To compile a list of the best Major League Baseball teams of all time, there’s more than a century of data to mine and some parameters to set. For one thing, a team can’t be great if they lose in the playoffs. For the Ruth-and-Gehrig Yankees (and every other team before 1969), the postseason simply meant the World Series. The best of the American League played the best of the National League for a winner-take-all best of seven.
Nowadays, there are wild card playoffs followed by Division Series followed by League Championship Series. Teams that survive earn the right to play for all the marbles. Still, the lopsided way teams from decades past won earn them the right to be among the greatest ever.
Baseball Almanac did some fantastic number crunching to come up with a picture of the most dominant teams in the regular season and playoffs. They used winning percentage, percentage of runs scored in any given game (allowing defensive-minded teams to gain weight), playoff record, and earned-run average (ERA) to define their version of “best ever.” Based on Baseball Almanac’s calculations and other tales of epic clubs of yore, here are the eight best MLB teams of all time.
8. 1970 Baltimore Orioles
In the modern era, 100-win seasons are still special achievements, but a club needs to navigate multiple playoff series in order to certify those results with a title. The 1970 Baltimore Orioles posted 108 wins and went 115-55 with their playoff run included. They beat the Reds in five games to cap off a season for the ages that was defined by the Birds’ pitching staff.
Hall of Famer Jim Palmer (20-10, 2.71 ERA, 305.0 IP) led a staff that featured three 20-game winners in the rotation and a team ERA of 3.15. Big Frank Robinson (.306, 24 HR) and Boog Powell (35 HR, 114 RBI) supplied the power while Paul Blair and Brooks Robinson worked their magic on the field and at the plate. This was Earl Weaver’s best team, one of five 100-win squads skippered by the late Hall of Fame manager but the only one to win the World Series.
7. 1961 New York Yankees
The 1954 New York Giants could have claimed this spot, but the 1961 Yankees’ dominance (109 wins) was simply too much for for teams in their era to handle. Mickey Mantle had a monster season but Roger Maris ended up stealing the headlines by slugging 61 home runs to claim the record from Ruth. Mantle cracked 54 HR and hit .317 with a .448 on base percentage while three other players hit at least 20 homers for this new version of Murderers’ Row.
On the mound, the Chair of the Board ran the show. Whitey Ford went 25-4 in the regular season before pitching 14 scoreless innings in two World Series wins to nab MVP honors. The Yankees beat the Reds in five games, but the outcome was never really in question. Maris’s 61 in ’61 seemed predetermined for this all-time great club.
6. 1929 Philadelphia Athletics
Back in the day, Philly was a two-team town and the A’s were a dominant force in the American League with Connie Mack as their manager and Shibe Park as their home field. Whether the 1910 club was better than the 1929 squad is debatable, but the latter had to take the AL title from Ruth and Gehrig’s Yankees, so they win the race here. Jimmie Foxx (or, “Double X”) led the charge in ’29, hitting .354 with 33 home runs and a gaudy .463 on-base percentage, but Al Simmons was the team’s beast with 34 dingers and 157 RBI to go along with a .356 batting average. Yeah, they were that good.
The A’s went 104-46 in the regular season, blowing out the second-place Yankees by 18 games (the Red Sox ended up 48 games behind in the standings). On the mound, Lefty Grove (20-6) and George Earnshaw (24-8) combined for 32 complete games. They beat the Cubs in five games to win the World Series as Jimmy Dykes hit .421 and Foxx drove in five for the A’s.
5. 1939 York Yankees
Based on the 1939 Yankees’ 411 run differential, you could rank them at the top of the list for best team of all time, but they’ll get their due. Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, and Red Rolfe did plenty of damage that year, but it was Joe DiMaggio’s team. Joltin’ Joe hit .381 with 30 home runs in a Yankee Stadium where fly balls to left field went to die (490 feet to left-center, 415 to left.) The Yankee Clipper had an on-base percentage of .448 and somehow struck out just 20 times in 524 plate appearances.
Red Ruffing paced the pitching staff with 21 wins and 22 complete games. The 1939 World Series against Cincinnati wasn’t even fair. Charlie Keller hit .438 with 3 home runs as the Yankees outscored the Reds 20-8 in a four-game sweep. With the playoffs added in, the 1939 Yankees went 110-45.
4. 1907 Chicago Cubs
While there are several stats that make the 1907 Cubs special, the one that catapults off the page is the team’s mind-boggling 1.73 ERA. Even in the Dead Ball Era, this pitching staff defined stingy. They outscored opponents by nearly 200 runs on their way to a record of 107-45.
In the World Series, the 1906 Cubs team that won 116 games got to redeem itself and enter the pantheon of best clubs ever. The pitching staff allowed a total of six runs in five games. How do you manage a four-games-to-none sweep when playing five games? Game One was called off after 12 innings with the teams deadlocked in a 3-3 tie. Yes, baseball was like soccer back then.
3. 1976 Cincinnati Reds
Though one could argue the “Big Red Machine” of 1975 was one of the best ever, that club needed all seven games to win the World Series. That was not the case for the 1976 Reds who swept the Phillies in three games in the NLCS and then manhandled the Yankees in a four-game sweep of the World Series.
Johnny Bench hit .533 in the Series with 6 RBI to take home MVP honors while George Foster and Dave Concepcion added to the onslaught. In the regular season, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Ken Griffey led the offensive juggernaut to 102 wins. Scrappy and scruffy in the way only a 1970s ballclub could be, the Reds of 1976 were fun to watch and one of the game’s greatest.
2. 1998 New York Yankees
Take David Wells, David Cone, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera in their prime. In mid-season, add Cuban sensation Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Start the batting order with Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter, then mix in Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, and Tino Martinez in high-production years. Round it out with Jorge Posada, Scott Brosius, and Chili Davis. Call in Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton, Graeme Lloyd, and Ramiro Mendoza from the bullpen and DH or pinch-hit Darryl Strawberry when you want to intimidate a pitcher. That’s how the 1998 Yankees went 125-50.
Manager Joe Torre had access to the most talented pool of players in the modern era during the 114-48 regular season. The only vague threat that year came in the playoffs when Cleveland took Game Two of the ALCS at old Yankee Stadium, then roughed up Andy Pettitte to take game three in Cleveland. These were the only two losses the Yankees had in the postseason. El Duque righted the ship with an epic performance in game four before Cone and Wells sealed the deal. The World Series was more like a vacation to San Diego for this team, which took home the trophy in a four-game sweep.
With all this talent, who was the MVP of the World Series? Scott Brosius, whose brutal treatment of Trevor Hoffman in Game Three ended the best closer argument and signifies just how deep the ’98 Yankees were. Joe Torre insisted “Best Ever” go on the World Series ring along with the club’s impossible record. His assessment holds up to objective scrutiny.
1. 1927 New York Yankees
In a time when the baseball season lasted 154 games, the 1927 Yankees went 110-44. Babe Ruth mashed a record 60 home runs (more than 12 whole teams hit that year) and Lou Gehrig hit .373 with 47 home runs and 52 doubles. Outfielders Earl Combes (.356 BA) and Bob Meusel (.337 BA) combined for 83 doubles. They were called “Murderers’ Row” for a reason.
The 1927 Yankees could also pitch with the best of them. Ace Waite Hoyt went 22-7 with a 2.63 ERA while closer Wilcy Moore chalked up 19 wins out of the bullpen with an ERA of 2.28. Their run differential (number of runs they outscored opponents) was a staggering 376. In the World Series, the Babe hit .400 with seven RBI as the Yankees swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games. It’s what happens when the best player ever leads the best squad ever against any opponent.
To put Babe Ruth’s achievement in perspective, the World Series opponent Pirates hit 54 home runs as a team in 1927 — six fewer than the Sultan of Swat. No wonder they wanted to put an asterisk next to Maris’s 61.