Thanks to Big Apple bias, baseball Top 20 has a worm in it

Phil Jackman

June 17, 1991|By Phil Jackman

The initial reaction was not to cast aside the magazine lightly, but to hurl it with great force.

"Baseball's 20 Greatest Teams of All Time" the cover beckoned, and what self-respecting ball fan could pass up the temptation to see which juggernauts were accorded the distinction.

If they, the election committee, agreed with my picks, this would be the greatest hunk of literature since the Bible, of course. If not, well . . .

In Miss America Pageant fashion, I immediately headed for the bottom of the list, saving the best for last. Pulling up the rear was the 1914 Boston Braves, the "Miracle Braves" of George Stallings, in last place in July, a pennant and World Series victor a few months later.

No. 19. The 1969 New York Mets. Come on!

At the same time, the eye caught the team just one slot ahead: No. 18. The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. And, advancing just two more places, there were the 1970 Baltimore Orioles.

The urge to move on to the rest of the mail, releases from the Bullets, Orioles, ESPN, Volvo Tennis and the LPGA bordered on uncontrollable. What the heck, read the covering letter.

It seems Kellogg's, "the official cereal of Major League Baseball," commissioned the editors of Sports Illustrated to put out the

mag as part of an upcoming promotion. It cautioned the reader that there is no correct answer as to what teams were best and in what order, but that it hoped baseball enthusiasts would continue to argue the issue.

OK, I'm arguing.

First off, SI is out of New York, thus assuring a huge N.Y. bias. Want proof? Among the anointed 20, the mostly homegrown selection panel has Yankee teams 1-2-4-10, Giant teams 3-15, the aforementioned Dodgers 18 and the Mets 19. Makes you wonder how they failed to include the N.Y. Highlanders of '01.

The 1927 Yankees are listed as best and it's hard to dispute a team that went 110-44 with Babe Ruth smacking 60 home runs, Lou Gehrig knocking in 175 and four pitchers combining for 78 wins. In the No. 2 hole, however, comes the 1961 Yankees squad and this is weak for a couple of reasons.

One is known as the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics and, secondly, the 1936 Yankees team of Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Red Rolfe, Frankie Crosetti, Jake Powell and a mound staff led by Red Ruffing was better.

As many people will tell you, the '29 A's were as good as the '27 Yanks because of the great staff of Lefty Grove, George Earnshaw and Rube Walberg it had for years. Despite Ruth and Gehrig, Philly won in 1929-30-31 with 104, 102 and 107 victories. And, oh, a lineup that included Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons and a bunch of others who hit about .320 as a matter of course.

Out of deference to fans born around the time of the Civil War, the committee delved back into the archives and came up with the Chicago White Stockings of 1885 as a worthy representative among the elite. No doubt Cap Anson's team was the goods, but you have to wonder about the depth of the pitching, which sees John Clarkson toiling 623 innings while posting a 53-16 record.

Besides, it seems there was a team that played in these parts known as the National League Orioles and, beginning in 1894, it led the game in Temple Cup victories, wins, hitting, fielding, VTC stolen bases and fights with the likes of Wee Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson and Hugh Jennings playing for the redoubtable Ned Hanlon.

In 1954 and after a stint in the service, Willie Mays arrived on the scene in full bloom. But to elevate his New York Giants team to Valhalla off a World Series win over the Cleveland Indians is grotesque.

The Tribe, recall, might have had the best pitching staff of all time -- Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia during the week, Bob Feller, Art Houtteman and Hal Newhouser working the Sunday doubleheaders and Ray Narleski and Don Mossi to relieve -- as it went 111-43 . . . only to fall prey to Dusty Rhodes and a series of pop-fly home runs.

It almost transcends argument that the Brooklyn teams of Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo, Junior Gilliam, Gil Hodges, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Preacher Roe et al constituted the best NL team of all time. Yet, weirdly, it ends up a lowly No. 18 all-time?

For nearly a decade, from the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s, the Orioles rampaged with the 1970 team reaching the heights with great pitching, superb defense, power and an all-star (or close) at each position. Two Oakland A's teams (1974 and 1989) and the 1924 Washington Senators under the "Boy Wonder" manager Bucky Harris were better?

Now to the 1969 Mets. Their day-to-day lineup had Ed Kranepool, Ken Boswell, Bud Harrelson and Wayne Garrett littered around the infield, Ron Swoboda, Tommy Agee and Cleon Jones shagging flies and Jerry Grote behind the plate.

Most of them could have stayed home during a World Series victory over a Baltimore team that went 109-53, though, because Donn Clendenon, Al Weis, J.C. Martin and Ed Charles starred coming off the bench and the pitching of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Gary Gentry was terrific.

Baseball has a long arduous season and the measure of greatness is sustained excellence. Except, perhaps, when a New York team hits a hot streak or has a good week. What have you got to say, Wheaties?

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