Are there more fun teams in MLB in 2018 than ever before?
The Red Sox have
It's incredible to consider the quality of talent that's active in the game right now. It might even be the most entertaining season that baseball has ever seen.
That's not for certain, though. Baseball's long history includes a number of elite contenders to 2018. Which year has been the most fun?
This season featured one of the first great explosions of talent in the post-integration era. Willie Mays won his first National League Most Valuable Player Award and teamed up with Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson to win the Giants' last World Series in New York -- highlighted, of course, by his iconic catch at the Polo Grounds:
Getting to that point in the season required plenty of upsets of other exciting teams along the way. The Dodgers had won back-to-back pennants with Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Roy Campanella, but finished five games behind the Giants. The Yankees had captured five World Series in a row and -- thanks to Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle -- won more games in '54 than any other season in the Casey Stengel era.
What Stengel didn't count on was that the Indians would set a then-American League record with 111 victories to take the pennant. Powered by Larry Doby, batting champion Bobby Avila and a Hall of Fame pitching staff that featured Early Wynn, Bob Lemon and Bob Feller, they looked unstoppable until the Giants swept them away.
Also highlighting the '54 season were slugging exploits from the remarkable-as-ever Ted Williams, the steady Stan Musial and the muscular Ted Kluszewski, a surprisingly good White Sox team starred by Minnie Miñoso and the MLB debut of a wiry 20-year-old Braves outfielder named Hank Aaron.
Simply put, it's hard to get more exciting than watching one of the best pennant races in baseball history. The Red Sox, Twins, Tigers and White Sox were all within two games of each other heading into the last series of the season.
There were stories abound with these four teams: Al Kaline and Bill Freehan were exceptional for a Tigers squad that had shuffled through three managers the year before. The mere presence of the White Sox was stunning, as they struggled at the plate all year but managed to stay in the race, akin to their "Hitless Wonders" champions of 1906. AL Rookie of the Year Rod Carew burst onto the scene with the Twins and bolstered an offense led by Harmon Killebrew to stay neck-and-neck for first place in September.
In the end, it was the Red Sox who triumphed in an "Impossible Dream" season. They had finished just half a game out of last place in 1966. With Triple Crown and AL Cy Young campaigns from Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg, they won the last two games of the season from the Twins to take the pennant.
The World Series champions were the Cardinals, who beat out a strong Mays & Willie McCovey-led Giants squad for the NL pennant, and then took down the Red Sox in seven games. They were an impressive group, featuring both of the top two finishers for NL MVP (Orlando Cepeda and runner-up Tim McCarver), not to mention the future Hall of Famer who nearly beat the Red Sox himself: Bob Gibson.
It was such a great all-around year that even on the Mets -- the team with the worst record in baseball -- the pitcher of the next generation emerged in NL Rookie of the Year Tom Seaver.
This season truly had something for everyone to enjoy. Love a tight pennant race? Despite the Brewers' incredible 13-0 start, the AL East race came down to a winner-take-all showdown between the Blue Jays and Tigers at the end of the season. Toronto's George Bell and Detroit's Alan Trammell finished in the top two for AL MVP, but while Bell won the award, Trammell's Tigers clinched the division title by sweeping the final series behind midseason-acquisition ace Doyle Alexander and Frank Tanana.
Love young talent? Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco starred for the up-and-coming A's, who were on the precipice of winning three pennants in a row. McGwire set a then-rookie record with 49 homers.
Love small ball? The Cardinals finished with by far the fewest homers of any team, but used manager Whitey Herzog's "Whiteyball" -- the kind of baseball led by Ozzie Smith's defense, Vince Coleman's stolen bases and bunts all over the artificial turf -- to beat out the Giants for the pennant. That team brought its own excitement to the table, thanks to Kevin Mitchell, Will Clark and Jeffrey "One Flap Down" Leonard.
To top it all off, the team that emerged triumphant in 1987 was a true stunner. Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek's Twins were outscored by 20 runs in the regular season, but eked out a division title with 85 wins. Then, they stunned the Tigers and Cardinals in the postseason while ace Frank Viola captured the World Series MVP. The noise in the Metrodome for the Twins' first championship was deafening:
The story of the 1998 campaign can be told with just two names: Sammy ...
... and Mark.
McGwire and Sosa's chase for the single-season home run record would have been epic enough for most seasons, but 1998 had so much more. There was the eye-popping talent of Ken Griffey Jr., in prime form on both sides of the ball:
There was Barry Bonds, who became the first player to reach both the 400-homer and 400-steal plateau, and was so feared that he was even walked with the bases loaded:
There were the under-the-radar Padres, who went from last place in '97 to taking the NL West in '98 with a superb group that included Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman, not to mention the powerful Greg Vaughn and ace Kevin Brown. Then, they stunned the 100-win Astros and Braves in the postseason to capture just their second pennant.
There was the juggernaut, too. The Yankees had perhaps the most well-rounded team in baseball history. The offense featured outstanding seasons from batting champion Bernie Williams, star shortstop Derek Jeter and World Series MVP Scott Brosius. The pitching staff was already strong with perfect-game artist David Wells, trusty veteran David Cone and lights-out closer Mariano Rivera, and they received a midseason boost from postseason hero/dance sensation Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Combined, the team won 125 games and swept away the Padres.
Including 2018, which of the five seasons do you think featured the most fun players? Vote in the poll below, or tweet @Cut4 to let us know your personal favorites.