Building A Fantasy Baseball All-Star Team Of The 1980s
The suspension of all baseball everywhere this spring has many in our universe looking back wistfully at the past to connect in the present with the game we love.
I am no exception. I have spent entirely too much time researching great seasons from the past 40 years and generally obsessing about the Project G.O.A.T. retro fantasy baseball challenge. The contest was developed by ESPN's Pierre Becquey and subsequently promoted by Derek VanRiper and Eno Sarris on The Athletic's "Rates & Barrels" podcast, which is where I heard about it.
Contestants are tasked with finding the best combination of player seasons since 1980—the year fantasy baseball was created—as scored by a traditional 5x5 Roto format. Players, franchises and seasons may not be duplicated, and all decades must be represented more or less equally.
Even though I built a merely middle-of-the-road G.O.A.T. roster, that didn't stop me from overthinking things. I had to know which players produced the most valuable fantasy seasons, relative to league average, in each of the past four decades. The results from the 1980s appear here, with the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s to follow in separate posts.
I broke players down by position for each of the four decades, with a minimum of 10 games at a position required to qualify there. Sorting players any other way than into all-decade "teams" resulted in unsatisfying results, either too many hitters from the late 1990s and early 2000s if sorting by overall fantasy value, or too many outfielders and first basemen if sorting great seasons by decade.
On to the fantasy all-star team of the 1980s.
C Ted Simmons | Age 30 | 1980 Cardinals
495 AB | .303 AVG | 84 R | 21 HR | 98 RBI | 1 SB
The newly minted Hall of Famer turned in one of his finest efforts in his final season in St. Louis, ranking ninth in the National League in batting average, fourth in OPS (.880) and sixth in RBIs.
1B Don Mattingly | Age 24 | 1985 Yankees
652 AB | .324 AVG | 107 R | 35 HR | 145 RBI | 2 SB
In his MVP season, Mattingly led the American League with 48 doubles, 145 RBIs and 370 total bases—all while striking out just 41 times. His 145 ribbies were the highest total of the 1980s.
2B Ryne Sandberg | Age 25 | 1985 Cubs
609 AB | .305 AVG | 113 R | 26 HR | 83 RBI | 54 SB
Sandberg made his second of 10 straight All-Star Game appearances in 1985, when he stole a career high 54 bases and turned in the top power-speed number in the National League.
3B George Brett | Age 27 | 1980 Royals
449 AB | .390 AVG | 87 R | 24 HR | 118 RBI | 15 SB
Brett famously won a batting title in three different decades, but he authored his best work in his American League MVP season of 1980. In the past 40 seasons, Brett’s .390 average ranks second only to Tony Gwynn’s .394 in 1994.
SS Robin Yount | Age 26 | 1982 Brewers
635 AB | .331 AVG | 129 R | 29 HR | 114 RBI | 14 SB
Yount led the American League with 210 hits and 367 total bases in the first of his two MVP seasons. The only shortstop to top 350 total bases in a season before Yount was Ernie Banks, who did it three times in the 1950s.
OF Rickey Henderson | Age 26 | 1985 Yankees
Age 26 | 547 AB | .314 AVG | 146 R | 24 HR | 72 RBI | 80 SB
The "Man of Steal” surpassed 80 stolen bases in five other seasons, but he never again approached the 146 runs he scored in 1985 while leading off in a Yankees lineup anchored by American League MVP Don Mattingly. No player topped Henderson’s total of 146 runs during the 1980s.
OF Jose Canseco | Age 23 | 1988 Athletics
610 AB | .307 AVG | 120 R | 42 HR | 124 RBI | 40 SB
Such stars as Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds, Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis had flirted with 40-40 before, but Canseco in 1988 became the first to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same season, resulting in him winning the American League MVP award. Only Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano have gone 40-40 since.
OF Dale Murphy | Age 27 | 1983 Braves
589 AB | .302 AVG | 131 R | 36 HR | 121 RBI | 30 SB
Murphy went 30-30 and led the National League with 121 RBIs in his second straight MVP season. He captured a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, an MVP and an all-star nod in both 1982 and 1983.
The Toolsiest MLB Players Of The Past 30 Years
The toolsiest hitters, pitchers and defenders of the past three-plus decades of MLB play, as determined by big league managers, coaches and scouts.
SP Mike Scott | Age 31 | 1986 Astros
275 IP | 18 W | 0 SV | 306 SO | 2.22 ERA | 0.92 WHIP
Scott was one of two pitchers to notch 300 strikeouts in a season in the 1980s. The other was a 42-year-old Nolan Ryan with the Rangers in 1989. Scott’s legacy is buttressed not only by the National League Cy Young Award he won in 1986, but also his mastery of the Mets in that year’s NL Championship Series: two starts, 18 innings, eight hits, one run, one walk, 19 strikeouts.
SP Dwight Gooden | Age 20 | 1985 Mets
277 IP | 24 W | 0 SV | 268 SO | 1.53 ERA | 0.97 WHIP
In just his second big league season, the 20-year-old "Doctor K” had a season for the ages that included a 1.53 ERA that was the lowest of the 1980s. Gooden led the National League in wins, ERA, complete games (16), innings and strikeouts in his lone Cy Young Award season.
SP Steve Carlton | Age 35 | 1980 Phillies
304 IP | 24 W | 0 SV | 286 SO | 2.34 ERA | 1.10 WHIP
SP Mario Soto| Age 25 | 1982 Reds
258 IP | 14 W | 0 SV | 274 SO | 2.79 ERA | 1.06 WHIP
Soto’s devastating changeup made him one of the preeminent strikeout artists of the early-to-mid 1980s. He paced all of baseball with 1,248 strikeouts from 1980 to 1985 before a shoulder injury derailed his career.
SP Dwight Gooden | Age 19 | 1984 Mets
218 IP | 17 W | 0 SV | 276 SO | 2.60 ERA | 1.07 WHIP
Fresh off a 300-strikeout season in the Carolina League, one that included 191 innings and 10 complete games (!), Gooden took the major league world by storm. He set a rookie record with 276 strikeouts that still stands on his way to a National League Rookie of the Year trophy.
Fantasy All-Star Team Of The 1980s
Below is an overall all-decade team, using the positions required in the official Project G.O.A.T. challenge. To increase variety, I chose to devote three of nine pitcher spots to relievers, while disallowing multiple seasons from the same player.
An asterisk (*) denotes an MVP or Cy Young Award season