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Top 10 MLB Players of the 1980s

1990, Missouri State Archives, CC Public Domain

The 1970s had iconic teams like Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, Oakland’s flamboyant “three-peat” A’s and the resurrected New York Yankees dynasty. The 1990s were notable for very different reasons, such as the labor strike that cancelled the 1994 postseason, and the PED-fueled power surge that followed. In between were the 1980s. There were no dynasties, as nine different teams won the World Series. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers had more than one championship, and they were seven years apart. But the eighties were anything but boring. Competition was strong, and there were plenty of superstars on display. 52 Hall of Famers played in the decade. Some, such as Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench, were at the end of their careers, while others, like Ken Griffey Jr. and Greg Maddux, were just beginning. Here are the ten best players of the decade of decadence.

1) Mike Schmidt

The greatest all-around third baseman in Major League Baseball history was at his best in the 1980s. Schmidt began the decade by winning the 1980 NL MVP, leading the league with 48 home runs, 121 RBIs and 342 total bases. He added a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, a World Series MVP, and led the Philadelphia Phillies to their first world championship. The success would continue as Schmidt repeated as MVP in 1981, and won a third in 1986. He was an eight-time All-Star, six-time Gold Glove winner and a six-time Silver Slugger in the decade. Schmidt’s name was at the top of leader boards throughout the eighties, as he led the league in home runs and OPS five times, and RBIs, slugging and walks four times. His 313 homers are the most of any player in the eighties, and his 929 RBIs are tied for second.

2) Rickey Henderson

No player has ever created more chaos at the top of a lineup than Henderson. His power, ability to get on base, and most notably, his speed, are the stuff of nightmares for opposing pitchers. Henderson led all players with 838 stolen bases and 1,122 runs in the decade, and his total of 130 steals in 1982 is a record that will likely never be broken. He led the league in steals nine times and runs scored four times. 1985 was arguably his best year of the decade, as he hit .314 with 24 homers, 80 steals and 146 runs for the New York Yankees. In 1989, he led the Oakland A’s to a World Series championship, hitting .441 with three homers, eight RBIs, 12 runs and 11 steals in 14 postseason games. His OPS was an eye-popping 1.509. Henderson ended the decade with eight All-Star appearances.

3) George Brett

In 1980, Brett finished the season with a .390 batting average, the highest since Ted Williams’ .406 in 1941. Brett’s flirtation with .400 brought national attention, and proved to the baseball world he was a Hall of Fame hitter. The Kansas City Royals’ All-Star had 24 home runs and 118 RBIs in only 117 games, en route to the AL MVP and a trip to the World Series, where Kansas City lost to Philadelphia. In 1985, Brett and the Royals returned to the World Series, this time victorious. In his two World Series appearances, Brett hit .373 with 19 hits. For the decade, he was a nine-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger winner. He led the league in slugging and OPS three times each.

4) Robin Yount

Yount is the only American League player to win two MVPs in the decade, and one of only four players in history to win MVP at two different positions. In 1982, the Milwaukee Brewers’ shortstop hit .331 with 29 home runs and 114 RBIs for his first MVP. His 210 hits, 46 doubles, 367 total bases, .578 slugging and .957 OPS led the league. Yount also led Milwaukee to its only World Series, where he hit .414 with a home run, six RBIs and six runs in a losing effort versus the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1989 the Hall of Famer won his second MVP, this time as a centerfielder. Yount hit .318 with 21 homers and 103 RBIs, and led the Brewers to the best start in Major League history at 13-0. He finished the eighties with 1,731 hits and 337 doubles, the most of any player in the decade.

5) Ryne Sandberg

Sandberg was one of the most talented and versatile players of the 1980s. A whiz in the field and a force at the plate, the Hall of Famer won seven Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards in the decade. In 1984, he was named NL MVP and led the Chicago Cubs to their first playoff appearance since 1945. He hit .314 with 19 homers, 84 RBIs, 114 runs, 200 hits, 19 triples and 32 stolen bases. In 1989, the Cubs returned to the postseason, led by Sandberg’s 30 homers, 76 RBIs and 104 runs. Despite the Cubs losing, Sandberg hit .385 with a .457 on-base, .641 slugging and 1.098 OPS in his two playoff appearances.

6) Eddie Murray

Murray was arguably the most consistent superstar of the 1980s. “Steady Eddie” finished first in the decade in RBIs with 996, second in hits with 1,642 and third in home runs with 274. The Baltimore Orioles’ switch-hitting first baseman was a six-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and two-time Silver Slugger during the decade. In 1983, Murray hit .306 with 33 home runs, 111 RBIs and 115 runs, and was named World Series MVP as he led the Orioles to a five-game series win over Philadelphia.

7) Andre Dawson

Dawson began the decade north of the border, playing with the Montreal Expos. From 1980-86, the five-tool outfielder showcased his versatility, winning six Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger awards. In 1983, he led the NL with 189 hits and 341 total bases, and hit .299 with 32 home runs, 113 RBIs, 104 runs and 25 steals. “The Hawk” migrated south in 1987 and had an MVP season with the Chicago Cubs, leading the league with 49 homers, 137 RBIs and 353 total bases. The 49 home runs were tied for the most by any player in the decade (Mark McGwire).

8) Wade Boggs

A pure hitter and on-base machine, Boggs led all players in the decade with a .352 batting average and .441 on-base percentage. From 1983-89, he had seven consecutive 200-hit seasons and won five batting titles. He also led the league in on-base six times. In 1987, the Boston Red Sox' Hall of Famer had his best all-around season, hitting .363 with 24 homers, 89 RBIs and 108 runs. His career-high 1.049 OPS led the league. For the decade, Boggs was a five-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger.

9) Dale Murphy

From 1982-87, Murphy was arguably the best player in baseball. He won back-to-back MVPs in 1982-83, including a 36 home run-30 stolen base season in 83. He followed that success with consecutive home run titles in 1984-85. Murphy finished the six-year run by hitting a career-high 44 homers in 1987. The multi-talented centerfielder ended the decade with seven All-Star selections, five Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards for the Atlanta Braves. His 308 home runs and 929 RBIs rank second overall for the decade.

10) Ozzie Smith

The “Wizard of Oz” is commonly regarded as the greatest defensive shortstop of all-time, and for good reason. In the decade, Smith led all National League shortstops in fielding percentage and range factor six times each, and in assists seven times. He was rewarded with 10 Gold Gloves and nine All-Star selections from 1980-89. While his spectacular defense overshadowed his offensive production, Smith scored 703 runs, stole 364 bases and had a respectable .337 on base percentage for the decade. His leadership on and off the field helped the St. Louis Cardinals to three pennants and a World Series championship in 1982.

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