As we wait for games to be played again, it is perfectly natural to look backwards for a bit. If we can’t have baseball now, we can appreciate the baseball we had. After all: What we watched then turned out to be history.
So, today, we thought we would, in the wake of last week’s piece about the active leader for each team in WAR (per Baseball Reference), look at each franchise’s WAR leader over the last 50 years. That seemed a reasonable timeframe for just about everyone reading to have some sort of possibility to have seen the best these franchises had to offer. Also, 1969 represents the start of the divisional era, so that’s a clear starting point.
Note: We’re only including career WAR accumulated with that team. So players who starred for multiple teams (like Alex Rodriguez) will not appear. And yes, some other players might have had a higher peak than the players listed below. We’re talking about career value accrued here, people. OK, on to the names!
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays -- Dave Stieb, RHP (56.9 WAR, 1979-92, ’98): Stieb remains one of the most unappreciated pitchers of all time, a terrific Blue Jays staple for nearly 20 years. The top Blue Jays hitter during this time, by the way? Jose Bautista.
Orioles -- Cal Ripken Jr., SS/3B (95.9 WAR, 1981-2001): One of the more obvious answers on this list.
Rays -- Evan Longoria, 3B (51.8 WAR, 2008-17): Longoria didn’t turn out to be the Hall of Famer the Rays hoped he’d become when they signed him to that massive contract, but as far as the Rays go, he’s basically as close as they’ve had to Ripken.
Red Sox -- Roger Clemens, RHP (80.7 WAR, 1984-96): This is a good reminder of just how incredible -- and for how long -- Clemens was for the Red Sox. He even outpaces Wade Boggs and Big Papi.
Yankees -- Derek Jeter, SS (71.3 WAR, 1995-2014): So hey, show this to that one person who didn’t vote for him for the Hall of Fame! (One suspects this would still not persuade them.)
Indians -- Kenny Lofton, CF (48.6 WAR, 1992-96, 1998-2001, 2007): He wouldn't have been my first guess, but people have been overlooking Lofton forever. He barely outpaced Jim Thome (48.0), by the way.
Royals -- George Brett, 3B/1B (88.6 WAR, 1973-93): You remember his .390 season in 1980, but a decade later, at the age of 37, he lead the AL in doubles and batting average.
Tigers -- Lou Whitaker, 2B (75.1 WAR, 1977-95): It’s Sweet Lou, not recent Hall of Famer Alan Trammell (70.7 WAR), who had the statistical advantage all those years.
Twins -- Rod Carew, 1B/2B (59.3 WAR, 1967-78): Joe Mauer played five more years in Minnesota than Carew did, but he couldn’t quite catch up with Rod. Finding another Rod Carew would do baseball a lot of good, one would think.
White Sox -- Frank Thomas, 1B/DH (68.3 WAR, 1990-2005): His final season on the South Side was the one the White Sox finally won the World Series … though he didn’t really get to be a part of it, missing most of the year -- including the postseason -- due to injury.
Angels -- Mike Trout, CF (72.8 WAR, 2011-present): Yeah, it’s obviously Mike Trout, and has been Mike Trout for about four years now.
Astros -- Jeff Bagwell, 1B (79.9 WAR, 1991-2005): No one on this current incarnation of Astros, for all their success (and whatever the reason), is really in the same universe as Bagwell.
Athletics -- Rickey Henderson, LF (72.7 WAR, 1979-84, '89-'93, '94-'95, '98): The greatest leadoff hitter of all time, he’d still earn nearly 40 WAR for all the other teams he played for, too.
Mariners -- Ken Griffey Jr., CF (70.6 WAR, 1989-99): This is surprisingly close -- Edgar Martinez, despite playing most of his career as a DH, is right behind him at 68.4. Of course, Griffey only played half his career with the Mariners. (Ichiro is at 56.2.)
Rangers -- Ivan Rodriguez, C (50.0 WAR, 1991-2002, '09): This was a legitimately surprising result, particularly considering how much difficulty WAR has accurately evaluating catchers.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves -- Chipper Jones, 3B (85.3 WAR, 1993-2012): Phil Niekro is awfully close behind him, actually, but he could never come save you in a snowstorm.
Marlins -- Giancarlo Stanton, RF (35.7 WAR, 2010-17): It’s going to take many years, probably the rest of his career, for Stanton to notch this total with the Yankees.
Mets -- Tom Seaver, RHP (65.8 WAR, 1967-77, '83): Remarkably, this number does not include his 1967 and ’68 seasons with the Mets, which would add another 12.8 WAR to Seaver’s total. David Wright (49.2 WAR) is a distant second.
Nationals/Expos -- Gary Carter, C (55.8 WAR, 1974-84, '92): He’s of course the all-time leader when you include the Expos. If you don’t include the Expos, the leader is Ryan Zimmerman (38.5), but only barely -- Max Scherzer (36.2) may pass him this year.
Phillies -- Mike Schmidt, 3B (106.9 WAR, 1972-89): This is the second-highest number on this entire list, in case you forgot just how fantastic Schmidt was.
Brewers -- Robin Yount, SS/OF (77.3 WAR, 1974-93): If the Brewers ever end up winning the World Series, Yount may celebrate as hard as any active player.
Cardinals -- Albert Pujols, 1B (86.6 WAR, 2001-11): His underwhelming tenure with the Angels might make some fans forget how good he was once upon a time. Cardinals fans, however, will never forget.
Cubs -- Ryne Sandberg, 2B (68.1 WAR, 1982-97): Sammy Sosa (58.8) was actually closer to catching him than you might think despite playing 300 fewer games. None of the current Cubs are within half of him.
Pirates -- Barry Bonds, LF (50.3 WAR, 1986-92): How great was Barry Bonds? He is somehow on this list twice.
Reds -- Johnny Bench, C (75.2 WAR, 1967-83): This is actually the closest race of any on this whole list -- Bench outpaced Barry Larkin, 75.2 to 70.5. Joey Votto isn’t too far behind both of them, at 62.0.
D-backs -- Randy Johnson, LHP (52.6 WAR, 1999-2004, '07-08): Johnson was so incredible for the D-backs that you forget he didn’t even arrive in Arizona until he was already 35.
Dodgers -- Clayton Kershaw, LHP (67.9 WAR, 2008-present): Sort of amazingly, the best Dodgers position player during this time is … Ron Cey (47.7).
Giants -- Barry Bonds, LF (112.5 WAR, 1993-2007): There may be no better testament to Barry Bonds’ brilliance that he has the highest number on this list and he also leads another team.
Padres -- Tony Gwynn, RF (69.2 WAR, 1982-2001): Remember, Gwynn once stole 56 bases in a season (1987). It’s difficult to see how anyone in San Diego gets all that close to him … though we’re keeping an eye on Fernando Tatis Jr.
Rockies -- Todd Helton, 1B (61.8 WAR, 1997-2013): Nolan Arenado (37.5 WAR as of this writing) will probably pass him if he sticks around. The best pitcher in Rockies history? Ubaldo Jiménez (18.3)!