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The Best Baseball Team of All Time

February 17, 2012

by William Szczepanek

1956 Topps #030 Jackie RobinsonWas it the 1927 Yankees of Murderers Row fame? The Yankees won 110 games, outscored opponents by 371 runs and beat Pittsburgh in the World Series. Ruth and Gehrig combined for 107 home runs. Was it the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics with 104 wins behind Lefty Grove, Al Simmons and Eddie Collins? Was it the 1907 Chicago Cubs with double play combination of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance and the highest winning percentage of all time with 116 wins in 154 games? The pitching staff was simply outstanding. The Cubs pitching staff led all of baseball with a team 1.76 ERA. Three Finger Brown led the staff with 26 wins and a 1.04 ERA, Jack Pfiester had a respectable 20 win season.

I have found a team that may have been better than all of these as mentioned in James S. Hirsch's book, Willie Mays, The Life The Legend. We have all heard of the barnstorming teams of the early 1900s, but in the mid 1950s, after many of these players had made it to Major League teams, another collection of players composed of all Major League players continued to barnstorm in the off season. It was originally called the Jackie Robinson All Stars, but was taken over by Roy Campanella in 1954 and then by Willie Mays in 1955. Barnstorming gave those parts of the country without access to Major League teams an opportunity to see some great players.  In a few weeks these players could pull in about half as much money as they received in salary during the regular season.

Mays's 1955 team may have been one of the greatest teams ever assembled and included an all Hall of Fame outfield: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Larry Doby and Monte Irvin. The infield included: Hank Thompson, Ernie Banks, Junior Gilliam and George Crowe. Pitchers included: Don Newcombe, Joe Black, Sam Jones and Connie Johnson with Roy Campanella behind the plate. For the year this team was undefeated going 29-0.

The team went on to win the first 16 games of their 1956 season. However, attendance dropped dramatically after 1955 even with the addition of Frank Robinson and Elston Howard due largely to the ability of most Americans to see players on TV and the lack of Brooklyn Dodgers then on the roster. But, for those who did get the opportunity to see this band of men, they may have witnessed the greatest team ever assembled.

It's obvious from the pictures that the entire team was African American (Negro at the time). This set was my first real introduction into collecting baseball cards, even though I did have a handful of cards from the two previous years. As a very young kid I thought that if you were African American and in the majors you were automatically the best in baseball (obvious stereotyping at an early age, but with no prior knowledge of how this all happened), but... in this case, through innocence, it was a pretty accurate observation. 

It's also pretty cool that all of this team's members can be found in the 1956 Topps Baseball Card Set.

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