Which MLB team was the best ever? That question has spurred endless debates over the years. The discussions can be heated, and usually someone throws in a minor league team or a Negro League club, but we’re limiting this query to the National and American Leagues.
The arguments will never end, of course, but we thought we’d take a shot at answering the question ourselves by using Out of the Park Baseball 17 to simulate a tournament of the 16 best teams in history. Dubbed 16 in ‘16, the event started with a selection committee consisting of Tim Kurkjian (ESPN), Neil Paine (FiveThirtyEight), Mark Simon (ESPN), Brian Kenny (MLB Network), Ken Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau), Rob Tracy (Elias Sports Bureau), CJ Nitkowski (MLB Analyst), Kat Bailey (Hit The Pass/US Gamer), and Gus Ramsey (Committee Chairman).
The committee chose the top 12 seeds, with fans voting for the teams filling the last four slots. OOTP community manager T.J. Lauerman hosted a live Twitch stream during which he revealed the entire bracket — You can catch the replay on YouTube, and the tournament bracket and results can be found at Challonge.com. (Check out our YouTube channel for replays of all the action as T.J. announced the results of each round live on Twitch.)
We used OOTP 17’s new Historical Series feature for each match-up in the tournament. It allows you to quickly and easily match any two teams in history against each other for a best-of series, and the AI handles the strategy accordingly, including adopting an “all hands on deck” philosophy for deciding games.
The Historical Series feature also allows you to dictate the era the teams will play in, so player ratings, strategy settings, and other elements are adjusted accordingly. For example, you could have two deadball era teams play in the modern day, so guys with power could actually hit a few home runs, and the managers will think about using setup men and closers out of their bullpens.
In the case of 16 in ‘16, we gave the team with the higher seed “Home Era” advantage, which meant, for example, that when the 1906 Chicago Cubs (10th seed) played the 1986 New York Mets (7th seed) in the first round, Chicago’s squad found itself thrust into the modern era. (We haven’t heard what Tinker, Evers, and Chance thought of New York City’s 1980s subway system.)
Here are the teams chosen for the tournament. The brackets were set up so that, barring any upsets, the top two seeds could end up playing each other in the final round. Below that you’ll find recaps of each round’s action.
1927 New York Yankees (#1 seed): This is the team that gets mentioned nearly every time the “greatest of all time” conversation happens. This club went 110-44 and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. In addition to boasting Babe Ruth’s record-breaking 60 home runs, the club’s famed “Murderer’s Row” also served up Lou Gehrig’s 47 homers. Waite Hoyt (22-7, 2.63 ERA) and Herb Pennock (19-8, 3.00) anchored the starting rotation.
1998 New York Yankees (#2 seed): This club wasn’t a bunch of slouches either: They compiled a 114-48 record and swept the San Diego Padres in the World Series. Including the postseason, they were 125-50, an all-time record. While none of their hitters had overwhelming power (no one reached the 30 HR mark), they still boasted a stacked lineup featuring Darryl Strawberry, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, and others. David Cone’s 20 wins led the pitching rotation, and Mariano Rivera was early in his lights-out career as a closer with 36 saves and a 1.91 ERA.
1939 New York Yankees (#3 seed): Their 106-45 record and sweep of the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series capped a bittersweet year that saw Gehrig’s emotional “luckiest man on the face of the Earth” speech attended by retired slugger Babe Ruth and other veterans from earlier days. However, a new crop of stalwarts, led by a young Joe DiMaggio, were capable of leading the team to greatness once more.
1975 Cincinnati Reds (#4 seed): The Big Red Machine displayed its powerhouse credentials with a 108-54 record and a seven-game World Series win over the Boston Red Sox that was one for the ages. Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, George Foster, and other greats led the hitting attack, and Gary Nolan, Jack Billingham, and Don Gullett each notched 15 wins.
1929 Philadelphia A’s (#5 seed): The team that finished second to New York in 1927 and 1928 finally broke through with 104 wins and a five-game World Series win over the Chicago Cubs. Jimmy Foxx and Al Simmons powered the lineup and George Earnshaw (24-8, 3.29 ERA), Lefty Grove (20-6, 2.81), and Rube Walberg (18-11, 3.60) led the pitching staff.
1961 New York Yankees (#6 seed): The other New York Yankees club often mentioned as one of the greatest in history won 109 games and beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games in the World Series. That campaign is also renowned for Roger Maris’s record-breaking 61 home run season, along with Mickey Mantle’s 54 blasts. Whitey Ford led the rotation with a 25-4 record and a 3.21 ERA and Luis Arroyo saved 29 games while posting a 15-5 record and a 2.19 ERA in the days before relief pitchers had specific roles.
1986 New York Mets (#7 seed): How dominant were the New York Mets teams of the mid-to-late 80s? Start an historical OOTP season around then and watch them rack up multiple World Series wins (we’ve seen it happen every time), thus proving that they underachieved during that time period. The 1986 squad won 108 games and defeated the Boston Red Sox in a seven-game World Series that will be forever remembered for that ground ball to Bill Buckner.
1970 Baltimore Orioles (#8 seed): Boog Powell and Frank Robinson provided the power, Brooks Robinson put on a show at third base, and Mike Cuellar (24-8, 3.48 ERA), Dave McNally (24-9, 3.22), and Jim Palmer (20-10, 2.71) served up one of the best top three starters in any pitching rotation in history. Baltimore won the World Series in five games over the Cincinnati Reds that year.
1984 Detroit Tigers (#9 seed): This team put together one of the most dominant wire-to-wire runs in history, jumping out to a 35-5 record en route to 104 wins and a five-game win over the San Diego Padres in the World Series. Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson provided the power, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell roamed the middle infield with panache, and Jack Morris (19-11, 3.60 ERA) and Dan Petry (18-8, 3.24) anchored the rotation while Willie Hernandez (32 saves, 1.92) earned a Cy Young trophy.
1906 Chicago Cubs (#10 seed): This team still co-owns the record for most wins in a season with 116, but they were upset in six games by their cross-town rivals, the Chicago White Sox, in the World Series. Frank Schulte’s seven home runs led the team, which was typical in the deadball era, and Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance was a double-play combo that’s forever cemented in baseball lore. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown dominated opponents, posting a 26-6 record with a 1.04 ERA, but Jack Pfiester (20-8, 1.51), Ed Reulbach (19-4, 1.65), Carl Lundgren (17-6, 2.21), Jack Taylor (12-3, 1.83), and Orval Overall (12-3, 1.88) weren’t so bad on the mound either.
2001 Seattle Mariners (#11 seed): The other owner of most wins in a season, this club posted a 116-46 record but fell short of the World Series, losing the ALCS in five games to the New York Yankees. Japanese phenom Ichiro Suzuki made his debut that year, hitting .350, and Bret Boone’s 37 home runs powered the offense. Jamie Moyer notched 20 wins to lead the rotation.
1902 Pittsburgh Pirates (#12 seed): This team’s 103-36 record put them 27.5 games ahead of the Brooklyn Superbas (later to become the Dodgers). Since the World Series wouldn’t start until the following season, the 1902 Pirates were National League champs by virtue of their record, which meant they got to celebrate early and then play a bunch of meaningless games. Honus Wagner hit .330 (and even struck out five in a lone relief pitching appearance) and Ginger Beaumont hit .357, while Jack Chesbro (28-6, 2.17 ERA) led the pitching staff.
1976 Cincinnati Reds (#13 seed): The Big Red Machine finished its dominant run with a 102-60 record and a sweep of the New York Yankees in the World Series. Bench, Morgan, Foster, and Rose again led the offense and Gary Nolan’s 15 wins were tops on the pitching staff.
1955 Brooklyn Dodgers (#14 seed): The Brooklyn Dodgers had broken their fans’ hearts many times over the years, but 1955 was the year they finally prevailed with 98 wins and a seven-game World Series win over their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees. Jackie Robinson’s career was winding down, but Duke Snider and Roy Campanella powered the offense with 42 and 32 home runs, respectively, and Don Newcombe (20-5, 3.20 ERA) led the pitching rotation.
1995 Cleveland Indians (#15 seed): Cleveland’s mid-90s teams were stacked, and this one finished 100-44 in a season shortened by 18 games as the 1994 labor dispute spilled over into the following year. The 1994 season had debuted the new three-division format, but 1995 was the first year it was used to set up the expanded playoffs. Albert Belle hit 50 home runs to lead Cleveland’s offense while Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser each earned 16 wins. Unfortunately, the team fell in the World Series to the Atlanta Braves in six games.
1932 New York Yankees (#16 seed): Unsurprisingly, the New York Yankees put the most teams into the tournament, with five total. (Cincinnati was second with two.) The 1932 squad won 107 games and swept the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. As they had for several years running, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth led the offense while Red Ruffing (18-7, 3.09 ERA), George Pipgras (16-9, 4.19), and Lefty Gomez (14-9, 4.21) anchored the pitching staff.
Round One (replay on YouTube)
1927 New York Yankees (#1 seed) vs. 1932 New York Yankees (#16 seed): The tournament opened with a five-game win by the 1927 New York Yankees, capped by 10-4 and 15-3 drubbings in the final two contests. Yes, many players were duplicated between the squads, and 1927’s versions of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig demonstrated how powerful they were in their prime, posting .545 and .667 batting averages, respectively.
1970 Baltimore Orioles (#8 seed) vs. 1984 Detroit Tigers (#9 seed): Baltimore won in five, with Frank Robinson belting four home runs and Mike Cuellar going 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA.
1975 Cincinnati Reds (#4 seed) vs. 1976 Cincinnati Reds (#13 seed): It was Big Red Machine vs. Big Red Machine, and given how closely matched the teams were, it wasn’t a surprise that the series went seven games before the 1975 club prevailed. The 1975 team led after four games, 3-1, but the 1976 iteration came back to force a seventh game that they lost.
1929 Philadelphia A’s (#5 seed) vs. 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates (#12 seed): The only other first round series to go seven games saw Philadelphia prevail over Pittsburgh. Lefty Grove was 3-0 and Al Simmons hit .467.
1998 New York Yankees (#2 seed) vs. 1995 Cleveland Indians (#15 seed): New York won in six games after staking Cleveland to a 2-1 series lead. David Wells was 1-0 with a 0.53 ERA in two starts.
1986 New York Mets (#7 seed) vs. 1906 Chicago Cubs (#10 seed): This series went back and forth before New York put it away with wins in Games 5 and 6. Chicago actually hit three home runs, with Frank Schulte accounting for two of them, thanks to the fact that they were playing in 1986’s version of baseball.
1939 New York Yankees (#3 seed) vs. 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers (#14 seed): Brooklyn again found themselves tormented by their crosstown rivals, losing the series in five games. Each team only managed two home runs.
1961 New York Yankees (#6 seed) vs. 2001 Seattle Mariners (#11 seed): The first round’s only upset went to Seattle, who swept the 1961 New York Yankees. Seattle won Game 4 on a walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Round Two (replay on YouTube)
1927 New York Yankees (#1 seed) vs. 1970 Baltimore Orioles (#8 seed): Baltimore’s vaunted starting pitching couldn’t hold back the 1927 New York Yankees, who won in six games. Waite Hoyt was 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA for New York.
1975 Cincinnati Reds (#4 seed) vs. 1929 Philadelphia A’s (#5 seed): The other Big Red Machine fell in five games to Philadelphia, whose starters Lefty Grove, George Earnshaw, and Rube Walberg quieted Cincinnati’s big bats.
1998 New York Yankees (#2 seed) vs. 1986 New York Mets (#7 seed): This intra-city matchup went to the 1998 New York Yankees in five games. The 1986 New York Mets managed just one home run, and Dwight Gooden posted a 7.36 ERA in two starts.
1939 New York Yankees (#3 seed) vs. 2001 Seattle Mariners (#11 seed): The second round’s only upset was again a Seattle affair, as they won in six games. New York had a 2-1 series lead, but Seattle rallied for three straight wins and again used late-inning magic to win, scoring three runs in the top of the ninth to defeat New York, 6-4, in the final game.
1927 New York Yankees (#1 seed) vs. 1929 Philadelphia A’s (#5 seed): New York continued rolling toward the finals with a five-game series victory.
1998 New York Yankees (#2 seed) vs. 2001 Seattle Mariners (#11 seed): Seattle’s string of upsets ended with a six-game loss to the 1998 New York Yankees.
Finals (replay on YouTube)
1927 New York Yankees (#1 seed) vs. 1998 New York Yankees (#2 seed):
We saved the best for last as the finals went seven games. The series was played according to 1927’s parameters and coaching styles.
Game 1 (1927 NYY 7, 1998 NYY 6): Both teams scored a pair of runs in the first and sixth innings, setting up some late drama. The 1927 squad pulled ahead, 6-5, with two runs in the bottom of the eighth, but Darryl Strawberry’s triple in the top of the ninth knotted the score once more. That set up Babe Ruth’s game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth.
Game 2 (1998 NYY 8, 1927 NYY 3): Both teams again scored early, and the 1927 squad had a 2-1 lead before their 1998 counterparts evened the game in the top of the fourth and pulled ahead with two runs in the top of the seventh. The 1998 team eventually won, 8-3, to even the series at one game apiece.
Game 3 (1927 NYY 7, 1998 NYY 3): The 1998 team took a 3-0 lead in the first inning, but Tony Lazzeri’s three-run homer in the top of the seventh put the 1927 squad up, 5-3. They added two more runs in the frame and that ended up being the final score, 7-3. The 1927 team was now ahead, 2-1, in the series.
Game 4 (1998 NYY 5, 1927 NYY 2): Again with the first-inning scoring as the 1998 team jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but the 1927 squad plated runs in the fourth and fifth to pull ahead, 2-1, before 1998 evened it again in the bottom of the seventh. The 1998 team went on to score three runs in that frame and added another in the eighth for a 5-2 lead that was the final score. The series was again tied, 2-2.
Game 5 (1998 NYY 9, 1927 NYY 8): The 1998 team scored runs in the first and second innings for a 2-0 lead, but the 1927 squad came back to jump in front, 5-2, heading into the bottom of the fourth, when 1998 scored a pair to pull close. 1927 scored runs in the fifth and sixth innings, including Babe Ruth’s inside-the-park homer, to take a 7-4 lead, but 1998 knocked in four runs in the seventh and another in the eighth to take a 9-8 lead.
Lou Gehrig faced Hideki Irabu with two runners on and two out in the top of the ninth but flied out to end the game. The 1998 New York Yankees had a 3-2 lead in the series, forcing the 1927 team into a “do or die” situation in Games 6 and 7.
Game 6 (1927 NYY 12, 1998 NYY 10): With the series on the line, the 1927 Yankees put Herb Pennock on the mound against Andy Pettite. The 1998 team again scored quickly with a run in the top of the first, but their 1927 counterparts scored three times in the bottom of the inning for a 3-1 lead. The 1998 team answered with a pair in the fourth, including Pettite’s RBI double, to tie the score, but 1927 plated three in the fifth and four more in the sixth for a 10-3 lead.
However, no lead was safe in this series, and the 1998 team proved that once again with a seven-run eighth inning that tied the game, 10-10. 1927 rallied, though, with two runs in the bottom of the frame for a 12-10 lead that was the final score. The series was once more tied, 3-3, setting up a decisive Game 7.
Game 7 (1927 NYY 4, 1998 NYY 2): It was David Wells, 1-0 with a 3.71 ERA in the series, against Waite Hoyt, who was 0-1 with a 5.63 ERA, in the final game. The 1998 team again scored in the top of the first for a quick 1-0 lead, but 1927 answered with a pair in the bottom of the frame. (Has any seven-game playoff series ever seen this much first-inning scoring? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.)
1998 evened the score with a run in the fifth, but 1927 scored twice in the bottom of the sixth for a 4-2 lead. 1998 threatened in the top of the eighth but left a pair of runners stranded, and the 1927 team did the same in the bottom of the frame. 1998 then went 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth and the 1927 team had rallied from a three games to two deficit to win the 16 in ‘16 tournament.