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The Fantasy Baseball Hall of Fame has spent an unhealthy amount of time identifying the best fantasy seasons, careers, All Stars, and Hall of Famers of the fantasy era. The Fantasy Era began in 1980, and thus many great players of the 1980’s fall just short of enshrinement since their careers commenced in 1979 or earlier. This, along with the fact it’s just plain fun, has led us down the path of looking back in time, decade by decade, for the best fantasy players in baseballs history. We’ll be following reverse chronological order with the 1950s now taking center stage.

Previous Decades: 1970s, 1960s.

Famous for its pitching splendor, the 1960’s brought runs scoring back down to levels not seen since the deadball era of the 1910’s. Many casual fans do not realize the trend actually began a decade earlier, in 1951, which ushered in a 20-year era that mostly belonged to the starting pitcher.

The image below charts the average runs scored per game in Major League Baseball from 1903 to present. Runs scored declined almost 30% between the high point in 1950 (4.85 r/g) and 1968 (3.42 r/g).

Runs/Game

With relief pitchers not yet stereotyped solely into late inning roles, and starting pitchers routinely going the distance, the fantasy game was nothing like we see today. The best batting stats of the decade seem rather typical:

AVG:   .365 – Mickey Mantle (1957)
RS:    132 – Mickey Mantle (1956)
HR:    52 – Mickey Mantle (1956)
RBI:   145 – Al Rosen (1953)
SB:    56 – Luis Aparacio (1959)

However, the effect of the era is apparent once we move to the pitching side of the equation:

W:     28 – Robin Roberts (1952)
ERA:   1.97 – Billy Pierce (1955)
WHIP:  0.95 – Warren Hacker (1952)
SO:    263 – Herb Score (1956)
SV:    27 – Ellis Kinder (1953)

Wins are up significantly and saves are down to the lowest levels we’ve come across. Not shown here are the incredible innings pitched totals as well. No pitcher since 1980 has reached 300 innings pitched, while the 1950s alone had seven.

(An interesting side note, though not germane to a discussion on the 1950s, is the fact 300 inning occurrences increased through 1969, before declining into non existence about a dozen years later.)

Finally, before getting to the players, below is our customary graph of the basic fantasy batting stats. As expected, batting averages declined throughout the1950s, starting off at around .265 and ending 10 points lower. Stolen bases increased significantly, starting at one stolen base ever 130 at bats, and ending at a stolen base every 92. Home runs were fairly constant, though occurring at a higher rate in the earliest part of the decade.

Steals/Homers

Keep in mind that this decade was the last in which every year featured the 154 game schedule. In 1961 baseball expanded to 162 games, more than a 5% increase, allowing season totals forever after too look a bit better than those that came before.

Top-10 Players of the 1950s

10) Eddie Mathews, 3B
Peak Avg in Decade: 12.1
Overall FBHOF Score: 71.7

Mathews smacked 25 home runs in his 1952 rookie year and 16 “fantasy worthy” seasons later ended his career well past the 500 HR plateau at 512. He reached 40 or more four times in the ‘50s and is currently ranked as the 3rd best third bagger of all time, behind Mike Schmidt and George Brett

His fantasy finest season came in ’59. Batting .306 / .390 / .593, he also added 118 R, 46 HR, and 114 RBI in his stat line, and finished the year as the 5th best batter in baseball. A cross decade star, Mathews has four 11+ FBHOF points seasons to his credit in the 1950s, and two 13 point seasons to start the 1960s.

9) Minnie Minoso, OF
Peak Avg in Decade: 12.4
Overall FBHOF Score: 68.0

A very good major leaguer, Minoso was even better as a fantasy baseball player. The seven time all star had the same number 10+ point seasons in the decade and was a rare 5-tool star. I am reminded of a modern day Bobby Abreu at his peak, only with a longer period of success.

During his career Minoso scored 90+ runs nine times; batted over .300 eight times; stole 17 or more bases seven times; and hit 19+ home runs or drove in 90 or more runners five times. His best season came in 1954:.320 AVG, 119 R, 19 HR, 116 RBI, 18 SB, 13.4 Points.

8. Stan Musial, 1B
Peak Avg in Decade: 13.3
Overall FBHOF Score: 71.9

“Stan The Man” is sold short by when analyzing his tenure within the 1950’s only. His career actually spans three decades and a few of his great seasons came in the 1960’s. Musial was pure hitter, one of the best baseball has ever seen. Including batters from the 1800s, Musial is among the all time greats in many career statistics:

.331 AVG – 30th
.417 OBP – 23rd
.559 SLG – 21st
.976 OPS – 14th
1949 RS – 9th
1951 RBI – 6th
725 2B – 3rd
6134 TB – 2nd

Fantasy wise, Musial was incredibly consistent in the 1950s, recording five seasons between 12.8 and 13.9 points. His 5 year peak during the decade was .341 AVG, 116 R, 29 HR, 109 RBI.

7) Hank Aaron, OF
Peak Avg in Decade: 13.5
Overall FBHOF Score: 98.8

You may recall Aaron was ranked as the 2nd best player of the 1960s as well, and now that we’ve completed the review of the 1950’s, his career stat line is complete. It’s pure gold. Aaron is the second best fantasy baseball player we’ve ever seen, and he currently owns the all time mark for total career points.

In a span of 11 years, the outfielder has an unheard of ten seasons of 15 or more FBHOF points. I would be surprised if any player, even going back through the 1920s, could duplicate this feat. Six of Aaron’s best seven seasons occurred in the 1960s, the one outlier being 1959: .355 AVG, 39 HR, 116 R, 123 RBI, and 8 SB.

Aaron became fantasy eligible in 1954. One year later he reached 11 FBHOF Points and only dipped below 10 points eighteen years later in 1972.

6) Ernie Banks, 1B
Peak Avg in Decade: 13.6
Overall FBHOF Score: 77.4

“Mr. Cub’s” three best seasons came while he manned shortstop, but for his career he played more games at first base (1534 vs. 1050) than short and thus is considered a corner infielder for our purposes. I fibbed a bit as well; in fact, he was eligible at shortstop over the course of his six best season, a consecutive year stretch from 1955 through 1960.

During this time he averaged 41 HR, 101 R, 116 RBI, 5 SB, and batted .294. He was also a top-5 batter four times.

5) Warren Spahn, SP
Peak Avg in Decade: 13.7
Overall FBHOF Score: 74.7

The first pitcher on our top-10 list, Span was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, alongside Roberto Clemente, the only two voted in by the BBWA this year. Like Musial, Spahn’s career covered three decades but he Spahn at lease, was at his best in the 1950’s. His best season came in 1953: 23 W, 1.06 WHIP, 2.10 ERA, and 148 K in 266 IP. As with most of his peers, he didn’t maintain a high (by today’s standards) strikeout rate.

Interestingly, and perhaps unfortunately, Spahn also saved three games. In 1953, only four major league pitchers recorded 15 or more saves, and Spahn therefore gets an inordinate amount of credit for his three. This nuance will be typical with many of the pitchers of his era and earlier. No doubt, had fantasy baseball been invented in 1950, Saves would not have been a core scoring statistic. We’re stuck with it though, and Spahn’s 29 career saves make positively impact his overall score.

4) Mickey Mantle, OF
Peak Avg in Decade: 14.7
Overall FBHOF Score: 90.8

Moving from 5th place into 4th marks the beginning of a new tier of 1950s greats. The 8th through 5th slots are differentiated by just 0.4 FBHOF points. The jump into 4th is a full 1.0 FHBOF points. Deservedly so – Mantle was a hitting machine, and as we saw in the introduction, owns the best single season results in the decade in 3 of the 5 offensive fantasy stats.

Mantle was still great heading into the early 1960’s, but few in the history of the sport match his 19.0 point season in 1956.

His peak 5-year average during the decade: .322 AVG, 121 R, 39 HR, 99 RBI, 15 SB. His scores by year:

1951- 3.8
1952 – 10.8
1953 – 9.1
1954 – 10.9
1955 – 12.1
1956 – 19.0
1957 – 15.6
1958 – 15.8
1959 – 11.1

3) Duke Snider, OF
Peak Avg in Decade: 14.8
Overall FBHOF Score: 80.0

Snider typically falls short in his inevitable comparison to Mantle and Willie Mays. All three were of course New York centerfielders during the 1950’s and all three were no brainer Hall of Fame selections, but at least in terms of fantasy baseball, Snider can run with Mantle – during the 1950’s at least.

When lining their best years up side by side, in order of greatness as opposed to chronological, the similarities are striking:

Snider        Mantle
17.67          18.98
15.11           15.80
14.68          15.58
14.65          12.06
11.98          11.14
10.80         10.94
10.16          10.83
9.64            9.07
5.98            3.84
3.70

In one of the most underrated seasons of all time, Snider in 1954 batted .336 with 132 R, 42 HR, 126 RBI, and 16 SB. He was the best fantasy batter of the season, for the second consecutive year. Mantle and (mostly) Mays would take honors in five of the next six seasons.

2) Robin Roberts, SP
Peak Avg in Decade: 16.7
Overall FBHOF Score: 92.0

Really. In his New Historical Abstract, Bill James ranks Roberts as the 16th best pitcher of all time. He’s a Hall of Famer and a six time 20 game winner. He led his league 27 times in various important statistical categories. Yes, to this day, he gets little credit as one of the all time great pitchers.

Perhaps it was the era in which he pitched. Following Roberts good fortunes in the 1950’s came the greatest pitching era of all time. With this of course, came some of the greatest pitching names of all time – Koufax and Gibson plus significant single season performances of historical importance – Denny McLain’s 31 wins in 1968 and superb seasons out of Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale. Roberts never struck out 200 batters, never had an ERA under 2.50, nor a WHIP below 1.00.

What he did do was finish 6 of the 10 seasons in the Top-3, and four consecutive as the best overall pitcher in the game. From 1952-1955 he averaged 24 W, 1.07 WHIP, 2.90 ERA, 172 K’s, and 4 saves per season.

He’s on his own plane when looking at 4-year peak scores among starting pitchers of the 1950s:

17.4 – Robin Roberts
14.1 – Warren Spahn
11.8 – Early Wynn
11.7 – Billy Pierce
11.2 – Mike Garcia

1) Willie Mays, OF
Peak Avg in Decade: 17.5
Overall FBHOF Score: 102.3

Through the 1950’s, Willie Mays is the greatest fantasy player of all time. His stats speak for themselves. Please pay particular attention to the sheer number of double digit FBHOF Point seasons, identified in the “score” column.

Willie Mays

  1. peter says:
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    The fluctuation in Mays’ steals from year to year is interesting. I wasn’t around – nor am I enough of a student of history – so I won’t speculate. Just observe.

  2. big o says:
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    while you’re at it , can we see the razz / suicide numbers for the decade ?

  3. Joe Morgan sucks says:
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    Am I the only one finds themselves caring less and less about baseball statistics before the advent of modern weight and cardiovascular fitness programs? I have the sneaking suspicion that a moderately good player from this area would completely dominate past generations.

  4. BigFatHippo says:
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    @Joe Morgan sucks: I’m not convinced baseball is so much about fitness and strength as it is about hand/eye coordination and natural athletic ability.

    Interesting study done by Washington University (St Louis) comparing Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols. Read it here and you may change your mind:

    http://news-info.wustl.edu/news/page/normal/7535.html

  5. Joe Morgan sucks says:
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    There are physical freaks in every era who would probably always be studs (Babe Ruth in baseball and Bronco Nagurski in football come to mind), but as to the rank and file … meh.

    As for baseball being about hand/eye coordination, I agree this is an important component. As for “natural athletic ability,” I think the old chestnut that strength/muscle doesn’t help you “hit a baseball” has been systematically disproven over the last ten to twenty years. Tiger Woods is now disproving it in the golf world, as well.

    If you took a pitcher from the ’30s and plopped him against the modern Red Sox lineup, he’d be wondering why his 85 mph fastball wasn’t as effective as it had been against players who were on average 3-6 inches shorter and 45-60 pounds lighter.

  6. madx34 says:
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    with all due respect…..who gives a shit about what fantasy baseball in the 50’s would be. That might be a great topic in January but not the first week of April. Sorry, but I care more about the set up man in Seattle battle right now than Willie Mays steal charts

  7. BigFatHippo says:
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    @Joe Morgan sucks: Good point, but if the same pitcher had been born in 1980 instead of 1900 chances are his 85 mph fastball would be a 95 mph fastball and he would be 3 inches taller and 45-60 lbs heavier.

    Alas, we’ll never know. Where’s Darwin when you need him?

  8. peter says:
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    @BigFatHippo: Sounds like a missing chapter from “Outliers: the story of success” by Malcolm Gladwell. (<– I recommend)

  9. BigFatHippo says:
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    @peter: Looks good, I’ll check it out, thanks.

  10. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    Rudy – what a fabulous post! I love it, probably because i am older then the average blogger, and saw all of these players, many in their prime, and some, like Snyder, in their last days. Anyone who ever saw Willie Mays knows with certainty that he was the greatest, most complete ball player of the modern era. His fantasy projections don’t even cover his fielding, which was arguably better then his hitting. And his arm was also amongst the best ever. Scouts rate ball players in five areas – Thowing, Fielding, Speed, Power, and batting average, on a scale of 1-10. Willie was the only player to score a perfect ten in each area. If he didn’t play in the Stick, as well as do a term in the Service (right before his best year, 1954, when he won the triple crown), there is no doubt whatsoever that he would have bested Aaron’s record – no disrespect to Aaron. Mantle was at that same level, but unfortunately his bad knees damaged his career. BTW, where is Sandy Koufax, Gibson, and Marichal?

  11. Lou Poulas

    Lou P says:
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    @peter: If you line them up chronologically I think it actually makes a lot of sense for a slugger: 24, 40, 38, 31, 27, 25, 18, 18, 9, 18 then a trickle I do agree the 23 out of nowhere at the age of 40 is great.

  12. Lou Poulas

    Lou P says:
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    @Joe Morgan sucks: I hate this argument. If you truly transport a modern day player, in top physical condition, back to the 1930s I completely agree he would be dominant. But, if Rogers Hornsby were to be transported to today, and afforded the same benefits of a modern day player, I think he would still be the best second basemen around.

  13. Lou says:
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    @madx34: Me! But that is also why Rudy and Grey keep leash on me! J/K gents.

  14. Lou says:
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    @Paulie Allnuts: Thanks Paulie. I didn’t start my love of baseball until the 1980s and always believed everyone how great Mays was, but I didn’t truly believe it myself until comparing him to his peers of the time. Incredibly consistent and did everything top notch. I wish I could have seen him live at a park. Check out the 1960’s post and you’ll see your boys Koufax, Gibson, and Marichal. Koufax is another it is almost impossible to comprehend his greatness.

    THe 1960s post: http://razzball.com/fantasy-baseball-the-1960s/

  15. Joe Morgan sucks says:
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    @Lou P:

    I think you’re completely wrong. People are bigger, stronger, and healthier today due to significantly better environmental (yes, really), nutritional, and medical standards. An adult Rogers Hornsby would see a limited benefit from anything other than modern weight/cardiovascular training.

    Maybe you meant to say “if Rogers Hornsby was teleported here as a fetus, so he could have the benefit of modern advancements.” If that were the case, I might change my position. Then again, Hornsby dealt with a pool of potential players about 5% the size of what we have now.

    Basically, bygone eras that are looked upon as halcyon, golden days, typically were played at what we’d now consider a high school, collegiate, or low minor league level.

  16. Pilkington says:
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    @Joe Morgan sucks: Yeah, totally, being a good baseball player is 100% strength conditioning! Willie Mays wouldn’t cut it in a high school game these days, because he didn’t have an amazing eye or natural swing or anything, and you can bet he was totally out of shape and weak…

    If you really think the great players from history would play at a high school level, you are insane or know nothing about the game. Modern pitchers throw harder, but what makes you think someone like Mays wouldn’t be able to adjust? People have better natural visions/coordination these days???

    The difference in training techniques has its only significant impact in strength (thus, more home runs) and conditioning (thus, more longevity). Both of these are already taken into account by the statistics; that’s why seasonal homerun totals have steadily increased with or without steroids. But someone who was a talented enough hitter to hit 50+ HR in the 1950’s is not going to significantly regress, even if you deny him modern training techniques. If you can hit, you can hit. Willie Mays was an incredibly athlete who clearly had a lack of neither strength nor longevity; you are taking the fact that modern training has made the league average better and assuming it means individual players are exponentially better, which isn’t true. Willie Mays was a better athlete than anyone playing then, and would be better than probably anyone playing today…

  17. Joe Morgan sucks says:
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    Sure Pilkington. Cause, you know, those 200 pound offensive lineman of the 50s would be so great today. And those Olympic weight lifters, those records still stand!

    It’s incredibly annoying how blind people are to the progress made in the field of athletics. Willie Mays might well dominate today, if he took advantage of modern training techniques!

    “But someone who was a talented enough hitter to hit 50+ HR in the 1950’s is not going to significantly regress. . . ”

    And you have evidence for this, how? You have analyzed whether pitchers were throwing as hard, or the same type of pitches? You took into account mound height? You may be right, but I’m not going to take your word for it.

  18. Lou says:
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    @Joe Morgan sucks: I really hadn’t thought about it at a level of do we transport the fetus of Hornsby, the toddler version of Horsnby, or the High School version of Hornsby. I completely agree, if you took a 25 year old Hornsby and let him have it it against the 2009 BoSox he would be in trouble.

    But still – what is the point of the that comparison, it is completely bogus in my mind. Everything is better now – what, Sir Isaac Newton is a hack because he had to do long division by hand and didn’t have today’s benefits of a computer or scientific calculator?

    So to rephrase – if you gave the inseminated egg of Hornsby all the modern amenities and training tools today’s players get, he would be the best second basemen in the game.

    At the same time, to go back to your comparison, if you took Chase Utley and truly transported his 30 year old body and put him play in the 1920’s, he wouldn’t last a season. Chopping wood to stay in shape, no comfy airplanes, no training equipment, horrible owners, plus prohibition. Hell, life expectancy was 20+ years fewer. He might crack under the pressure of no sportscenter.

    Anyway, I think the only way to compare players is to compare them to their peers.

  19. Lou says:
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    @Joe Morgan sucks: One more – I don’t think people are blind at all, I think you and the rest of us are arguing two different topics, at least most of the time.

    Again, same comparison – do we say Chuck Yeager ‘s a bum because modern day pilots would fly rings around him?

  20. Lou says:
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    @Pilkington: I only agree with you to a point – hitting may not be that different, but fielding for instance – i don’t see how a modern day player wouldn’t run rings around Joe Tinker.

  21. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Lou – Anyone who believes that 1950-1970 era baseball players wouldn’t thrive today is out of their minds. Mickey Mantle had more martinis then session with weight trainers, but look up his tape measure drives. I am old enough to remember him coming close to hitting a ball out of Yankee stadium, a feat that was never accomplished. His home run was STILL RISING when it hit the top of the upper facade in right field. The estimated distance was around 700 feet.
    Likewise with pitchers. In the 1940’s, Rapid Robert Feller’s fastball was measured over 100 MPH. You mentioned Koufax – no offense to any of our contemporaries, but there was not a hurler in baseball that could compare with Sandy. His five years of greatness has never been duplicated – perhaps the closest was Dizzy Dean, who was even before my time! From 1962-66, he had the most dominant span ever seen in baseball and his won-lost records were 14-7, 25-5, 19-5, 26-8, and 27-9, while leading the league in strikeouts 4 times (3 of those years, he fanned over 300). His lifetime winning percentage was .655 (165-87), and over his entire career, he averaged more than a strikeout per inning. The great southpaw pitched a staggering total of 27 complete games in each of his last two seasons. In 4 World Series, he had a cumulative ERA of 0.95, 61 strikeouts, and 2 shutouts. Imagine retiring when your last season was 27-9. But his arm hurt so bad with tendinitis that after each start it was wrapped in ice. Imagine what a great fantasy pickup he would make!
    In point of fact, the greatest era of baseball was likely the early 50’s, after Jackie Robinson opened the doors for African American ballplayers. Sadly for baseball, most African Americans choose to go into other sports these days, but the quality of baseball before expansion diluted the quality in the early 60’s was non-pareil.

  22. Lou says:
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    @Paulie Allnuts: Maybe we should stay away from using greatest players of all time as teh benchmark. No one can argue against Koufax’s greatness. But take Mantle – he admitted he would have been better if he took care of himself. That’s all I am trying to get across.

    Plus – today’s minor league system and advent overseas players means the pool of players to choose from is greater now than at any time in baseball history. Quality of players is continually on the rise, even to this day.

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