By: David Arkow, Abe Atwood, Cael Berg, Noah Chung, Josephine Elting, Josh Rosenblum, Zach Stack, Kira Gabriel, Matthew Gross, Stephanie Yoshida, Victor Zeidenfeld
Every year, MLB fans vote on their favorite players to make the All-Star game. The Midsummer Classic always features the best talent in the league but there are always debates about players who were snubbed or shouldn’t have made the squad. As we have done in the NFL and in the NBA, HSAC set out to create our own All-Star teams but instead of choosing just the best players in a single year, we looked at four different decades from the 1980s. Using a holistic range of statistical criteria, we make our own All-Star teams recalling some of the all-time greats from America’s pastime sport.
With the availability of many statistics, we tried to create a “catch-all” metric showing how good each player was. Using standardized scores on a 0-100 scale, we compared where each player ranks in different widely available and important statistics separating by decade. Standardization allows us to compare players within a decade. For example, in the 1980s, the most home runs ever hit in a season was 49 (Mark McGwire and Andre Dawson) while in the 1990s (steroid era) the most home runs was 70 (also Mark McGwire). It would not be fair to compare a player’s stats who played in the 80’s to one that played in a different era. As the MLB has changed over time (more Moneyball analytics today), using standardized stats allows us to compare within and across decades who were the best players.
We selected our teams similar to All-Star team selections drafting a player at each position. This means that some players might have been left off the roster even though they ranked higher than another hitter in our sample due to the positional nature of baseball. For hitters, we computed a standardized score from 0-100 for five statistics from Baseball Reference: 1) OPS, 2) WAR, 3) SO/BB, 4) HR Rate, 5) Fielding Runs (defensive value). For pitchers, we used 1) W/L %, 2) ERA, 3) WHIP, 4) WAR, 5) K-BB, 6%) Opponent OPS+.
From these standardized scores, we computed a weighted average putting more stock in the primary analytical stats (e.g. WAR, OPS, ERA) than the secondary stats (e.g. W/L %, HR Rate, Fielding Runs). We then ranked the players based on their weighted average scores to select the best player at each position in their respective decade.
Caveats: While we took a holistic approach to selecting our teams, there are other methods that would result in a different list. The statistics we chose are widely understood, recognized, and available metrics. Today, there are more advanced analytical ones but might be harder to interpret or understand for casual fans (e.g. spin rate or Stuff+ for pitchers, exit velocity or barrel rate for hitters). Additionally, we did have a weighted criteria but one might choose different weights believing for example a player’s defensive value (Fielding Runs) should be worth more. Facing a similar problem as modern day analytics, it is hard to quantify a player’s defensive value and our statistical criteria focuses more on offensive than defensive production. Because we are using concrete statistical criteria, there will inevitably be players that rise higher on the list than expected due to putting up gaudy numbers in one area. This is not a “be-all and end-all” list for the best baseball players of all-time but an approach that uses a holistic and objective criteria to analyze and recognize the accomplishments of the best baseball players of all-time. We hope you enjoy reading through our All-Star teams and enjoy constructing your own based on our analysis.
C – Lance Parrish DET (8x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove, 6x Silver Slugger, 1x World Series Champion)
It’s no surprise that Parrish is our 1980s catcher as he won the Silver Slugger award (best hitter at each position) every year he was in the AL except for 1981 and 1985. Parrish’s 324 career home runs ranks fifth all time among catchers showing his power behind the plate. Having helped lead Detroit to their last world series title in 1984, Parish now serves as a Special Assistant in the Tigers front office.
1B – Don Mattingly NYY (6x AS, 1x MVP, 9x GG, 3x SS)
Perhaps more well-known by younger fans as the former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins, Mattingly was quite a talented player in the 1980s. Mattingly played his entire fourteen year career with the Yankees (‘82-’95) but surprisingly never won a World Series retiring just before their run of 4 titles in five years. Mattingly had both power (OPS+ of 144 in 1980s) and plate discipline (SO/BB ratio of .75) which made him such a hard hitter to get out. Mattingly also made only 64 errors (4.5 per season) throughout his career so it’s no wonder he won 9 Gold Gloves. Mattingly will not return to the Marlins as manager in 2023 as he is still chasing that elusive ring despite being part of some successful franchises (Yankees and Dodgers)
2B – Lou Whitaker DET (5x AS, 1x World Series Champion, Rookie of the Year, 3x GG, 4x SS)
Whitaker checks in as the second Detroit Tiger on this list. Whitaker was a very well-rounded player only scoring below 50 in HR Rate category which is not as important for a second baseman. He and shortstop Alan Trammell are the longest running double play duo (19 years) in major league history.
SS – Cal Ripken Jr. BAL (19x AS, 1x WS Champ, 2x MVP, 2x GG, 8x SS)
Cal Ripken is most known for playing 2,632 consecutive games over 16 seasons, the MLB record. This speaks to his reliability to play on the field and play well. Ripken is the most beloved Oriole of all-time with nearly 100 career WAR and leads the team in many records. Ripken is a member of the select 3,000 hit club and has the most career homers for a shortstop (353).
3B – Wade Boggs BOS (12x AS 1x WS Champ, 2x GG, 8x SS)
Boggs spent his entire career playing in the AL East (Red Sox, Yankees, Rays) but will likely be remembered as the best Red Sox infielder of all-time earning the third highest WAR for one of the most historic franchises. Boggs ranked second among all AL hitters in the ‘80s posting high marks in OPS+ (150), WAR, and the best plate discipline (SO/BB ratio of .45) of the decade. Off the field, Boggs has made several TV cameos on The Simpsons, Cheers, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
RF – Dwight Evans BOS (3x AS, 8x GG, 2x SS)
One of the more unknown names on this team, Evans joins the list primarily because of his power (OPS+ 137) and plate discipline. Just after Boggs, Evans is fourth all-time in Red Sox WAR.
CF – Robin Yount MIL (3x AS, 2x MVP, 1x GG, 3x SS)
Yount is considered the greatest Milwaukee Brewer of all-time leading the franchise in WAR over his 20 year career. A member of the 3,000 hit club, Yount is the last player to hit his first major league home run at 18 years old. Yount won MVP honors in 1982 leading the Brewers to their only World Series appearance in franchise history as they are still only one of six without a title.
LF – Rickey Henderson OAK/NYY (10x AS, 2x WS Champ, 1x MVP, 1x GG, 3x SS)
It’s no surprise that Rickey Henderson checks in as the best AL hitter of the 1980s given he is a complete five-tool player. Henderson posted high marks all above scores of 80 in OPS+, WAR, SO/BB, and Fielding Runs only ranking below average in home run rate. Henderson will forever be known as the best base stealer of all-time, recording 1,406 stolen bags, nearly 500 more than second place Lou Brock. He averaged nearly a stolen base every two games. Henderson has also scored the most runs of all time (2,295). Henderson played for nine different teams throughout his 25 year career including four separate stints with the Oakland Athletics
DH – Eddie Murray BAL (8x AS, 1x WS Champ, Rookie of the Year, 3x GG, 3x SS)
We almost slotted Murray at first base but opted for DH since he had more power than Mattingly who was the better defender. Murray has the third most WAR among Orioles and second most home runs in an Orioles uniform (he has more than Cal Ripken Jr. but also hit homers for other teams)
Utility – George Brett KCR (13x AS, 1x WS Champ, 1x MVP, 1x GG, 3x SS)
George Brett was actually the third ranked hitter in our analysis but checks in as our utility because of his versatility and because Wade Boggs (another 3B) placed second. Brett combined both power (OPS+ of 150) and plate discipline (SO/BB of .63). Brett is undisputedly the greatest Kansas City Royal of all time leading them to their first World Series victory in 1985 over the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s no surprise that Brett had the fourth-highest voting percentage in history (98.2%) when inducted into the Hall of Fame.
5 Reserves – Alan Trammel, Jesse Barfield, Kent Hrbek, Fred McGriff, Chet Lemon
SP1 – Roger Clemens BOS (1x MVP, 7x Cy Young, 11x AS, 2x WS Champ)
Clemens consistently led the league in a variety of categories including wins, complete games, shutouts, SO/BB%, and FIP multiple times. By the end of his career, he had north of 4,500 strikeouts and 140 WAR. After being found of using steroids, Clemens fell off the Hall of Fame Ballot last year in 2022 and can now only make it to Cooperstown by selection of the Eras Committee.
SP2 – Bret Saberhagen KCR (2x Cy Young, 3x AS, 1x WS Champ)
Saberhagen’s 1989 Cy Young season was the best of his career, leading the league in wins, W/L%, ERA, complete games, innings, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, and SO/BB%. Clearly Saberhagen had an immediate impact leading the Royals to an ALCS appearance in his rookie season. He followed that up in his sophomore season leading the Royals to a World Series title and winning World Series MVP as well.
SP3 – Teddy Higuera MIL (1x AS)
Higuera’s accolades may not compare to some of his peers but he posted good statistical numbers. He was the runner up in the Rookie of the Year voting to Ozzie Guillen. In his best season in 1986, Higuera pitched to a 2.79 ERA with 20 wins in the year of his All-Star selection. He ranks highly on our list for his Win-Loss percentage (.639) and his WHIP (1.17).
SP4 – Dave Stieb TOR (7x AS, 1x ERA Title)
The Blue Jays hurler earned five All-Star honors in the 80s, but missed that elusive Cy Young honor finishing top-ten in voting three times. Stieb was a league leader in numerous categories with an ERA title among a more interesting feat: Stieb plunked the most batters in a season in five years.
SP5 – Bert Blyleven CLE/MIN (2x AS, 2x WS Champion)
Blyleven primarily played for Cleveland during the 80s then became a valuable trade acquisition of the Minnesota Twins later on. Blyleven paid dividends helping the Twins hoist their first ever World Series Championship in Minneapolis. In the 80s, he had three top-five finishes in Cy Young voting and an All-Star selection.
RP1 – Rich Gossage NYY/SDP (9x AS, 1x WS Champ)
Gossage started the decade with the New York Yankees where he would finish top-five in Cy Young voting as well as three consecutive All-Star selections. Gossage led the league in saves (33) in 1980 while only blowing four save opportunities.
RP 2 – Dan Quisenberry KCR (3x AS, 1x WS Champion)
Quisenberry helped lead the ‘85 Royals to their first-ever championship. Quisinberry was in striking distance of a Cy Young multiple times with two second, two third and a fifth place finish, all in the decade.
AL Manager – Dick Howser KCR
C – Gary Carter MON/NYM (1x WS Champ, 11x AS, 3x GG, 5x SS)
Carter spent the first 11 years of his career with Montreal Expos (of which he has the most franchise WAR), but was then traded to the New York Mets where he would win his lone World Series Championship. As a catcher, Carter was strong both offensively and defensively ranking fourth overall among NL hitters in our analysis which is rare for a catcher. He had 307 home runs and 1225 RBIs which places him 7th all time in both categories among catchers.
1B – Keith Hernandez STL/NYM (1x MVP, 2x WS Champ, 5x AS, 11x GG, 2x SS)
Hernandez is considered by many to be the best defensive first baseman of all-time as he has the most Gold Gloves (11) of any first baseman. Hernandez also had also had a great approach at the plate with a walk rate of 12.5% (SO/BB score of 89) and an OBP of .384. Now Hernandez works up in the broadcast booth as Mets commentator on SportsNet New York. His No. 17 was retired with the Mets just last year.
2B – Ryne Sandberg CHC (1xMVP, 10x AS, 9x GG, 7x SS)
Sandberg, the Cubs best second baseman, spent his entire 15-year career there amassing the third most WAR in franchise history (68). Surprisingly for a second baseman, Sandberg was a power hitter, leading the league in home runs in 1990 with 40. Sandberg was an all-around solid player and didn’t excel in any one particular area posting scores between 40 and 60 in all of our metrics. The Cubs originally signed Sandberg as a center fielder, but when veteran players came in demanding the position, they moved him to second.
SS – Ozzie Smith STL (1x WS Champ, 15x AS, 13x GG, 1x SS)
Known for his acrobatic diving plays, Smith was one of the most athletic shortstops to play the game ending his career with 13 Gold Gloves (the most by any shortstop). Smith ranks 22nd all time in stolen bases (580). In 1982 he helped the Cardinals beat the Brewers in the World Series. Smith ranks fourth all-time in Cardinals WAR (66) and first in defensive WAR (he has a perfect 100 Fielding Runs score).
3B – Mike Schmidt PHI (3x MVP, 1x WS Champ, 12x AS, 10x GG, 6x SS)
While he was solid defensively at third base, his 3 MVPs and 12 All-Star games are due to his batting numbers. He was actually the highest ranked NL hitter in our analysis posting scores above 80 in all hitting metrics but with a lower defensive grade (fielding runs score of 48). He had 548 career home runs and 2,234 hits. Schmidt was a fan favorite in Philly for all of his 18 years there (he has the highest WAR in franchise history) and helping lead them to their first championship in 1980.
RF – Darryl Strawberry NYM (3x WS Champ, 8x AS, 2x SS)
Strawberry won three World Series Championships with both New York teams (one with Mets and two with Yankees). In 1987, Strawberry joined the 30-30 club with 39 home runs and 36 stolen bases. While he produced at a peak level at the start of his career with the Mets, he suffered a sharp decline after leaving New York (ranks second all-time in Mets position player WAR). After his age 30 season with the Dodgers in 1992, he was mostly used as a utility player only playing in more than 100 games once the rest of his career.
CF – Andre Dawson MON/CHC (Hall of Fame, MVP, 8x All-Star, ROY, 8x Gold Glove, 4x Silver Slugger)
Andre Dawson was a four sometimes even five tool center fielder (he posted above average scores in all metrics) depending on the health of his knees. He is one of two players over to reach 400 homers and 300 stolen bases. In addition to his offense he was great defensively with a defensive WAR of 73 and a fielding percentage of .983.
LF – Dale Murphy ATL (2x MVP, 7x AS, 5x GG, 4x SS)
In his 18-year career, Murphy logged innings at first base, catcher, and left field playing mostly for the Braves (ranks fifth all-time in position player WAR). From the ‘82 to ‘85 season he played in all 162 games for the Braves and won a Gold Glove each year. This is a rare feat in today’s game and ironically, only two players who were both Braves (Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson) played all 162 in 2022. During the 80s, Murphy led the league in games played, hits, runs, extra bases, and at bats.
Utility – Jack Clark SFG/STL (4x AS, 2x SS)
Jack Clark was feared by pitchers as he drew 136 walks in only 131 games in 1987. That same season he had a SLG of .597 and an OBP of .459 showing he had both discipline and power. Clark would start seasons off slow with an average below .200 then heated up as the season progressed.
5 Reserves – Tim Raines, Pedro Guerrero, Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn, Kevin Mitchell
SP1 – Dwight Gooden NYM (1x Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, 4x-AS, 2x WS Champ)
Gooden entered the league in 1984 with the New York Mets leading the NL in strikeouts, FIP, K/BB%, and more earning him Rookie of the Year while finishing second for the Cy Young.The Mets young ace continued to dominate pitching to a 1.53 ERA earning him a Cy Young in 1985 and a top-five MVP finish. After winning the Mets second World Series in 1986, Gooden struggled with drug usage and injuries but was still our most dominant NL pitcher of the decade
SP2 – Orel Hershiser LAD (1x Cy Young, 3x AS 1x WS Champ, 1x GG)
Hershiser led the Dodgers to a World Series in 1988 also winning Cy Young pitching to a 2.26 ERA. He proved to be a reliable arm that could go deep into games leading the NL in innings pitched for three consecutive seasons. After retirement, Hershiser became a competitive poker player.
SP3 – Nolan Ryan HOU (8x AS, 2x ERA Title, 1x WS Champ)
It is no surprise that the all-time strikeout king (5,714) makes the all-decade list despite playing the latter half of his career in the 80s. Ryan spent most of the decade with Houston where he would have a couple of seasons with Cy Young and MVP votes alongside All-Star appearances. He earned two Era Titles with a 1.69 and 2.76 in the ‘81 and ‘87 seasons
SP4 – John Tudor STL/LAD (1x WS Champ)
Similar to his teammate on this list and in his career, Tudor was another critical piece of the Dodgers 1988 World Series team. Tudor pitched with the Red Sox before spending some time with the Pirates, Dodgers, and Cardinals. In his best season in 1985, Tudor pitched to a 1.93 ERA and led the NL in complete game shutouts and WHIP (his best stat category in our analysis).
SP5 – Bob Welch LAD (1x Cy Young, 2x AS, 2x WS Champ)
Welch spent most of the decade with the Los Angeles Dodgers before shipping off to northern California to play for the Oakland Athletics. Welch generally carried an ERA in the mid threes, but broke the sub-three level in ‘83 with a 2.56 ERA. Welch joined Oakland in 1988 and helped them win a World Series title a year later after losing to his former team in the Dodgers the year before
RP1 – Tim Burke MON (1x AS)
Tim Burke was a reliable backend option in the Montreal Expos bullpen, pitching to a sub-three ERA in all seasons with the Expos except for one. His best season was in 1987 where he posted a 1.19 ERA. Burke appeared in more games than what is expected of relievers in today’s game appearing in 78 games in 1985.
RP2 – Steve Howe LAD (Rookie of the Year, 1x AS 1x WS Cham)
Howe had a strong start to his career earning Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Dodgers after pitching to a 2.66 ERA in 59 games with 17 saves. Howe is the fourth Dodger pitcher to make this list showing the dominance of their staff in the 80s, similar to the modern day Dodgers. He ended his Dodgers’ career with a 2.35 ERA and 59 Saves. Howe then played in Minnesota, Texas, and finally with the New York Yankees and posted less impressive numbers later in his career.
NL Manager – Tommy Lasorda LAD
Stay on the lookout for or 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s teams in the coming weeks.