The all-decade team: the ‘70s

Dubbed “The Me decade” by Tom Wolfe, the 1970s saw events ranging from the rise of disco to the fall of Saigon. In baseball, meanwhile, it was something of a time of mini-dynasties, with the A’s, Reds and Yankees each winning two—or in the A’s case, three—World Series in a row. It would seem, then, that the talent was condensed around a few teams. So what did that mean for the talent of the decade, and how it compares to some of the other teams we’ve seen?

But then, we can’t begin to have that discussion until we know the criteria under which we’re picking the players. Thus we shall once again review the rules selecting this team: to qualify for any non-pitching position, a player must have played at least 500 games there during his career—though not necessarily during the decade in question. For starting pitchers, to appear on the team requires at least 200 starts in a given decade. Now that we have finally reached an era when relievers were an established role, it’s time to set some rules. In order to be eligible for a reliever spot, a player must have appeared in at least 400 games in relief in the decade while starting no more than 30 games.

Having dispensed with that, let’s move on to the fun stuff:

Catcher: Johnny Bench
Here’s a spoiler alert: we’ll be seeing a lot Cincinnati Reds on this team. We’ll address the success of the Big Red Machine a little later, but for now we’ll focus on the players that provided the motor for that machine.

The 1970s saw more than its share of talented catchers; the likes Thurman Munson, Ted Simmons, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk all played for some or all of the decade. Bench, though is the king. For the decade, he hit 290 home runs; no other catcher even topped 175. In fact, the gap from Bench to second place Gene Tenace is as large as the gap from Tenace to 17th place Bob Boone. For good measure, not only was Bench the best power-hitting catcher in the decade, but he also stole the most bases.

And, if all that is not enough, Bench also did a fair bit to stop his share of would-be base stealers, winning the Gold Glove at catcher every year from 1970 through 1977.

First Base: Rod Carew
As I’ve said before, writing about some of these players can make for a challenge. On the other hand, some players I’ve always known were great, but coming up with these blurbs actually teaches me something. For example, Rod Carew—who I knew was a great hitter, particularly for average, hitting .350 or better five times—hit a lot of triples. Not a lot for baseball history (he’s barely in the top 125 all-time) but quite a lot for the era. He was in the top three in triples six times and led the decade in triples with 80. Rod Carew: triples machine. Who knew?

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WWE wrestler The Big Show listens as Reggie Jackson talks, possible about how great he was (US Presswire)

Another thing about Carew, he probably had less home run power than any first baseman on these teams since Frank Chance. Now, that’s relative, of course, but Carew was out-homered in the decade by names like Dave Duncan, Jason Thompson (who?) and Mike Ivie. Of course, this tells you a lot about how good Carew was everything else, that he is the no-doubt choice for a power position despite never hitting more than 14 home runs in a single season.

Second Base: Joe Morgan
Lo and behold, it’s another member of the Big Red Machine. Of course, Morgan would be on this list no matter where he played. Morgan was the best overall player of the decade, in large part based on his strength at every aspect of the game. His best skill was simply getting on base, Morgan’s OBP was second only to Carew for the decade—and that came while Morgan hit .282 compared to Carew’s .343 for the decade. Not surprisingly, Morgan had, by far, the most walks of the decade. In fact, he drew nearly 1,100 walks while no other played even topped 900.

Of course, Morgan was more than just a player capable of taking a walk. After arriving in Cincinnati prior to the 1972 (part of a truly wretched trade for Houston who traded the decade’s best player—and four other players!—for three players who collectively barely played 1,000 games for the Astros) Morgan promptly went through a five-year stretch as one of the NL’s three best players, twice winning the MVP award and starting a streak of five straight Gold Glove awards.

There is serious competition for the title of best second baseman ever, but it seems likely that the nod goes to Joe Morgan.

Third Base: Mike Schmidt
This is something of an unusual choice. Technically, Schmidt contributed less value—at least in pure WAR terms—than did Graig Nettles for the decade. But the comparison isn’t quite that clear. For a start, Schmidt’s value is only about a third of a win per year less than Nettles. Moreover, he earned that value while playing nearly 500 fewer games.

When speaking of peaks, Nettles was no slouch, twice topping 7.5 WAR in a single season, and averaging almost 6.5 WAR per year during his three-year peak of 1976-78. On the other hand, Schmidt had five seasons of 7.5 WAR or better and his three-peak (1974-76) saw him average an astonishing 8.4 WAR. Schmidt has three of the five best third base seasons of the decade, and five of the best 10.

One could do far worse than Nettles for third base, but despite putting up slightly lesser cumulative numbers, the hot corner belongs to Schmitty.

Shortstop: Bert Campaneris
This was not, if we’re being honest, a great decade for shortstops. Across the course of his career, “Campy” is certainly no slouch: he led the league in steals six times and among those players who saw at least two-thirds of their time at shortstop, he has more WAR than more prominent modern names like Miguel Tejada, Omar Vizquel, and Nomar Garciaparra.

Though Campaneris did have some strong years in the decade—he was among Oakland’s better players while they were winning three World Series in a row—it also included much of his decline phase. The decade’s other prominent shortstops all carry their own issues. Mark Belanger was, of course, brilliant defensively (and why Campaneris never won a Gold Glove) but hit .200 for the last three years of the decade. Toby Harrah took too long to get going while most of the other decade-long shortstops—such as Chris Speier
, Larry Bowa and Bud Harrelson—simply weren’t good enough to seriously challenge for the spot.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

I suppose this all make it sounds like Campaneris isn’t very good. That’s not the case, but he is definitely the weak link on this particular team.

Left Field: Pete Rose
Lucky me, it’s yet another chance to write about Pete Rose. Once again, let’s try to focus on his career on the field, rather than his… less admirable elements. And on the field, Rose was never better than he was in this decade. He let the league in hits four times, runs three times and doubles four times. His best season came in 1973 when he won the league MVP and batting title.

Rose qualifies all over the field—every infield position except shortstop and both outfield corners—but left is where he slots in for the all ‘70s team, topping the likes of Carl Yastrzemski, Roy White, and Willie Stargell. And you can bet on that. As would Pete.

(Sorry.)

Center Field: Cesar Cedeno
Here is the complete list of players who accumulated more WAR than Cedeno during their age 21 and 22 seasons: Ted Williams, Eddie Matthews, Ty Cobb. That’s it. Here are the three players behind him: Rickey Henderson, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx. You’ll notice something about all those players except Cedeno; they’re in the Hall of Fame.

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Gaylord Perry enjoys the adulation of the crowd (US Presswire)

In fact, of top 10 players in that statistic, the only ones on the outside looking in to the Hall of Fame are Cedeno and two players not eligible: Alex Rodriguez, who probably won’t make it in, but would based purely on his performance, and Andruw Jones, who also won’t make it in but probably should.

So what happened? There are a lot of theories. A popular one holds that Cedeno never recovered from an incident when he shot and killed his mistress in the Dominican Republic during the off-season. (Cedeno was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and fined $100. A contemporary article mentions that he “immediately paid the fine,” so I guess he learned to keep his checkbook handy just in case he wanted to shoot anyone else.)

Other theories hold that Cedeno altered his swing when the Astros moved back the fences at the Astrodome, or that injuries cost him his spot in the Hall. While there’s unquestionably some truth to the last idea—Cedeno averaged fewer than 100 games per season the last nine games of his career—the real reason Cedeno never again reached such heights is unknown and, probably, unknowable.

Right Field: Reggie Jackson
Here’s a thought that just occurred to me: is there any player less accurately rated by common consensus than Reggie Jackson? On the one hand, there is a segment of the public—mostly Yankee fans, I grant, though also Reggie himself—that sees him as a clutch hero, Mr. October, always coming through in the clutch. On the other hand, there is a group that sees him as something of a proto-Adam Dunn, all strikeouts and home runs and cover-your-eyes-they-hit-it-his-way defense.

Of course, the first group overlooks that Jackson was a.227 hitter in 45 career LCS games including a particularly gruesome 2-for-16 stretch in the 1977 ALCS shortly before his home runs heroics in the World Series. Meanwhile, the second group conveniently ignores that the young Reggie was actually a fine defensive player and had enough speed that he had a five-year stretch when he stole 109 bases in 140 tries.

The truth of Jackson’s quality lies, inevitably, somewhere in-between the two points of view. When it comes to this decade, there is no dispute that Jackson deserves the right field spot.

Starting Pitchers: Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Bert Blyleven, Jim Palmer
If Jackson has a reputation entirely divided between those who overrate him and those who underrate him, Seaver seems to be almost entirely underrated. Though he does rank sixth in Baseball-Reference’s fan ELO rating—behind only Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Greg Maddux, Lefty Grove and Pete Alexander—one almost never hears his name in the discussion of the greatest pitchers of all-time. It probably should be in there, in no small part because of his work during this decade, when Seaver won 178 games (that’s nearly 18 per year) and did it with a 2.61 ERA.

Perhaps it is appropriate that two pitchers known for a “gimmick” pitcher would be rotation mates on the all-‘70s staff. For Niekro that pitch was the knuckleball. And with his arm not being taxed by the pitch, Niekro was able to throw huge number of innings, topping 300 innings four times in the decade. He was more than just an inning eater, though, placing in the top 10 in ERA+ four times during the decade.

Perry’s pitch, meanwhile, was the spitball—or “hard slider,” depending on when you asked—which he used to post five seasons of 300 innings or more. Exactly how often Perry threw the wet one is a matter of conjecture, but whatever he was doing, he was effective enough to lead the NL in wins in both 1970 and 1978.

I won’t say too much on Blyleven, whose Hall of Fame worthiness and merits have been discussed ad nauseum, but deserves credit for making the all-decade team despite having made his debut, at age 19, in 1970 but not letting the growing pains stop him from winning nearly 150 games and putting up an ERA of 2.88. Palmer, meanwhile, was an established veteran by the time 1970 rolled around and he continued rolling through the decade, winning 20 or more games an incredible eight times. In fact, despite being the fifth man on this start, it is Palmer who won more games during the decade than any other pitcher.

Relief Pitcher: John Hiller
I know, I know. No one thinks of John Hiller when they think of 1970s relievers. You think of Rollie Fingers, who is the saves leader for the decade. Or Sparky Lyle who won a Cy Young award relieving for the Yankees. Or Mike Marshall, who also won a Cy Young award coming out of the bullpen. Or Goose Gossage, and his mustache. Or Al Hrabosky and his. Or maybe even Kent Tekulve and his glasses.

But here’s the thing, at least when it comes to his decade, John Hiller was better than all of them. Hiller’s 1973 season—125 innings, 38 saves (the single-season decade high) and a 1.44 ERA—was arguably the finest of the decade. But he was no one-year wonder, Hiller posted the best ERA+ and K/9 number among eligible pitchers. Had he played for a better team than the Tigers—who averaged just 82 wins and a fourth place finish during the decade—Hiller would perhaps come to mind with names like Fingers and Gossage.

Manager: Sparky Anderson
Sparky Anderson took over the Reds for the 1970 season. That year they went 102-60 and made it to the World Series. The next year the team went just 79-83, and finished fifth. Clearly, Sparky decided he didn’t like that and for the rest of the decade the Reds were an unmatched success. The never won fewer than 88 games, won four division titles, three pennants and two World Series. Overall, and counting the beginning of his career as Tigers’ manager in 1979, Anderson-led teams won 919 games at a .590 clip—that’s an average of nearly 96-66.

Many other great managers—including Hall of Famers like Tommy Lasorda, Earl Weaver and Whitey Herzog—were active and often at the peak of their powers during the ‘70s, but “Captain Hook” is the skipper for this team.


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Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

Is it just me but does the all-70s team look rather weak compared to the all-60s team?  That outfield of Rose, Cedeno, and Jackson sure doesn’t seem to stack up to Aaron, Mays,and Robinson.

Carl
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Carl
Was with you (although I was hoping to put Carew @ 2B and maybe Garvey or Perez @ 1B; and Yaz in left to leave Rose off the team and Reggie @ DH so Parker could be in RF) but Hiller as RP over 2 HoFers like Gossage and Fingers and CYA winner like Lyle for a guy who had 1 great year in 1973?  Fewer saves than all 3 of the other pitchers as well. For SP – I also thought of Carlton (lead baseball twice in wins during the decade and pitched in 5 AS games) but understand… Read more »
Carl
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Carl

It’s the 70s.  Isn’t it time for a DH?

salvo
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salvo
I’m another who thinks Dave Concepcion is a better choice at SS than Campy; Five Gold Gloves vs. zero, a 93 OPS+ compared to an 86, and better postseasons to boot. And Carew shouldn’t be the choice at 1b, he only started there for four seasons, and spent more of the decade at 2b. In those four seasons at 1b, he had one monster season (1977, with an OPS+ of 178) but two others at 132 OPS+ (4.4 fWAR) and 125 OPS+ (2.2 fWAR). Willie McCovey (who actually played 1b in every year of the the decade) would be a… Read more »
Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard
A very good argument could be made for Stargell at first base.  Leaving Carlton out is wrong.  That 1972 season was one for the books.  A very interesting omission:  Catfish Hunter, he of the 5 consecutive 20 win seasons and 5 WS under his belt during the decade.  Martin was a much better manager than Anderson.  He won a division with the Tigers, did ok with a once miserable Rangers team, and then did his Yankee stint while fighting with Jackson and Steinbrenner, not an easy feat.  Anderson lost the ‘70 WS, the ‘72 WS, and won the ‘75 series… Read more »
Carl
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Carl

Mr Jenkins called.  He wants to know if 4 20-win seasons and twice leading the league in wins got him an honorable mention?

James Conlon
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James Conlon

Excellent choices…and an impossible task…there are so many choices that would be acceptable…but one cannot argue with your choices…

dennis Bedard
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dennis Bedard

They are all very close calls.  With Yaz at first on the 60’s team, I was half expecting to see the name Dave Kingman appear.

Bob Rittner
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Bob Rittner

McCovey was excellent, but after his brilliant 1970 season he had only one more year with more than 500 PAs that decade and 4 with fewer than 400 PAs. His heyday was the decade of the 1960s.

Using BB-Ref’s WAR calculations, Campaneris had 35.6 WAR during the decade to 31.1 for Concepcion.

Randy
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Randy

I don’t have the time at the moment to research this issue, but anytime I have given consideration to the pitching staff of an All Seventies Team, the trio I first think of is Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer and Steve Carlton. I don’t put Palmer behind Niekro, Perry and Blyleven, and I don’t leave Carlton off the team.
I would also give consideration to Dave Concepcion at shortstop and Amos Otis in centerfield, but, again, I want to research this further.

Glenn
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Glenn

John Hiller’s 1974 season—17-14 in 59 appearances, no starts. He was 17-10 on September 12 and had a realistic chance of winning 20 games without a single start. I have a feeling the 17 wins without a start has to be a record.

Shane Tourtellotte
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Shane Tourtellotte

Glenn:  I can do you one better.  Elroy Face in 1959 went 18-1, relieving in all his 57 games.  Not saying that’s the record, but at least I knew this one right off.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
@Randy – Steve Carlton would indeed be a fine choice, but Perry, Blyleven and Niekro all posted higher ERA+ marks for the decade than he did, and both Perry and Niekro pitched significantly more innings. Blyleven pitched a little less, but his ERA+ wasn’t just higher, it was a LOT higher (130 versus 118 for Lefty). If you prefer raw ERA, Carlton posted a 3.18. Blyleven’s was 2.88, better than any of the guys mentioned except for Seaver and Palmer. Speaking of Palmer, I suppose the argument for dropping him in the rotation is that he spent most of the… Read more »
Richard Barbieri
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Richard Barbieri

Shane got it, the record is Elroy Face, 18 wins with no starts. Hiller’s ‘74 is second, along with Bill Campbell’s ‘76.

It is telling about the way relievers are used that since 1990 no pitcher with zero starts has won more than 12 games.

Jim G.
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Jim G.

Wow, maybe it’s been a while since I’ve seen Reggie, but that totally doesn’t look like him.

It’s interesting that Nolan Ryan isn’t mentioned. Sure, some of his stats pale to those mentioned,but he played for some pretty crappy Angel teams and still had some remarkable years.

dennis Bedard
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dennis Bedard

The all decade teams is a lot of fun.  The concept fits into a nice time frame but the randomness of birth does not respect deadlines that are easily separated into ten year periods.  Which brings up Jim Rice.  He started playing in 1974 and ran up some very very impressive numbers from 75-79.  Had he started playing in ‘70 and replicated his number over the decade, he would be in the outfield.  There are probably many other players who don’t make the all decade team because they straddled more than one decade.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider
I think the knock on Sparky Anderson for “not winning enough with the talent he had” is a bit unfair.  In 1970, the Reds did not have Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion was not yet a regular.  By the time of the World Series, their starting pitching, which was far from dominant, was riddled with injuries.  Then they played a pretty damn good team in the Orioles that won, I believe, 109 games.  In 1972, they lost in 7 games to an Oakland team that won three consecutive World Series.  In 1975, they won the Series; complaining that it was… Read more »
Richard Barbieri
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Richard Barbieri
A couple of quick comments in regards to the players people named: Carlton definitely could have made the team, he was a little hit-or-miss in the ‘70s, 1972 was a brilliant season and 1977 was pretty good as well, but he had some mediocre years (notably 1973, perhaps from the workload the year prior). But like Jenkins, he definitely makes the honorable mention list. If you want to limit first base to people who played a majority of their games, the choice is probably Tony Perez, though you could make a case for Steve Garvey or George “Boomer” Scott. Using… Read more »
dennis Bedard
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dennis Bedard

Hey Richard.  Kudos for not even mentioning Nolan Ryan.  Or Don Sutton.  Both way overrated.  And speaking of overrated, I am already in boot camp training for the mother of all rhetorical assaults if you name Cal Ripken to your all 80’s team.

Shaun in Juneau
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Shaun in Juneau

I would include Stargell at !st and Catfish starting, due to intangibles and post season performances. Good stuff!

Bob B.
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Bob B.
Do people really not remember Jason Thompson now? He had a number of solid years. Then again, I’m in my 40s now so… I guess it makes sense that lots of younger fans wouldn’t know him. And all the discussion of pitchers in here made me want to lazily look at some numbers. 1970-79 Win Shares: 233 Palmer, 227 Seaver, 222 Perry, 214 Niekro, 203 Jenkins, 200 Carlton, 196 Blyleven, 171 Sutton, 162 Ryan, 155 Tiant 1970-79 Baseball Reference WAR: 69.9 Seaver, 65.2 Niekro, 57.6 Perry, 57.5 Blyleven, 55.9 Palmer, 54.3 Jenkins, 48.6 Carlton, 42.2 Wood, 42.0 Reuschel, 41.8 Ryan… Read more »
Philip
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Philip
Dennis wrote: “There are probably many other players who don’t make the all decade team because they straddled more than one decade.” Agreed. That’s a problem with All-Decades teams in general. Perhaps a solution is to consider eligible players for a decade but judge him at any ten-year career period where half of it straddles into a given decade. Example: in considering the best LF who ***played*** in the 70s (minimum 500 games), the years we would then use to compare Carl Yastrzemski to Pete Rose might be 65-74. Or Jim Rice from 75-84. Or Hank Aaron from 65-74. Or… Read more »
Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider
I’m not sure Billy Martin would have done as well with the Reds as Sparky did.  He had learned in the mold of Casey Stengel to manipulate players and roles. That really worked well with the Yankees in the 50s because, as much as they won, they did not have a team of All-Stars and HOFers (obviously, they had some with Mantle, Berra, and Ford).  They had a lot of guys that were more suited to specific roles. (Alternatively, perhaps Stengle made them into role players by the way he used them.) The Big Red Machine had stars or at… Read more »
Carl
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Carl
Sparky was a very good manager, but other managers w Rose, Bench, Morgan, Perez, Foster, Gullett would have won more in both the regular season and the post season: 1970 – won pennant but lost to Orioles. 1971 – came in 4th????!!!! 1972 – again lost the WS 1973 – lost to the barely-above .500 Mets in the play-offs. 1974 – 2nd place to the Dodgers 1975 – won in 7 games.  Fortunate to win div w Tommy John and Mike Marshall both injured for DOdgers.  Then, fortunate to beat Sox in 7 given that ROY candidate Sox was out.… Read more »
Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

In 1975, they won 108 games and won the division by 20 games or so. I don’t think John and Marshall would have made up the difference.  Yes, they lost to the “barely-above .500 Mets” who also took the defending champions A’s to seven games.  Anything can happen in a short series.  By 1977, the Big Red Machine was essentially over. 

You are really complaining about one bad season, losing in a crap shoot playoffs and two seasons after most of the team had passed their primes.

Tom Lucia
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Tom Lucia

I would put Steve Garvey at first base. I believe that Carew played second base in the 70’s for the twins.

BobDD
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BobDD
You forgot to put the trademark – ™ – after the phrase “one almost never hears his name in the discussion of the greatest pitchers of all-time” because that seems to be the way Seaver is continually referred to in all the “greatest pitcher who ever lived” articles on the internet.  Your inference that Morgan would receive your vote as greatest 2B ever reminds me that after the forced stricture of this decade series, I hope you do one by position for all-time.  Morgan as the best depends entirely on how much value goes to career and how much to… Read more »
Philip
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Philip
Carl, you need to look up Gullett’s numbers. He started only 22 games in 75, 20 in 76 and left for NYY in 77. And Foster and Morgan simply weren’t there the whole decade either. The only other National League managers to win at least two World Championships in a decade were: (until the 70s…..) John McGraw (1921, 1922) Billy Southworth (1942, 1944) Walter Alston (1955, 1959) Walter Alston (1963, 1965) What ‘‘more’’ exactly was Sparky’s Reds supposed to win? World Series, pennants, divisions, more games? In 9 years as Cincinnati skipper, he won 2 WS, 4 pennants, 5 division… Read more »
BobDD
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BobDD

I don’t know . . . Sparky wasn’t really very tall, and he smoked and cussed too.  He might have inspired a couple of his players, but he was no Sophia Loren.

BobDD
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BobDD

re Garvey @ 1B:  he eventually became famous for going well beyond first base.

Bill Rubinstein
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Bill Rubinstein
Carew belongs somewhere but Dick Allen might be considered at First. Morgan is obviously the second baseman, but the claim that he was the best of all time, better than Hornsby, is ridiculous. Bill James was the first to say this, and it shows he isnt infallible. He was a mediocre player until he was traded to Cincy, chosen for only two All Star games. Yount may be a better shortstop than Campaneris, also Concepcion. The outfield should be Jackson, Rose, and Stargell. Keith Hernandez might also be considered at First. The pitching rotation should be Seaver, Palmer, Carlton, Jenkins,… Read more »
dave
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dave

C – Bench
1B – Garvey
2B – Morgan
SS – Concepcion
3B – Schmidt
RF – Parker
CF – Lynn
LF – Foster or Rice

Hugo Alvarez
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Hugo Alvarez

C’mon you don’t even mentioned Concepcion, he was the right choice by far fo SS

Barb
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Barb

You had to go there with Rose, twice!
What irks me most is the unbalanced scales: you can spend a lifetime doing everything right, yet it is that one mistake the world will remember or judge you by.

lilith
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omg

lilith
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lol

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