UPDATE: Well, it’s about damn time! Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were voted into the Hall of Fame on December 10, 2017. I guess the danger of writing posts like these is that they can be subject to update. But in this case, I’m happy to do it!
It’s always fun to read posts that name all-decade teams throughout baseball’s rich history. One twist I don’t think I’ve seen is an all-decade team of non-HOFers. Of all the years that make up baseball’s glorious (and inglorious) past, I feel like this is the one I know best.
From skipping school in 1980 to catch the one-game playoff between the Dodgers and Astros to my firsthand experiencing of the Loma Prieta earthquake that interrupted the first ever Bay Bridge World Series, these were ten years of my life that revolved around baseball obsessively. As such I bring not only a ton of knowledge but more importantly (for debate) a ton of bias to these picks–more so than I’d be capable of with any other decade.
DISCLAIMER #1: I know this will ruin the page for many of you, but I’m excluding juicers from my selections. However great their final numbers–and even their pre-juice numbers–they are all banned for life in my book. I don’t collect them, I don’t want them in Hall, and I don’t even want them on a little read web page of also-rans.
DISCLAIMER #2: While my list is riddled with Detroit Tigers, I swear I’m not a homer. I grew up in L.A. and followed–still follow–the Dodgers religiously.
- Starter – Lance Parrish – This man gets my vote for the most under-rated player of the decade. Parrish notched seven of his eight (!) career all-star appearances in the 1980s, scooping up three Gold Gloves along the way. True there’s not a ton of black ink on Parrish’s record, though he does hold the dubious distinction of leading the league in passed balls at least one season in three different decades. (My guess is he’s the only catcher to claim that honor, but I haven’t actually checked.) Over the four-year stretch from 1982-1985, Parrish averaged 30 HR and 99 RBI.
- Backup – Tony Peña – A five-time all-star and three-time Gold Glover during the decade, famous for throwing runners out without even standing up, Peña also batted .395 during the 1987 postseason, collecting 17 hits in 43 at bats.
- Starter – Don Mattingly – Donnie Baseball played only six full seasons during the 1980s, but they were easily the best six seasons of his career. In addition to winning the AL MVP award in 1985, Mattingly made six all-star teams and took home five gold gloves. His 1986 season (.352/32/113) represented the first .350/30 season since 1961 and put him in the most elite of pinstripe company (Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle). When Mattingly closed out the decade with a .323 career average, I doubt you could find a person anywhere who didn’t regard him as a lock for Cooperstown. We’re talking about Donnie Baseball, for Chrissakes–I mean the man’s last name is BASEBALL after all!
- Backup – Will Clark – Despite only playing four seasons in the decade, Will the Thrill–along with teammate Kevin Mitchell–turned the hapless Giants into one of the best teams in baseball, capturing NL West crowns in 1987 and 1989. The only major leaguer ever–and possibly the only person ever–to boast the middle name Nuschler, Clark batted .304 for his abbreviated decade, averaging 25 home runs and 88 runs batted in. I know fans can make a strong case for Keith Hernandez here, and they may well be right. I’ll call the middle name the tiebreaker.
- Starter – Lou Whitaker – Five straight all-star selections from 1983-1987 (one wearing a souvenir stand uniform!), three gold gloves, and a decade long pairing with Alan Trammell to form one of baseball’s best middle infield combos ever, it’s crazy to me that his HOF votes topped out at 2%. And meanwhile, Johnny Evers has a plaque in Cooperstown because he was in a poem! Did voters even notice how Whitaker signed his 1982 Topps card?
- Backup – Frank White – This five-time all-star and eight-time Gold Glover (three and five in the decade, respectively) is another under-rated player from the 80s. Not spectacular but very good for his position over a pretty long stretch.
- Starter – Buddy Bell – This may well be where the HOFers at the position (Schmidt, Brett, Boggs) just destroy my best non-HOFers. Sidebar, but when I was in elementary school in the late 70s–for no good reason other than his name–this was the player my best friend and I made fun of all the time. He was pretty much our stand-in for sucky baseball player. Little did we know he’d finish his career with over 2500 hits and dominate the first half of the next decade with four all-star appearances and five Gold Gloves.
- Backup – Carney Lansford – From 1981-1984 Lansford batted .300 every season, winning the AL batting crown with a .336 average in the strike season of 1981. His lone all-star appearance came in 1988 as a member of the AL Champion Oakland A’s squad. Bonus points awarded for stylish batting stance.
Starter – Alan Trammell – A five-time all-star and four-time Gold Glover during the decade, I will commit heresy here and say I’d be fine if my team had Alan Trammell while the other guys had Robin Yount or Cal Ripken. I’m not saying he’s better or even as good–just that he isn’t really THAT much worse. I know everybody and their cousin topped 20 HR in 1987, but I still drool over any .343/28/105 season I can get from a shortstop not loading up at BALCO.
- Starter – Tony Fernandez – With Alan Trammell no longer eligible and so many other 1980s shortstops already in Cooperstown, by far the best remaining 1980s shortstop is Tony Fernandez. After hitting a very respectable .289 with 31 doubles in his first full season, Fernandez finished the decade with four straight Gold Gloves, three All-Star selections, and a then-record fielding percentage of .992 in 1989.
- Backup – Dave Concepcion – The final three of Concepcion’s eight consecutive all-star appearances came from 1980-1982. I can’t say a ton more about Davey, who clearly peaked during the previous decade, other than I remember his bounce throws to first being featured on an episode of This Week in Baseball.
OUTFIELDERS – Sorry, I know I have way too many of these guys.
- Starter – Kirk Gibson – I am ignoring all stats here and basing this selection solely on Gibson’s mammoth homer of Goose Gossage in the 1984 World Series and his unbelievable game winner off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series. You may remember the “Sports Talk” players of the late 80s where you put an oversized baseball card into a player 200x the size of an iPod and listened to a short bio or highlight reel. Well the Kirk Gibson one was outstanding–it featured Padres HOF skipper Dick Williams heading out to the mound to see if the Goose wanted to walk Gibby. Well, you can guess that Gossage said no. And then, holy sh*t! I think Gibson hit the ball to the freaking moon.
- Starter – Pedro Guerrero – Five all-star selections, an MVP calibre season in 1985, and a World Series co-MVP in 1981 aren’t so shabby, but one wonders what might have been if Pedro hadn’t suffered a gruesome baserunning injury just prior to the start of the 1986 campaign. As a huge Pedro fan growing up, I was incredibly bummed that he got traded for John Tudor in 1988 and missed out on another ring.
- Starter – Dale Murphy – Seven all-star selections, five Gold Gloves, and back-to-back MVPs during the decade earn Murphy a starting spot on the squad. I know it’s cheating to combine different seasons but here are Murph’s highs for the decade: .302 BA, 131 R, 44 HR, 121 RBI, 30 SB, 115 BB, 29 IBB. So good that Topps gave him TWO rookie cards!
- Backup – Darryl Strawberry – This 1983 NL ROY followed up his rookie campaign with eight consecutive all-star selections, six of them in the 1980s, and I was so sure he would hit 500+ homers that I bought a “200-pack” of his 1990 Upper Deck card. (Yes, that’s what it sounds like–a stack of 200 cards–all being 1990 UD Darryls.) I was lucky enough to meet Darryl following an insane Gooden vs. Valenzuela pitching duel (tied 0-0 after nine innings) in 1985. He was super cool and kind enough to sign a trading card for me, even while holding his baby, D.J.
- Backup – Willie Wilson – This man started the decade right with a then-record 705 at bats (darn you, Jimmy Rollins!) and was an absolute terror on the bases. Some Willie Wilson facts you might have forgotten include his five triples titles in the decade, a batting title, and highs of 133 runs and 230 hits. Haters can key in on his then-record 12 strikeouts in the 1980 Fall Classic; however, I am pretty sure 12 Ks won’t even crack the top ten five years from now.
- Backup – Dwight Evans – I know a lot of Boston fans who really believe Dewey belongs in Cooperstown. I’d say he’s borderline in that he wouldn’t hurt the Hall by being in, but he doesn’t hurt the Hall by being out. As for the 1980s though, he was definitely Boston Strong. His 162 game averages were .280/.373/.497 with 106 R, 28 HR, and 99 RBI. Worse players have made it to Cooperstown, and worse players will continue to make it to Cooperstown.
- Backup – Eric Davis – I gotta put this guy on the list based solely on this: In 1986 he had 27 homers and 80 stolen bases; the following season he had 37 home runs and 50 steals. Obviously, E.D. wasn’t able to keep that up for his whole career, but it’s still pretty ridiculous.
- Backup – Bo Jackson – Hard to come up with bigger bummers in sports than thinking about what Bo might have done in baseball and football without that terrible hip injury. Bo could ground out and strikeout better than most guys could hit home runs.
- Backup – Al Oliver – Besides having one of the coolest cards in the 1976 Topps set, Scoop was an all-star the first four seasons of the decade, batting .300 or better in each of those seasons. Oliver could also drive in runs, driving in 117 Rangers in 1980. (I’ll spare you the fancy sabermetrics, but this would be like driving in 150 guys on an average team or 200 on a good team.)
- Starter – Dwight Gooden – Doc’s first two seasons–like Guidry’s first two seasons seven years earlier–were so freaking good that he would have made my list even if he did zero for the rest of the decade. (And I know you’re thinking, “Isn’t that pretty much what he did do?”) In fact, Gooden’s worst W-L percentage for the remainder of the decade was .667 (eat your hearts out, Bert Blyleven and Nolan Ryan), and he was actually a very good pitcher every one of those seasons. He just wasn’t God anymore.
- Starter – Orel Hershiser – The Bulldog’s 1988 second half and postseason were so incredible that he’d make the team with nothing else under his belt. First, here is Hershiser’s September: 6 G, 55 IP (huh!?), 5-0 W-L, 0 R, 0.00 ERA. And now his October: 6 G, 42.2 IP, 3-0 W-L, 5 ER, 1.05 ERA, and a huge save! But let’s definitely add bonus points for going 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA in 1985. Most years, that gets you better than 3rd in the Cy Young voting.
Starter – Jack Morris – The Tigers ace was the winningest pitcher of the decade (162 W), which in any prior decade would have made him a Hall of Famer. His no-hitter on April 7, 1984, let the world know just how scary that Tigers team, only the third in baseball history to lead wire-to-wire, was gonna be. For what it’s worth, I’d happily send this man to the mound any day of the week, and he gets a Hall vote from me as well. I definitely don’t put him in the Bob Gibson/Walter Johnson category, but I don’t think he’d be too much of a poser hanging with the Burleigh Grimes/Bert Blyleven crowd.
- Starter – Dave Stieb – A six-time all-star during the decade, his 140 wins were second behind Jack Morris. And while I’m not a big sabermetrics guy, some of you will be excited (and possibly surprised) to know that Mr. Stieb led all 1980s pitchers in WAR! During the decade, this pitcher also took three no-hitters into the ninth inning with two outs, including two of them in back-to-back starts! Off hand, I can’t imagine there is another pitcher out there for whom the difference being a surefire Hall of Famer and topping out at 1.4% of the vote came down to three meaningless plate appearances from among more than 10,000. Seriously!
- Starter – Fernando Valenzuela – Promoted due to the Hall of Fame selection of Jack Morris. One of my childhood heroes, Valenzuela is the pitcher tied (with Charlie Hough) for the fourth most wins of the 1980s (128 W). His “Fernandomania” rookie season was one for the ages and (at least in my memory) largely responsible for creating the rookie card craze that has dominated the card collecting hobby ever since.
In case you’re wondering if it’s unusual for none of a decade’s five winningest pitchers (Morris, Stieb, Welch, Valenzuela, Hough) to be Hall of Famers, it sure is!
- Backup – Dave Stewart – Not a ton to get excited about over the first 7 years of the decade, but what a finish! The first three of his four consecutive 20 win seasons and of course that menacing glare from the mound. (By the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if we never see a guy rack up four straight 20-win seasons again. And yes, it makes me sad to type this.)
- Backup – Bret Saberhagen – Two Cy Young Awards for the decade gives Saberhagen an automatic in. Of his six seasons, three were terrific, two were average, and one was awful–though he still made the all-star team!
- Backup – Mike Scott – A top three pitcher in MLB from 1985-1989, Scott averaged 17 wins over that stretch and had the dubious distinction of having won every game I ever saw him pitch. He was the 1986 NLCS MVP, even though his team lost, going 2-0 with two complete games, an ERA of 0.50, and 19 strikeouts.
First off, it pains me to add this category as I feel like the disappearance of the complete game and shutout is the single worst change to the game over the course of my lifetime. I get it that data favors a fresh arm out of the pen over a starter facing batters a third or fourth time; however, I also feel like the game is simply not as fun to watch. Never mind that chapters of the record books have now been permanently closed. Consider instead how much time–all of it commercials–gets added when the new normal is for an average of 9-10 pitchers to enter every single game. The all-time lowlight for me was when Dave Roberts pulled Ross Stripling who was pitching a no-hitter in his major league debut. (Of course, the next batter homered to win the game!)
But eff it. Here we go.
- Dan Quisenberry – As much as I hate relief pitching, I gotta admit I enjoyed watching this guy. Similar to when I watched Kent Tekulve in the 1979 Fall Classic, I mostly just thought to myself, “How the hell does anyone hit this guy?” Quiz opened the decade strong with a 12-7 record and 33 saves (okay, I DO respect any reliever that nails down double-digit wins), good for fifth in the AL Cy Young voting. But this was all just prelude to one of the most dominant relief stretches ever, when Quiz finished in the Top 3 for Cy Young all four years from 1982-1985. I still marvel at the man’s 1983 Topps card–just look at that arm angle!–but give zero props to Fleer in 1982 for one of the lamest action shots ever. On a sad note, Quisenberry also finishes high on the list of modern baseball players who died way too young, only making it to age 45.
- Lee Smith – Even though Smith’s top years came in the 1990s, he was solid enough in the 1980s to earn mention here. He was a very good reliever for fourteen straight seasons (1982-1995), retiring as the (former) all-time leader in saves.