We just finished up a decade, and we wrote many, many stories commemorating the end of that decade, including an All-Decade Team. But now that we all have some more time on our hands, baseball-wise, it might be time for some other decade-looks-back.
So, this month, we will take a look at the best player for every franchise over the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. We will use cumulative WAR (Baseball Reference's version) as a guiding force, but just as a guide: We want to capture a team's decade spiritually as much as statistically. Which player best represents your team's decade? Last week, we did the '80s. This week: The '90s. Here are the most '90s stars for each team.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: John Olerud, 1B
Key fact: Olerud (1993) is the only player since Lou Gehrig and Harry Heilmann in 1927 to post at least a .360 average, a .470 OBP and 50 doubles in the same season.
Pat Hentgen was probably the best player over the course of the decade, but when you close your eyes and think of the Blue Jays of this period, you think of Joe Carter's homer, and Olerud and his helmet.
Orioles: Cal Ripken Jr., 3B
Key fact: Barry Bonds is the only position player in the past 50 years to produce more single-season WAR (per Baseball Reference) than Ripken did in his American League MVP Award-winning 1991 campaign (11.5).
Ripken was, of course, the Orioles' player of the '80s as well. He pretty much had the century wrapped up.
Rays: Fred McGriff, 1B
Key fact: Hit exactly 300 home runs in the decade.
This is kind of a fun one, considering the Devil Rays were only around for two years of the decade. The Crime Dog is the clear answer here: He hit 48 homers for the Rays this decade!
Red Sox: Roger Clemens, RHP
Key fact: From 1990-92, Clemens became the first pitcher to lead the AL in ERA for three straight seasons since Boston's Lefty Grove from 1934-39.
Clemens pitched well into his 40s, and terrifically, but his prime will always belong to the Red Sox.
Yankees: Bernie Williams, CF
Key fact: Led the 1990s Yankees in games, plate appearances, runs, hits, homers, walks, steals and WAR
Many Yankees legends made their debuts this decade, but while Derek Jeter (for example) didn't play a full season until 1996, Bernie began his Yankees tenure in 1991. If we're talking just about the 1990s, Bernie is the pick, as he topped Jeter by more than 10 WAR during the decade.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Kenny Lofton, CF
Key fact: Led the AL in steals every season from 1992-96, averaging 65.
An incredible decade for the Indians, one that featured stars everywhere, from Albert Belle to Jim Thome to Manny Ramirez. But Lofton had both the production and the longevity for Cleveland. Plus: He was the most fun player to watch.
Royals: Kevin Appier, RHP
Key fact: From 1990-97, posted five of the top 14 single-season ERA+ figures in Royals history, led by his AL-best 179 in '93.
This wasn't the most glorious decade for the Royals, but Appier was quietly excellent pretty much the whole decade.
Tigers: Cecil Fielder, 1B
Key fact: Owns one of two 50-homer seasons in Tigers history, hitting 51 in 1990 to join Hank Greenberg (58 in '38)
Fielder didn't play the longest and he wasn't the greatest Tiger this decade -- that might have been Travis Fryman or Tony Phillips, actually -- but he's the most memorable Tiger of the decade, no question.
Twins: Chuck Knoblauch, 2B
Key fact: In franchise history, Rod Carew in 1977 is the only position player to exceed Knoblauch's 8.7 WAR in 1996.
Knoblauch's throwing issues wouldn't pop up until he was traded to the Yankees late in the decade.
White Sox: Frank Thomas, 1B
Key fact: Is one of four players in history with a 1.000 OPS and 300 homers in his first 10 MLB seasons (1990-99).
Thomas ended up getting a World Series ring in 2005, even if he barely played, but we'll never know how that Expos-White Sox 1994 Series would have turned out.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Tim Salmon, RF
Key fact: His 40.6 career WAR is the second most for a position player who never made an All-Star team since the event began in 1933.
Always an underappreciated player, Salmon barely edges out Jim Edmonds for the decade.
Astros: Jeff Bagwell, 1B
Key fact: Posted a 170 OPS+ from 1994-99 while averaging 111 walks, 113 runs and 116 RBIs.
Bagwell would be confused to find himself over on the American League side here, but he put up stats as good as anyone in the game this decade.
Athletics: Rickey Henderson, LF
Key fact: Won AL MVP in 1990, when he joined Joe Morgan ('76) as the only players since Ty Cobb to combine a 1.000 OPS with 60 steals.
One of only three players on this list to be his franchise's best player of both the 1980s and the '90s.
Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr., CF
Key fact: Ranked second in the decade in homers (382) and RBIs (1,091) while winning 10 Gold Glove Awards.
The most 1990s baseball player of them all, in all the good ways. Put that hat backwards, please.
Rangers: Ivan Rodriguez, C
Key fact: Threw out 55% of 342 opposing base-stealers from 1996-99.
When Rodriguez first broke in at the age of 19, he was seen as more of a defensive wizard, but by the end of the decade, he was an offensive force and an MVP winner.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Greg Maddux , RHP
Key fact: Is the only pitcher in history with multiple seasons of 200 innings and a 260 ERA+, doing it back to back in 1994-95.
You'll never see a pitcher like Maddux again, and we're all the poorer for it.
Marlins: Gary Sheffield, RF
Key fact: Sheffield's 156 OPS+ over six seasons in Miami is easily the highest for any player to spend more than one year there
The Marlins won a World Series this decade, assuring the teal will live on forever.
Mets: Edgardo Alfonzo, 2B
Key fact: Is the only second baseman in franchise history to crack the 4-WAR mark in a season, and both times he exceeded 6 WAR.
It was a bit of a disjointed decade for the Mets, who were pretty bad in the first half of it, but had a renaissance in the latter half. Their WAR leader for the decade is actually John Olerud.
Nationals: Larry Walker, RF
Key fact: Walker had 21.3 WAR in the 1990s for the Expos, the most of any position player in the decade -- despite only playing there from 1990-94.
There is the first half of the decade (with Walker, Marquis Grissom, Dennis Martinez, Moises Alou) and the second half (Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero). Walker is the standout of the eras.
Phillies: Curt Schilling, SP
Key fact: Three pitchers reached 300 strikeouts in a season in the 1990s, and Schilling was one of them, in 1997-98.
With all the drama that would come with the next decade of his career, this excellent decade with Philadelphia was almost … quiet? (It's OK if you pick any player from that 1993 team.)
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Jeff Cirillo, 3B
Key fact: Cirillo played in 130-plus games in four seasons in the 1990s and hit .321 or better in three of those.
This was the decade the Brewers waved goodbye to Robin Yount and Paul Molitor … and said hello to Cirillo.
Cardinals: Ray Lankford, CF
Key fact: Lankford's 36.1 WAR led all Cardinals position players in the 1990s.
Lankford was consistently excellent for the Cardinals all decade, but no one really noticed until Mark McGwire showed up at the end of it.
Cubs: Sammy Sosa, RF
Key fact: One of 9 players to hit more than 300 homers (332) in the 1990s.
Mark Grace famously had more hits than anyone else this decade, but there are no 1990s Cubs without Sosa -- not really.
Pirates: Jay Bell, SS
Key fact: Bell was an All-Star in 1993 for the Pirates, also winning a National League Gold Glove and NL Silver Slugger Award.
Barry Bonds is actually the Pirates' bWAR leader for the decade, but in only three seasons, and who wants to talk about how this decade started for the Pirates anyway?
Reds: Barry Larkin, SS
Key fact: Won NL MVP Award in 1995, but his 1996 season got MVP consideration, too, with a career-high 7.2 WAR and 33 homers.
"Chris Sabo's goggles" is another perfectly acceptable answer here.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Jay Bell, SS/2B
Key fact: Led 1999 D-backs with 38 homers.
Bet you didn't imagine Bell showing up twice on this list, did you? He actually hit more homers in the first two years of the D-backs' existence than Matt Williams did.
Dodgers: Mike Piazza, C
Key fact: Hit 240 homers in the 1990s (though not all for the Dodgers), 78 more than any other catcher, and he didn't debut until 1992.
The Dodgers turned out to get a rather decent return on investment when they drafted Tommy Lasorda's godson.
Giants: Barry Bonds, LF
Key fact: Led all position players with 80.2 WAR in the 1990s.
And he, of course, was just getting started.
Padres: Tony Gwynn, RF
Key fact: Gwynn hit .344 in the 1990s, the highest of any player in that span (min. 3,000 plate appearances).
Gwynn is still the franchise icon 30 years later and surely will be 30 years from now.
Rockies: Larry Walker, RF
Key fact: Led Majors with 409 total bases in 1997, the second-most by any player in a single season in the 1990s.
Walker was the Expos' best player for the first half of the decade, and the Rockies' for the second half.