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Top 10 Teams in MLB History

photo by Pacific & Atlantic Photos Inc., 1923, CC Public Domain

There have been many great teams since the first modern World Series was played in 1903. In sorting through 117 years of Major League Baseball, three main criteria were used in selecting an all-time top ten. First, a team must have dominated its competition. Second, a team must be well-rounded in all aspects of the game, not simply a great hitting or pitching team. Finally, a team must be a World Series champion. It should also be noted that for teams that won multiple championships in a row, only one year can be chosen to represent that team. The same franchise can have multiple entries, as long as the majority of the roster is different for each team.

1) 1927 New York Yankees, 110-44

Ninety-three years later, the 1927 Yankees’ Murderers’ Row lineup still strikes fear in the hearts of pitchers. The team hit a phenomenal .307 with a .384 on-base and .488 slugging percentage. Babe Ruth set a major league record with 60 home runs, and added 165 RBIs, 158 runs and a 1.258 OPS. His partner in crime, Lou Gehrig, hit .373 with 47 homers, 173 RBIs, 149 runs and a 1.240 OPS. They are the only teammates in history to have more than 400 total bases, with Gehrig at 447 and Ruth at 417. The two legends had a lot of support in the lineup, as Earle Combs hit .356 with 231 hits, 137 runs and 23 triples, and Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri had 103 and 102 RBIs, respectively.

The ‘27 Yankees were more than just an offensive juggernaut, though, as they led the American League with a 3.20 ERA. Waite Hoyt led the team with 22 wins, while Herb Pennock and Wilcy Moore added 19 each. The Yankees led the league with 976 runs scored while allowing a league-low 605. Their run differential of +371 is the second highest in history.

The Yankees crushed American League competition in the regular season, finishing 19 games ahead of the second place Philadelphia Athletics. In the World Series, the Pittsburgh Pirates had no answer for the Murderers’ Row, as the Yankees swept the National League champs in four games, outscoring them 23-10. Ruth led the Yanks with two homers and seven RBIs in the series. Ruth, Gehrig, Combs, Lazzeri, Hoyt and Pennock are all enshrined in the Hall of Fame, along with manager Miller Huggins. The seven Hall of Famers are the most for any team on this list.

2) 1939 New York Yankees, 106-45

The 1939 Yankees had the highest run differential in history, outscoring their opponents by an incredible 411 runs in 151 games. Outstanding in all aspects of the game, the Yankees led the league in runs scored, fewest runs allowed, home runs, RBIs, ERA and fielding percentage.

On offense, the team had one of the most balanced lineups ever, with seven players scoring at least 87 runs, and seven driving in 80 or more. Joe DiMaggio led the team with a .381 average, 30 home runs and 126 RBIs, and Red Rolfe led with 139 runs.

Balance was also the story of the pitching staff, with seven pitchers winning 10 games or more. Red Ruffing led the way with 21 wins. On defense, the Yankees were the wizards of the American League. Their 126 errors were 41 fewer than the next closest team.

The Yankees dominated the regular season, winning the AL by 17 games over the second place Boston Red Sox. In the World Series, the Cincinnati Reds were no match for New York, as the Yankees swept the Reds in four games, outscoring them 20-8. Charlie Keller led the way with three home runs and six RBIs, and Bill Dickey added two homers and five RBIs. DiMaggio, Dickey, Ruffing, Joe Gordon and Lefty Gomez are all enshrined in the Hall of Fame, along with manager Joe McCarthy. The ‘39 Yankees also had 10 players named to the 1939 AL All-Star team, the most of any team in Major League history.

3) 1975 Cincinnati Reds, 108-54

Few lineups in Major League history had the star power of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine. Led by Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and all-time hits leader Pete Rose, the Reds led the National League with 840 runs. Setting the table were NL MVP Morgan (.327 avg., .466 OBP, 67 steals, 107 runs) and Rose (.317 avg., 210 hits, 112 runs), and providing the power were Bench (28 HR, 110 RBIs), Perez (20 HR, 109 RBIs) and George Foster (23 HR, 78 RBIs).

The Reds gave up the third fewest runs with 586, and their run differential of +254 ranked first in the NL. Cincinnati’s league-leading defense featured four Gold Glove winners, including Bench at catcher, Morgan at second base, Dave Concepcion at shortstop and Cesar Geronimo in centerfield. The pitching staff finished third in the NL with a 3.37 ERA, and featured six pitchers with 10 or more wins.

The Reds dominated the National League, winning the West by 20 games and sweeping the East champion Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0 in the NL Championship Series. In the World Series, they defeated the Boston Red Sox 4-3 in a classic seven-game series. Rose was named series MVP with a .370 average. Bench, Morgan, Perez and manager Sparky Anderson are all enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

4) 1970 Baltimore Orioles, 108-54

The Orioles dominated the American League in every aspect of the game in 1970. They scored the most runs (792), gave up the fewest runs (574) and had a league best run differential of +218. Baltimore was in first place for 155 of their 162 games, and remained there from April 26 on.

Baltimore excelled in all aspects of the game, but it was pitching that marked their dominance more than anything else. They led the league with a 3.15 ERA, and their starting staff included three 20-game winners: Jim Palmer (20-10, 2.71 ERA), Mike Cuellar (24-8, 3.48 ERA) and Dave McNally (24-9, 3.22 ERA).

The Orioles’ potent lineup was led by AL MVP Boog Powell (.297, 35 HR, 114 RBIs) and all-time great Frank Robinson (.306, 25 HR, 78 RBIs). Also possessing a stellar defense, Baltimore was led by Gold Glove winners Brooks Robinson (3B), Davey Johnson (2B) and Paul Blair (OF).

The Orioles won the AL East by 15 games over the second place New York Yankees, and swept the AL West champion Minnesota Twins 3-0 in the AL Championship series. In the World Series, Baltimore defeated a 102-win Cincinnati Reds team 4-1. Brooks Robinson won series MVP by hitting .429 with two homers and six RBIs. The Orioles had seven All-Stars in 1970, and four members of the team are enshrined in the Hall of Fame (Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Palmer and manager Earl Weaver).

5) 1998 New York Yankees, 114-48

Most people remember 1998 as the year of the home run, as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both passed Roger Maris’s single-season record of 61 home runs. Lost among the long balls was the Yankees’ 114-win season, the most by any World Series champion. The ‘98 Yankees were a well-balanced team, leading the league in both runs scored and ERA. New York’s run differential of +309 led the American League, and is the fourth best of all-time.

The lineup was led by Derek Jeter (.324, 127 runs, 203 hits, 30 steals), batting champion Bernie Williams (.339, 26 HR, 97 RBIs, 101 runs), Paul O’Neill (.317, 24 HR, 116 RBIs) and Tino Martinez (28 HR, 123 RBIs). The pitching staff featured David Cone (20-7, 3.55 ERA), David Wells (18-4, 3.49 ERA), Andy Pettite (16 wins) and Mariano Rivera (36 saves, 1.91 ERA).

The Yankees ran away with the AL East, finishing 22 games ahead of the second place Boston Red Sox. New York beat the Cleveland Indians 4-2 in the American League Championship series before sweeping the National League champion San Diego Padres 4-0 in the World Series. Scott Brosius won the series MVP, hitting .471 with two homers and six RBIs. The Yankees had five All-Stars in 1998, but 14 players on the roster were All-Stars at some point in their career, showing the amazing depth of this team.

6) 1929 Philadelphia Athletics, 104-46

The 1929 Athletics were one of the most talented teams of any era. The well-rounded A’s finished first in the American League in ERA (3.44), fielding percentage (.975) and OPS (.815). Their 901 runs scored and 122 home runs were second. Philadelphia’s run differential of +285 was best in the AL.

The offense was led by three Hall of Famers: Jimmie Foxx (.354, 33 HR, 118 RBIs), Al Simmons (.365, 34 HR, 157 RBIs) and Mickey Cochrane (.331, 95 RBIs, 113 runs). Mule Haas (.313, 115 runs) and Max Bishop (128 walks, 102 runs) combined with Foxx, Simmons and Cochrane to give Philadelphia five players with 100 or more runs.

The pitching staff was led by Hall of Famer Lefty Grove (20-6, 2.81 ERA), George Earnshaw (24-8, 3.29 ERA) and Rube Waddell (18-11, 3.60 ERA). Overall, the A’s had six players with double-digit wins.

Philadelphia cruised through the regular season, winning the AL by 18 games over the second place New York Yankees. In the World Series, they defeated the Chicago Cubs 4-1. Foxx, Simmons and Haas each hit two home runs for the champion A’s. The 1929 Athletics have five representatives in the Hall of Fame (Foxx, Simmons, Cochrane, Grove and manager Connie Mack).

7) 1986 New York Mets, 108-54

The 1986 Mets won more games than any other team in the 1980s. They used the perfect mixture of accomplished veterans (Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez) and young stars (Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden) to dominate the National League. They led the NL in runs (783), batting average (.263) and ERA (3.11). Their run differential of +205 was also best in the league.

The lineup was deep and dangerous, featuring speed (Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson), great contact hitters (Hernandez, Ray Knight) and power hitters (Carter, Strawberry). The team also featured future stars Kevin Mitchell and Howard Johnson off the bench. The pitching staff was equally deep, featuring Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Bob Ojeda in the starting rotation, and Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco out of the bullpen.

The Mets dominated the NL East, finishing 21.5 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies, then went on to beat the Houston Astros 4-2 in the NL Championship Series. In one of the most memorable World Series ever, the Mets defeated the Boston Red Sox in seven games. Knight won series MVP honors, hitting .391 with five RBIs and four runs, while Carter led New York with two home runs and nine RBIs. The Mets led the NL with five All-Stars, including four starters.

8) 1984 Detroit Tigers, 104-58

From game one of the 1984 season to game 162, the Detroit Tigers were in first place in the American League East. They had starts of 9-0, 16-1 and 35-5, eventually finishing 15 games ahead of the second place Toronto Blue Jays. Detroit led the AL in runs scored (829), fewest runs allowed (643) and run differential (+186). The well-rounded Tigers also led the league in ERA (3.49), home runs (187) and RBIs (788).

A balanced offense was led by Hall of Famer Alan Trammell (.314, 14 HR, 19 steals), power-speed man Kirk Gibson (27 HR, 29 steals, 91 RBIs, 92 runs) and power-hitting catcher Lance Parrish (33 HR, 98 RBIs). On defense, the Tigers featured three Gold Glove winners: shortstop Trammell, second baseman Lou Whitaker and catcher Parrish.

The pitching staff included starters Jack Morris (19-11, 3.60 ERA), Dan Petry (18-8, 3.24 ERA) and Milt Wilcox (17-8, 4.00 ERA), but it was the bullpen that stole the show. Willie Hernandez captured both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards with a 9-3 record, 1.92 ERA, 0.941 WHIP and 32 saves in 80 appearances. Aurelio Lopez added 10 wins, 14 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 71 games.

The Tigers continued their dominance into the postseason, sweeping the Kansas City Royals in the AL Championship Series before beating the National League champion San Diego Padres 4-1 in the World Series. Trammell won World Series MVP, hitting .450 with two homers and six RBIs. The ’84 Tigers had six All-Stars, and three members of the team are enshrined in the Hall of Fame (Trammell, Morris and manager Sparky Anderson).

9) 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates, 110-42

The 1909 Pirates were an exercise in excellence, leading the National League in runs (701), batting average (.260) and fielding percentage (.964), and finishing second in ERA (2.07). Their run differential of +253 was the best in the NL.

The Pirates were led by the Hall of Fame trio of shortstop Honus Wagner, outfielder/manager Fred Clarke and pitcher Vic Willis. Wagner led the league with a .339 average, 100 RBIs and a .909 OPS, Clarke was first in walks (80) and second in runs (97), and Willis was 22-11 with a 2.24 ERA.

Pittsburgh got major contributions from throughout its roster. Outfielder Tommy Leach led the NL with 126 runs, giving the Pirates the top three run scorers in the league. Among pitchers, Howie Camnitz went 25-6 with a 1.62 ERA, Lefty Leifield was 19-7 with a 2.37 ERA and rookie Babe Adams was 12-3 with a 1.11 ERA.

The Pirates won the NL by six games over the two-time defending champion Chicago Cubs. In the World Series, Pittsburgh beat Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers 4-3 in a classic seven-game series. Adams was the pitching star of the series, going 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA, while Wagner hit .333 with six RBIs and six stolen bases.

10) 1907 Chicago Cubs, 107-45

The 1907 Cubs were harder to score against than any team in Major League history. Their 1.73 team ERA ranks first all-time, and is a record that will likely never be broken. The Cubs’ pitching staff included Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (20-6, 1.39 ERA), Orval Overall (23-7, 1.68 ERA), Carl Lundgren (18-7, 1.17 ERA), Ed Reulbach (17-4, 1.69 ERA) and Jack Pfiester (14-9, 1.15 ERA). Led by this fearsome fivesome, Chicago recorded a phenomenal 32 shutouts in the regular season.

The Cubs also possessed an exceptional defense, led by the Hall of Fame trio of shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance. The talented double-play combo would later be immortalized by the poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” by New York sportswriter Franklin Pierce Adams in 1910. Chicago’s .967 fielding percentage led the National League.

Even though they are not remembered for their offense, the Cubs still finished in the top three in the NL in runs scored, average, OPS and stolen bases. Combined with their top-rated pitching and defense, Chicago had an NL-best run differential of +181.

The Cubs dominated the NL in the regular season, finishing 17 games ahead of the second place Pittsburgh Pirates. In the World Series, they defeated the Detroit Tigers 4-0-1. Like the Cubs’ NL opponents, the Tigers were baffled by Chicago’s pitching, as the Cubs finished the series with a miniscule 0.75 ERA.

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