I have assembled thirty of the greatest baseball teams imaginable. I have set ground rules and parameters for these teams and my wildest fantasies about allowing the greats of multiple generations to square off against one another. And now, it is time to see it play out.
A 162-game schedule, however, isn’t going to cut it. At least I don’t think it should–games shouldn’t be on back-to-back days if we are expecting pitchers (and to a lesser extent catchers, and to a lesser extent every other position) to play every single day. And thus, I want my fantasy league to be more like a football season.
I am a noted proponent of fewer games in regular seasons and fewer teams in postseasons because it adds a sense of urgency that a typical baseball game doesn’t have. It takes a week and a half of baseball to play enough games to have the same standings impact as one NFL game. While I am not this extreme, I do want to add stakes to every single game, to add a playoff-like intensity to every game in a league in which a matchup of the two worst teams in the league is still better than any baseball game that has ever actually happened, in terms of quality of players involved.
The NFL has 32 teams, but it once had thirty, so I looked to their schedule for inspiration. Luckily for me, until the 1999 addition of the newly formed Cleveland Browns, the NFL had a two conference, three divisions per conference, five teams per division structure–identical to what Major League Baseball has. So the AL correlates to the AFC, the NL correlates to the NFC, and the East, Central, and West divisions correlate to, well, the East, Central, and West divisions. Each team would play a 16-game schedule–two each against its four division opponents, four games against the same cross-conference division as the rest of your division, a game against each of the other two conference divisions, and a game against the other two teams in your conference that finished in the same place as you the year before. Since this league is new, for the sake of power-matching, I ranked each NFL division’s teams from best to worst based on World Series wins (worth two points in the formula) and World Series losses (worth one point in the formula), and lined them up with the 1997 NFL results. For instance, the New York Yankees led the AL East by this method. The New England Patriots won the AFC East in 1997. Therefore, the Yankees become the Patriots. I then pulled in the 1998 NFL schedule and replaced the Patriots with the Yankees, and did the same thing for the other 29 teams.
Now the question is how to play out these games, and the answer requires me to introduce the uninitiated to Bill James’s Log5 method of calculating win probability. The equation goes as follows: Home Team’s Win Probability=((Home Team’s projected winning percentage-(Home Team’s projected winning percentage*Road Team’s projected winning percentage))/(Home Team’s projected winning percentage+Road Team’s projected winning percentage-(2*Home Team’s projected winning percentage*Road Team’s projected winning percentage)). I’m sure you’re glad that I’ve presented this in a reader-friendly format, so let’s use inputs from the very first game on the schedule, one in which the Reds are the road team and the Pirates are the home team. The Reds are projected for 123.5493 wins and the Pirates are projected for 114.6712 wins. This makes their projected winning percentages, respectively, 76.265% and 70.7847%. If you input the numbers, this would give the home team a 42.9886246% chance of victory. But home field advantage in the regular season of Major League Baseball is 4%, so let’s give them that. I then used the random number generator function in Excel to generate a number between 0 and 1, and then used IF statements to tell me how the number generator picked every game, so that I didn’t have to deduce the winner of 240 games by hand.
I have no idea what the market is for seeing the winner of this league I invented in my head’s championship, much less the result of every single game in it. But I have the results so I might as well share them.
|1||White Sox||Indians||White Sox|
|1||Red Sox||Rays||Red Sox|
|2||Blue Jays||Red Sox||Blue Jays|
|3||Rockies||Blue Jays||Blue Jays|
|3||Tigers||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|5||Red Sox||Orioles||Red Sox|
|6||Blue Jays||Rays||Blue Jays|
|6||Red Sox||Twins||Red Sox|
|7||Twins||Blue Jays||Blue Jays|
|7||Rockies||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|8||Yankees||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|8||Brewers||White Sox||White Sox|
|8||Blue Jays||Dodgers||Blue Jays|
|9||Red Sox||Blue Jays||Red Sox|
|10||Rays||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|10||White Sox||Reds||White Sox|
|11||Yankees||Blue Jays||Blue Jays|
|12||Rays||Blue Jays||Blue Jays|
|12||Orioles||White Sox||White Sox|
|12||Red Sox||Yankees||Red Sox|
|13||Padres||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|14||Red Sox||Rangers||Red Sox|
|15||Rangers||Blue Jays||Blue Jays|
|15||White Sox||Twins||White Sox|
|15||Orioles||Red Sox||Red Sox|
|16||Orioles||Blue Jays||Blue Jays|
|17||Pirates||White Sox||White Sox|
Anyway, there is probably more of a market for seeing the league standings. So here are those.
|NL East||W||L||NL Central||W||L||NL West||W||L|
|1||Atlanta Braves||11||5||1||St. Louis Cardinals||10||6||1||San Francisco Giants||12||4|
|2||New York Mets||10||6||2||Milwaukee Brewers||10||6||2||Arizona Diamondbacks||10||6|
|3||Miami Marlins||7||9||3||Pittsburgh Pirates||7||9||3||Los Angeles Dodgers||9||7|
|4||Washington Nationals||5||11||4||Chicago Cubs||7||9||4||San Diego Padres||6||10|
|5||Philadelphia Phillies||3||13||5||Cincinnati Reds||6||10||5||Colorado Rockies||3||13|
|AL East||W||L||AL Central||W||L||AL West||W||L|
|1||Boston Red Sox||12||4||1||Kansas City Royals||11||5||1||Seattle Mariners||10||6|
|2||New York Yankees||11||5||2||Cleveland Indians||10||6||2||Oakland Athletics||8||8|
|3||Toronto Blue Jays||9||7||3||Detroit Tigers||7||9||3||Texas Rangers||8||8|
|4||Baltimore Orioles||5||11||4||Minnesota Twins||6||10||4||Los Angeles Angels||8||8|
|5||Tampa Bay Rays||5||11||5||Chicago White Sox||6||10||5||Houston Astros||8||8|
As you can see, the standings generally head in the direction one would anticipate, but there are some outliers. The team with Steve Carlton went 3-13 and the team with Kevin Appier won its division? But I asked for chaos and I got it. Unfortunately, the Log5 method doesn’t allow me to know what happened in these games–I assume the Royals were basically the early-2010s Orioles in terms of transcending run differential, but I don’t know that. I’m also not going to write completely fake wrap-ups of games that didn’t happen. Well, not all of them. I’ll do it for the playoff games. If you’ve been reading this series and are still interested in it, you might be the only person who cares about reading recaps, and you’ve earned them.
The first matchup of the league’s Wild Card round comes a matchup between two teams who tied for the NL Central crown–the Cardinals, division favorites who will host this game as technical division champions because they won both games against the other team, and the Brewers, who simply keep chugging along. The Brewers have been carried by a quietly excellent starting pitcher in Ben Sheets, but the Cardinals remain somewhat heavy favorites, with a 68% chance of victory (note: home-field advantage gets a slight bump in the postseason, up to 4.2%). And while Ben Sheets was terrific throughout the postseason, the Cardinals offense jumped on him with the help of the murderous bats of Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, and Albert Pujols. The Cardinals get the victory.
The other NL matchup consists of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the one-man band who made a legitimate run at a tough NL West crown, hosting the New York Mets, a team with a pretty darn good starter of their own in Tom Seaver and five 5+ WAR position players–Mike Piazza, Keith Hernandez, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Darryl Strawberry. The Diamondbacks, thanks to Johnson and home-field advantage, enter the game as 62.3% favorites, but in this case, their lack of offensive firepower dooms them. With the offense able to scrape by enough and Seaver making the Diamondbacks bats look silly, the Mets win in an upset.
In the American League, the surprising AL West champion Seattle Mariners play host to the Cleveland Indians. The matchup, pitting Felix Hernandez against Bob Feller, turned out to be an offensive explosion. Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez struck for Seattle, but the relentlessness of the Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, and Jim Thome offensive attack was too much for the M’s to stifle. Perhaps if they’d gotten another couple years and thus the right to play Alex Rodriguez at shortstop, it would’ve made the difference. But in this case, the Indians, slight 54.5% favorites, get the win on the road.
The New York Yankees, thanks to the Boston Red Sox, were relegated to Wild Card weekend, where they played host to the division rival Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays had the advantage on the mound, but the Yankees had the advantage everywhere else, as that Yankees lineup has the ability to make even the great Roy Halladay look positively silly. The Yankees were 69.5% favorites for a reason. This game reminds me of the aughts matchups where the Patriots would beat the Colts despite the inferior quarterback due to their more stacked overall roster. I will not be accepting @-s at the time.
In the divisional round, the NL’s best team throughout the regular season, the San Francisco Giants, gets to host the team from the city they abandoned in 1957, the New York Mets. The Giants are loaded with New York Giants, and those guys came to play. More than anything, it was the Giants outfield taking care of the Mets. Tom Seaver held his own against the guy he played against (and briefly with, for the Mets), Willie Mays, but struggled against the mighty Barry Bonds and Mel Ott. The Giants were 67.7% favorites and they played like it, advancing the National League Final.
The other National League semi-final pitted the Cardinals and Atlanta Braves. And as great as Bob Gibson is and was, this night belonged to Greg Maddux, a man whose tenure in Atlanta, not unlike Randy Johnson in Arizona, was essentially entirely peak. Hank Aaron homered to give the Braves a 2-0 first inning lead, and this was all they would need, as they won the game, 2-1. While Yadier Molina nearly hit a go-ahead home run off Craig Kimbrel in the top of the ninth, the Braves were aided by the premier defensive center fielder of his era, Andruw Jones, robbing it and securing victory that the Braves were expecting, to the tune of 62.3%.
On the American League side, the heaviest favorites of the entire round were the Boston Red Sox, playing at home against the Cleveland Indians. The Red Sox were 70.7% favorites to win the game and advance to the AL Final, potentially to face the New York Yankees. But following a rousing speech from Jim Thome about how he never won a championship and how this game could get him a step further to finally winning something, the Indians rallied around their first baseman and won the game. Ted Williams attempted a similar speech, but he froze.
Nearly as big of favorites, despite being on the road, were the New York Yankees, facing off against the surprising Kansas City Royals. The Yankees were 67.4% favorites, and they showed it. The loaded Yankees lineup struck early and often, and only a late George Brett solo home run spared the Royals from being shut out in the game. With that, the final four was set.
The NL Final featured the Atlanta Braves on the road against the San Francisco Giants, and the game brought some of the sport’s greats to the forefront. The pitching matchup featured two all-time legends from very different eras–Greg Maddux against Christy Mathewson. Three guys who could credibly be considered the greatest outfielders of the integration era–Bonds, Mays, and Aaron, played. Oft-overlooked legends such as Eddie Mathews and Mel Ott had a chance to prove their legendary status. But it was Buster Posey who showed up the most critically for the Giants, outdueling his contemporary in Atlanta, Brian McCann, and controlling the Braves’ attempts to pull fast ones on the bases. The Giants win and secure a well-earned place in the Final, having come into the game as slight, 48.9% underdogs.
In the American League, the Yankees got to play host despite not having won their own division, and were somewhat heavily favored, with a 66.3% chance of victory. Tris Speaker struck early for Cleveland, but the entire Yankees outfield managed to batter Bob Feller. Although Babe Ruth initially struggled to catch up with Feller’s astonishing velocity, striking out and weakly grounding out in his first two at-bats, he crushed a grand slam in his third at-bat to knock Feller out of the game and allow the Yankees to cruise to victory.
The championship round positions two great teams on neutral ground (I am mentally placing the game at Dodger Stadium, for the simple fact that it is freakin’ gorgeous), the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees. The Yankees are slight favorites, at 53.7%, but anything could happen. And it turned out to be a hard-fought game throughout. Both pitchers avoided walks but also got little in the way of strikeouts, which provided some advantage to the Giants, who had a decided edge in outfield defense. That said, Barry Bonds, going for his most consequential title of his career, was less effective than one might expect against Andy Pettitte, a pitcher who threw without the fear that allowed Bonds his greatest seasons. But that all changed in the ninth inning.
In the top of the inning, with the Yankees batting and the game tied at five apiece, Alex Rodriguez hit a bases-empty, two-out double. Next up came Babe Ruth, and while the ferocious slugger inspired fear in the heart of Giants pitcher Robb Nen, he did not go deep. He did, however, squib a single in front of Barry Bonds in left field, and Bonds’s throw home to get A-Rod trying to score the go-ahead run went wide, allowing Rodriguez to score and Ruth to advance to second on the throw. But then, the absolutely inexplicable happened. With Joe DiMaggio at the plate having taken two balls to start the at-bat, Babe Ruth broke for third base. Perhaps he was trying to catch Buster Posey napping, but Posey fired the ball in to George Davis, who applied the tag and ended the inning. The Yankees had the lead, but they couldn’t help but wonder if they’d done enough, especially with the Giants about to start their order over again.
In the bottom of the ninth, Mel Ott led off and singled, allowing Willie Mays, one of the most beloved superstars in the history of the sport, a chance to become the hero. But Mays swung at the first pitch from Mariano Rivera and lined out to Alex Rodriguez. Next up came Willie McCovey, who worked a 3-0 count before Rivera found control and threw consecutive strikes to get to a full count. On the sixth pitch, McCovey finally swung, but on a grounder to the left side. In the moment, the Giants seemed doomed–Derek Jeter would shuffle the ball over to Willie Randolph, who would fire it to Lou Gehrig to complete a game-ending double play. But Jeter, having felt pressure to avoid allowing a ball to go to his left, particularly against a lefty pull hitter like McCovey, cheated to his left upon McCovey’s swing, and while Jeter recovered in time to get to the ball, he bobbled it slightly. Jeter was able to flip the ball to Randolph, but his tardiness gave Mel Ott a chance to slide hard into Randolph and prevent a throw. No error, but the double play was so close. Two outs, the not particularly speedy tying run on first base, and Barry Bonds coming to the plate.
Barry Bonds, for all of his detractors, was also admired greatly as a player for his plate discipline. Say what you will about his ego, but his style of play didn’t actually reflect ego whatsoever–he would be happy to draw a walk in this situation. Mariano Rivera knew this, and he knew that he had just fallen behind 3-0 to the previous hitter. And Barry Bonds knew what Mariano Rivera would be thinking. And on the first pitch he saw, a relatively conservative cutter that would have been a strike callable from Mars without a swing, Barry Bonds cranked a ball deep into the right field bleachers. Barry Bonds, who never won a World Series, won the greatest baseball league in the history of mankind with a two-run, walk-off home run while playing at the home stadium of his greatest rival, hitting the ball over the head of arguably the greatest player in baseball history.
For his efforts, Barry Bonds was named Game MVP and because of his heroics, his 2021 Hall of Fame vote total rose all the way to 70%.