MLB’s ‘Dream Bracket,’ a tournament of every franchise’s best players, brings me back to the days of running computer baseball leagues on SSI, “Earl Weaver Baseball” and “Tony La Russa Baseball.”
My friends Mike Beukema and John Paul, and John’s dad, Bob, were early computer baseball freaks in the 1990s. We constantly held drafts and ran leagues pitting Babe Ruth against Sandy Koufax, Joe Morgan against Cy Young, and so on.
We also had an ongoing project to run seasons of every franchise’s all-time lineups. We weren’t spoiled like kids of today who have Baseball-Reference.com, one of the greatest websites in the world. We had to find players, like animals, by manually flipping through thousands of pages of the Baseball Encyclopedia.
I remember Baseball Weekly running a tournament to find the greatest hitter of all time by making lineups featuring nine Babe Ruths vs. nine Mike Schmidts, nine Willie Mayses, etc. I, the budding wannabe sabermetrician, used this format to prove that Jack Clark in his raw, unadjusted 1987 season, heavy on walks and homers, was a better hitter than Chick Hafey’s 1930s lively-ball era .336 year. So Clark got a spot in the all-time Cardinals lineup and Hafey hit the virtual pine.
The Dream Bracket does things a bit differently than we did, as it averages out a player’s best three seasons with a franchise, while we used only single seasons. And some sort of era adjustment is involved as well.
One of the stats disks for “Tony LaRussa Baseball” had stats for Negro League players, and that was awesome, as we got to add new players to our draft pools. Josh Gibson became a top 5 pick every draft. MLB is also including an all-Negro League team and a current under-25 squad to get to 32 teams.
That Negro League All-Stars should be pretty tough, with five all-time greats (Satchel Paige, Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Pop Lloyd, Smokey Joe Williams) who start on any franchise and numerous other Hall of Famers like Martin Dihigo, Cool Papa Bell and Bullet Joe Rogan.
So who wins this tournament? I think the boring answer is just the Yankees. That was the conclusion I and my friends reached decades ago. Adding A-Rod, Jeter and Rivera to Ruth, DiMaggio, Gehrig and Mantle shores up a lot of weaknesses the team had. But their starting pitching (Whitey Ford, Andy Pettitte, Ron Guidry, Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez) isn’t that impressive, and it’s a tournament, not a full season, so anything can happen.
The Giants feature a strong lineup that mixes New York and San Francisco legends. Most notably, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays play side by side.
The Red Sox can put out a terrifying Big 3 of Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Cy Young. The Dodgers can come at you with Koufax and Kershaw, backed up by Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Don Sutton. A potentially underrated staff is the Phillies, with Grover Cleveland Alexander (he won three straight pitching Triple Crowns), Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton and Roy Halladay.
Expansion teams are obviously at a disadvantage, but some of them can put up impressive teams. The Mariners have never played in the World Series, but can field a lineup of Ken Griffey, A-Rod, Edgar Martinez, and Ichiro. They’ll be competitive when Randy Johnson or Felix Hernandez is on the mound.
I could get into nitpicking some of the roster decisions. Where’s Home Run Baker on the A’s team? Surely he starts at 3B over Sal Bando. Frankie Frisch probably deserves a spot on both the Cardinals and the Giants, at least as a bench player.
I could go on and on, but maybe it’s best to download a new game and make my own rosters like I would have 25 years ago.