Totally Awesome: Schmidt, Boggs and Ripken Lead the Ultimate 1980s All-Stars
The 1980's cannot be thirty years in the past already, can they?
Surely there's been some mistake; say it ain't so, Peter Ueberroth. Please tell me Cheers and The Cosby Show are still atop the ratings, Bruce Springsteen is still The Boss, and Major League Baseball still has 26 teams, four divisions, no interleague play and no wild card. Or if you can't say all that, at least pretend for the sake of argument.
Have you got it yet? That's right, all you have to do is forget steroids, imagine Roger Maris and Hank Aaron still reign supreme atop the home run charts, and mentally switch the Brewers back to the American League. There you go. See how much better that is?
Well, your mileage may vary as to better or worse, but the 80's were definitely a different time in baseball. Whiteyball and Billyball led to record-setting stolen base seasons, teams carried nine or ten pitchers... and the players you're about to see dominated the diamond.
I've spent the last week sifting stats to determine the roster for the ultimate 1980's team. I ranked the top 100 players per year, then added those rankings together to find players who excelled consistently throughout the decade. Remember: We're looking for the players who performed the best overall, not necessarily the best players to step on the field. In other words, Roger Clemens might have remained dominant through the 90's and Tom Seaver might have starred in the 70's, but that doesn't matter for our purposes. All that counts is what happened between 1980 and 1989.
Ready? Then it's time to meet the starting lineup...
Leading Off: LF Rickey Henderson
You're probably not surprised to see him here, but you might be surprised just how good he was: I've ranked him as the second-best player of the decade overall, and place him among the top 60 players in the league every year with the exception of his injury-shortened 1987; nobody made the top 100 every year, but Henderson came the closest.
I put him right around the top 25 in 1980... and right around the top 25 in 1989. In between, he scored 276 runs combined in 1985-86, with 52 homers. He stole 130, 108, 100, 93, 87, and 80 bases. He led the league in walks three times in the decade. His lowest on-base percentage was .358, in 1986, and he was at .394 or above every other year.
Oh, and I know I said it didn't matter, but he was even better in 1990 than he'd been in the previous decade. He's not just the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. He's the greatest outfielder of the 80's, period.
Hitting Second: DH Wade Boggs
I'm cheating a little to get two third basemen into the lineup, but I have Boggs ranked as the fourth-best player overall and he's one of the greatest pure hitters of all time, so the DH spot seems appropriate.
Remember how I raved about Rickey's OBP? Boggs didn't dip below .406 in the decade. Not once, and that was in 338 at-bats in 1982, his rookie year. From 1983 on, he stroked between 200 and 240 hits, and topped 40 doubles every year but one. From 1985 through 1988, his batting averages ranged between .357 and .368.
He was Ichiro without the speed, playing in Fenway with the full benefit of the Green Monster. If he'd come up two years earlier, he could be atop this list.
Hitting Third: 1B Eddie Murray
In the first half of the 1980's, the top-hitting first baseman was either Eddie Murray or Cecil Cooper. In the later half, it was either Murray or Don Mattingly. For the decade as a whole, nobody's bat was more consistent; only Dave Winfield and Dwight Evans are even in the ballpark.
Murray averaged 108 RBI per year from 1980 to 1985, driving in 110 or more every year but strike-shorted 1981, when he led the league with 78. (Extend his pace to a full season, and Murray would have plated about 120 that year.) I have him ranked in the top 15 players in the league every year for that stretch, four times in the top 10.
He wasn't quite as good thereafter-- slugging about .470 from 1986 to 1988-- but he was good enough to pad out his stats, and he'd look even better if we could replace his subpar 1989 (.247-20-88 in his first year in L.A.) with his resurgent 1990 (.330-26-95). That's the only year I have him out of the top 100.
The words Professional Hitter are synonyms for "Eddie Murray."
The Cleanup Hitter: 3B Mike Schmidt
Let's not drag out the suspense: The best player of the 1980's, by my reckoning, was Philadelphia Phillie third baseman Michael Jack Schmidt.
His credentials are obvious: Five times NL home run leader in the decade, three-time MVP, a World Series MVP in the championship season of 1980, six Gold Gloves for the 80's, three-time leader in OBP, four-time leader in slugging. His 1980-81 seasons were a dominant stretch not fully appreciated today; in the early 80's, people didn't just average 50 home runs per 162 games. Well, regular people didn't.
I have Schmidt as the top player in baseball for those years, top-10 in two others, and top-35 every year through 1987. He slumped badly in 1988 and retired in '89, but he didn't need the last two years of the decade to outdistance everyone else in my rankings. For the record, though, if you give him 1978-79 instead of those two subpar years, his average homers per season go from 31.3 to 36.1. Awesome.
Hitting Fifth: CF Dale Murphy
Like Schmidt, the Braves' slugger slumped in 1988 after a tremendous stretch from 1980-87. Unlike Schmidt, he hung on a few years too long, and perhaps that's why he's not remembered in the same reverential tones that were used to discuss him when he was active.
Truthfully, he was probably a little overrated in his 1982-83 MVP years, but he did hit 36 or 37 homers and drive in over 100 runs every year between 1982 and 1985. After missing those marks in '86, he cranked it up to 44 homers and 105 ribbies in the supercharged '87 season. He tossed in five Gold Gloves in center field before transitioning to right.
If the American League's top hitters in the mid-eighties were Mattingly and Boggs, the National League's were Schmidt and Murphy. Nobody else was even close.
Hitting Sixth: RF Dwight Evans
The toughest call for the starting lineup has to be in right field, where Evans finished a shade ahead of Dave Winfield in my rankings. For career value, I'd take Winfield in a second, and he also played in tougher hitting environments; on the other hand, Evans' prime matched up better with the decade of the 1980's, and Winfield missed the entire 1989 season with an injury, which really hurts him in a close race.
Evans also missed my top 100 rankings in one season: 1983, when he slumped to .238-22-58. On the other hand, I have him in the top five players in the American League in 1981-82 and 1984, so that season was a definite aberration. Winfield makes my top 10 only once (in 1984, when he hit .340), but was even more consistently valuable when healthy. In the end, it's a toss-up.
Evans led the league in home runs once, in runs once, and in walks three times. His memorable throwing arm helped him to five 1980's Gold Gloves. He popped 2 homers and drove in 9 runs in a losing cause in the 1986 world series. He drove in 100 runs four times, 90-plus runs six times, and that's not counting 1981, when he would have cleared the mark again. He was better than you probably remember, and he's a worthy selection for this team.
Hitting Seventh: SS Cal Ripken Jr.
I've always believed he was somewhat overrated, but at his peak (1983-1985) I have him as a top 20 player three years running-- and of course, you know about his consistency. Rumor has it he never missed a game or something...
From his rookie year in 1982, Ripken hit 20 or more home runs every season. To put that in perspective, Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada are the only shortstops to put up 20 eight years in a row-- and Ripken did it ten times straight (counting 1990 and 1991) in a harder era. If we measured the 10-year stretch from 1982 to 1991, including both his MVP seasons, he'd finish in the top five. For the eighties, only Ozzie and Yount are in his zip code. Smith didn't compare with the bat and Yount moved to center field halfway through the decade, making Ripken the easy choice.
Everyone remembers Yount and Molitor from the 80's, to a lesser extent Darryl and Doc or Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell, but at their height, I believe Ripken and Murray were possibly the best 1-2 punch of the decade.
Hitting Eighth: C Gary Carter
When you consider that even Schmidt had competition from Boggs and Brett, making Gary Carter my Catcher of the Decade is probably the easiest call on the team. I have the Kid ranked as the 11th-best player for the decade; no other catcher is in the top 60. He's also the only catcher to reach my Top 100 more than five times in the decade, making the rankings all seven years between 1980 and 1986.
He slumped thereafter, but in his top seasons of the 80's (1982, when I have him as a top-ten player, and 1984-85), he was an offensive force behind the plate that wouldn't be matched until Mike Piazza entered the league. He was equally unstoppable with the bat during Montreal's lone playoff run in 1981 (.429 average, six extra-base hits) and starred in the 1986 World Series. He also won three Gold Gloves, which... I think it's safe to say... Piazza never did.
Few trades have ever swung the balance of power within a division the way the Mets' acquisition of Carter from the Expos did for the National League East, and few catchers have ever racked up RBI as consistently as Number 8 did for most of the 1980's.
Hitting Ninth: 2B Ryne Sandberg
Second base was the weakest position I rated; I have Sandberg ranked at #31 for the decade, and he outpaced anyone else at the position by a considerable margin. (Lou Whitaker came closest at 43rd.) However, since Ryno ratcheted up his power in the late 80's and remained one of the top all-around players in the game for three years into the 90's, we'd see a very different story if we were looking at decade from 1983-1992.
As it is, he gets this spot based mostly on three top-10 seasons: His 54 extra base hit MVP season in 1984, his superb follow-up in 1985 (.305-26-83-54 steals), and the beginning of his "second prime" in 1989, when he led Chicago to a division title by putting up a .290-30-76 and leading the league in runs scored. The rest of the decade, he put up solid production (aided by Wrigley Field) and won seven Gold Gloves.
If you look at who won the National League East in the 1980's, you'd think only four teams mattered: The Cardinals (three division titles, plus the best overall record in 1981), the Phillies (three playoff appearances), the Mets, and the Cubs (two division titles apiece). Unlike the other contenders, however, the Cubs didn't put together an impressive stretch of contention; they simply had two amazing years. The decade enjoyed by Sandberg, their best player, mirrored the team's fortunes.
Backup Catcher: Lance Parrish
You're probably expecting Carlton Fisk, and I don't really blame you. I have the two as very close (for the 80's only; in career value, Fisk is obviously higher). Fisk, although older, lasted better into the late 80's. Parrish was a little better through 1985, not as good thereafter.
In the end, I give it to Parrish. His low OBP was a problem-- never more than .340 in the decade, and that was in 1986, when he was limited to 327 at-bats-- and he accordingly struck out a lot. But he was also a three-time Gold Glove winner with the kind of power most catchers can only dream about: his 1983 season featured 42 doubles, 27 homers, and 114 RBI.
Much like Carter, he slumped in 1987 and wasn't the same player thereafter (though he did experience a minor renaissance in the early 90's and then hang around as a backup). But I have him as a top-50 player in four seasons before his decline. Fisk reached that high only twice in the decade.
Backup Middle Infielder: Robin Yount
He can play center, too, of course. I was faced with a roster decision here: Consider Yount a middle infielder in order to fit an extra bat on the squad, or count him as an outfielder/utilityman and give the middle infield role to Ozzie Smith. With all respect to the Wizard, I just felt like there were too many deserving hitters in the decade; I needed all my outfield spots.
Yount would have made the team, regardless. He makes my top 100 rankings eight out of ten years (missing only 1981 and 1985) and finished in the top 10 three times. He's a two-time MVP and the 1982 Gold Glove winner at shortstop. He hit 38 or more doubles five out of ten years, topped 100 runs scored five times, and drove in 100 three times. After the first two years of the decade, he kept his OBP above .340 despite never walking a lot. (It helped that he topped 190 hits four times in the decade.) He led the league in slugging one year as a shortstop. In the post-ARod era, it may be difficult to remember, but that didn't used to happen.
After living through the 1980's, I always considered Yount to be overrated and Paul Molitor to be underrated; after making up these rankings, I feel like it's the other way around. My method tends to reward durability and consistency, and it's hard to imagine a player filling those categories more impressively than Robin Yount.
Backup Corner Infielder: Keith Hernandez
I know what you're thinking. Where's George Brett, you cry? Isn't it indisputable that Brett-- who could play both first base and third base, and led the league in batting in three different decade-- deserves this spot over Hernandez, a non-Hall of Famer with a top-notch glove at first base who never quite displayed the power you'd want from your first baseman?
Look, George Brett was an amazing player. He submitted two iconic seasons in the 80's (1980 and 1985), and came close with a third (1988). He won a World Championship and was deservedly a first-ballot Hall of Famer. If we included his tremendous years in 1977, 1979, and 1990 in these rankings, he'd blow Hernandez out of the water (although Keith's half-MVP season in 1979 would help him, too).
But George Brett spent most of the mid-to-late 80's battling injuries. He even battled injuries in 1980, when he was having one of the greatest seasons of all time; in the final analysis, he played over 130 games in a season just three times in the 80's. Meanwhile, Hernandez just kept plugging along, hitting .300 with walks, winning Gold Gloves and two World Series, and providing the centerpiece for the decade's memorable Mets-Cardinals rivalry.
He broke down in 1988, and his decline from there was brutal. But I have him in the top 100 all eight years before that; although Brett remained effective throughout the 80's, he cracks the list only six times. They were all top-50 seasons, and three of them were top-15. Hernandez can't match that; he gets the nod for defense, plus my recurring themes of consistency and durability. In an 80's-only ranking, I think it's the right call.
(Let's pretend you actually were upset about Brett's omission, and not Don Mattingly's; though I'll point out that most of the same arguments work for Mattingly. I looked on him with superstitious awe in the mid-80's, so high was his peak as a player, but he really only submitted four top-notch seasons: 1984-86 and 1989. 1987 was borderline. For the late 80's, he's the winner. For the whole decade, I'll take Hernandez.)
Fourth Outfielder: Dave Winfield
The toughest cut from the startling lineup, and the easiest inclusion on the bench. I already talked about him some in the right field comments, so I'll just add this: Growing up in the 1980's, my favorite player was Darryl Strawberry. For years, everyone was convinced that Straw was going to come into his talent and blow away the league like Willie Mays in the 50's. Strawberry eventually did post some great seasons, though nothing quite that good. In the final analysis, he wasn't even as good as the right fielder churning out RBI across town.
Winfield won four Gold Gloves in the 80's (one in the NL, three in the AL) and drove in over 100 runs six times, slugging over .450 every season until his 1989 injury. He wasn't a walk machine, but his OBP was adequate (.353 career), and his strike-zone control good (he struck out over 100 times only once in the decade). He never won an MVP, but if the American League had given the award to a position player in 1984 rather than succumbing to the Willie Hernandez craze, he would have been as good a choice as anyone (along with Mattingly, Murray, and Evans). Probably his best year came in 1979 with the Padres, so if we could replace his injury season and measure 1979-1988, it would look like Winfield put up one of the better stretches of outfield play of all time.
And you know what? He did.
Fifth Outfielder: Andre Dawson
When Andre Dawson was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this year, I was surprised and dubious. I remember getting into arguments about things like low OBP, unimpressive career totals, and the effects of Wrigley Field on batting statistics. I think I argued he was not demonstrably better than Murphy or Evans-- which holds true, since they're in the starting lineup and he's not. What's easy to lose track of in all this quibbling is that the Hawk was still awfully, awfully good.
For a four-year stretch from 1980 through 1983, Dawson hit between .299 and .308 each season, slugging .492 or better with an average of 65 extra-base hits, adding between 25 and 39 stolen bases with a good stealing percentage. He had everything but the walks.
His later decade went a little like Brett's, as an injury-prone stretch beginning in 1984 cost him some effectiveness and a chance at really stellar totals. Unlike Brett, he found religion at the Church of the Ivy-Covered Walls in 1987, and you probably remember what happened next. Overall, I have him ranked in the top six players in the league three times.
That's more than enough for a spot on this team, even if it's borderline for the Hall of Fame.
Outfielder/Pinch Runner: Tim Raines
I have Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, and Gary Carter ranked as the 9th, 10th, and 11th-best players of the entire decade. From 1981 through 1985, a significant portion of their primes, they all starred on the Montreal Expos. Steve Rogers and Jeff Reardon, the ace pitcher and closer for that team, also made the top 50. With all that talent, Montreal made the NLCS one time and the World Series not at all. That's got to be one of the better accumulations of talent that never won anything, along with perhaps the Santo-Jenkins-Williams-Banks Cubs of the 1960's. In retrospect, it hardly seems possible.
As a player, Raines is best described as Rickey Henderson Lite, and really not all that Lite. He stole 50 or more bases every year from 1981 to 1987 and walked 70 times or better from 1982 through the end of the decade (and beyond). He scored 100-plus runs four times in the decade; while his power topped out at 18 homers in the juiced-ball year of '87, he did swat 30-plus doubles six years in a row, usually spiked with solid triples totals, as well.
He ran down faster than Rickey, missing large chunks of 1987-1989, although he did recover with the White Sox of the early 90's and played into his forties at a less spectacular level. But on an all-80's team with more than its share of slow, right-handed sluggers, any version of Raines would be an outstanding asset off the bench.
Starting Pitcher #1: Jack Morris
He actually didn't score as well as I'd expected he would; I have him as a top-10 player in the league only once, when he went 20-13, 3.34 and led the league in strikeouts in 1983. He makes the top 15 with his 21-win season in 1986, and otherwise sort of hangs around the list, always solid but rarely spectacular.
The thing is that his peripheral stats weren't really that great until '83: his strikeout/walk ratios are perilously close to even, despite good win totals, until his strikeouts exploded that year. Then his ERA starts climbing toward the end of the decade: 3.94 in 1988 and 4.86 in 1989. That leaves him with only a five-year stretch of "prime" years, during which he was likely to go about 19-11 with an ERA in the low-to-mid threes and an even shot at 200 strikeouts (he reached that mark three times). That's nothing to sneeze at, especially if we add in his amazing 1991 and solid 1992, but it's not exactly legendary.
You sometimes hear, in Hall of Fame debates, that Jack Morris was the best pitcher of the 80's. I actually don't have him ranked at the very top (more on that later), but he certainly has a solid claim to the title. It's really more of a bulk performance that often landed near the top of the league; given the choice, I'd rather have a couple of transcendant years from Gooden or Valenzuela or Hershiser. But these are just my personal rankings, not my personal rankings. You know?
Starting Pitcher #2: Fernando Valenzuela
While the 1980's were in progress, this was the guy I always considered to be the best pitcher of the decade; there was an almost mystical aura about Fernandomania and that unearthly screwball. Perhaps if it hadn't started taking its toll on his arm from 1987 onward, he would have kept the title. As it is, I have him ranked as the third-best starter of the decade (we're getting to the top-ranked one, I promise), with top-10 performances in 1981-82 and 1986.
He struck out 180 or more batters seven years running, including 200-plus three times. It would have been four if not for the strike. He worked 250-plus innings six years running; the year before that, 1981, he led the league, so the strike hurts him there, too. Even though that workload probably contributed to his decline, it also gave him a season-to-season impact unmatched by ace pitchers today. He also posted a 5-1 record in postseason play, despite missing the 1988 playoffs with an injury.
Dodger Stadium helped; but for the decade of the 80's, only Gooden matched Valenzuela at his height, and Fernando's peak was more sustained. He posted a comeback season in 1996: 13-8, 3.62. It's outside the scope of this project, but I've never been happier for a player making it back to relevance, and I wasn't even a Dodgers fan. In fact, I hated them.
I was a baseball fan, and if you loved baseball, you loved Fernando.
Starting Pitcher #3: Dave Stieb
Promise me you won't freak out.
I cheated a little bit, moving him back to #3 so you wouldn't think me completely insane, but by my reckoning, David Andrew Stieb scores as the best overall pitcher of the 1980's.
It's the peripheral stats that do it. I'm big on strikeout-to-walk data, and especially on hits allowed per inning. Stieb's strikeout-walk data was solid enough (generally around 2:1 in his better years), but it's the latter category where he really excels. Six times in the 1980's, Stieb bettered 35 hits less than innings pitched. In 1981, he pitched 184 innings and allowed 148 hits. In 1983, it was 278-223. The next year, 267-215. The next year, 265-206. After a couple of down seasons, it was back to 207-157 in 1988 and 207-164 in 1989. (Partial innings rounded up or down.) Dave Stieb just didn't allow hits, particularly in the late eighties, when he tossed five one-hitters in the last two years.
His biggest problem was that he started getting good before the Blue Jays did; they supported him with only 2.8 runs per game in 1981, a ratio Tom Seaver in his prime would find it hard to win with. By the time the Jays became a juggernaut later in the decade, he'd started to lose his edge, although he still pulled it together in time to win 16-18 games six times, including five in the 80's. He just kept piling on:I have him in the top 50 players in the league six times, including twice in the top 20. Even Morris doesn't match that weight of achievement.
Convinced? Well, honestly, neither am I. I don't really think he's the best pitcher of the decade, but I do think he belongs on this staff, and I think he was a lot better than people recall.
Starting Pitcher #4: Dwight Gooden
In my opinion, his 1985 season was the finest pitching performance between Bob Gibson's 1968 and Pedro Martinez's 1999. There was just nothing like him. Know how many times in 35 starts he allowed more than two earned runs? Seven. Know how often he allowed more than three? Once. One time in 35 starts, Doc Gooden got shelled. The other 34 times, he kept them solidly in the game. Only twice did he allow more than three unearned runs.
I have Gooden ranked as the sixth-best player in the league in 1984, the best in 1985. His later years, while disappointing, weren't as far below the first two as you might think: He remained solidly top-50 until getting hurt in 1989.
For five years in the 1980's, he averaged 18 wins per season, with an ERA never above 3.21, topping the 200-strikeout mark three times. That's weighed down by his 15-7, 3.21 in 1987, a huge hitter's year. Does that outweigh Morris or Stieb's overall contribution? That's a matter of personal choice; I don't think he can match Valenzuela, who was nearly as spectacular. But if you offer me those five years of Dwight Gooden's career, I'll take them over five years of just about anyone else from the expansion era.
Starting Pitcher #5: Nolan Ryan
Kind of a strange choice, given that his stint with the Houston Astros, which lasted for nearly the entire 80's decade, was the quietest part of Ryan's career. One might even call it disappointing. A couple of things to consider, however:
Ryan struck out 200 batters or more six times in the 80's. He topped 180 strikeouts nine times, and the only one he missed was the strike season. It almost goes without saying that he didn't allow close to a hit per inning in any year of the decade. Accordingly, Ryan makes my top-100 seven times during the decade, one of the best marks for a pitcher, including four years early in the decade (1980-83) when he wasn't putting up flashy records.
Ryan also had some legitimately flukey luck in the 80's: His three best years of the decade were 1981, 1987, and 1989, all top-20 seasons by my reckoning. 1981 was the strike year, taking some of the apparent punch out of his 11-5, 1.69 mark. Imagine they'd played through the summer that year: Another four or five wins and some bulk innings would make that a memorable season.
Then there was 1987, when Ryan led the league with 270 strikeouts and a 2.79 ERA... and went 8-16. I have him ranked as the 20th best player in the league that year, losing twice as many games as he won. Ryan lost games by scores of 1-0, 2-1, 2-1, 2-1, and 3-0, and there's a limit to what we can blame on the Astrodome. Reverse his mark to 16-8, as is probably more fitting, and he wins the Cy Young in that weird season instead of Bedrosian; then, instead of being a 42-year old guy making an improbable comeback with his 16-10, 301 strikeout 1989, that becomes the continuation of a string of great seasons.
Ryan was significantly better in the 1970's, and arguably better in the early 90's, too. But his contributions in the 80's are not to be overlooked, indoors or out.
Right-Handed Long Reliever: Mario Soto
Soto has kind of faded into history; I couldn't even find a good picture. He was feared in the early 80's, however. A crummy team, low run support, and limited staying power combined to hurt his legacy.
His best season was probably 1983, when he went 17-13, 2.70 with 242 strikeouts, pitching over 270 innings. But my personal favorite Soto season was his first full one, 1980: Coming out of the bullpen for most of the season (53 games, 12 starts), he went 10-8, 3.07, allowing 126 hits in 190-plus innings and striking out 182. That line looks just amazing today: It's a Bob Stanley-esque long reliever with the heat of Rob Dibble. And even those guys stopped pitching 20 years ago.
I have Soto ranked as a top-40 player every year from 1981-84. He pops up near the end of the list in 1985, then drops off the edge of the Earth. But if we could get him back in his prime, pitching the way he did in 1980... well, imagine that coming out of the bullpen. If your starting pitcher goes five, you're set.
Left-Handed Long Reliever: Steve Carlton
Here's where we get into the tough roster choices for pitchers: Several hurlers scored better than Carlton by my reckoning, including Jeff Reardon (briefly the all-time saves leader), Mike Scott (certified owner of the 1986 National League Season), and Orel Hershiser (certified owner of the 1988 National League season.) I decided the team needed a left-hander in the bullpen, which put the choice between Carlton and Dave Righetti (whose 46 saves set a single-season record that stood for four whole years). If you're married to the idea of a real long reliever, you'd want Rags, who excelled at both starting and closing in the decade. But Carlton came out slightly better in my system, and if it's a lefty you're looking for... well, he's the second-most famous Lefty in history after Lefty Grove, who barely pitched at all in the 80's.
Carlton was his usual unbeatable self in the early part of the decade; I have him as a top-10 player from 1980 through 1982, during which time he rolled up a 60-24 record. He remained moderately effective for two more years, making my top 100 in 1983 and 1984 and going 28-21. And then he was done, although it took everybody a few years to realize it. If we were ranking the pitchers from the mid-70's to mid-80's, he'd be your ace. It's a tribute to how great he was that he still makes this team despite pitching decently for only half the decade.
Setup Man #1: Dan Quisenberry
Probably my favorite 1980's reliever, and neck-and-neck with our closer for the best score in my ranking system. His stats look like they were posted by a space alien given the way the closer's role has developed in the last 25 years, but that's fitting, given that his funky submarine delivery resembled nothing human.
I have Quiz ranked as a top-25 player in four 1980's seasons, and a top-five player in 1983, when he went 5-3, 1.94, with 45 saves. He pitched 139 innings, allowing 118 hits, but striking out just 48 and walking eleven. Eckersley could have matched the control, but he was more of a modern closer. Nobody who has closed games in recent memory reached that extreme of low-strikeout, high-ground ball pitching. He often allowed more hits than innings in his OK years, although not at his best. These days, his ceiling would be as a Chad Bradford-type right-handed spot reliever.
Quisenberry led the American League in saves four years running and five years out of six, however. Whatever he was doing, it worked.
Setup Man #2: Lee Smith
As a fan of a division rival, there was no opposing relief pitcher I feared, circa 1987, the way I did Lee Arthur Smith. He looked like a closer. He looked like he could throw the ball through his catcher and have it rebound off the backstop. He also maintained his value better than the other closers on this team, making my list every year from 1982 to 1988. He remained good well into the nineties, although he stopped being frightening around 1988 and transitioned to just "effective."
Smith saved 30 or more games four times in the 1980's, topping the 20 mark seven times. That may not sound like much now, but it spelled Big-Time Relief Ace for the MTV generation. He's still #2 on the all-time saves list, but my favorite Lee Smith appearance was the time he got a win by pitching three innings in the 1987 All-Star Game, among the greatest midsummer classics in history.
Raise your hand if you can imagine a manager today-- any manager-- allowing a relief ace to work three innings in an exhibition. I thought so.
Closer: Goose Gossage
We remember him for the colorful nickname, but from the mid-70's through the mid-80's, Rich Gossage was the thermonuclear weapon of relief pitchers. Although the scope of this team misses his absolute prime, I still have Gossage ranked as a top-50 player for the first six years of the decade, and top-10 in its early years. (Sutter was probably a little better at his height, but he fades from prominence the first five years, and also misses the list with a subpar '83. Goose lasted longer, and he lasted better.) In fact, he probably lasted too long, pitching into the mid-90's as a pedestrian middle reliever. Perhaps that's why he had to wait a while for the Hall of Fame. But let's look at those numbers from the early 80's for a moment:
321 games pitched, 507 innings, 380 hits allowed, 479 strikeouts, 157 walks, ERA's below 2.90 every year and usually significantly below. Game over, thanks for coming out to the ballpark.
If there were a stat to measure the glazed looks in opponent's eyes when they realize they're going to have to scrape some runs off HIM to win a game, Gossage would be up there with Eckersley (who turned to relief too late to make this team) and Rivera among the all-time career leaders. As it is, we can only approximate that measurement using other statistics, and Gossage's are pretty darn good.
Second Team and Manager
Of course, our All-1980's Team needs someone to play against. I haven't studied any other decades, so for now they'll have to content themselves with scrimmages against the second team, perhaps on a field somewhere in Iowa. With that in mind, here's the Ultimate 1980's Second Team:
Catchers: Carlton Fisk and Tony Pena
First Base: Don Mattingly
Second Base: Lou Whitaker
Shortstop: Ozzie Smith
Third Base: George Brett
Backup Infielders: Jack Clark, Alan Trammell
Outfielders: Darryl Strawberry, Tony Gwynn, Jim Rice
DH/Utility: Pedro Guerrero
Backup Outfielders: George Bell, Kirby Puckett, Harold Baines
Starting Pitchers: Mike Scott, Orel Hershiser, Roger Clemens, Bert Blyleven, Ron Guidry
Long Relievers: Charlie Hough and Frank Viola
Setup Men: Dave Righetti and Bruce Sutter
Closer: Jeff Reardon
Don't call those guys scrubs; a lot of them were arguably better than the all-1980's starters; they just had a larger portion of their prime years in a different decade.
Finally, managers, which are really beyond the scope of this team. I haven't studied them and don't have any good ideas for doing so. However, in terms of managing wins in the 1980's, four men stand head and shoulders above the rest: Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda, Tony LaRussa, and Whitey Herzog. By rights, Lasorda ought to be the All-1980's manager, since he's the only man to win two World Series in that well-balanced decade. But the others all have one to their credit, and Herzog actually won more pennants in the 80's.
As a Mets fan, I have a grudging respect for the man who derailed our budding mid-80's dynasty, and it does seem to me that he did more with less talent. So we'll call Whitey Herzog our All-1980's manager. Lasorda, no slouch himself, can serve as bench coach and manage the alternates.
Now all we need is a modified DeLorean and a timely burst of lightning, and we can start putting this team together. Outrageous!
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