A friend recently asked me what player had the best season ever. And I didn’t know. I remembered that Babe Ruth in 1927 and Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 had the same ridiculous WAR, and I chose Ruth’s 1927 season, forgetting how astoundingly good his 1923 was.
I got thinking more deeply about the question, and I started thinking about something we don’t often discuss at the HoME – the playoffs. While the HoME may be an individual honor, the idea of best all-time season should have a team component. If you don’t make the playoffs, or if you lose your season’s final game, you leave that campaign with a bit of a bitter taste in your mouth. Or at least you should. If your team doesn’t win it all, you haven’t had the greatest season of all time, no matter what you did personally.
So what I did was check out all 56 seasons of 10+ WAR by position players (I’ll have a post dealing with pitchers a bit later). Then I isolated just those of players who won the World Series. As it turns out, only 11 times did a 10-win player’s teammates help enough to get a World Series trophy. So what I did next was look at the 9-win seasons with excellent World Series performances. Doing so added four more seasons to our list.
And we’re counting ‘em down.
For me, Collins is the most underappreciated inner circle guy ever. His is the weakest regular season on the list, but it’s one of the stronger World Series. He hit .421/.450/.630 with three stolen bases in the five game thrashing of the Giants. To set the stage in Game 1, he went 3-3 with three runs scored. Two games later it was 3-5 with two runs and three driven in. Collins’ World Series performance was great, but there was nothing so incredibly dramatic. And again, his regular season performance is the weakest on our list.
Mantle’s 1961 season featured the home run chase with Roger Maris that made the season famous. It was actually Mantle’s third best year by WAR, but it’s his second on this list since the Yanks didn’t win the 1957 World Series. Mantle’s ’61 campaign ranks this low because of his .167/.167/.167 line in a five game hammering of the overmatched Reds.
The Big Red Machine was at its best in a 4-0 sweep of the Yankees in the ’76 Fall Classic. Morgan was great, going .333/.412/.733. He homered in the opener, had two hits next game, drove in a run in the third, and scored one and stole his fourth base in the finale.
After a tremendous regular season, Say Hey was quiet in October. But even if he had a line better than .286/.444/.357, it would be pretty hard to elevate him because the Giants swept the Indians. No real drama.
The Flying Dutchman’s season was merely pedestrian by the standards of this list, and it was only his fourth best campaign overall, at least by WAR. But at 35, it was his only World Series win, and he was excellent, hitting .333/.467/.500. Wagner had a hit and a run in the Game 1 win; three hits, a run, and two batted in during the Game 3 win; a hit and a run during the Game 5 win; and a hit, a run, and two batted in during the Game 7 close out.
It was the eighth game of the 1912 World Series. Christy Mathewson was on the mound for the Giants trying to knot the Series at four games each. But after an error and a walk, Tris Speaker stepped to the plate with one out. He singled in a run to tie the game… On one hand, it was the bottom of the inning. On the other, it only tied the game, Speaker didn’t score the winning run, and the Sox could have lost this game and still won the World Series. Speaker was very good in the Series with a .300/.382/.467, yet he stays at #9. More drama and better seasons are ahead.
The Iron Horse was an absolute monster in the 1928 World Series, even better than Ruth. He hit .545/.706/.1.727, and he homered four times in the four games, once in the second game and the finale, two more in Game 3.
Of all players on this list, Boudreau is the most surprising. That’s not because he’s not great, just because he’s not an inner circle guy. He had only season over 8 WAR and only five above 4.5 WAR. Backed by an unusually high .360 BABIP, Old Shufflefoot led the Indians to their last World Series title, but he wasn’t great when they got there, hitting a pedestrian .273/.333/.455. Still, the guy is the only player/manager on the list. That has to count for something. The combination of being the team’s best player and their manager, vaults him ahead of others with stronger WAR or postseason work.
Little Joe only posted a .259/.364/.296 line in the 1975 Fall Classic. What he did in two key games gets him to this level. In the bottom of the 10th in Game 3, he singled in Cesar Geronimo to win the game. Then with two outs in Game 7’s 9th inning, he singled in the tie-breaking run to give the Reds the World Series victory.
The Athletic star had a phenomenal season, and then he starred in the World Series to the tune of .429/.478/.619. He was great. It was hard to be much greater. But his team was so dominant, outscoring the overmatched Cubs by 20 runs in five games. Others were even greater, or they had a harder road to the title.
We’re looking at nearly the most impressive World Series performance of the bunch, even if it was second to Gehrig’s that year. Ruth homered three times, all in the Game 4 finale, en route to a .615/.647/.1.375 line. The Yankees outscored the Cards 27-10 in the sweep, and it was Babe’s sixth ring. Of course, the four remaining regular seasons were all better than the 1928 vintage of the Bambino, and it was hard to have had an easier ride in October.
This season was vintage Mantle, as good as it got, and just about as good as it ever got. In the World Series, he was merely good with a .250/.400/.667 line, and the Yankees needed him to be. His biggest hit was a solo homer to break a scoreless tie in the fourth inning of Game 5. The Yankees won 2-0 and took a 3-2 lead in the Series. If he were better in the World Series, this would be the second best season ever.
In the World Series, Gehrig drove in a pair of runs in the one-run Game 1 against the Pirates. That’s cool. And he hit .308/.438/.769. That’s cool too. A strong World Series and an incredible regular season get him here.
Like Gehrig, Ruth was a star in the ’27 World Series. He had three hits and scored two runs in a one-run opening game. He hit a three-run homer two games later. And to close things out, he homered again and drove in three. A .400/.471/.800 line seals the deal over Gehrig for the second best season ever.
Ultimately, the best regular season ever is the best season ever. Ruth homered three times in the six game World Series win, while the rest of the team homered just twice. In Game 2, he homered twice in a 4-2 Yankee win. And he got the scoring started in the deciding game with another homer in the top of the first. His overall line of .400/.471/.800 plus the most incredible regular season we can imagine makes Babe Ruth’s 1923 season the best one ever.