BY JOHN ERARDI
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Bill Deane, the former Hall of Fame researcher who is considered the foremost expert on the ranking of individual players and teams, believes the greatest team of all time is the 1976 Cincinnati Reds, who narrowly edge the 1927 New York Yankees.
"The '76 Reds are a personal favorite of mine, but other fans have their favorites, too," he said. "I can understand why they might rank other teams higher. It's more of a debate than it is anything you can prove definitively."
The dominating performance of the New York Yankees this season has again fueled the debate about which is the greatest team of all-time. But it has fueled another debate, too: has regular-season dominance been given its just due as arguably the most important factor in determining greatness?
How '98 Yankees compare with greatest teams|
Deane believes not enough weight has been given to regular-season performance.
"If the Yankees don't win it all this year, I think it's going to call attention to the fact that post-season performance is overrated in evaluating a team's place in history," he said. "And I believe that's true of individual players, too."
He called the '98 Yankees "outstanding."
"There's no Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle -- or Joe Morgan for that matter -- but they have outstanding depth and no weak links," Deane said. "They don't do a lot of things that you're going to see on a nightly basis on (ESPN) SportsCenter.
"But everybody is a good player and they have a solid pitching staff. If you take a look at, say, the 1961 Yankees, they had Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and all those home runs -- six guys with 20 or more -- but they also had (Tony) Kubek and (Bobby) Richardson and (Clete) Boyer who didn't hit many home runs. The '98 Yankees have no weak link on offense."
Deane points out that because of free agency, it is harder to keep a great team together nowadays so that the team has a chance to put together a career year.
"And the competitive level of (other teams) in the league is closer nowadays," he said. "In the 1920s and 1930s, there were no blacks in the major leagues. There were only a handful of players from other countries. For a team to win it now, they have to stay healthy. A team that is very good this year might be in the middle of the pack next year with just a few (key) injuries."
The Enquirer compiled its own subjective list of the five greatest teams of all time, using the following criteria: regular-season dominance, post-season dominance and the star power in the daily starting lineups, including pitching.
Here are the results in order of finish, with commentary by Deane.
1. 1927 New York Yankees, 110-44, 4-0 in World Series.
Deane: "They were ahead of the rest of the major leagues as far as the power games goes. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit 107 home runs -- the most any other team had was 50-something.
"It wasn't a gimmick; it was a way to score runs in bunches. They dominated other teams in the league. They had a very good lineup, excellent starting pitching, but it was mainly their slugging that did it."
2. 1976 Cincinnati Reds, 102-60, 7-0 in post-season.
Deane: "What can I say about their starting eight you don't already know in Cincinnati? Five of the eight hit over .300 and the three that didn't are either in the Hall of Fame (Johnny Bench) or arguably should be (Tony Perez and Davey Concepcion).
"And I think their pitching was underrated. They don't get the credit they deserve. There wasn't a Tom Seaver or a Steve Carlton to win 20 games, but that '76 team had a huge differential between runs scored and runs allowed and you can't do that without good pitching. Some of it was defense, sure, but the pitching was good."
3. 1939 New York Yankees, 106-45, 4-0 in World Series
Deane: "This was probably the most underrated of the great teams. From 1936 to 1939, the Yankees were perhaps the most dominating team in history. In that stretch, they were 16-4 in the World Series. And 1939 was probably their most dominant year of all.
"Like the Reds in '76, the '39 Yankees had a huge disparity between runs scored and runs allowed. Joe DiMaggio was their best player, but they had other outstanding players, too, like Charlie Keller and Bill Dickey. A lot of their good players had great years, and their mediocre players had good years."
4. 1970 Baltimore Orioles, 108-54, 7-1 in postseason (4-1 in World Series).
Deane: "The 1969-71 Orioles won 109, 108 and 103 games. But 1970 is the only year they won the (World) Series. They had three 20-game winners in 1970. How can you not like a team that had (future Hall of Famer) Jim Palmer as its third best starter?
"Frank Robinson was their key player, but he was on the decline by then. Boog Powell was the MVP, the slugging leader. Brooks Robinson was on the down side, but still producing defensively. Like the '75-'76 Reds, the Orioles were a great defensive team with several Gold Glovers."
5. 1961 New York Yankees, 109-53, 4-1 in World Series.
Deane: "They set the home run record with 240, which has since been broken -- shattered, actually -- by several other teams. But the Yankees didn't have the designated hitter and they didn't have a single pitcher who hit a home run that season.
"After Whitey Ford, the starting pitching wasn't stellar; it was similar to the Reds (25 years later) -- good starting pitching, but not great. But Ford was great, and he was a great big-game pitcher. He was every bit as good as people said, and better than some people think. He's one of the top 15 pitchers of all time."
A look at teams that had great regular seasons but failed to win a championship.
National League -- The 1906 Cubs were 116-36 (.763), but lost 4 games to 2 in the World Series to their crosstown rival, the Chicago White Sox.
American League -- The 1954 Cleveland Indians were 111-43 (.721) but were swept in four games in the World Series by the the New York Giants.
Some other memorable fold jobs
The 1914 Philadelphia Athletics (99-53) were swept in the World Series by the Boston Braves, aka the Miracle Braves; the 1942 New York Yankees 103-51 were upset 4 games to 1 in the World Series by the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 1960 Yankees (97-57) were beaten 4-3 in the World Series by the Pittsburgh Pirates); the 1963 Yankees (104-57) were swept in the World Series by the Los Angeles Dodgers; the 1969 Baltimore Orioles, 109-53 were shocked 4 games to 1 in the World Series by the New York Mets, aka the Miracle Mets.
The 1988 Oakland A's (104-58) were surprised 4 games to 1 in the World Series by the Los Angeles Dodgers; the 1990 A's (103-59) were swept in the World Series by the Cincinnati Reds and the 1992 Atlanta Braves (98-64) were beaten in the World Series by the Toronto Blue Jays 4 games to 2.