What if someone were to ask you who is the greatest baseball team of all time; what would your response be? Most commonly people answer with teams like the 1927 New York Yankees, 1976 Cincinnati Reds, 1970 Baltimore Orioles, and 1986 New York Mets. All of those teams not only won a World Series but had notable players and were extremely dominant teams. But what about the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics? In this series we will look in to the question of who is the greatest team of all time in comparison to the ’29 Athletics.
Out of those 4 previously mentioned teams the name we most commonly hear first in that conversation of the greatest baseball teams of all time is the 1927 New York Yankees. What if I told you the 1929 Philadelphia A’s are arguably just as good? Most people would probably scoff at the idea. We’ll seek to answer that question using a fantasy baseball rubric – selecting the best starting line up along with the best 5 starting pitchers for each team using only the numbers on average from those respective seasons. Let’s begin with those damn Yankees.
With a lineup that featured Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri all with averages over .300 and 100+ RBIs, it’s no wonder they were known as Murders Row. But like all lineups in baseball history, this one wasn’t perfect. While no one had over 100 strikeouts outside of those 4 the only other person batting over .300 was outfielder Earle Combs. Overall the starting lineup had a .320 batting average with a team average of 18.88 homeruns, 93.25 RBI’s, and 66 walks. While the Yankees were powerful, scored a lot of runs and walked a lot they did not have much speed on the base paths with an average of only 10.25 stolen bases. This was extremely surprising that a team would be built like that in what was widely considered a small ball era. I guess when you have Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig you don’t exactly have to worry about stealing bases.
The Yankees pitching staff was largely carried by the offense. With no names that jump out at you they were nonetheless led by Waite Hoyt and Urban Shocker, who both had sub-three ERAs. Overall their averages were: 16.4 wins with a 3.19 ERA, 203.08 innings pitched, and 59.6 strikeouts. As a whole this pitching staffs job was to “eat” innings and keep the Bronx Bombers in games – and that is exactly what they did.
The Philadelphia Athletics batting order was highlighted by Jimmie Fox and Al Simmons both with .300+ batting averages, 30+ homeruns and 100+ RBI’s. The A’s lineup had a much different dynamic than the Yankees but one similarity is that they had 5 players with .300 plus batting averages, yet no one with over 100 strikeouts (highest is 70). Similarly stolen bases were not a priority with an average of 6.5 throughout the lineup this is lower than the Yankees by about 4 stolen bases per person. Overall the lineup had a .307 batting average with 13 homeruns, 83.5 RBI’s, and 55.6 walks. Not quite as impressive as the Yankees but it got the job done.
Highlighted by Lefty Grove the Athletics’ pitching staff was plagued by injuries in the 1929 season as 9 different pitchers made starting appearances. For our purposes we’ll average the 5 pitchers with the most games started. Overall they averaged 16.8 wins with a 3.45 ERA in 221.94 innings while striking out an impressive 100.6 batters. Hall of Famer Lefty Grove and George Earnshaw struck out 170 and 149 respectively.
Overall, the Yankees beat the Athletics in 5 of the 8 statistical averages, winning all of the offensive categories and having a slightly better ERA. Not a total loss for the A’s though as all 5 of the categories they lost were relatively close and they had an advantage in strikeouts with a margin of almost 40. Therefore, the 1929 Athletics certainly deserve a spot in the conversation as one of the greatest teams to ever play the game, though the Yankees may have their number. Later this week, we’ll compare them to the 1976 Cincinnati Reds.