Putting Together a Perfect Team

This will be the last post that draws explicitly on Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball. In the book’s last chapter, Simmons constructs what he calls his “wine cellar” team. The team consists of individual seasons by players put together to make the perfect basketball team. This idea, though interesting, is not novel. Simmons, however, does put a particularly unique spin on this. He does not just collect the 12 best seasons ever, or even the 12 best seasons portioned out by position and with a caveat that no player can make the team twice. He puts a focus on how this team would really work. In basketball, team success depends on having players that are good at all of the necessary skills of the game: shooting, rebounding, passing, and defense. For this reason, Simmons includes Bill Walton’s 1977, Scottie Pippen’s 1992, and Ray Allen’s 2001. They fill important niches on a basketball team. How, I wonder, would this concept translate to baseball?

The most important consequence, I think, of this sort of team is to preclude the inclusion of Ty Cobb. The virulent and violent racism of Cobb could not be combined with a team that included Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. I find this particularly problematic, given that I am in the camp that thinks Cobb was the single greatest center fielder ever to play the game. However, a lily-white 25-man roster is even more problematic, so Cobb would have to go.

Second, you emphasize great peak players. Imagine which Warren Spahn year you pick: the year he won 20 games, lost 10, and stuck up an ERA in the upper 2s, or one of the other 15 years he did the exact same thing. In contrast, Ron Guidry‘s 1978 has to get serious consideration, even though Guidry never really came close to Hall of Fame induction.

Finally, you have to emphasize balance. You can’t pick a collection of pure power hitters, just in case you are stuck playing in Dodger Stadium in the 1960’s. You can’t pick a Whitey-ball Cardinals team from the 1980’s if you have to play in Coors Field in 1996. To be a truly perfect team, you need to be able to win under all conditions. To give an example, consider Jim Rice’s 1978. In 1978, Rice hit .361/.416/.690 at home, but he hit only .269/.325/.512 on the road. Rice’s road numbers are certainly respectable, but on an all-time team his road numbers are enough to exclude him.

This post just works out parameters about how you would put together such a team. I would encourage everyone to give it a try for real. What else do you need to consider? Who would make it? Stick up a post on your blog or in the comments. I’ll try and put together my own team in the next few days.

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5 Comments on “Putting Together a Perfect Team”

  1. verdun2 Says:

    Without putting just a whole lot of thought into it, it seems to me that 3 players are obvious: Ruth, Gehrig, and Wagner. Each is the best at his postion and I think could play in any era (imagine Wagner with today’s gloves-Wow). I think your biggest problem will be pitchers.

    I’m not sure about Cobb. His will to win, to prove he is the absolute best might overcome his racism, at least on the field. The clubhouse could be another matter, so you may be right.

    Also, you need the “perfect” manager. Might I suggest Casey Stengel? He managed the Yankees through their integration, through 5 championships in a row, 7 total championships, and no one understood a word he said. 🙂

  2. sportsphd Says:

    For Ruth, the question is which season. I lean toward 1921, though I could be talked into 1920 or 1923. With Gehrig, I would lean toward 1927. With Wagner, it would have to be 1908. The problem is again Cobb. I think his 1917 is about as good as a center fielder gets. Since it is single season, I could maybe slip in Mantle in 1956 or 1957 and not feel much of a drop off. The team would also have to have another parameter, otherwise your ace is clearly Hoss Radbourn in 1884.

  3. verdun2 Says:

    A real problem might be 1941, DiMaggio or Williams? Or both? And what will you do with the steroid boys? Bonds has a couple of years with numbers as good if not better than Williams or Musial, but then they didn’t change hat sizes. Good luck.

  4. verdun2 Says:

    And one more thought. What will you do with one-year-wonders? I refer here to guys like Kevin Mitchell. Can’t imagine he’d beat out Williams, Musial, or Henderson, but you’d have to consider guys like him.

  5. Also, would you emphasize defense at key, important positions, or would you generally go with the best hitter at each position? Sometimes, they are one-in-the-same, but not always. If you put Rogers Hornsby at Second Base, you are clearly losing some defense at that position. Same with Piazza at catcher.

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