This is a two part series looking back at the top 20 seasons since 1903 by retired hitters not currently in the Hall of Fame. You will see a number of familiar names here and some that even the most knowledgeable baseball fan has never heard of. To see, the top fantasy baseball seasons, please see our Historical Fantasy Baseball Player Rater. MVFH is an award we made up that stands for Most Valuable Fantasy Hitter. You can see the full list of retroactive award winners here.
Ken Griffey Jr. – 1997 Seattle Mariners – OF – $41.8 - 608/125/56/147/15/.304 (MVP, 2nd in MVFH) – $41.8
Barry Bonds – 1990 Pittsburgh Pirates – OF – $41.8 - 519/104/33/114/52/.301 (MVP, MVFH) – $41.7
Gavvy Cravath – 1914 Philadelphia Phillies – OF – $41.7 – 499/76/19/100/14/.299 (2nd in MVFH) – $41.7
Barry Bonds – 2001 San Francisco Giants – OF – $41.6 – 476/129/73/137/13/.328 (MVP, MVFH) – $41.6
Rudy York – 1943 Detroit Tigers – 1B – 571/90/34/118/5/.272 – $41.1 (2nd in MVFH)
Sammy Sosa – 2001 Chicago Cubs – OF – 577/146/64/160/0/.328 (2nd in MVFH) – $40.9
Mike Donlin – 1908 New York Giants – OF – 593/71/6/106/30/.334 (2nd in MVFH) – $40.7
Albert Belle – 1994 Cleveland Indians – OF – 412/90/36/101/9/.357 (2nd in MVFH) – $40.6
#20 – Kevin Mitchell – 1989 San Francisco Giants – 3B/OF – $42.1
543/100/47/125/3/.291 (MVP, 2nd in MVFH)
The power explosion of 1987 was long gone by 1989 (a drop of around 30%) as Mitchell led the majors in HRs by 11 HRs (McGriff + HoJo had 36) and RBIs by 6. It helped his fantasy value that his 3B eligibility carried over from 1988 as he became a full-time OF beginning in 1989. It took a while getting used to the OF as he was still fond of going to the bare hand when chasing down a potential base hit down the line.
He only had two more $20+ seasons (1990 – Giants, 1994 – Reds) as his feasting didn’t stop with opposing pitchers. He played in Japan for the 1995 season – tempted by the big paycheck and the cowhands that would massage him and feed him beer during warmups in the outfield.
He got his big break with the 1986 New York Mets earning the LF job late in the year from…
#19 – George Foster – 1977 Cincinnati Reds – OF – $42.5
615/124/52/149/6/.320 (MVP, MVFH)
George Foster was probably the only Big Red Machine hitter who wasn’t at or slightly past their peak during the 1975-1976 championship seasons. He was a late bloomer as 1975 was his first notable season at 26. His 1976 season was successful in both fantasy baseball ($34.6 – 3rd in baseball to Morgan and Schmidt) and 2nd in NL MVP voting to Joe Morgan.
1977 marked his peak as he led the majors in HRs by 11 (Jeff Burroughs had 41) and RBIs while finishing 2nd in Runs and 10th in batting average. He had two great seasons ($30+) in 1978 and 1981 sandwiching two solid ($15) seasons in 1979/1980 but, in 1982, he got traded to the Mets. It went downhill from there managing just two $10+ seasons before being unceremoniously dropped in 1986 two months before the World Series – in some part, due to refusing to come out of the dugout during a brawl.
He never had much of a Hall of Fame case. Just not enough longevity despite having a better peak than teammate Tony Perez.
He was drafted by the San Francisco Giants and played for them in 1969-1971 but was traded since they already had Garry Maddox and…
#18 – Bobby Bonds – 1973 San Francisco Giants – OF – $42.7
643/131/39/96/43/.283 (3rd in MVP, 2nd in MVFH)
If only Bobby Bonds could have been born 30 years later. He could have avoided the Willie Mays shadow. He could have played in an era more K-accepting than he played. He could have been appreciated as the most valuable fantasy baseball player that will not be in the HOF for any reason other than PEDs (And maybe his son would never have used them…).
This was the first 39/39 season and only the 4th 35/35 season at the time. He led the majors in Runs by 15 and ended up earning $10+ in R, HR, and SB. He was just edged out of Fantasy MVP by Joe Morgan and finished 3rd in the NL MVP to Pete Rose and Willie Stargell (Morgan or Tom Seaver would’ve been better choices).
Bonds managed an amazing 8 seasons at $29+. Here is the list of players with more:
14 – Babe Ruth
13 – Hank Aaron
12 – Willie Mays
10 – Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb
9 – Alex Rodriguez, Jimmie Foxx, Rickey Henderson
While the high K rates and the amount of teams he played for (8 teams, 7 between 1975-1981) would have hurt his HOF chances, I think he would have made it if he could have got to 400 career HRs (he ended on 332) to match his 400+ SB. He only had 11 HRs after turning 34 so it would not have been as unprecedented as, I don’t know, setting the major league HR records at 36. Unfortunately, the elder Bonds chose the wrong substance to abuse. Speaking of (presumed) substance abusers…
#17 – Sammy Sosa – 1998 Chicago Cubs – OF – $43
643/134/66/158/18/.308 (MVP, MVFH)
This was the fantasy baseball gem of Sosa’s three 60+ HR seasons as well two other 30/30 seasons. This season edged out his massive 2001 season ($40.9) with 146/64/160/.328 because of SBs (he had 0 in 2001).
While Sosa’s lifetime WAR is less impressive (58.4) than his 600+ HRs, I think he would be a HOFer if the PED uproar ever dies down which would be against the wishes of…
#16 – Dale Murphy – 1983 Atlanta Braves – OF – $43.2
589/131/36/121/30/.302 (MVP, MVFH)
This seasons was better in each category than his other MVP season in 1982 ($32) and marked his only 30/30 season. Murphy finished 2nd in the MLB in runs (Raines with 133), tied for 3rd in HR (Schmidt, Rice, T-with Armas) and 3rd in RBIs.
Murphy was a near lock for the Hall of Fame at 31 with 310 HRs and a .279/.362/.500 stat line. But he faded fast with 88 HRs and a brutal .234/.307/.396 stat line thanks to a bad knee perhaps worn down from pre-star years playing catcher, not taking days off during his prime (had a 740 game consecutive game streak), and over-calcification due to a chronic milk addiction. At least he got to stay on the HOF ballot for 15 years unlike….
#15 – Bill Nicholson – 1943 Chicago Cubs – OF – $43.2
608/95/29/128/4/.309 (3rd in MVP, 1st in MVFH)
The best baseball player ever whose name rhymes with a major-winning golfer, Nicholson was a star for the Cubs in the 1940′s with his best seasons coming during WWII. Both this season and his 1944 ($38) won the MVFH (but not the MVP) and he had four other other okay-to-good seasons ($14-$22).
The seemingly modest 29 HRs was worth $19.5 thanks to a major league power shortage. Only four hitters had 20 + HRs – the lowest number post-1927 – thanks in part to players like Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio serving for WWII. In a wartime “Who lifts your spirits?” poll in the Chicago Tribune, Bill Nicholson finished 3rd behind Shirley Temple and the owner of the Vienna Hot Dog company.
He was sort of the Hal Newhouser of hitters (Hal Newhouser won 2 Cys/MVPs/FanCys in 1944-1945) except Newhouser did just enough in non-war years to get into the HOF. Nicholson was never a threat for the HOF as he declined after turning 30 – potentially because of vision problems and diabetes – and finished with modest counting number (235 HRs). But he was considered a great clubhouse presence unlike….
#14 – Dick Allen – 1972 Chicago White Sox – 1B/3B/OF – $43.7
506/90/37/113/19/.308 (MVP, 3rd in MVFH)
Dick Allen is one of the most valuable hitters – real or fantasy – that is not in the Hall of Fame. He had 6 seasons that were $25+ with his 1966 season of 524/112/40/110/10/.317 valued at $37. His OPS+ (156) is in the top 20 of all-time.
The biggest knocks against him are his counting stats/lack of longevity (15 seasons/351 HRs), his poor defense, and a controversial reputation. I guess before Manny was being Manny, Dick was being himself. But at least I heard of him before this exercise other than…
#13 – Cy Seymour – 1905 Cincinnati Reds – OF – $43.8
Cy Seymour wasn’t just the president of the Late Bloomer Hitter Club, he was a member as well. He amassed only 7 offensive WAR through 29. But a trade to the Reds turned him into a fantasy force with a 4 year stretch averaging $30.
At least that’s what I thought until I realized he was a pitcher from 22-26, throwing 1,000 IPs of about league-average ball (102+ ERA). I guess that explains the ‘Cy’ nickname. This guy was like the beta version of Babe Ruth.
This season earned him ‘Fantasy MVP’, besting the likes of Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Sam Crawford, and Willie Keeler. While the 8 HRs comically finished 2nd to teammate Fred Odwell, he led the league in RBIs by 13 and average by .014 so he was about as close as you can get to a Triple Crown without winning one just like….
#12 – Gavvy Cravath – 1915 Philadelphia Phillies – OF – $43.9
522/89/24/115/11/.285 (2nd in MVFH)
Cravath was the ultimate late-bloomer having done almost nothing in the major leagues through his age 31 season. He took advantage of the short dimensions of the Baker Bowl (the Phillies’ home park where he hit 92 of his career 119 HRs) to become the pre-eminent power hitter in MLB prior to Babe Ruth.
His 24 HRs were 11 more than the next player and he led the majors in RBIs by 3. This was one of three $40 seasons for Cravath (one will be higher on the list that represents the close to Triple Crown year) which were all fueled by his HR and RBI totals .
While his negligible major league stats from his 20′s would seemingly kill his HOF case, his career WAR of 33 is not far off from Hack Wilson (38) or Pie Traynor (36). Not saying he deserved it – but he had a shot if the voters bought into his story.
His Baseball Think Factor Hall of Merit case has been going strong for almost 10 years now and he finished 11th in 2012 (first 4 get in) thanks to sentiment that he lost some major league service time due to both poor baseball management decisions (his minor league performance was great) and because his v-tastic name inspired the awesome short-lived deep V uniforms in the late 1910′s. Before people looked groovy, they looked gavvy.
His career WAR split and home park were the near polar opposite of…
#11 – Cesar Cedeno – 1972 Houston Astros – OF – $44.4
559/103/22/82/55/.320 (2nd in MVFH)
It’s hard to say what is more amazing about this season – the fact Cedeno was just 22 or that his home park was the cavernous Astrodome (while WAR adjusts for home park, fantasy baseball values don’t care).
Cedeno finished in the top 5 for AVG, Runs, and SB all while providing above average HR/RBI. He had the 7th highest dollar value not to win the Most Valuable Fantasy Hitter as Joe Morgan put up a ridiculous $49.9.
His 23/24 seasons were great ($32.4 and $35.9). His 25/26 seasons were very good ($23 and $29.5) as his power waned (he never topped 20 HRs again after age 24). He managed two pretty good seasons across from 27-30 and did not top $3 in fantasy value after turning 30. Yes, $3?! That’s like going from Willie Mays to Willie Bloomquist. He aged worse than a female porn star.
Cedeno’s 49 WAR in his 20′s was, if not a surefire HOF path, a surefire Hall of Merit consideration and SABR-love. Was his peculiarly steep decline a case of him being Latin 22? Was it karma for his culpability in the shooting death of his girlfriend/mistress? Or was he worn down by injuries like a broken ankle in 1980 (weakened by the persistent gnawing of the Sparky Anklebiter shortstop during the Bad News Bears sequel that filmed at the Astrodome)?