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Building A Fantasy Baseball All-Star Team Of The 1980s

Dwight_Gooden_RichPillingGetty.jpg
Dwight Gooden (Photo by Rich Piling/Getty Images)

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.


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.

On deck: Carlton Fisk, 1985 White Sox; and Gary Carter, 1982 Expos

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.

On deck: Cecil Cooper, 1980 Brewers; and Will Clark, 1989 Giants

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.

On deck: Ryne Sandberg, 1984 Cubs; and Tom Herr, 1985 Cardinals

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.

On deck: Paul Molitor, 1987 Brewers; and Howard Johnson, 1989 Mets

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.

On deck: Alan Trammell, 1987 Tigers; and Cal Ripken Jr., 1983 Orioles

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 MaysBobby BondsDarryl 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 BondsAlex 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.

On deck: Eric Davis, 1987 Reds; Rickey Henderson, 1982 Athletics; and Tim Raines, 1983 Expos

Dwight Gooden Tomdipace

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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

The last pitcher to log 300 innings in a season, Carlton in 1980 won 24 of his 38 starts on his way to his third career National League Cy Young Award. He added a fourth trophy in 1982.

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.

Warming up: Nolan Ryan, 1989 Rangers; Steve Carlton, 1982 Phillies; Roger Clemens, 1986 Red Sox; Roger Clemens, 1988 Red Soxand Mario Soto, 1983 Reds


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

PosPlayerTeamYearABRHRRBISBAVG
CTed SimmonsSTL19804958421981.303
CCarlton FiskCHW1985543853710717.238
1BDon Mattingly*NYY1985652107351452.324
3BGeorge Brett*KCR1980449872411815.390
CIPaul MolitorMIL1987465114167545.353
2BRyne SandbergCHC1985609113268354.305
SSRobin Yount*MIL19826351292911414.331
MIAlan TrammellDET19875971092810521.343
OFRickey HendersonNYY1985547146247280.314
OFJose Canseco*OAK19886101204212440.307
OFDale Murphy*ATL19835891313612130.302
OFEric DavisCIN19874741203710050.293
OFTim RainesMON1983615133117190.298
UTKevin Mitchell*SFG1989543100471253.291
Total782315784131458462.313
PosPitcherTeamYearIPWSVSOERAWHIP
PMike Scott*HOU19862751803062.220.92
PDwight Gooden*NYM19852772402681.530.96
PSteve Carlton*PHI19803042402862.341.10
PMario SotoCIN19822581402742.791.06
PNolan RyanTEX19892391603013.201.09
PRoger Clemens*BOS19862542402382.480.97
PTom HenkeTOR1987940341282.490.93
PWillie Hernandez*DET19841409321121.920.94
PRich GossageNYY1982934301022.230.98
Total19341339620152.361.00

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