Welcome to a little pet idea I've been tossing around in my head for a while. As I freak out day after day about my fantasy team today, I thought, wouldn't it be fun to take a trip back to the past and see who some of the best fantasy players would have been in years past, before roto baseball was the life-consuming beast that it is in the 21st Century. Why do this? Well, to placate my ongoing obsession with baseball history before I was born, obviously.
For this entry, I chose 1982. Why '82? For one, it was 30 years ago, and that's a nice round number. Second, it was just a good year. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was gracing audiences with its Moby Dick-inspired brilliance, whoch is still largely unrecognized to this day. The Police were at their peak, before Sting's ego swelled to the size of Wembley Stadium. The world as we know it was on pins and needles, wondering if, in fact, Han Solo would be rescued from his carbonite tomb. And yours truly was born, so if 1982 had never happened, you wouldn't be reading this long diatribe right now. So it was not just a good year, but a great one.
Baseball has changed a bit, obviously, in 30 years, and some of that is reflected in what you'll read below. Offensive numbers weren't as crazy as they are these days, and pitchers threw more innings in general. Rotisserie baseball as we know it was just in its infancy stage, having been devised by Dan Okrent just a couple of years before. It was in a day and age where you couldn't play on computers, instead having to phone in your lineups every week or something. I realize, as I sit here on my laptop with ten browsers open, nine of them to baseball sites, that that's not a world I want to live in.
Anyways, if readers enjoy this, I'll consider doing an article like this for each decade in baseball history, going back to the early 1900s, which I actually think would be very interesting. Without further ado, let's step into the time portal and check out, by position, the best fantasy players of 1982, the players you would have needed to win your fantasy league.
Gary Carter. .293/.381/.510 29 HR 97 RBIs 91 R 78 BB
Lance Parrish. .284./.338/.524 32 HR 87 RBIs 75 R 40 BB
The late, great Gary Carter* was smack in the middle of his prime in '82, and he delivered perhaps his finest season, posting a career-high 146 OPS+ and leading all catchers in walks and runs scored (he tied for RBI lead). Parrish led all catchers in home runs and slugging percentage, and had maybe the finest season of his illustrious career, as this was one of the only years in which he hit for a good average.
After those two, Terry Kennedy and Ted Simmons comprised the next tier, both topping 20 homers and 95 RBIs. After that, you had a few guys with double digit home run seasons, but it was otherwise pretty much the typical wasteland you'd expect at the catcher position. Shockingly, John Wathan of the Royals made himself a top fantasy catcher simply by virtue of his 36 stolen bases. Yes, you read that right. He couldn't really hit worth a lick, but that's the highest steal total of any catcher since 1900, making him an unlikely top fantasy catcher, at least that season.
*I actually started this article before news broke that Carter had passed away, so I didn't intentionally come up with this article as some kind of tribute. Carter's career was winding down when I first got into baseball as a tyke, but I loved Darryl Strawberry and the Mets when I was a young tee-baller, so I was always a big fan of The Kid. All you need to know about him as a player is summed up in this anecdote by former teammate Ron Darling.
Eddie Murray .316/.391/.549 32 HR 110 RBIs 87 R 70 BB
Al Oliver .331/.392/.514 22 HR 109 RBIs 90 R 61 BB
Hall-of-Famer Eddie Murray was the class of major league first basemen in 1982. His season was basically one you could pull off an assembly line from his rookie year in 1977 until about 1990. Adrian Gonzalez seems like the closest comp these days, a guy who is just consistently and reliably awesome year after year.
Oliver was a little more interesting. Always a good, not great, Sean Casey-esque hitter with the Pirates for most of his career, Oliver suddenly busted out in 1982 with the season of his life, winning the batting title and leading the National League in RBIs and total hits at the age of 35. He had hit four home runs the year before, and probably would have been the top waiver wire find of the league that season. Naturally, he dropped back down to eight home runs the following season, the zero in 1984.
One player who was terrific in 1982, but whom I doubt many people have ever heard of, was Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Jason Thompson (not to be confused with the chronically mishandled Sacramento Kings forward). Thompson had been a pretty good power hitter for the Tigers and Angels in the late-70's, but he had his best season in '82 hitting 284/.391/.511 with 31 homers, 101 RBIs, 87 Runs, and 101 walks. He was a monster, and you could make the argument that he should be ranked ahead of Oliver here. Of course, he regressed in '83 and was done at age 31.
Not for nothing, the always-colorful Dave Kingman was the winner of the Adam Dunn Polarizing Player of the Year Award by leading the NL in home runs despite batting just .204 and leading the league in strikeouts.
Joe Morgan .289/.400/.438 14 HR 61 RBIs 24 SBs 68 R 85 BB
Bobby Grich .261/.371/.449 19 HR 65 RBIs 74 R 82 BB
If you think the second base crop is weak these days, take a look at this bunch. Only four second basemen posted an OPS over .750 in 1982. Even at age 38, Morgan was still the best, coupling a solid stolen base total with his characteristic walks and double digit power. Grich led all second sackers in home runs and was second in walks and RBIs.
For some real fantasy league chicanery, check out Tim Raines. Raines, best-known throughout his career as a left fielder, would have been fantasy-eligible at second base in 1982 by virtue of his 35 games played at the position. Raines that year stole 78 bases and scored 90 runs. Any manager who grabbed him suddenly had the National League's leading base thief at a premium position. If we're going solely by position eligibility (I'm not), then Raines clearly would have been the top second baseman.
Robin Yount .331/.379/.578 29 HR 114 RBIs 14 SBs 129 R 54 BB
Cal Ripken Jr. .264/.317/.475 28 HR 93 RBIs 90 R 46 BB
Yount was an absolute monster in '82, and almost certainly would have been the best fantasy player in the majors. His numbers that year would have still made him a legitimate first round pick in this day and age, and he would have been the top overall pick in most 1983 fantasy drafts. Ripken was a rookie in 1982 and would have been a keeper league darling. He busted out the following year and was the best fantasy shortstop in the league for the next decade or so.
After those two, you had...line. Seriously, if you didn't get Yount or Ripken, you were screwed. This was back in the day when shortstops were still generally valued more for their gloves, and it showed in the hitting numbers. Roy Smalley hit 20 homers and was pretty solid, but the next best fantasy shortstop would have been Dickie Thon, with 37 steals but a .724 OPS. If you're wondering where Alan Trammell was in all this, he was having a down year by his standards.
Mike Schmidt .280/.403/.547 35 HR 87 RBIs 108 R 107 BB
Paul Molitor .302/366/.450 19 HR 71 RBIs 41 SB 136 R 69 BB
If you're making a list of top fantasy players from any year in the 80's, it's a good bet you're going to find Mike Schmidt on it. In 1982, Schmidt was his typical monster self. His .949 OPS led the National League and he led all third basemen in home runs. He even threw in fourteen stolen bases, cementing his status as a rock solid first round pick.
1982 featured a very strong group of third basemen. You could argue that any one of Pedro Guerrero (who wasn't really a third baseman), Doug Decinces, George Brett, or Bob Horner belongs second to Schmidt in this ranking, but I'll go with Molitor for his across-the-board numbers. Molitor led the majors (by far) in runs scored* and led all third basemen in stolen bases. He was a genuine five-category stud and it helped that he also would have been outfield-eligible that season.
*If you're wondering why so many Milwaukee Brewers are appearing in this article, take a look at Harvey's Wallbangers and gaze in awe at the non-stop mashing that lies within. Keep in mind that this was in an era when offensive numbers were, generally, weaker than what we see today.
Rickey Henderson .267/.398/.382 10 HR 51 RBIs 130 SB 119 R 116 BB
Dale Murphy .281/.378/.507 39 HR 109 RBIs 23 SBs 113 R 93 BB
Dwight Evans .292/.402/.534 32 HR 98 RBIs 122 R 112 BB
Pedro Guerrero .304/.378/.536 32 HR 100 RBIs 22 SB 87 R 65 BB
Andre Dawson .301/.343/.498 23 HR 83 RBIs 39 SB 107 R 34 BB
If you had Rickey Henderson in 1982, you owned the stolen bases category. It wasn't even a question. Rickey didn't display the kind of power that he would in later years, but who cares? The still-record stolen base total coupled with the run and walk totals made him a legitimate number one overall pick.
Dale Murphy was the NL MVP in '82, so no shocker that he shows up as the top non-Rickey outfielder. What did shock me was how amazing Dewey Evans was. He led all major league outfielders in OPS that year. Every single one of them (even Jim Rice...ahhh, but we won't start with that). The only category he didn't help you in was steals, but he flat out rocked it everywhere else. Contrarian-thinking keeper leaguers would have been rewarded by keeping him around, because he was just as productive well into his 30's (1982 was Evans's age-30 season).
Guerrero was just starting a run of about four years where he may have been the best hitter in the league, culminating in his amazing 1985 season. Dawson was kind of a poor man's Murphy that year. His OBP was subpar, which dragged his OPS down, but he delivered in the steals and runs scored categories.
Steve Carlton 23-10 3.10 ERA 286 Ks 86 BB 1.15 WHIP
Mario Soto 14-13 2.79 ERA 274 Ks 71 BB 1.06 WHIP
Fernando Valenzuela 19-13 2.87 ERA 199 Ks 83 BB 1.16 WHIP
Steve Rogers 19-8 2.40 ERA 179 Ks 65 BB 1.12 WHIP
Nolan Ryan 16-12 3.16 ERA 245 Ks 109 BB 1.22 WHIP
Even though starters threw a lot more innings in 1982 than they do now, there weren't a lot of gaudy win totals at all. Steve Carlton, in his final Cy Young season, paced the majors with 23 wins. He was the only 20-game winner in baseball that year. In fact, there weren't too many shiny won-loss records that season and the AL Cy Young vote was a legendary farce, with Pete Vuckovich winning solely because he led the league in winning percentage (he was nowhere close to being the best pitcher in the American League).
It's no surprise, then, that the five most valuable fantasy pitchers all came from the National League. Even at 37, Carlton was still at the height of his powers, leading the NL in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, and complete games. Soto led the league in WHIP and was one of the more reliable strikeout pitchers of the early 80's. Fernandomania entered its second season with continued success, and Rogers led the majors in ERA. Nolan Ryan is on here because of his strikeouts, but this was actually one of his not-so-good years. By this point, he had cut down on the walks (for him), so he wouldn't completely kill you in WHIP.
Bill Caudill 12-9 2.35 ERA 26 Saves 111 Ks
Goose Gossage 4-5 2.23 ERA 30 Saves 102 Ks
This, of course, was back in the day when closers carried a heavier workload, often called upon as early as the seventh inning to close out games. Can you imagine Mariano Rivera or Jon Papelbon strolling in from the bullpen for a three-inning save these days? It'd be unheard of. Naturally, the increase in innings (it was common for star relievers to throw well over 100 innings in those days) would make relievers more valuable to your team than they are these days, and one Paul Rice wouldn't get so ranty when discussing the draft prospects of a 60-inning closer.
Neither Caudill nor Gossage led the league in saves, but it was their contributions in the other categories that made them the best relief fantasy options. Caudill had the season of his life, striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings and winning twelve games. He racked up higher save totals in later years, but he would never be this good again. Gossage was smack in middle of his prime as the fire-breathing, mustachioed reliever that batters were terrified to face. I consider he and Caudill to be more valuable than guys like Bruce Sutter and Dan Quisenberry (who were top two in the league in saves with 36 and 35, respectively) simply because of all of the strikeouts.