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Baseball Analysis  Craig Tomarkin / History & Historic Teams

Greatest Teams Ever: Part I  Part II Part III Part IV Greatest Non-Champion Teams Ever


I remain on the quest to determine the truly best 64 teams of all time. I realize that no formula will determine the list with complete certainty, but I've taken other people's input into account to get us significantly closer an acceptable "truth."

Here is an example of the limitations on using a formal as the final word. In creating a set of the top 16 teams for my simulation game, I chose the 1942 Cardinals over the 1944 Cardinals. It reasoning was based on Stan Musial's subjective opinion (being the key player on both teams) and factoring in the reduced level of competition during the war years. No formula could capture that truth. For the purposes of this analysis, the 1944 Cards edged out the 1942 team by a slim margin.

Okay, caveats aside let's get to it.

To recap, the following method was used in Parts I and II of this analysis.

regular season winning pct * [(runs scored - runs allowed) / Games played]

I sorted them in descending order, giving us a list of teams by best winning record weighted by average margin of victory. If anyone wants to read Parts I and II for more details, and for the wisdom behind the quest, I posted them at

The limitation with this method is that the average margin of victory should have been normalized, so that cross era comparisons would be more valid. The list of 64 from Part II had teams from the 1890's, when scoring was high, representing 4 of the top 6 places.

Two suggestions were offered to solve this.

Frank Warren's suggestion is to use RF and RA as percentages of the league's average. This creates a "relative average margin of victory."

Bill Deane's suggestion is to use the ratio of RF/RA as the second factor in the equation.

The index method formula is:

regular season winning pct * (runs scored/runs allowed)

Either of these two suggestions would work. I opted to use the ratio (or index) method as Bill Deane suggests, because it is simpler, not requiring the calculation of league averages.

Bill Deane made a second point regarding the list of teams eligible. He does not necessarily believe that the list should be expanded to include all post-season teams, but asked about the rationale behind limiting the eligible list that way.

The teams making the post season before 1903, but not included were the 1894 NY Giants, 1895 Cleveland Spiders and the 1897 Baltimore Orioles.

I did not include those three teams because statistically speaking the post-season is irrelevant and these were not regular season champions.

Certainly an argument can still be made for using all post-season teams, perhaps as an appeal to the emotional side of reality. It is a small number of teams.

It should be pointed out that, there was no post season in 1893, 1898, 1899, 1901, 1902 or 1904. So, I would have had to make an exception to allow second place finishers into the eligible list for those years. It was better to take only regular season champions, as I did after 1902. It would be particularly unfair to include 1893-1902 second place finishers considering I did not include the 1994-2001 wild card teams.

Interestingly, this revised formula does not change the results within an era much. The top two teams from each baseball era wind up being the same using either formula.

Era 1, 1893: Index: BOS N 1897 / Part II: BAL N 1894
Era 1, 1893: Index: BAL N 1896 / Part II: BOS N 1897
Era 2, 1901: Index: CHI N 1906 / Part II: PIT N 1902
Era 2, 1901: Index: PIT N 1902 / Part II: CHI N 1906
Era 3, 1920: Index: NY A 1939 / Part II: NY A 1939
Era 3, 1920: Index: NY A 1927 / Part II: NY A 1927
Era 4, 1942: Index: STL N 1944 / Part II: NY A 1942
Era 4, 1942: Index: CLE A 1954 / Part II: STL N 1944
Era 5, 1961: Index: BAL A 1969 / Part II: BAL A 1969
Era 5, 1961: Index: BAL A 1970 / Part II: BAL A 1970
Era 6, 1973: Index: CIN N 1975 / Part II: CIN N 1975
Era 6, 1973: Index: LA N 1974 / Part II: LA N 1974
Era 7, 1993: Index: SEA A 2001 / Part II: NY A 1998
Era 7, 1993: Index: NY A 1998 / Part II: SEA A 2001

If you are in the camp of people who insist that a team DOES NEED TO WIN the World Series to be included in a list of the best teams ever, here is the alternate list of top teams by era (note that era 1 is removed and era 2 starts in 1903, since there was no World Series before then).

Era 2, 1903: PIT N 1909
Era 2, 1903: NY N 1905
Era 3, 1920: NY A 1939
Era 3, 1920: NY A 1927
Era 4, 1942: STL N 1944
Era 4, 1942: STL N 1942
Era 5, 1961: BAL A 1970
Era 5, 1961: NY A 1961
Era 6, 1973: CIN N 1975
Era 6, 1973: NY N 1986
Era 7, 1993: NY A 1998

For more detail about the era designations, read my article about it at

Here is the complete list using all regular season champions from 1893 through 2001 as discussed. By the way, I want to welcome the 1986 Mets back to the list. They were number 46 overall and third among teams of their era.

1 CHI N 1906 Lost 1.406
2 PIT N 1902 NA 1.303
3 NY A 1939 Won 1.217
4 NY A 1927 Won 1.156
5 PIT N 1909 Won 1.126
6 BOS N 1897 NA 1.079
7 NY N 1904 NA 1.078
8 STL N 1944 Won 1.071
9 CLE A 1954 Lost 1.066
10 STL N 1942 Won 1.065
11 SEA A 2001 DNP 1.059
12 NY N 1905 Won 1.05
13 NY A 1942 Lost 1.043
14 PHI A 1910 Won 1.038
15 BAL N 1896 NA 1.037
16 BAL N 1895 NA 1.031
17 CHI N 1907 Won 1.03
18 NY A 1998 Won 1.03
19 BOS A 1912 Won 1.013
20 PHI A 1929 Won 1.011
21 BAL A 1969 Lost 1.01
22 BAL N 1894 NA 0.987
23 NY N 1912 Lost 0.98
24 CIN N 1919 Won 0.978
25 STL N 1943 Lost 0.972
26 BOS N 1898 NA 0.966
27 NY A 1937 Won 0.963
28 NY A 1936 Won 0.962
29 PHI A 1931 Lost 0.959
30 CHI N 1910 Lost 0.956
31 NY A 1932 Won 0.955
32 CLE A 1995 Lost 0.955
33 NY A 1953 Won 0.952
34 CIN N 1975 Won 0.946
35 PHI A 1911 Won 0.946
36 BRO N 1953 Lost 0.943
37 PIT N 1901 NA 0.93
38 ATL N 1998 DNP 0.924
39 BRO N 1899 NA 0.922
40 PHI A 1914 Lost 0.92
41 CLE A 1948 Won 0.917
42 BOS A 1903 Won 0.913
43 BAL A 1970 Won 0.911
44 CHI N 1935 Lost 0.908
45 NY A 1961 Won 0.905
46 CHI A 1917 Won 0.905
47 LA N 1974 Lost 0.896
48 NY N 1986 Won 0.894
49 BOS A 1946 Lost 0.893
50 NY N 1911 Lost 0.893
51 CHI N 1918 Lost 0.89
52 BOS A 1915 Won 0.885
53 NY A 1938 Won 0.884
54 BAL A 1971 Lost 0.882
55 BRO N 1941 Lost 0.881
56 NY A 1947 Won 0.881
57 DET A 1934 Lost 0.88
58 ATL N 1993 DNP 0.878
59 NY N 1913 Lost 0.877
60 NY N 1917 Lost 0.875
61 HOU N 1998 DNP 0.874
62 CHI N 1945 Lost 0.87
63 CIN N 1940 Won 0.87
64 CHI N 1908 Won 0.866

How does this list sit with you? Here are my observations. First, even with the index method, which is designed to remove the effect of higher and lower scoring eras, five of the top seven teams were pre 1910. What does that say about parity? Does this list say more about the unbalanced composition of the leagues over time than it does about which teams were the greatest?

Another issue is that it is widely agreed that players today are better than players of past eras. If that is true, how can the best teams ever be from the first decade of the twentieth century? Does some sort of weight need to be applied, forcing recent teams to sort near the top of the list?

What I think this analysis actually reveals is not the greatest teams of all time, but rather, the most dominant.

The other thing I noticed was that the 2001 Seattle Mariners managed to make it to #11 all-time despite not even making it to the World Series. The 1998 Yankees were #18. My subjective opinion is certainly not always right, but I'd be willing to bet anyone that the 1998 Yanks would find a way to beat the 2001 Mariners. The reason is that the Yankees are built to win a short series. They embody the perfect balance between enduring a long regular season and having enough spring in the legs to win the sprint to the finish.

How do we account for this in choosing the best team ever? Does this mean that the 1998 Yankees are in fact better than the 2001 Mariners because they are better balanced? Does there need to be a weight applied giving World Series winners a bonus even though statistically speaking the outcome of the series is inconsequential.

On related topic, Steve L. Steinberg wrote that NBC Sports had a similar simulation series to the one by and whatifsports, back in 1970. While he did not recall the event, he pointed out that John Mosedale wrote about it in his 1973 book on the '27 Yankees, "The Greatest of All."

Steve wrote: "NBC also had an eye on the fan interest in their choice of teams. It looks like they limited their field to World Series winners before 1973."

The 8-team field was as follows with the index formula ranking in parentheses given the same list of 69 eligible teams:

1951 Giants (42)
1969 Mets (61)
1927 Yankees (2)
1929 Athletics (10)
1942 Cardinals (5)
1955 Dodgers (33)
1963 Dodgers (62)
1961 Yankees (20)

Apparently, in the NBC finals, the 1927 Yankees beat the 1961 Yankees, when Lou Gehrig hit a 10th-inning home run off Whitey Ford.

Using the index formula, the best 8-team field would have been:

Yankees 1939
Yankees 1927
Pirates 1909
Cardinals 1944
Cardinals 1942
Giants 1905
Philadelphia A's 1910
Cubs 1907

If you want to disqualify the 1942 Cardinals on the basis of them being the same team (dynasty), the alternate would be the Red Sox 1912.

Greatest Teams Ever: back to Part II continue to Part IV

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