When talk turns to the greatest baseball team of all time, most baseball fans will nominate the 1927 New York Yankees. Not only did that team post a won-lost record of 110-44, for a W-L percentage of .714, but its roster featured several future Hall-of-Famers: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Earl Combs, and Tony Lazzeri. As it turns out, the 1927 Yankees didn’t have the best record in “modern” baseball, that is, since the formation of the American League in 1901. Here are the ten best seasons (all above .700), ranked by W-L percentage:
And here are the 20 worst seasons, all below .300:
But it takes more than a season, or even a few of them, to prove a team’s worth. The following graphs depict the best records in the American and National Leagues over nine-year spans:
For sustained excellence over a long span of years, the Yankees are the clear winners. Moreover, the Yankees’ best nine-year records are centered on 1935 and 1939. In the nine seasons centered on 1935 — namely 1931-1939 — the Yankees compiled a W-L percentage of .645. In those nine seasons, the Yankees won five American League championships and as many World Series. The Yankees compiled a barely higher W-L percentage of .646 in the nine seasons centered on 1939 — 1935-1943. But in those nine seasons, the Yankees won the American League championship seven times — 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942, and 1943 — and the World Series six times (losing to the Cardinals in 1942).
Measured by league championships, the Yankees compiled better nine-year streaks, winning eight pennants in 1949-1957, 1950-1958, and 1955-1963. But for sheer, overall greatness, I’ll vote for the Yankees of the 1930s and early 1940s. Babe Ruth graced the Yankees through 1934, and the 1939 team (to pick one) included future Hall-of-Famers Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehring (in his truncated final season), Red Ruffing, and Lefty Gomez.
Here are the corresponding worst nine-year records in the two leagues:
The Phillies — what a team! The Phillies, Pirates, and Cubs should have been demoted to Class D leagues.
What’s most interesting about the four graphs is the general decline in the records of the best teams and the general rise in the records of the worst teams. That’s a subject for another post.