Baseball’s 10 Most Inseparable Groupings
Major league duos, trios and quartets who made for as much fame together as the individuals who helped make them excel.
Often in baseball, you need a little help from your friends. Though the game is individual on many levels, it’s still very much a team sport. Teammates rely on one another, and sometimes their dependence becomes such that one may find it difficult to produce at an elite level without the other.
The following list of the most potent groupings in baseball history doesn’t purely lean on statistics or longevity. While some duos, trios and quartets had better numbers or played together longer, they lacked a special kinship that bound them. And while all of the names of this list would have managed just fine on their own, the linkage with their partners took their game to a higher level.
Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio
Few major league duos have been as productive as statistical brothers in arms than these two Hall of Famers, who played their entire careers with the Houston Astros. Biggio came up in 1988, playing okay ball until the arrival of Bagwell three years later; from there, it was love at first sight in the box scores. Whenever Bagwell stepped to the plate, chances are Biggio would be somewhere on base—and then, moments later, he wouldn’t, with Bagwell bringing him home.
The pair were never better than between 1994-2000, when the high offensive times of the era catapulted their numbers to ridiculous heights; thanks to this period, the Astros’ all-time season records in runs, doubles, home runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and hit-by-pitches are all owned by either Bagwell or Biggio.
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz
Baseball has had many so-called “Big Threes,” where a trio of pitching aces dominate amid the same starting rotation. But none enjoyed a more fruitful and extended lifespan than these three Atlanta star pitchers—something all the more amazing considering that they flowered together at roughly the same time as the aforementioned Bagwell and Biggio, a period when most every other pitcher in the majors had no chance against hitters either jacked up on steroids and/or clobbering a jacked-up baseball. Glavine and Smoltz evolved as top pitchers for the Braves in the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until Maddux joined them in 1994 from the Chicago Cubs that the Atlanta rotation truly became an impenetrable force to be reckoned with.
During their 10 years together, the three aces combined for four Cy Young Awards, and all three finished in the NL’s top 10 three times in ERA, three times in wins, twice in innings pitched, twice in opposing batting average and once each in complete games and WHIP (walk and hits allowed per inning). The triumvirate took on a twist in 2002 when, during their final year together, Smoltz—rebounding from Tommy John surgery—converted into a closer and set a then-NL record with 55 saves. A year later, Glavine bolted to the New York Mets, followed by Maddux’ departure back to Chicago a year after that. All three pitchers entered the Hall of Fame on their first ballot.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
Let’s set the record immediately straight on this one: Without Gehrig, Babe Ruth still would have been remembered as the greatest of all time, while Gehrig still would have easily made Cooperstown without Ruth. But the two legends, who featured together for a decade, seemed inseparable as a brand; after all, it’s hard to think of Fred Astaire without Ginger Rogers, or Paul McCartney without John Lennon, though they all remained incomparable on their own.
When Ruth and Gehrig were at the top of their game together, there was no stopping them and, by extension, the New York Yankees, who were always part of the World Series conversation (and often, celebration). Opposing pitchers facing the Yankees had to momentarily swallow their pride as they had no choice but to face Ruth and Gehrig, frequently batting third and fourth in the order. The numbers justified the anxieties of those hurlers; the duo placed 1-2 on the American League leaderboard five times in home runs, four times in runs, four times in slugging percentage, three times in RBIs and three times in on-base percentage. Even with so much hitting excellence elsewhere around the league (Jimmie Foxx, Goose Goslin, Al Simmons, Henry Heilmann, etc.), Ruth and Gehrig stood head and shoulders as the most dominant pair of teammates in baseball history.
The Dodgers and the Giants
How is it that baseball’s most longstanding rivalry gets on this list? After all, this is not a case of two peas in a pod embracing one another—at least not on the field. But off it, there’s little argument that these two teams need each other more than most people would think. It all comes down to geographics; when the Brooklyn Dodgers were plotting to move to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, owner Walter O’Malley nudged rival New York Giants lord Horace Stoneham, mulling his own move to Minneapolis, to instead come to San Francisco; the two West Coast cities already loved poking at one another, so why not intensify it by throwing the Dodgers-Giants loathe-fest into the mix? Stoneham agreed, shifted his focus to the City by the Bay, and the animosity continued.
Fast forward 35 years, and the Giants looked ready to relocate clear across the country again, this time back east to Florida and St. Petersburg. The deal was essentially done, but Major League Baseball stepped in, looking desperately to find a new buyer in San Francisco. One was found and approved—even as it offered a lower bid to stay in crummy, cold Candlestick Park, where it would lose millions as opposed to the riches of a brand-new domed paradise in sunny, untapped Florida. Why possibly was this allowed to happen? The Dodgers, of course; they were way too happy (read: profitable) back in Los Angeles and weren’t ready to move out with the Giants to, say, Orlando or Jacksonville. But they, along with MLB, simply didn’t want to see their historic rivalry with the Giants suddenly separated by 3,000 miles. We acknowledge that this is something of a conspiracy theory—but as conspiracists often like to say, prove us wrong.
Billy Martin and Art Fowler
The most obscure pairing on this list involves Martin—one of baseball’s most famous and tumultuous managers—and Fowler, his sidekick in the shadows; wherever Martin went, Fowler followed, serving as his faithful pitching coach, loyal friend and fellow drinking buddy. Without Fowler, Martin’s managerial career would have been just as tempestuous—but nowhere near as successful.
The two met while teammates in the minors in 1950, and they quickly established a strong friendship that lasted all the way to Martin’s death in 1989. When the Minnesota Twins gave Martin his first managerial job in 1969, he brought in Fowler—who in his late 40s was still pitching for the Pacific Coast League—and continued to follow Martin wherever he went as a pilot, whether it was to Detroit, Texas, Oakland or his myriad of tenures with George Steinbrenner and the Yankees. Whereas Martin always wore out his welcome due to his volatile nature, Fowler simply wore out his pitchers—forging 300+ innings from the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich (including an eye-popping 376 in 1971) and the Rangers’ Fergie Jenkins (325 in 1974), before crashing an entire rotation at Oakland with five young, talented A’s starters who in 1980 exhausted themselves with 93 complete games before they all fell apart in the next few years. But there was no denying the short-term success of Martin/Fowler, frequently building winning teams and reaching the postseason five times—twice winning the World Series together.
Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale
Debuting as 19-year olds for the Dodgers in the mid-1950s, the Brooklyn-born Koufax and California-bred Drysdale formed what many consider to be baseball’s most dominant 1-2 pitching punch. This was especially true during a five-year period (1962-66) when Koufax, who in many people’s minds was the statistical alpha between the two, led the NL in ERA each of those seasons. Yet Drysdale was hardly a second banana; he annually listed as an All-Star, winning the 1962 Cy Young Award, tirelessly starting at least 40 games a season, and keeping opponents on their toes (or more accurately, their heels or even their butts) with his unapologetic approach to throwing high and very tight.
Realizing how joined at the hip they had become after combining for 49 wins in 1965, Koufax and Drysdale staged a joint holdout the following spring with the help of an agent—an unorthodox move for the time—attempting to suck a three-year, million-dollar contract from the Dodgers for the two to share. The Dodgers publicly laughed it off, but privately they were nervous that it might be the beginning of a challenge to baseball’s hallowed reserve clause, at a time when future union boss Marvin Miller began introducing himself at MLB clubhouses. Still, the team had enough leverage to wet the pitchers’ beaks without meeting their demands.
Koufax, citing an overworked arm, retired after 1966; without him, Drysdale plodded along for three more years, looking lost without his long-time compadre except for a record-breaking run of 58 consecutive scoreless innings during 1968’s “Year of the Pitcher.”
Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow
Moving from the mound to the booth, no two guys in baseball are more buddy-buddy than “Kruk and Kuip,” who for over 30 years have entertained and informed San Francisco Giants fans with their wit and good knowledge of the game. “As good as it gets,” Joe Buck once said of the pair on air.
It’s a shame that only individuals are elected into the broadcaster’s wing of the Hall of Fame; if Kruk and Kuip were ever elected, it would only make sense for them to go in together. Either way, the question is: What are these voters waiting for?
Both Krukow and Kuiper emerged on the major league scene in the 1970s—the former winning 124 games, the latter hitting one career homer—and were in the high percentile of players from an era excelling at providing quick, witty quotes. They crossed paths in 1983 when they became teammates in San Francisco, reuniting in the booth 11 years later on a full-time basis; it’s a perfect union that has lasted through to the present day, even as health issues have threatened the duo’s presence. Kruk and Kuip have no plans to retire, stating that they’ll remain together for as long as they are able to do so.
Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance
Their reputation may have preceded them, but what a reputation it was. You can thank Franklin Adams for that; he was the poet/New York Giants fan who in 1910 penned Baseball’s Sad Lexicon, a melancholy ode to the Chicago Cubs’ double-play combination of shortstop Tinker, second baseman Evers and first baseman/manager Chance which immortally began with, “These are the saddest of possible words: ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’” Appearing in the New York Evening Mail, Adams’ poem struck a chord with Giants fans tiring of the Cubs’ infield trio—and the Cubs in general—always getting the better of their team.
The three players first appeared on the field together late in 1902 when Tinker and Evers were both rookies, and were in peak form when the Cubs won three straight pennants from 1906-08, the latter two leading to the Cubs’ last world titles for over the next 100 years.
They thrived in spite of themselves. Tinker and Evers stopped speaking to one another after a 1905 spat over a cab ride. It must have been some spat; the resulting silence between them lasted 33 years. Meanwhile, a series of beanings reduced Chance to a virtual full-time manager by 1911. The three last appeared at their positions together early in 1912; after that season, Tinker bolted when he learned that Evers would be the new Cubs’ boss, replacing the New York Highlanders (Yankees)-bound Chance.
So historically intertwined was this trio that they were voted into the Hall of Fame together in 1946.
Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell
No two teammates were joined at the hip more than Trammell and Whitaker, who manned Detroit’s middle infield together for a major league-record 1,918 games over 19 straight seasons (1977-95). They saw it all during this time, from Mark Fidrych to a 1984 world title to 103 losses in 1989 to the Tigers’ ‘three-outcomes’ rosters of the mid-1990s. It’s especially remarkable that the two stayed together for so long on the same team, considering the turbulent era they performed in when such tandems could have easily been broken up by free agency, trades or new leadership, whether in the dugout or front office.
Trammell and Whitaker first met in Florida during the 1976 Fall Instructional League, where they became not just roommates but good friends; the next season, they starred as the keystone combo for Double-A Montgomery, then were called up in September and made their major league debut together for the Tigers at Boston, combining for five hits in eight at-bats. They became starters in 1978 and remained so into the 1990s, having accumulated a combined 11 All-Star appearances, eight Silver Slugger awards and seven Gold Gloves. It was hard not to think of one without thinking of the other; Hollywood concurred, bringing both players on for a cameo appearance in a 1984 episode of Magnum P.I., whose main character (played by Tom Selleck) always wore a Detroit cap.
The duo played their final game together on October 1, 1995, each getting in one at-bat and an inning on defense before being ceremoniously pulled by manager Sparky Anderson—who asked the two to autograph his scorecard. Whitaker retired after the season, while Trammell played one more year, finding himself sharing the middle infield with Mark Lewis.
Although the two had essentially the same set of individual numbers—per example, Whitaker collected 2,369 hits to Trammell’s 2,365—only Trammell is currently in the Hall of Fame. It’s hoped that Whitaker’s time will come, sooner or later.
Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey
While there have been many cases in baseball history in which duos and trios have made for long stretches of togetherness as we’ve thus far listed, nothing tops the sustained stability and success of the four members of the Dodgers’ infield that starred as one for nine solid years.
It took some fine-tuning to get this historic, longstanding Los Angeles infield set at their proper positions. Garvey joined the Dodgers in 1969 as a third baseman, where he thrived with the glove but continuously erred with his throws; two problems were solved at once when, in 1972, he moved to a more appropriate spot at first while accommodating the arrival of Cey at third. Russell was initially brought on as an outfielder before settling in at shortstop. Lopes filled out the foursome by becoming a full-time regular in 1973.
Together, ‘The Infield’ resuscitated the Dodgers out of the brief, post-Koufax/Drysdale doldrums in which the team had sputtered in the standings. From 1973-81, the four players combined for 21 All-Star spots, one MVP (Garvey, in 1974) and five Gold Gloves, while the team as a whole won four NL pennants; they might have notched even more had they not been stuck in the same division with Cincinnati’s powerful ‘Big Red Machine’ of the 1970s. The Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey grouping also ignited a blockbuster resurgence at the box office, as Dodger Stadium attendance swelled from 1.5 million before their arrival to an unprecedented three million by 1978.
The foursome ended their time on top, winning their lone world title together over the rival Yankees in 1981. Following that season, Lopes was traded to Oakland, followed by the free-agent departures of Garvey and Cey a year later; Russell remained until his retirement after 1986.
Interestingly, despite the profound success of The Infield, none of its four performers are in the Hall of Fame—not even Garvey, the lead star of the group who six times collected 200 or more hits, batted .301 in his Dodger tenure, and became a love-him-or-hate-him baseball celebrity with his unapologetic, clean-cut All-American image.
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