87, after which he went off a cliff. Morris’ only bad year in the decade was ‘89, and nothing he could have done would have made a difference for Detroit that season.

  27. Ken S said...

    Don Mattingly at his best was far better than Eddie Murray at his best … but I realize that Murray’s numbers for the whole decade probably exceed Don’s.

  28. Bill Rubinstein said...

    Okay choices as usual. Sandberg should obviously be at second and Schmidt should probably be ar third. The most notable feature is the mediocrity of. the pitching staff which frankly stinks compared with othe. decades. Morris should be there. What about Molitor as dh?

  29. BobDD said...

    Bill,  I read your comment and immediately wondered why you would champion Jim Sundberg so bizzarely.  About the third reading, the penny dropped for me and I thought “Duh” I need to work on my reading comprehension; I really am getting old.

  30. Cliff Blau said...

    Although Morris pitched about 300 more innings than Valenzuela, their walks and strikeouts are almost identical.  Valenzuela does have a slight edge in both.  The main difference between them is that Morris allowed about twice as many home runs as FV.
    Morris gave up 112 HRs in road games, while Fernando gave up 80, so it’s not all ball park.

    Valenzuela was also better against the running game, and contributed somewhat with the bat.

  31. Philip said...

    At first glance, don’t disagree with the player choices. Expand the study five years in either direction, and I’d probably take Brett over Boggs.

    For manager, though, I’d have Tommy Lasorda.

    He’s the only manager of the decade who won two World Championships and his teams won 825 games and four division titles.

    He also came within one game of the post-season two other times, losing after big comebacks only on the last day of the season: 1980 (playoff game) and 1982, when the Dodgers erased the 10 1/2 game led the Atlanta Braves held over them in a mere 12 days.

    His managerial feat in 1988 was nothing short of remarkable. The Dodgers starting infield and catcher hit 23 homeruns combined and all but one of them (Steve Sax at .277) hit under .260. The club committed the 4th most errors in the majors.

    No way would Herzog have even won the division with a roster full of that many holes, let alone handily beat the juiced-up Athletics in the World Series in five games.

    Prior to game four, NBC announcer Bob Costas infamously said the Dodgers were fielding probably the ‘‘weakest lineup in World Series history.’’ A night later they were World Champions.

  32. Paul E said...

    Whitaker never hit 40 or even 30 homers nor ever stole 50 or even 30 bases. Sandberg, at one point, was arguably the best player in his league.
    Too many American Leaguers…….

  33. Chad said...

    Bill.

    As a lifelong Brewer fan, Molitor played mostly 3b, 2b, and Of durring the 80s, and while he had a great year in 87, he did not take off until he signed with Toronto. He was injured quite a bit durring the80s

  34. Chris said...

    I would much rather have had Kirby Puckett or Eric Davis in center despite only having half a decade from each of them—especially since they were essentially around the same amount of time as center fielders as Young was.

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