Who was your favorite baseball team when you were a kid? Most likely, it's also the team you watched when you fell in love with the game.the 1980 Houston Astros. Despite having some great players -- Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richards, Joe Niekro, Joe Morgan, Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno and Terry Puhl -- they missed the World Series by one game (losing to Pete Rose and his Philadelphia Phillies in arguably one of the most exciting National League playoff series).
Cruz was my favorite player, and I've always appreciated the fact that he and his teammates, Cedeno and Puhl, were an All-International outfield -- Cruz from Puerto Rico, Cedeno from the Dominican Republic, and Puhl from Canada.
In the memory of my youth, I've always thought that those three players made up one of the best outfields in MLB history. And as I got older, I wondered where they ranked in MLB history. So I asked:
... which MLB teams had the greatest trio of outfielders of all time?
In my mind, the greatest outfield trio would have an all-star caliber player (or higher) in all three positions -- left, center and right field. And they had to play together for the majority of the season.
We didn't have sabermetrics back in 1980, but we do today. So, I turned to several trusted baseball stats websites to answer my question.
I started with Wins Above Replacement (WAR). According to MLB.com, "WAR measures a player's value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player at his same position."
According to Fangraph.com, the caliber of a position players is determined by the following WAR levels:
- 3-4 WAR = Good Player
- 4-5 WAR = All-Star
- 5-6 WAR = Superstar
- 6+ WAR = MVP
- Had a minimum of 4.5 WAR (in my opinion, the cut-off for a solid All-Star, and not a borderline Good/All-Star player)
- Each outfielder appeared in at least 75 percent of their team's games for the season
- All-International Team -- Again, the 1980 Houston Astros are the only team on the list composed of all players from outside the U.S.
- The Alou Brothers -- I was pleased to see two of the three Alou brothers, Felipe and Matty, make the list -- Felipe with the 1963 Giants and Matty with the 1969 Pirates.
- World Series -- Having an all-star caliber outfield is NOT a predictor of getting to the World Series. In fact, of the 21 teams listed, only 6 teams (1908 DET, 1929 CHC, 1941 NYY, 1969 BAL, 1970 BAL, 1970 CIN) appeared in the Fall Classic and only 2 teams won it all (1941 NYY & 1970 BAL).
- Rickey Henderson -- Bill James once said, “If you could split [Rickey Henderson] in two, you’d have two Hall of Famers.” Rickey is the only player in the Free Agency Era to make the list twice with a decade split between appearances -- 1980 OAK and 1991 OAK.
- Ty Cobb -- Representing the Deadball Era, the Georgia Peach made the list 3 times: 1908, 1922, 1924 DET.
- Babe Ruth -- The Bambino and his teammates failed to make the list.
- HOF -- 15 of the 21 teams featured a HOFer. The 6 teams without a HOFer in the OF are the 1905 PHI (NL), 1970 CIN (with Pete Rose in the OF), 1980 HOU, 1999 KCR and 2012 ATL.
- 10+ WAR -- Only two players with 10+ WAR made the list: Willie Mays in 1963 (10.8) and Carl Yastrzemski in 1968 (10.5).
- Decades that produced the most teams:
- 1960s -- Four teams: 1963 SFG, 1968 BOS, 1969 BAL, 1969 PIT
- 1970s -- Four teams: 1970 CIN, 1970 BAL, 1975 OAK, 1978 MON
- 1900s -- Two teams: 1905 PHI (NL), 1908 DET
- 1980s -- Two teams: 1980 HOU, 1980 OAK
- 1990s -- Two teams: 1991 OAK, 1999 KCR
- 1890s -- One team: 1895 PHI (NL)
- 1940s -- One team: 1941 NYY
- 2010s -- One team: 2012 ATL
- Decades not represented (modern era) -- 1910s, 1930s, 1950s, 2000s