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Top 10 outfields in MLB history

1/22/2013

It's possible that by the end of the summer, the Angels' outfield of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Peter Bourjos will be viewed as the best in baseball. Could it rank among the best ever? The standard is pretty high.

On Sunday I ranked the best starting rotations of all time; yesterday, I hit the bullpens. Today, we're moving again.

Here are the top 10 outfields in baseball history:

1. 1961 New York Yankees: Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra

The feats of Maris and Mantle that summer are movie-worthy -- if you haven't seen 61* , find it, because it's great and it's honest -- and record-setting. Maris and Mantle combined for 115 home runs, 220 walks and 263 runs; Mantle had an OPS+ of 206 and an OPS of 1.135, while Maris generated a 167, .993. So really, you could've had Mario Mendoza playing left field and the Yankees' complete outfield probably still would've made this list. As it was, however, the primary left fielder was Yogi Berra, who was nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career and played in 81 games in that spot in '61. In 436 plate appearances, Berra hit .271 with 22 homers, and scored 62 runs.

2. 1995 Cleveland Indians: Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez

Belle was known as Mr. Freeze after destroying a clubhouse thermostat -- among other items. Kenny Lofton just seemed inexplicably angry to some of his teammates. And Manny Ramirez was, well, a young Manny, doing a lot of odd stuff. But the trio put up enormous numbers as part of a 1995 Cleveland team that history must not forget: 299 runs, 100 doubles, 15 triples and 88 homers in a 144-game season that was modified by a labor stoppage. Belle had an OPS+ of 177, clubbing 52 doubles and 50 homers. Ramirez had an OPS+ of 147, and Lofton stole 54 bases. It was a dominant group.

3. 1927 Yankees: Babe Ruth, Earle Combs and Bob Meusel

Any outfield that included Ruth in one of his prime years is going to rank among the best ever, and in 1927, the Bambino hit 60 homers, scored 158 runs and drove in 164 runs and drew 137 walks while striking out only 89 times. His OPS+ that year: 225.

But Combs had an OPS of .925 and scored 137 runs, and Meusel had 64 extra-base hits and drove in 103 runs. The Yankees went 110-44 that year, and the strongest part of that team was arguably that incredible outfield.

4. Detroit Tigers: Ty Cobb and others

Cobb's production was so spectacular -- his lifetime batting average of .366 is the highest in major league history, and the man hit over .300 for 23 consecutive seasons -- that you can pick a number of different years in his time with the Tigers to note on this list, and it just so happened that you can count Hall of Famers among his outfield mates. Sam Crawford was a star when Cobb broke in, and would later be inducted into the Hall in 1957 by the Veterans' Committee, and Harry Heilmann shared the same lineup with Cobb for more than a decade, and had a career average of .342 and was inducted in 1952.

For argument's sake, you could put the 1922 Tigers as perhaps the most rounded of the Cobb years -- he hit .401 that season, while Bobby Veach hit .327 and Heilmann .356. Not bad.

5. 1963 San Francisco Giants: Willie McCovey, Willie Mays and Felipe Alou

Mays was 32 that summer but still in his prime, and he hit 38 homers -- and he had two exceptional wingmen. McCovey, still playing left field at that stage in his career, hit 44 homers and scored 103 runs, and Alou hit .281 with 20 homers. The trio combined for 82 doubles, 21 triples and 102 homers that year. Mays made appearances in All-Star Games in 19 consecutive seasons.

6. 1990 Pittsburgh Pirates: Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla

This trio had it all: power, speed, defense. Bonds and Van Slyke were considered to be two of the best defenders at their respective positions; in 1991, Bonds and Van Slyke both won Gold Gloves. In 1990, the three of them combined for 97 doubles, 283 runs and 82 homers (at a time when a 25-homer season was still regarded as a good season). Bonds had an OPS+ of 170, Bonilla 132 and Van Slyke 132, and as Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information notes, this is the last outfield that had three players that each had 400-plus plate appearances and an OPS+ higher than 130.

7. 1975 Boston Red Sox: Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans

Manager Darrell Johnson actually used a number of different alignments that year, sometimes starting Carl Yastrzemski in left, with Cecil Cooper at first base. But most of that summer, Rice, Lynn and Evans shared the outfield, thriving together in a year in which Evans was just 23 years old, and the 23-year-old Lynn and 22-year-old Rice were rookies. Lynn won the Rookie of the Year award and the MVP, mustering an OPS+ of 162. Rice mashed 22 homers and drove in 102 runs, in an era when middle-of-the-order hitters were measured by RBIs, and Evans had a .353 on-base percentage, to go along with 45 extra-base hits. Lynn won a Gold Glove Award and in time, Evans was regarded as one of the dominant defensive right fielders of his era.

8. 2002 Atlanta Braves: Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and Gary Sheffield

When the Braves looked for an opportunity to shift Chipper Jones off third base, they moved him to left field -- and created one of the more prolific outfield trios in history.

Chipper had a .435 on-base percentage and 26 homers, with an OPS+ of 151; Andruw Jones hit 35 homers and won a Gold Glove Award at the height of his reign as a dominant defensive center fielder; and Sheffield had an OPS+ of 138.

9. 1974 Pittsburgh Pirates: Willie Stargell, Al Oliver and Richie Zisk

It's all about context: that year, Mike Schmidt led the NL in home runs with 36. So the production of Stargell, Oliver and Zisk was noteworthy: They combined for 105 doubles, 19 triples and 53 homers, and each of them hit over .300. Stargell had an OPS+ of 168, Zisk 145 and Oliver 136.

10. 1994 Montreal Expos: Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker

The season ended after only 114 games for the Expos because of the players' strike, but what the trio managed to accomplish in those first four months was remarkable. Alou, Grissom and Walker -- all 27 years old that year -- scored 253 runs and had 100 doubles, 52 homers and 58 stolen bases. Walker and Grissom were regarded as excellent defenders -- Walker had won a Gold Glove in 1993, and Grissom won in '94 -- and both Walker and Grissom finished in the top 12 in the MVP voting. The Expos may have been the greatest team that history will never know, having won 74 of those 114 games, but other players of that era will long remember Montreal's outfield of that time.

Others that should be mentioned:

The 1988 Boston Red Sox: Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks and Dwight Evans: They are the last American League outfield with a trio that each had 400-plus plate appearances and an OPS+ higher than 130: The 24-year-old Greenwell had an OPS+ of 160, Burks 130 and Evans 132. They had 107 doubles, 61 homers and 845 total bases.

The 1976 Cincinnati Reds: George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey Sr.: Foster hadn't fully blossomed as a home run hitter yet -- he hit 29 in 1976 -- but all three hit over .300, and Griffey scored 111 runs that season.

The 1971 Baltimore Orioles: Frank Robinson, Paul Blair and Don Buford

The 1913 Red Sox trio of Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis and Harry Hooper

The 1982 Angels of Brian Downing, Lynn and Reggie Jackson

By the way: Joel Sherman sent along this thought about the 1992 postseason bullpen of the Toronto Blue Jays: "[T]he best bullpen for one time in place ever," he believes. "Tom Henke, Duane Ward and Mike Timlin (all of whom saved at least 120 games); Mark Eichhorn, who was a long-running strong set-up man; Todd Stottlemyre and David Wells (two high-level, long-term starters). Jimmy Key even pitched a game in relief in those playoffs, winning the clincher in extra innings."

Again, look at the pitching roster of this team -- arguably the greatest collection of pitching talent ever, due to the tremendous work of GM Pat Gillick and his staff.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Mets are signing Pedro Feliciano.

2. The Pirates have all but finished the Francisco Liriano deal.

3. The Nationals hope to avoid arbitration.

4. The Astros signed Erik Bedard.

5. Ryan Raburn agreed to terms with the Indians.

6. Carlos Beltran wants a future with the Cardinals, as Derrick Goold writes.

7. David Murphy may work out a multiyear deal, writes T.R. Sullivan.

Other stuff

• The public visitation for Stan Musial is set for Thursday.

Bo Porter had a busy MLK day.

• Don Larsen injured his hip.

• Marvin Miller was remembered.

• A Dodgers utilityman was arrested.

• New Padres owner Ron Fowler is a negotiator, writes Bill Center.

• Tommy John talked to Joe Brescia.

• Adam Morgan is rising in the Phillies' organization.

• Cincinnati will host the All-Star Game in a few years. The Marlins had hoped to host the game.

• Financial woes brought Mike Matheny back to the Cardinals.

And today will be better than yesterday.