Boy, it is a struggle to grow up. Baseball is supposed to be a kid's game, but
with Scoresheet Baseball and so many irresistible websites about baseball, I can't pull myself away. My favourite baseball
site at the moment is manned by the man who first pulled me back into baseball after I thought I had grown out of it: Bill
James. It is called Bill James Online and there is a small fee for a year's access. James rocked the old baseball clichés decades ago. Meanwhile others have come
along with more accurate Sabermetric tools (using a word he coined), but I still find James the most all around entertaining
and enlightening writer.
To praise James, however, is not the purpose of this essay. He was merely the
inspiration. Well, half the inspiration. The New York Yankees just came off a 103-59 season and a decisive victory over the
defending champion Phillies. Could today's Yankees be the greatest team ever? Below is the except from Bill James Online that
inspired this study. It was taken from the "Hey Bill" forum where BJO subscribers get to ask Bill James a written question
(or make a statement) directly and he responds to it. Isn't that cool? You may not get all your questions published, but the
odds must be pretty good. Most of my questions have been published. TangoTiger is a frequent contributor to Hey Bill.
"I don't literally think that the 1927 Yankees could take the field against the 2010 Red Sox and win half their games."
If not 1927, at what point would you start to feel confident that a dominant team from the past would be able to display some
dominance against teams of the present? A champ from the 50s? 60s? 70s? 80s? I'm facsinated by these questions of what you
once called "the incline of history." Any speculation is appreciated (I promise not to take it too seriously).
Answered: April 2, 2010
Well.. . .working for the Red Sox since 2002, I can see that the game is better
now than it was when I first came on board. In that time frame I have seen probably a hundred different innovations
take root in the game and flourish. We don't really TALK about these things directly, and we don't normally
talk about the consequences of these changes, or the consequence of the change being a better game on the field, but.
.. .that's what it is. Professional Advance scouting has gotten far more sophisticated in the last ten years.
The efforts to develop players in Venezuela and other Latin American sources have gotten
far, far stronger than they were a few years ago. The scouting of players in Asia and Australia has advanced. These things are not done at the expense of
player development in the US; they are done IN ADDITION to player development
in the US. Some of the equipment
is better. The training of players at the college level is better. The medical support is better.
The coaching staffs are more professional, and the training staffs are better. The off-season training support
programs are better. The General Managers are smarter. People know things that they didn't used to
know.. . . .I'm talking about in the last 7 1/2 years.
You hear it said every spring that "everybody is
better this year", and from the outside looking in, you don't understand why people are saying that. From my standpoint...it's
not ALWAYS true, of course; some of the people who work hard to get better suffer injuries and players don't develop, and
they go backward. But sports are a structure in which everybody works like bloody hell all of the time to
get better, and the consequence of this is that teams DO get better; they get better not merely one to another, but they get
better compared to where they were last year. The Red Sox are a lot better team now than we were in
2003, but you don't necessarily see all of the improvement because the teams we battle against are better, too.
This is a quick examination of hopefully all the candidates for who could claim
to be the greatest team of all the teams that came before them - based on the premise that the quality of "Major League" baseball
has been steadily improving since it began. Hence, any team which dominated baseball was better than any team that dominated
the game equally in previous years. Listed below is each team that was the best of its year with hyperlinks to stats of the
teams that were then the greatest ever in Baseball Reference (another great site). Further below is a quick run through the history of the Major Leagues starting with the collapse of
the American Association in 1892 with a more detailed and colourful view of its greatest teams. I have ended Part I with the
end of the Dead Ball Era 1919. However, first, immediately below is a description of how I determined which teams get to claim
Part I: Best Teams Ever 1892-1919 Dead Ball Era
Part II: Best Teams Ever
1920-1946 White Balls, White Players
Part III: Best Teams
Ever 1947-1968 Higher Mound & Strike Zone
Part IV: Best Teams Ever
1969-1987 (Draft), Divisional Play, DH, Free Agency
Part V: Best Teams Ever
1988-2007 Steroids, etc.
Part VI: Best Teams Ever 2008-
Based on this premise that the leagues are so rapidly
improving, I came up with a formula to discern how much success a team needs compared to the best team that ever came before
it in order to have a plausibly legitimate claim to being the new best ever. If the 103-59 2009 Yankees were the best team
ever, how many games would the Tampa Bay Rays have to win this year to claim they are even better? If Major League Baseball
is steadily improving - and I am buying James' premise that it is - then equalling the Yankees 103 wins and post season performance
would actually indicate they were even better. My formula would assume that a record of 102-59 would equally good - assuming
both did equally well in the play-offs. That is for each year since the last best team ever, a equally good team needs only
to be within a game in W-L record per year. That assumes baseball's incline of history is about 1/80. Yeah, I pulled that
number out of my baseball cap, but it is easy to work with and I don't think it is likely very far off the mark - though more
likely between ½ game and 1 game than over 1 game. It is probably impossible to quantify, so feel free to make your own guess.
I would rather guess a little high, so as to include any team that a plausible claim to being "best ever".
How to account for the post-season? For the World
Series, it would be simple enough to add their record to their W-L record - only double. The League Championship Series was
added the same year as four teams were added to the league. Adding double that W-L difference may seem unfair to great teams
that didn't have that opportunity, but play-offs are games that even great teams have a roughly 45% chance of losing each
one. We all know, even if it is not sporting to admit it, that not always the stronger team wins the series. I think it works
out perfectly fairly to double in those W-L differences as well. Winning an extra round of play-offs is, indeed, an accomplishment
worth considering towards a team's greatness.
While we are awarding bonus points for the post
season, let's give bonus points for repeat play-off appearances and repeat championships. My case for such a bonus is that there is a psychological barrier against
achieving it. Success brews complacency. Whether or not this should matter or if it matters, I'm giving the bonus points anyway,
because being able to repeat a championship is another way of measuring greatness that one year of results misses. So, two points if
the team was in the post season the year before, one point for the year before that and another for each consecutive year
before that. Then, use that formula again for championships.
What is the best way to account for expansion? Here
the best teams get to beat up on some unnaturally weak teams inflating their record. Obviously, there is a higher percentage
of weak teams when two teams are added to eight teams ('61 & '62) than when two teams are added to 28 (1998). Estimating
that the typical expansion team has a .375 W-L percentage, my formula for normalizing a first place team's W-L record is to
deflate a team's W-L difference by ((.25 * no. games/( Cur. Year - Exp. Year)) * (no.
of expansion teams in the league / no. of teams formally in the league). For teams in the 1961 American League, that comes
to 10; hence, the 109-53 New York Yankees that year should really be viewed as winning 44 more games than they lost (104-58)
rather than 54.
What about competing major leagues? Based on a glance
at how well the stars of the Federal League performed in the Majors surrounding their F.L. career, I am deflating the Major
League champs of 1914 and 1915 by only an extra game to match what they would have required without the F.L.'s existence.
And wars? I'm having a difficult time finding how
much impact the Spanish-American War and the Great War had on Major League Baseball, so I will deflate W-L records of 1898
and the war shortened 1918 by just a game as well. World War II depleted the
Majors in a huge way making the years 1943 - 1945 completely ignorable for our study. 1942 champs are deflated by a game.
The Korean Conflict also had a heavy toll on baseball, though, again, I didn't find hard data on this. Let's deflate '51 and
'53 W-L records by 3 games and 1952 records by 5 games until I come up with better numbers. I know some Major Leaguers fought
in Vietnam and some would have been Major Leaguers had they not fought in Vietnam, but the effect was so long term with only
a relatively small peak that I will ignore that and other U.S. military conflicts in this exercise.
What about league differences? Unless someone convinces
me otherwise, I'm awarding the National League teams a bonus point in the 1950s, two bonus points (a win and a loss) in the
1960s and 1970s. The American League gets a bonus point in 1930s, 1985-2004 and three bonus points for the last five years
Baseball went through many rapid changes in the
19th century. In another Hey Bill comment, Bill James doesn't believe we should regard any league back then as
"Major League". However, it seems wrong to regard a team in 1901 with a slightly better record than a team in 1900 as superior
when the number of "Major League" teams doubled. So, I think we can start our look at "the best Major League teams ever" list
a few years before the 20th century. Let's begin in 1892 after the American Association folded concentrating the
Major League talent into 12 teams from 16. (The National League contracted to eight teams in 1900.)
Each team's regular season W-L record is included as well as their W.S. W-L
Just for fun, the most significant stars helping
achieve such excellence are listed as well. And for additional fun, in lighter print, I've listed the best team of the year
in the years no team was the best ever - according to my formula of awarding double credit for post season W-L difference
- not by who won the championship.
Best Teams Ever 1892-1819
(with merely best team of the year in gray)
1892 Boston Beaneaters 102-48 (5-0): Kid Nichols, Jack Stivetts, Hugh Duffy
Beaneaters 86-43: Nichols, Duffy, Tommy McCarthy, Bobby Lowe
Orioles 89-39: Joe Kelly, Hughie Jennings, Dan Drouthers
1895 Baltimore Orioles 87-43: Kelly,
Jennings, Willie Keeler, Billy Hoffer
1896 Baltimore Orioles 90-39: Hughie Jennings, Joe Kelly, Willie Keeler, Billy Hoffer
1897 Boston Beaneaters 93-39: Nichols, Jimmy Collins, Billy Hamilton, Duffy
1898 Boston Beaneaters 102-47: Hamilton, Nichols, Collins, Chick Stahl, Ted Lewis
1899 Brooklyn Superbas 101-47:
Willie Keeler, Joe Kelly, Bill Dahlen, Tom Daly
1900 Brooklyn Superbas 82-54: Joe McGinnity, Keeler, Daly, Dahlen, Fielder Jones
Pirates 90-49: Fred Clarke, Deacon Phillippe, Jack Chesboro
1902 Pittsburgh Pirates 103-36: Honus Wagner, Clarke, Chesboro, Ginger Beaumont
Americans 91-47 (5-3): Cy Young, Bill Dinneen, Freddie Parent
1904 New York
Giantes 106-47: Joe McGinnity, Christy Mathewson, Roger Bresnahan
1905 New York Giants 104-48 (4-1): Mathewson, Mike Donlin, Bresnahan, Dan McGann
1906 Chicago Cubs 116-36 (2-4): Harry Steinfeldt, Frank Chance, Mordecai Brown
Cubs 107-45 (4-0-1): Chance, Johnny Evers, Orval Overall, Joe Tinker
Cubs 99-55 (4-1): Tinker, Evers, Brown, Chance, Overall, Carl Lundgren
1909 Pittsburgh Pirates 110-42 (4-3): Wagner, Clarke, Howie Cammitz, Vic Willis
Athletics 102-48 (4-1): Eddie Collins, Jack Coombs, Chief Bender
Athletics 101-50 (4-2): Home Run Baker, Collins, Coombs, Eddie Plank
Red Sox 105-47 (4-3-1): Tris Speaker, Smokey Joe Wood, Hugh Bedient
Athletics 96-57 (4-1): Collins, Baker, Bender, Plank, Wally Schang
Braves 94-59 (4-0): Johnny Evers, Dick Rudolf, Bill James, Joe Connelly
1915 Boston Red Sox 101-50 (4-1):
Speaker, Rube Foster, Ernie Shore,
Red Sox 91-63 (4-1): Babe Ruth, Harry Hooper, Shore, Dutch Leonard
White Sox 100-54 (4-2): Eddie Collins, Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte
Cubs 84-45 (2-4): Charlie Hollacher, Hippo Vaughn, Les Mann
1919 Cincinnati Reds 96-44 (5-3): Edd Roush, Hodd Eller, Heinie Groh, Slim Sallee
In 1892, the year of the great contraction down
to one "major" league, the defending N.L. champion Boston Beaneaters became the first team from any league calling itself
"major" to win 100 games - perhaps the first professional baseball team ever to achieve such a feat. The St. Louis Maroons
of 1884's one year Union Association had the loftiest winning percentage of any league that considered itself a "major league"
.832 (94-19). However, the Union Association was the third of three leagues that year calling themselves "major" bringing
the number of such teams to 27 in 1884's much smaller baseball universe playing a game which would be barely recognizable
today. No, we are starting with 1892.
The season was split in two with the winner of the
first half (Boston) playing the team with the best record
in the second half of the season in a best of 9 championship series. The winner of the second half was the Cleveland Spiders.
Boston trounced them in the championship series with 5 wins,
no losses, and one tie. Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy were the Irish "Heavenly Twins" gracing Boston's outfield with their outstanding fielding and hitting, although McCarthy had an off
year offensively in '92. They were both 5'7" and about 170 lbs. Pitching ace Kid Nichols relied strictly on placing his blazing
fastball. Could such a team beat a Major League team today - or one from fifty years ago?
Boston went onto win the
championship in 1893 as well becoming the first National League team to three-peat since Cap Anson's Chicago White Stockings
(now Cubs) of 1880-1882. There was no post season championship series that year and there wouldn't be any worth accounting
for until 1903. The Temple Cup
and other post season agreements which followed were even more haphazard and their integrity questionable - generally involving
contests between the top two finishers in the National League.
Immediately following Boston's three pennants, the Baltimore Orioles did the trick. Those Orioles were dissolved
when the National League shrunk to 8 teams in 1900. Though, this Baltimore franchise never
quite reached the level of dominance that Boston had, they
did have a legitimate claim to being the best team ever. Boston's 1892 total of dominance points comes to: 102 (wins) - 48
(losses) + 5 (series wins counting one point for each unanswered win instead of two for the more legitimate and established
World Series) + 2 (for defending their pennant) = 61. The 1896 Orioles after winning their third championship in a row get
90 - 39 + 3 = 54 points. Now subtract two points per year from the Beaneater's total (remembering one game in the standings
is an extra win and an extra loss - that's two points, so 61 - 4 (years) * 2 = 53. Don't forget we are looking at rapidly
progressing 19th century baseball, so two points per year is a conservative deflator.
The Orioles of the 1890s were the nastiest team
of the nastiest era. They tripped or physically held runners, they spiked fielders, whacked catchers with baseball bats to
stop them from throwing and assaulted and obstructed umpires. Heck, umpires needed police protection in those days. Third
base star and later managerial genius John McGraw was the nastiest of them all. McGraw had typhoid fever in 1896, so the top
star of their most dominant team was shortstop Hughie Jennings - another player who would become a great Hall of Fame calibre
manager. Joe Kelly and Wee Willie "Hit Em Where they Aint" Keeler were the outfield stars, and Billy Hoffer was their pitching
ace. The manager of this rowdy lot was Ned Hanlon who was known for his brilliant trades and brilliant managing. Buttons were
made for the fans that read "Ask Hanlon". Ned Hanlon was born in 1857. The world champion rower, Columbia
coach, and Toronto alderman Ned Hanlan was born in 1855.
The Boston Beaneaters regained the distinction of
best ever the next year 1897 with a 93-39 record - a winning percentage of .705. Just in case there was any doubt, they topped
that record in 1898 by another ½ game 103-47. Pitching ace Kid Nichols and outfield star Hugh Duffy were holdovers from the
1892 Beaneaters. Imagine, Nichols struck out only 138 in 388 innings. He walked 85, but his ERA was 2.13, which was 72% better
than the league average. The top hitting stars of the 1898 Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves) were outfielder and his century's
top base stealer Billy Hamilton (.368/.480/.453) and third-baseman Jimmy Collins (.328/.377/.479). Hamilton's on-base percentage
was 13% higher than the next closest in the league (.426), while Collins had a home run total 50% higher than his closest
rival (15 to 10).
Baltimore remained Boston's closest rival those years, but in 1899 all of Baltimore's
younger best stars Willie Keeler, Joe Kelly, Dan McGann, and Jim Hughes were assigned, traded cheaply, or jumped to the Brooklyn
Superbas. Ned Hanlon moved there with them as their manager. In fact, Brooklyn changed the
name of their team from Bridegrooms to Superbas because of a famous circus act called Superba by the Hanlon Brothers. 1899
was also the year Brooklyn, America's fourth
largest city, merged with the country's largest New York, and the counties of Queens, Bronx,
and Richmond (Staten Island) to form one large super city.
That year the Superbas (later still to be called Dodgers) came within a half game of Boston's
best team ever from just the year before. That would be good enough to pass our criteria for being the new best team ever,
except Boston's record came as defending champions, which by my reckoning makes it the superior team.
The National League contracted down to 8 teams in
1900. Despite the massive reassignment of 33% of the league, the Superbas held on to win the first championship of the 1900s.
So, for the last decade before the American League came into existence, five pennants were won by Boston's manager Frank Selee and five were won by Baltimore & Brooklyn's Ned Hanlon.
In the next century Selee - a short balding man and a huge walrus moustache - went on to build another great team: the Chicago
Cubs. However, he became too sick to run the team just as they were on the verge of greatness. He died from tuberculosis a
few years later.
As you all probably know, the American League started
in 1901 doubling the total of Major League teams to 16, although the number of teams claiming to be major only expanded by
33% from the year 1899. It took only one full season after this massive expansion for a plausible greatest-team-ever to develop.
During the 1901 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates star player and manager Fred Clarke turned his long time teammate - a 27 year
old outfielder-thirdbase-secondbaseman into the greatest shortstop of all-time: Honus Wagner. In 1902, they had an unfathomable
.741 winning percentage (103-36). Not only did this top Boston's
record of 102 wins, but they did it with only 36 losses compared to 47. Applied to a 162 game schedule, that would be a W-L
record of 120-42.
Admittedly, however, this W-L was padded by the
collapsing Baltimore franchise - an outstanding team until
it was completely gutted when manager John McGraw released all his players to the National League over a dispute with American
League president Ban Johnson. McGraw was a bad fit for the American League as Johnson wanted it distinguished from the N.L.
for its clean play and strong umpiring. Meanwhile, the American League ignored the reserve clause and raided the National
League with higher salaries and ended up with greater attendance in all four cities where franchises played in both leagues:
Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and in 1902 St. Louis. Pittsburgh
benefited from being too small to support a rival A.L. franchise, as players were commonly raided from their city rivals.
These incidences along with the Baltimore franchise now transferring to New York undoubtedly led to the A.L. and N.L.'s peace agreement of 1903.
Wagner & Clarke were supported offensively by
Ginger Beaumont, Tommy Leach, Kity Bransfield, and Claude Ritchey. At a quick glance the starting rotation looked almost modern
with five pitchers receiving between 33 and 21 starts. Then you look at the next column and see that 93% of them were complete
games. The ERAs ranged from 1.95 to 2.53. The starters were Jack Chesboro, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tennehill, Sam Leever,
and Ed Doheney. It is worth noting that the Pirates began their long stretch of contending or championship teams from 1900
to 1913 when the Louisville franchise collapsed at the end of 1899 and Pittsburgh collected all their best players including Wagner, Clarke, Leach, Phillippe, Rube
Wadell. That happened because future Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss had a major interest in both franchises.
The Pirates handily put off challenges from the
New York Giants and Chicago Cubs in 1903, but without the giddy W-L record. The Boston Americans (now Red Sox) had even less
competition in the new league. In August, Barney Dreyfuss, who now fully owned the Pirates, challenged the Red Sox for the
"championship of the United States" and
they agreed to meet in a best-of-nine championship series in the fall. Pittsburgh
won the first game and three of the first four, but Sam Leever had a shoulder injury and Ed Doheny had a mental breakdown.
Boston came back to be the "World Series" winner.
In 1904, John McGraw's New York Giants became the
first team to win 106 games. However, they played 153 games not 139 as the still best ever Pirates of 1902 and refused to
partake in a World Series - the last year one didn't take place until 1994. In 1905, the Giants came back about just as strong
winning 105 games losing 47. This time the Giants played the A.L. champions and won the series in five in the best of seven
format. With this decisive World Series victory and the additional growth of skills in the game, the 1905 New York Giants
became the second team of the 20th century to legitimately claim themselves as best ever. Both Giants teams were
led by pitching aces Joe McGinnity and Christy Mathewson along with batsmen Dan McGann and Roger Bresnehan. The Giants actually
did make a personnel move that made the 1905 teams stronger. McGraw moved Bresnehan to catcher filling in their one hole and
making room for another hitting start Mike Donlin.
A year later (1906) the Chicago Cubs that Frank
Selee built of Tinker, Evers, and Chance -inspiring the famous poem - achieved
a monumental record for wins (116) and set the new high for winning percentage (.763) both of which has yet to be approached
in the remaining history of either the American or National Leagues. That was the year Frank Chance took over as manager.
Not only did the infield of Tinker, Evers, and Chance field so well that their pitchers had a team ERA of 1.75 51% better
than the league average and the lowest total of the century for a pitching staff that struck out 4.55 batters per 9 innings.
Their less heralded third-baseman Harry Steinfeldt along with first-baseman Frank Chance were the team's key hitters - hitting
over 30% better than the league. Has there ever been an infield greater than that? The pitchers deserve some credit for the
ERA they owned. They lead the league in strikeouts. There was never an easy day against the Cubs with five outstanding pitchers
in Mordecai Three Finger Brown, Jack Pfiester, Ed Ruelback, Carl Lundgren, and the mid-season acquired Orvie Overall. The
World Series that year was a shocking six game upset from the Cubs' city rivals of the south side of town stymied in particular
by the spitballs of Ed Walsh and the "drop ball" of practicing dentist Doc White. Despite the failure to achieve the official
claim of "World Champions", the 1906 Cubs' record was so vastly superior to any team's before (or since), that they deserved
the acknowledgement that year as "best ever".
If I am not giving enough credit to World Series
performance and that team wasn't the best ever at the time, than the 1907 Cubs were the best instead. They repeated their
league pennant while producing the next best W-L record at that point in history 107-45, and won the World Series without
a loss against the Ty Cobb / Sam Crawford Tigers.
1908 was a repeat of 1907, with the Cubs handily
defeating Detroit in the World Series However, Chicago had come down to a mere Major League leading 99 wins during the season.
This was a historic year in Detroit for other reasons. The
automobile - Ford's Model T - was made affordable on a mass scale.
The Cubs came back to win 104 games in 1909, but
that wasn't enough. The Wagner / Clarke Pittsburgh Pirates were able to boast their own stratospheric W-L record of 110-45.
They were boosted by a 22 year old rookie secondbaseman Dots Miller who led all N.L. secondbaemen in OPS, assists, and fielding
chances. John Barney Miller was called Dots, because that spring a reporter misheard his name after asking Honus Wagner who
the new kid was playing shortstop. In his strong German accent Wagner said, "That's Miller."
Detroit came back for their
third World Series in a row for a show down between baseball's original two superstars: Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb. In the World
Series, Wagner out hit Cobb and the Pirates won in 7 games. The Pirates pitching ace all season was Kentucky curveballer Howie Camnitz. National League president Heydler tipped the Pirates
that Detroit had struggled all season against a pitcher with
a similar style as control artist Babe Adams. So, Adams was the surprise opening game starter
and went on to win 3 complete games giving up only 4 runs (1.33 ERA). That series victory along with their great regular season
and a few years of league development put the greatest team ever distinction back in Pittsburgh where it would stay for a
The Philadelphia Athletics won the American League
pennant in four of the next five years and the World Championship three of those times. Connie Mack's A's were also built
around a great infield led by Eddie Collins, who by some measures is the greatest second-baseman ever. Thirdbaseman Home Run
Baker led the league in home runs from 1911-1914 averaging 10.5 home runs those years. He wasn’t in the same class of
slugger that Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were at the time, but his Slugging Percentage of .496 and his On-Base Percentage of
.394 translate better to modern times than his home run totals. Jack Berry was the shortstop and a 19 year old Stuffy McInnis
first appeared in 1910 before taking over first-base for the next 7 years in Philadelphia.
They had outstanding pitchers, too, in Jack Coombs, Chief Bender, and Eddie Plank. These first Connie Mac champions were not
quite domineering enough in any particular year to have bragging rights over the 110 game winning World Champion cross-state
Pirates of 1909.
In 1912 the Athletics' one down year during this
period, the Boston Red Sox won an impressive 105 games to 47 losses and edged the New York Giants 4-3-1 in World Series. Those
Giants were in them middle of copying Detroit by losing three
World Series in a row. 1012 was a second peak of the John McGraw / Christy Mathewson
Giants who were 103-48. Boston was led by Tris Speaker's .383
batting average, 52 stolen bases, 53 doubles, 12 triples, and 10 homers. Although,
he was out done that year by Ty Cobb's .410 average, 61 stolen bases, and 23 triples, it was the second year the MVP Award
which Cobb had won the first year. With Boston winning the
pennant the voters set long surviving precedent of favouring players from pennant winners and the 1912 vote went to Speaker.
Smokey Joe Wood was Boston's pitching ace with 344 innings,
258 strikeouts, and a 1.91 ERA - outdone only by Walter Johnson's 368 innings, 303 strikeouts, and 1.39 innings, who would
win the MVP Award a year later.
This is the era when baseball fairgrounds were turned
into massive stadiums, two of which are still standing today (Fenway and Wrigley, of course), Fenway, Ebbets, Forbes, and
what later became known as Tiger Stadium were already built by 1914, when a third "Major League" the Federal League arose in 1914 building many new parks and
competing directly against Chicago, Brooklyn, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh, while turning minor league cities into major league
franchises in Kansas City, Indianapolis, Buffalo, and Baltimore. The Chicago Whales recruited local stars Joe Tinker and Three
Finger Brown to open their new stadium now known as Wrigley Field. They won the Federal League in 1915. The 1914, the Indianapolis
Hurlers took the F.L. pennant behind "the Ty Cobb of the Federal League" Benny Kauff, who played up his stardom by wearing
diamond rings and silk underwear. Neither of these teams comes close to claiming best ever evidenced by the fact that Kauff
was a good, but not great hitter in the Major Leagues. By 1916 the Federal League
The 1914 World Series champs were the Boston Braves, who rose from last place
on July 18. Great infields are still key in this era. Their DP combo finished one-two in MVP voting. Thirty-two year second-baseman
Johnny Evers came from the Cubs in exchange for the Braves' secondbaseman Bill Sweeney and cash. It was Evers' last hurrah
as it was his last season as a full time regular. The shortstop was 22 year old Rabbit Maranville, who was better known for
his fielding than his hitting. He finished third in MVP the year before and was still receiving MVP votes 20 years later.
Finishing third in the N.L. MVP awards was another Boston Brave. He was a 22 year old pitcher named: Bill James.
The Red Sox kept the World Championship in Boston
for three of the next four seasons. Tris Speaker was still around to lead the charge that first year. Babe Ruth, Dutch Leonard,
and Harry Hooper were the constant major contributors on each of those teams. It is a shame Boston didn't get Ruth into their line-up somehow during those first three years as they
did for 380 plate appearances in his fourth year 1918, then 542 turns at the plate in 1919. In his last season with Boston he beat the 1884 home run record with 29.
Not sure if it was the defense or the pitching, but Smokey Joe Wood, Rube Foster,
Carl Mays, Sad Sam Jones, and Bullet Joe Bush along with Ruth and Leonard each had their turns as pitching stars. Harry Hooper
is probably in the Hall of Fame more for his reputed outstanding outfield defense than his hitting. The Red Sox shortstop
throughout this period was also known for his fielding: Everett Scott. He was given the nickname Trolley Line for his accurate
throws. He was also the original Iron Man playing through serious leg and wrist injuries in order to keep his remarkable 1,307
game playing streak alive. The previous Major League record was 577 straight games. In 1922 after his 800th game,
he was traded to the Yankees. With all the milestones he passed and all his World Series appearances, he was a steady source
of sportswriter puffery. He was both the Red Sox' and Yankees' captains. As Scott slowed by age and played through ever more
ridiculously debilitating injuries, the more sceptical fans criticized how much he was hurting his team. Despite their mini-dynasty,
like the Athletics, the Red Sox could not put enough greatness into one season to overtake the 1909 Pirates as the greatest
team ever. In 1919, Boston suddenly dropped below .500. Their
cash strapped owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees and they fell out of contention for the next 22 years. World Championships
eluded them for 85.
Detroit continued to be a strong also-ran in this period peaking
at 100 wins in 1915 behind Cobb's 9th consecutive batting title and his record 96 stolen bases.
The team that snuck in a championship in 1917 during the reign of the Red Sox
were the White Sox. Just about every recounting of the 1919 Black Sox scandal I've read states that they were heavily favoured
to comeback and win the 1919 series, too. That was only because the A.L. had won 8 of the previous nine World Series. Yet,
the American League pennant winner had a better Won-Lost record in 8 of the previous 9 years. However, the White Sox did not
have a better record than the Reds that year - not even close. Moral issues aside, the White Sox just weren't that good. Shoeless
Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch were not hitters in the class of Cobb or Speaker or the N.L.'s newest star Rogers Hornsby of
the Cardinals. Eddie Collins was now 30 and in the midst of a couple of down years before a resurgence thanks, perhaps, to
clean baseballs in the 1920s. Here again, infield defense (Collins, Swede Risberg,
Buck Weaver, Chick Ganfill) helped build the league's top pitching staff led by the top pitcher Eddie Cicotte: 28-12, 1.53,
347, 150, 70. The only pitcher with stats comparable to Cicotte's in 1917 was the Philadelphia Phillies' Grover Alexander:
30-13, 1.86, 388, 201, 58. That was Alexander's third year in a row with 30 wins.
History has overlooked the greatness of the 1919 Cincinnati Reds. One reason
is because their schedule was shortened to 140 games due to World War I, even though the war had concluded well before the
season began. (Well, that was the official excuse; it was really to save money. Attendance was declining despite all the big
new stadiums.) 96 wins is not so impressive, but if they played a full 154 game schedule with the same winning percentage,
they would have won 106 games. If baseball teams on the whole improved one full game a year as this study suggests, based
on their record, the 1919 Cincinnati Reds were the best team ever at the end of the "dead ball era".
Who were these guys? First, note that they played in a stadium which had the
dimensions of 348' to left field, 415' up the middle and 393' to right, so no one hit an out of the park home run that year.
Yet, Edd Roush managed to lead the league in batting average and pounded a league leading slugging percentage the year before.
Jim Sandoval of SABR describes in The Baseball Biography Project on Ed Roush:
Roush wielded a short, thick-handled bat that weighed 48 ounces,
one of the heaviest ever in baseball. He snapped the bat at the ball with his arms and placed line drives to all parts of
the field by shifting his feet after the ball left the pitchers hand and altering the timing of his swing. "Place hitting
is in a sense glorified bunting," he said. "I only take a half swing at the ball, and the weight of the bat rather than my
swing is what drives it."
Heinie Groh had the league's highest OPS after two years with the highest OBA.
He also provided fine defense at thirdbase. There were no MVP Awards or Gold Glove Awards in 1919, but Groh very likely would
have earned them. Once again, outstanding defense seems to be the key to excellence among teams of the dead ball era. Cincinnati gave up the fewest runs in the league. Slim Sallee, Dutch
Ruether, and Hod Eller were the principle benefactors of this overwhelming defense. The Reds manager was Pat Moran, who in
1903 set the still standing record of 214 assists by a catcher. In 1915 he transformed the 1914 6th place Phillies
into the pennant winners in 1915, where they remained strong contenders until Reds owner William Baker sold off pitching great
Grover Alexander and top notch catcher Bill Killefer on the cheap. In those days the manager was also the GM/Director of Player
Procurement, but the owners set the salaries and sold players for capitol gain. Moran taken over the Reds that spring from
Christy Mathewson who was in France with the Allied Expeditionary Force suffering from exposure to mustard gas and missed
communications with Reds owner Garry Herrmann his late arrival back to the U.S. With some astute inexpensive acquisitions,
Moran elevated the third place Reds into the best team the world had ever known - even if you deny them credit for their fixed
The Reds two best players Groh and Roush were traded to Christy Mathewson's
Reds as rookies by his former manager John McGraw. Not only was Little Napoleon building his own dynasties, it seemed he helped
his friends, too.