The Greatest Real-Life Fantasy Baseball Lineup Ever?

What would a baseball lineup with 5 MVPs (and an All-Star) look like?

There is a principle in pharmacology (the study of drugs) called the synergistic effect, which simply states that when two drugs are paired together, the cumulative impact of these two drugs working in unison exceeds the sum of their individual effects. This general principle of synergy, coined originally by Aristotle, is more commonly known to most people through the expression “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

A very basic illustration of this principle in pharmacology can be seen with the pain medication Tylenol w/ codeine, known to many as Tylenol #3. While both Tylenol (acetaminophen) and codeine are each effective analgesics (pain relievers), they have a synergistic relationship wherein the combined form of these medications produces a pain-relieving effect far greater than the simple combination of their two basic ingredients. The synergy between the two medications causes an analgesic effect that is stronger than the sum of their parts, which is why it is such an effective medication for controlling pain.

Why am I nerding out about pharmacology and Tylenol at the beginning of a baseball article? Well, that’s where altitude, PEDs, and the Blake Street Bombers come in to play.

The fundamental key to building a successful fantasy baseball lineup is assembling as many supremely talented players as possible onto one roster and watching them accumulate as many statistics as possible. Now, there is a tremendous amount of strategy and nuance to this which I am greatly underselling, but this is the basic principle. Generally, in a typical fantasy league, there is a delicate balance to finding different players that excel in different categories and blending them together to make a balanced and productive team.

Now, imagine being able to circumvent this whole strategy nonsense by simply assembling a cast of world-class producers who all excel in EVERY SINGLE CATEGORY. Feels unfair, yeah?

Well, I’d like for you to close your eyes for a moment and picture a fantasy baseball lineup that consists of five different MVP-caliber players – as well as another All-Star player – among a group of other quality role players. Say, for instance, you could field a singular fantasy team that featured the MVP-versions of Mike Trout, Ryan Howard, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, and Alex Rodriguez all on one team? There would be runs and homers and RBI and hits and stolen bases galore.

Such a lineup would seemingly break the concept of fantasy baseball (and in a way broke professional baseball by forcing the innovation of the humidor). Well, truth be told, during the 1996-1997 era in Colorado, such a real-life baseball lineup existed once upon a time. And the synergistic effect had a lot to do with it.

 

The Elevation Revelation

 

Coors Field debuted on April 26, 1995, when the expansion Colorado Rockies, who played their first two seasons at Mile High Stadium, would open their beautiful new ballpark. As baseball teams and fans alike would soon learn, the effects of the thin air in the Mile High City of Denver allowed baseballs to travel very far – farther than they would normally. This simple “elevation revelation,” I’ll call it, would pave the way for a level of disproportional offensive production in baseball that has defined the Rockies organization ever since. The team even went so far as to install a humidor in 2002 to combat the effects of the altitude, with modest success.

Rockies batters then (and to a lesser extent still do) benefited greatly from these environmental effects, as they significantly boosted the offensive production throughout the lineup, a phenomenon that baseball fans and fantasy managers to this day still view as synonymous with the team. Even the greatest player (arguably) in Colorado Rockies history, Todd Helton, has faced an uphill battle in his quest to be inducted into the Hall of Fame because so many voters penalize him for benefiting from the Coors Effect.

(For more on Helton and his Hall of Fame candidacy, you can check out this terrific debate between Daniel Port and Dave Cherman).

 

The Steroid Era

 

I won’t spend much time in this article diving into the multi-layered complex topic that is steroids and performance-enhancing drugs with respect to their involvement in Major League Baseball. Suffice to say, the late ’90s saw a never-before-seen explosion in raw power numbers and offensive output that defined this period in the sport. While the steroid era in a way brought an entire generation of fans back to the ballpark who were spurned by the baseball strike of 1994, it no doubt also left a tainted legacy attached to so many of those players who played during that timeframe.

MVPs, All-Stars, home run champions, league leaders, and Cy Young winners alike find themselves unable to shake the stigma attached to them for playing in this era, in many cases proving to be a roadblock during their consideration for the baseball Hall of Fame. With that said, there is not much argument against the fact that offensive production in the late 1990’s spiked as PEDs ran rampant throughout the sport, around the same time that the Blake Street Bombers emerged in the Mile High City.

 

Synergy

 

We know that the pre-humidor elevation in Denver had a drastic impact on offensive performance when it came to major league baseball. We also can surmise that PEDs also inflated statistics and power production as well. So, what would happen if these two seemingly unrelated principles had a synergistic effect on one other when it comes to baseball performance and statistical output? Well, I present the Blake Street Bombers as Exhibit A – possibly the greatest real-life fantasy baseball lineup ever.

Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, and Ellis Burks were only teammates together for a few seasons in Denver but quickly made their mark, earning a catchy nickname in the process and becoming a beloved team in Colorado. The 1996-1997 Rockies were an average team that finished with consecutive 83-79 records under the leadership of manager Don Baylor, failing to make the playoffs in either season despite fielding one of the most powerful lineups in the history of baseball. Offense was their calling card; pitching was their demise (and the pitching staff would surely blame the altitude for that as well).

 

1996-1997 Rockies Team Stats

*NL record at that time

While the pitching staff was unable to tame the effects of the altitude, the lineup reaped the benefits for several years, accumulating some of the most jaw-dropping cumulative statistics that a single baseball unit has ever compiled. For instance, the 1996 Colorado Rockies became the first team ever to hit 200 home runs and steal 200 bases in the same season.

While there have been many terrific offenses throughout the course of major league baseball history, such as the great 1927 Murderers’ Row Yankees which featured the gaudy statistics of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, the sensational across-the-board numbers put forth by the 1996-1997 Rockies, with specific attention to stolen bases by players thought of as pure power hitters, were simply off the charts.

What separates a very good fantasy baseball season from a truly special season is the ability to perform at elite levels in nearly all of the major categories utilized in traditional fantasy formats (R, RBI, HR, AVG/SLG/OPS, and SB) which is something the Blake Street Bombers did in spades. The thing that makes modern players in today’s game such as Ronald Acuna Jr., Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Mike Trout, and Christian Yelich (just to name a few) so special – and sure-fire first-round fantasy draft picks – is their rare ability to fill up the box score at unparalleled levels in all of the major offensive categories.

Now, imagine having five or six of these types of players on one single team. Below, I present the case of the 1996-1997 Rockies as perhaps the greatest real-life fantasy baseball lineup ever, as five different players on the same team across a two-year period posted some of the most ludicrous fantasy stat lines that to this day remain comparable to actual MVP seasons from some of the greatest offensive players the game has seen in recent years.

 

Larry Walker

 

Larry Walker was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020, and rightfully so, after an incredible career spent in Montreal, Colorado, and St. Louis. While Walker was a truly special offensive player throughout his career, his high-water mark certainly came in 1997 in the thin air in Denver, when he put together a season comparable to any of the greatest seasons in the history of fantasy baseball. See below how Walker’s 1997 campaign compared to Rangers’ shortstop Alex Rodriguez’s 2007 MVP season. Walker amassed 409 total bases that season, which remains tied for the 18th most ever in a single season. If that wasn’t enough, he also won a Gold Glove that year.

 

Dante Bichette

 

The origin story of the “bat flip” in major league baseball can’t be told without mentioning Dante Bichette, the father of budding Blue Jays star Bo Bichette. Dante was a four-time All-Star who played a prominent role for the Blake Street Bombers in Coors Field in the mid-to-late ’90s. Bichette put together five consecutive seasons with 115+ RBI, and his 1996 season illustrated below amazingly stacks up quite similarly to that of  Trout’s 2016 MVP season with the Angels.

 

Andres Galarraga 

Affectionately known as the Big Cat, the Venezuelan Galarraga was a five-time All-Star who had a relatively nondescript career in Montreal and St. Louis before joining the Rockies in 1993, where his production skyrocketed. Galarraga put together the best stretch of his career in the altitude, posting monster power numbers reminiscent of another hulking first baseman, Phillies MVP first baseman Ryan Howard, but with the added facet of speed.

 

Vinny Castilla

 

No player embodied the Blake Street Bombers and the direct impact of the Colorado thin air on offensive output more than two-time All-Star third baseman Vinny Castilla. From 1996-1998, Castilla posted three consecutive 40+ HR, 100+ RBI seasons. In fact, see below how his ’96 and ’97 campaigns were legit carbon copies of one another. In a career that spanned from 1991-2006, Castilla tallied six different 30+ HR seasons (all in Colorado) and never once hit more than even 25 HR anywhere else. With that said, Castilla’s 1996-1997 seasons were quite comparable to that of Kris Bryant’s 2016 MVP campaign with the Chicago Cubs.

 

Ellis Burks

 

Poll a hundred different baseball fans and ask them to name the members of the Blake Street Bombers, I would bet that the most forgotten name on the list would be that of Ellis Burks. Burks played 18 seasons in the majors, making the All-Star team twice, and overall put together a very solid career (352 HR) playing for Boston, Chicago (White Sox), Colorado, San Francisco, and Cleveland.

The apex of Burks’ career, however, was unquestionably his 1996 season with Colorado, a season in which he finished third in MVP voting and put together a mouth-watering stat line that, much like Larry Walker in 1997, should be mentioned in any conversation regarding the greatest fantasy baseball seasons ever. See below as his standout 1996 season compares quite favorably to superstar Mookie Betts’ 2018 MVP season with the Boston Red Sox.

 

Not even included in the above comparisons is the sterling 1996 season put forth by All-Star second baseman Eric Young (the father of Eric Young Jr.), who hit a marvelous .324/.393/.421 that year while adding 53 SB, 113 R, 8 HR, and 75 RBI, which itself would likely qualify as a top-15 fantasy baseball season in any given year. Additionally, the 1997 Rockies team also featured a 23-year-old first baseman off the bench named Todd Helton, as well as shortstop Walt Weiss (who came back to eventually manage the Rockies from 2013-2016) and speedster outfielder Quinton McCracken.

I don’t intend to argue that the Blake Street Bombers were the greatest offense in major league baseball history, although they would certainly have to be in that conversation as well. We can table that discussion for another day. This is more of a focus on fantasy value and the sensational offensive output produced by the powerful (and speedy!) Rockies lineup in that era.

Having played fantasy baseball for roughly 20 years, the combined across-the-board statistics amassed by those Rockies teams would certainly rival that of any imaginary fantasy baseball lineup that I’ve ever come across. Hall of Famer Jon Smoltz once said that the Blake Street Bombers were one of the toughest lineups he ever faced in his career, which, thanks in part to the synergistic effect, put together one of the most impressive stretches of fantasy baseball production in baseball history.

 

(Photo by Bogdan Migulski Wikimedia Commons/flickr) | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

 

Lucas Spence

Writer for Pitcher List and contributor for FantasyPros and InStreetClothes. Certified Physician Assistant trained in Emergency Medicine + Urgent Care services. Proud husband and father of three. Follow him on Twitter @lspence24. "No amount of money ever bought a second of time." - Tony/Howard Stark

  • Grant Bartlett says:

    Well written article and really interesting concept. Those Rockies lineups were absolutely full of mashers. I absolutely forgot about how many bases that lineup stole, as well. In current fantasy baseball, everyone of those guys is gone by the end of the second round. Remarkable that they were all in one lineup and didn’t make the playoffs?! What the hell, Don Baylor?!

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