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By The Numbers: The Second Greatest Team

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By Father Gabe Costa
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A week or so ago, the Giants were crowned as the champions of Baseball. The “Jints” are a proud franchise, and this flag marks their first title since they began calling San Francisco home in 1958. Prior to their move to the West Coast, their previous championship occurred in 1954, when the incomparable Willie Mays and company swept the Cleveland Indians.

Winter will be here in a few weeks and the Hot Stove League will soon beckon. We will sit around a pot-bellied stove (or send scads of e-mails) discussing this previous year and count the days as we look ahead to Spring Training and another baseball season.

And, of course, we will fantasize.

We imagine great teams of the past…we discuss All-Stars…we recall great plays frozen in time, like Willie’s catch of Vic Wertz’ drive in the 1954 Series. We debate Hall of Fame selections, such as, will Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens get into Cooperstown? And what about Pete Rose? Speaking of the Hall of Fame, how can “they” continue to exclude Gil Hodges? We argue about mythical All-Time-All-Star Teams (could any other team possibly produce a greater outfield than that of the Yankees, who would boast of a Ruth-DiMaggio-Mantle trio?), etc.

For this episode of By The Numbers I would like to pose the question as to what team is the Second Greatest club ever, and how would that determination be made? To try to answer this question I offer some suggestions and assumptions:

• First off, I am assuming that even the most vehement Yankee hater would concede that the Bronx Bombers must rank Numero Uno.

• We will consider the entire history of a particular club, going as far back as 1901, if applicable, considering that year as the beginning of the Modern Era with respect to both leagues. So, for example, when considering the Giants, we will mean both the New York Giants and the San Francisco Giants.

• The number of Wins and Losses, in addition to Winning Percentages, are statistics which must be taken into account. For winning percentage, a team, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates which existed in 1901 (and even before), has no “relative edge” over a “newer” team such as the Toronto Blue Jays. However, when we look at the number of Pennants, World Championships and Hall of Famers a club has produced, then longevity is clearly a factor. So we are pretty much forced to focus in on teams like the Athletics, Cardinals, Dodgers, Tigers, etc.

• That being said, we may want to insist on a minimum number of World Series appearances. For example, both the Florida Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks have a 1.000 winning percentage with respect to World Series won, yet both teams have losing records with regard to regular season play. For the sake of argument, let us set this minimum number to be five.

• The reader can access the following link to gather a number of statistics to assist in the determination of the answer to our question:

www.baseball-reference.com/teams/

Regarding this link, please note that the number of Pennants, games won, and games lost for some National League teams, includes pre-1901 dates. The reader may want to go no further in the past than 1901, the year of the inception of the American League, to determine teams’ won-loss records. And care should be exercised when determining the percentage of World Series titles, due to the fact that there were no World Series played in 1901, 1902 and 1904. In 1994, of course, there were no pennant winners.

So, how do we answer the question? Let’s start with percentages. Perhaps we may begin by constructing a metric which simply adds two terms: a team’s all-time winning percentage and its World Series winning percentage. We can call it Total Winning Percentage (TWP) and define it as:

costa eq1 By The Numbers: The Second Greatest Team

Where and denote Regular Season Wins, Regular Season Losses, World Series Wins and World Series Losses, respectively. To illustrate TWP, we consider the Cleveland Indians. Since 1901, the Indians have a won-loss record in season play of 8691-8367. They have won five pennants, winning the world title twice. So their TWP is given by:

costa eq 2 By The Numbers: The Second Greatest Team

The TWP is simple enough; perhaps, too simple. We can certainly beef up this measure by somehow incorporating the number (percentage?) of All-Stars and Hall of Famers which a franchise has produced. This would probably be more difficult, though, due to the fact that many great players, such as Jimmie Foxx and Reggie Jackson, played for more than one franchise.

And, of course, we can build on that measure, as well.

So, once you settle upon a measure, who comes out second? (Please don’t say “Who’s on First!”)

Next Blog: APBA Baseball

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