Ghosts 2, Yankees 1


As each victory inches them closer to the uncharted land of immortality, the 1998 Yankees must realize that they’re chasing ghosts. Like Hamlet. Like Ahab. Like Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. But seriously, how do today’s Bombers stack up with the greatest teams of all time? We thought we’d turn down the rhetorical heat and shed a little light on that question.

We’ve selected four teams that constantly come up in the best-ever conversation, and rated them in five categories. To judge hitting and pitching, we began with the two most important stats–ERA and Production (on-base percentage + slugging percentage). But while absolute numbers are interesting, in comparing teams from different eras it’s far more important to see how a team stacks up with its contemporaries. We also calculated differentials between a team and its league. The Dynasty Index shows how these numbers translated into wins and championships, while the Cooperstown Quotient rates a team’s star power. And the TV Movie Factor attempts to quantify the club’s intangibles: i.e., what’s the story here? The first two categories are worth 10 points each, the last three, five apiece, for a max score of 35, winner take all.

Team Name Team Win % Team ERA ERA diff Prod (.slg+.obp) Prod Diff
’54 Indians .721 2.78 .95 .748 .041
’75 Reds .667 3.37 .27 .756 .058
’98 Yankees .735 3.69 .94 .809 .038
’31 A’s .704 3.47 .91 .790 .050
’27 Yankees .714 3.20 .93 .872 .121


Hitting: The good news: between Bobby Avila and Larry Doby, the Tribe swept the triple crown, and Al Rosen posted a .412 on-base percentage. The bad news: the Mantle-led ’54 Yankees still scored 59 more runs. 6

Pitching: How good was this staff? There were three future Hall of Famers on board, and yet the best starter was Mike ”Big Bear” Garcia with a 19-8 record, five shutouts, and a league-best 2.64 ERA. 9

Dynasty Index: Lost to the Giants in the Series, and never won another pennant, finishing second to the Yankees five times in six years. 1

Cooperstown Quotient: Hall hurlers Early Wynn, Bob Feller, and Bob Lemon were joined by Larry Doby last month. So why did they keep losing to the Yankees? 4

TV Movie Factor: None. Maybe something about pitcher Don Mossi, probably the ugliest player in Major League history. 1

In a Nutshell: They lived the ’98 Yankees’ worst nightmare: winning a zillion regular-season games and folding like an origami convention in the postseason. Total: 21

1975 CINCINNATI REDS: 108-54

Hitting: The potent Reds attack was unusual in that its best hitters–Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench–played positions that generally had been reserved for defensive specialists. However, they lacked the kind of big bopper, a Jimmie Foxx or a Lou Gehrig, needed to stand out in this kind of company. 7

Pitching: They certainly weren’t a Big Red Pitching Machine. Their starters, with the exception of fragile Don Gullett, were barely above average, and they finished third in the NL in ERA. The bullpen was Sparky Anderson’s ace in the hole, but Rawly Eastwick wouldn’t even be the set-up man on this year’s Yanks. 5

Dynasty Index: Won the World Series and repeated in 1976 with a sweep of the Yankees. 3

Cooperstown Quotient: Morgan and Bench are arguably the best ever at their positions. Tony Perez will probably get in eventually. Pete Rose? Baseball hasn’t been berry berry good to him lately. 4

TV Movie Factor: None, assuming Krylon commercials don’t count, but Rose, a Home Shopping Club regular, is nothing if not telegenic. 2

In a Nutshell: A very good team, but probably not even the best of the decade–the 1970­71 Baltimore Orioles and the 1976-78 Yankees stack up very well. Sparky’s gang seems to be basking in the reflected glory of that classic ’75 World Series. Total: 21

1998 NEW YORK YANKEES: 80-29

Hitting: A remarkably patient team–their .364 on-base percentage puts them second in this august group–these Yankees are experiencing a serious power outage. At press time, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, and Scott Brosius combined had fewer dingers than Mark McGwire. 6

Pitching: The squad’s 20-game hopefuls, Cone, Pettitte, and Wells, stack up with any trio here, except possibly Cleveland’s. Closer Mariano Rivera is virtually unhittable but the bullpen isn’t as strong as the Wetteland-led 1996 edition. 9

Dynasty Index: They’ve already won one World Series, and if not for the 1994 strike would be looking for their fifth straight postseason appearance. 3 (and counting)

Cooperstown Quotient: No shoo-ins. Cone’s a dark horse, O’Neill started his Hall run too late, and Bernie Williams is every bit as good as Junior but gets 10 percent of the ink. Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter may have the best chances, but Carlos Baerga seemed to have a shot three years ago, too. 2

TV Movie Factor: Even if the Yanks win it all, Frank Torre’s going to need another donor organ to bring this season to the small screen. 3

In a Nutshell: The most ordinary great team ever, they certainly belong in this elite company, but let’s hold off with the hosannas until the end of the postseason, eh George? Total: 23

1931 PHILADELPHIA A’S: 107-45

Hitting: Led by legendary slugger Jimmie Foxx and batting champion Al Simmons who hit .390 that year, they batted .287–in a league that batted .278. 8

Pitching: Lefty Grove, who won 31 in ’31, may be simply the best pitcher ever. In the middle of a four-season streak as AL ERA leader, Grove notched a 2.06 in a 4.38 league. George Earnshaw wasn’t Grove, but he did win 20 three years in a row. 9

Dynasty Index: 1931 marked their third consecutive pennant and their third consecutive 100-win season, and they fell one win shy of their third consecutive world title. After a disappointing 1933, Connie Mack did a Huizinga and sold off all his stars one by one. 4

Cooperstown Quotient: Catcher Mickey Cochrane joins Grove, Foxx, and Simmons. Waite Hoyt, who pitched for the Yanks in ’27, takes a supporting role. 5

TV Movie Factor: None, unless someone can prove that they threw the 1931 World Series. 1

In a Nutshell: Arguably the greatest assemblage of front-line talent in baseball history, they’re just a tick behind the ’27 Yanks in everything but the hype. Total: 27

1927 NEW YORK YANKEES: 110-44

Hitting: They didn’t call ’em Murderers’ Row for nothing. Babe Ruth is the greatest hitter of all time, but in 1927, the year he hit 60 homers, he was the team’s second-best hitter, behind Gehrig. The team’s .383 on-base percentage and .489 slugging percentage add up to a major league record .872 production number. 9

Pitching: The hidden strength of this team was its pitching. Waite Hoyt may have been the only 20-game winner, but Miller Huggins’s staff gave up almost a full run a game less than the rest of the league. 9

Dynasty Index: This was their fifth pennant and second World Series title in seven years. They would repeat in 1928 before their run was interrupted by the rise of the A’s. 4

Cooperstown Quotient: Ruth, Gehrig, Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Tony Lazzeri, and Earle Combs–almost a quarter of the team–have been busted in Cooperstown. 5

TV Movie Factor: Between the good (The Pride of the Yankees), the bad (The Babe), and the forgettable (Slide, Kelly, Slide), there’ve been miles of celluloid spent on this squad. 5

In a Nutshell: They’re that rarest of commodities, a legendary team that lives up to the hype–and then some. Simply the best of the best.Total: 32