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Thursday, December 15, 2011
The most talented team of all time

By David Schoenfield

What does that question even mean, "The most talented team of all time?"

Does it simply mean the best team? The 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games, a total matched only by the 1906 Chicago Cubs. Certainly, that Mariners club had a lot of talent -- Ichiro Suzuki hit .350 and Bret Boone had a monster season and Edgar Martinez got on base and John Olerud was really good and the pitching staff was underrated although not exactly filled with Cy Young winners. Still, I don't think many fans would say that was the most talented club ever assembled, especially since Ichiro is the only likely Hall of Famer.

Ichiro
Ichiro Suzuki hit .350 for the 2001 Mariners, who won 116 games.
The 1955 Cleveland Indians had more players on their roster who appeared in an All-Star game at some point in their career than any other team, with 28. Was that the most talented team? It was a good club, won 93 games and finished in second place, and 28 All-Stars is certainly a lot. But considering there were only eight teams per league back then and that from 1959 to 1962 two All-Star games were played each season, a lot of players from that era were "All-Stars." Plus, some of the players were at the end of their careers (Ralph Kiner, Bob Feller) or just beginning (Rocky Colavito played five games).

Or maybe the definition of talent is different. Guys like Martinez and Olerud certainly got the most out of their abilities, as neither were what you would call a five-tool player. But the 1974 San Francisco Giants, for example, featured an outfield of Gary Matthews, Garry Maddox and Bobby Bonds, three athletic players who could hit, run and field. Dave Kingman was on that team, a guy who hit the ball as far as anybody in the game's history. Shortstop Chris Speier was a 24-year-old All-Star. Steve Ontiveros, a 22-year-old rookie third baseman, showed promise by hitting .265 with more walks than strikeouts. On the pitching staff, John D'Acquisto was one of the hardest throwers in the league. Ed Halicki was a 6-foot-7 right-hander with a blazing fastball. It was a talented team. It also lost 90 games.

Maybe the 1975-76 Reds were the most talented team ever assembled: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster, Cesar Geronimo. The '76 team led the National League in home runs, batting average, stolen bases, doubles, triples, walks and -- of course -- runs. Bench, Morgan, Concepcion and Geronimo all won Gold Gloves. But the pitching staff didn't compare: Don Gullett threw hard when he first came up, but relied on a forkball by the mid-70s; Gary Nolan had been a 19-year-old phenom in 1967, but was a finesse guy with great control after years of shoulder problems. Closer Rawly Eastwick threw hard, but the staff as a whole didn't -- in fact, the '75 team ranked last in the NL in strikeouts.

Anyway, just some random thoughts for a slow Thursday afternoon. What do you think is the best way to approach this topic? Got suggestions for the most talented team ever? Discuss below and we can address the topic in the future.