We’re into the top 100 in this countdown of my 250 favorite albums since 1950, each matched up with one of the 250 greatest player seasons in the same span. Check out Part I, Part II, and Part III for explanation of the process and for albums 250 to 101.
I’ll continue counting down the top 100 on Twitter, so follow @replevel for sneak peaks at the top 50. Now onto albums 100 through 51:
100. Halcyon Digest , Deerhunter , 2010 = Rich Gossage , 1975
One look at Goose’s mug and one is certain that he was no stranger to Deerhunting. He pitched 141 2/3 relief innings in 1975 with a .184 ERA, while deerhunter put out the best album of 2010.
99. Homogenic , Bjork , 1997 = Craig Biggio , 1997
Bjork and Biggio don’t have much in common besides alphabetical proximity, but you couldn’t get much better than either of them in 1997.
98. Pretenders , Pretenders , 1980 = Bob Veale , 1965
Veale’s 1965 was my favorite discovery related to this project. He struck out 276 and gave up just five home runs in 266 innings. Despite 119 walks, that gave him 8.5 WAR per fangraphs, which only measures fielding-independent outcomes in WAR. But the league hit .300 on balls in play against Veale, and 26.8% of baserunners came around to score against him, leaving him with an excellent, but not “1995 excellent” 2.84 ERA. Throw in 14 unearned runs allowed, and baseball-reference, which includes all outcomes in WAR, only gives him 3.7 WAR. I’m not sure if that makes him a Pretender, but it makes him one of the great outliers in any study of DIPS theory.
97. Hunky Dory , David Bowie , 1971 = Alex Rodriguez , 1996
Our last ARod-Bowie pairing, this may be each’s finest work. Rodriguez hit .358/.414/.631 as a 20-year-old, while a 24-year-old Bowie bridged straightforward classic rock with the shapeshfting that would define his subsequent work.
96. All Mod Cons , Jam , 1978 = Jim Bunning , 1966
Bunning would become a conservative politician in Kentucky after his playing career (hence the association with Cons, but in ’66, he was all pitcher, with a 2.41 ERA in 314 innings pitched.
95. Tago Mago , Can , 1971 = Rick Reuschel , 1977
Looking at Reuschel’s physique, it seems just as unlikely that he would be an elite athlete as it is that a German band with a Japanese frontman playing 20-minute songs without anything resembling singing would record one of the 100 best albums ever.
94. Things Fall Apart , Roots , 1999 = Jacoby Ellsbury , 2011
Ellsbury has had a solid career when healthy, but 2011 is the only year when things didn’t fall apart for him. He responded with 32 homers and 39 steals. For the Roots, this album title would not portend their future, as their star has grown exponentially since their ’99 masterpiece.
93. Kid A , Radiohead , 2000 = Pedro Martinez , 2000
The future was here in the year 2000, both in the music world, where Radiohead released their most daring and unpredictable album in Kid A, and in the American League, where Martinez struck out 284 batters on his way to a 1.74 ERA in a league where teams averaged 5.3 runs per game.
92. Chutes Too Narrow , Shins , 2003 = Jim Wynn , 1969
The Toy Cannon’s best season meets what may be a defective game of Chutes and Ladders (or maybe just the best pop album of the last decade).
91. Remain in Light , Talking Heads , 1980 = Nomar Garciaparra , 2000
As hard as it may be to believe that Remain in Light will be 33 this year, it’s even crazier to me that Nomar, who remains in the spotlight as an analyst, hit .372 13 years ago.
90. On Fire , Galaxie 500 , 1989 = Jim Maloney , 1965
Neither the first nor the last pairing I’ll base on obscurity, as Galaxie 500 never reached far beyond Harvard, while Maloney didn’t leave much of a legacy beyond his 2.54 ERA in 255 1/3 innings in 1965.
89. Blonde on Blonde , Bob Dylan , 1966 = Carl Yastrzemski , 1970
The album that followed Dylan’s masterpiece meets the season three years after Yastrzemski’s. Carl had a .452 OBP, 40 homers, and 23 steals, nearly as many awesome feats as double album Blonde has classic tracks.
88. Fleet Foxes , Fleet Foxes , 2008 = Tim Raines , 1985
In perhaps his most fleet-of-foot season, Raines stole 70 bases (and batted .320) in 1985.
87. For Emma, Forever Ago , Bon Iver , 2007 = Johan Santana , 2004
Doesn’t it seem like forever ago that Santana was the best pitcher in baseball, striking out 265 with a 2.61 ERA in 2004?
86. Blue Train , John Coltrane , 1957 = Roberto Clemente , 1967
Coltrane and Clemente top their ’64 and ’68 efforts, respectively, with the sublime Blue Train and a .357 batting average.
85. Tea for the Tillerman , Cat Stevens , 1970 = John Tudor , 1985
Otherwise just a guy whose name starts with T, Tudor was the man in ’85, with 10 shutouts and a 1.93 ERA in 275 innings pitched.
84. Occasional Rain , Terry Callier , 1972 = Larry Dierker , 1969
Dierker was a quietly excellent pitcher who rose to slightly greater fame as a manager in his post-playing career. Similarly, Callier was little-known when he recorded some of the greatest work in the jazz-folk canon, but achieved a modicum of fame in a reunion tour with Beth Ortion 25 years later.
83. I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You) , Aretha Franklin , 1967 = Cliff Lee , 2011
I never loved a baseball player the way I loved Lee when he shut down the Yankees in the 2009 World Series, and again in the 2010 ALCS. Lee’s gift for the strike zone (238 K/42 BB in 2011) rivals Franklin’s otherworldly voice.
82. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band , Beatles , 1967 = Willie Mays , 1955
It’s easy to look at Mays’s 1955 numbers, including 51 homers and a .400 OBP, and think it was his best season, but it’s actually tied for eighthin his career in rWAR (8.8). Sgt. Pepper is likewise the most recognizeable record in the Beatles’ collection, but I prefer albums they recorded both earlier and later.
81. Gulag Orkestar , Beirut , 2006 = Fred Lynn , 1979
This wasn’t the year Lynn won MVP and Rookie of the Year, but his success from a young age recalls that of Zach Condon, who recorded this album (as Beirut) at age 19.
80. Hospice , Antlers , 2009 = Warren Spahn , 1953
Hospice goes to the second-oldest pitcher on the list, Warren Spahn, who was already 32 when he spun off a 23-7, 2.10 season in 1953, his best of this era.
79. The Shape of Jazz to Come , Ornette Coleman , 1959 = Ralph Kiner , 1951
Kiner hit 42 homers in ’51, after topping 50 twice in the ’40s, and walked a career-high 137 times. Like Coleman’s masterstroke, this method of accumulating value was rare at the time, but would come into fashion decades later.
78. Bitte Orca , Dirty Projectors , 2009 = Carlos Beltran , 2006
Bitte Orca was an unexpected triumph, tinkering around the edges of rock, pop, and jazz. Beltran broke out in ’04 and followed that up with his best season in ’06, hitting 41 regular season homers and adding three in the NLCS.
77. Live at the Apollo , James Brown , 1963 = Nolan Ryan , 1973
The hardest working man in show business probably would have thrown in the towel before Ryan, who pitched 326 innings, facing 1,355 batters and striking out a record 383, in 1973.
76. At Folsom Prison , Johnny Cash , 1968 = Manny Ramirez , 1999
Yup, the only two live albums on my list come in back-to-back, this one celebrating crime, death, and other things as unsavory as relieving oneself inside the Green Monster and evaluating players based on RBI (Manny had 165 in ’99).
75. Led Zeppelin II , Led Zeppelin , 1969 = Bob Gibson , 1970
The same year Zeppelin released their earth-shattering debut, they dropped the nearly-as-electric II. Two years after Gibson’s most legendary effort, he still had it too, going 23-7 with 274 strikeouts.
74. At Last! , Etta James , 1960 = Bert Blyleven , 1973
At last, Etta’s love has come along and Blyleven has ascended to his rightful place in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Of course, this album is much more than the timeless title track, and Blyleven was much more than the nine shutouts he threw in ’73, on the way to a 2.52 ERA.
73. Silver Apples , Silver Apples , 1968 = Rico Petrocelli , 1969
Two shooting stars who were as good as anyone in the late ’60s and faded away quickly. Petrocelli hit 40 homers as a shortstop in 1969.
72. I See a Darkness , Bonnie Prince Billy , 1999 = John Olerud , 1993
I’m not sure what Olerud saw from under that fielding helmet, but he had a .473 OBP in 1993, which is half as impressive as Will Oldham’s finest hour, the flawless I See a Darkness.
71. Horses , Patti Smith , 1976 = Don Drysdale , 1964
Drysdale threw 321 1/3 innings in 1964, finishing with a 2.14 ERA. In just about any era, that constitutes a horse.
70. Are You Experienced , Jimi Hendrix Experience , 1967 = Barry Bonds , 2002
By 2002, yes, Bonds was experienced. Enough so, in fact, that he drew 198 walks on top of his .370 batting average, good for an absurd .582 OBP. As stunning as Hendrix’s debut was, I’m not sure it was more impressive than Bonds in ’02.
69. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady , Charles Mingus , 1963 = Tom Seaver , 1973
Another candidate for Greatest Pitcher Ever, Seaver only lands on this list twice, but I’ve done him the honor of matching him up with one of jazz’s true geniuses. Seaver threw 18 complete games in ’73.
68. Wowee Zowee , Pavement , 1995 = Hank Aaron , 1963
Either ’61 or ’63 was Aaron’s best year. I’m going with a 44-homer, 121-run slugfest in a year when no one hit 61 homers to match up with the culmination of Pavement’s near-unprecedented early-career run.
67. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs , Derek and the Dominos , 1970 = Barry Bonds, 1990
If Bonds was Cream, who else could be Eric Clapton’s next project? In 1990, Barry hit 33 homers and stole 52 bases, making his mark in the NL. In 1970, Clapton dueled with Duane Allman in rock’s greatest supergroup.
66. The Ramones , Ramones , 1976 = Mario Soto , 1982
Soto was famous for his fiery temper and occasional run-ins with umpires, showing a bit of the punk attitude the Ramones invented with their three-chord assault six years earlier.
65. Let it Be , Replacements , 1984 = Curtis Granderson , 2007
Granderson was a well-rounded hitter in ’07, with more than 20 doubles, triples, homers, and stolen bases, but has since devolved into an all-or-nothing guy, striking out almost 200 times a year and leading the league in negative dWAR, but still hitting plenty of homers. The Replacements’ best album is an all-or-nothing affair, alternating between introspective ballads and teenage punk-outs.
64. Pink Flag , Wire , 1977 = Wilbur Wood , 1972
Wilbur Wood was one of the best pitchers of the early 1970s, starting nearly 50 games a season from ’71 to ’75 and compiling a 2.51 ERA in a league-leading 376 2/3 innings in ’72, but all those innings caught up to him, as he never pitched a full season after age 33. Wire put out three of the best albums of the last half of the decade, including this genre-defining debut, before fading into obscurity when the ’80s hit.
63. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot , Wilco , 2002 = Roy Halladay , 2011
Any album Wilco released between the mid ’90s and mid ’00s might be considered their best, but I prefer the complex, contemplative YHF. Similarly, Halladay’s been among the best pitcher in baseball almost every year for the last decade, but I’ll take 2011 based on his 220 strikeouts and 35 walks.
62. The Cars , Cars , 1978 = Eric Gagne , 2003
The Cars’ debut is full of radio-friendly material, with no track less than stellar. Gagne was similarly consistent in 2003, converting 55 of 55 save opportunities.
61. The Bends , Radiohead , 1995 = Pedro Martinez , 1997
Here’s an early entry from Radiohead’s catalog, more straightforward than anything they’ve put out since, and an early entry from Pedro’s career, his first Cy Young season, in which he had 1.90 ERA for the Expos.
60. Illmatic , Nas , 1992 = Edgar Martinez , 1995
One of the great hip-hop albums of all time, Nas’s debut stands out from a genre underrepresented in my list. Edgar’s ’95 is one of very few DH seasons on the list, but a .479 OBP with 52 doubles stands out among the subset.
59. Third/Sister Lovers , Big Star , 1978 = Mark Fidrych , 1976
The Bird’s ’76 is one of the most fascinating seasons in baseball history, with 24 complete games, hundreds of baseballs talked to, and millions of fans captivated. Big Star’s swan song was just as brilliant and just as baffling, shrouded in chaos and animosity, but brimming with emotional energy.
58. Dummy , Portishead , 1994 = Andruw Jones , 2000
Portishead never had much competition at the top of the trip-hop game, and sic Jones stood out just as much over the field of defensive center fielders. If only Portishead cared enough to make more than three albums and Jones kept himself in shape into his thirties…
57. Ritual de lo Habitual , Jane’s Addiction , 1990 = Eddie Mathews , 1953
Jane’s Addiction never ascended to the rock pantheon because they broke up too soon, while Mathews was somehow underappreciated despite hitting over 500 home runs and retiring as the best third baseman ever.
56. Astral Weeks , Van Morrison , 1968 = Pete Rose , 1973
Morrison and Rose both rose to prominence in the ’60s, played brilliantly throughout the ’70s, and hung on into the ’80s. Despite the depth of their catalogs, each landed just one album/season on this list.
55. Paul’s Boutique , Beastie Boys , 1989 = Steve Carlton , 1980
By 1989, the Beastie Boys had been hardcore metal heroes, rap pioneers, and party soundtracks, but with Paul’s Boutique, they raised the stakes, creating the perfect sample-based record. By 1980, Carlton had been a strikeout king, a Cy Young winner, and a surefire Hall of Famer, but in ’80, he raised the stakes with three postseason wins on the way to a World Series title.
54. For Your Pleasure , Roxy Music , 1973 = Bobby Grich , 1973
Music critics hang on Brian Eno’s every word and revere Roxy Music’s early work, and SABR-types love Grich’s all-around excellence and trumpet his MVP credentials, but neither means much to the average fan. In ’73, both peaked, with Roxy Music recording a stunning piece of pop art and Grich reaching base at a .373 clip and providing 3.9 dWAR at second base.
53. Beggars Banquet , Rolilng Stones , 1968 = Mickey Mantle , 1955
If Mays is the Beatles, Mantle is certainly the Rolling Stones, playing much of his career in Mays’s shadow and occasionally showing him up for a season or two at a time. In ’55, Mantle hit .306/.431/.611 and out-WARed Mays by almost half a win.
52. Bryter Later , Nick Drake , 1970 = Todd Helton , 2000
Here are Drake and Helton again, this time giving their best performances. Helton hit .372/.463/.698. Read that line again.
51. Reckoning , REM , 1984 = Roger Clemens , 1997
This is the peak for both REM, building on their groundbreaking debut with some of their best garage pop, and Clemens, striking out 292 in 264 innings on his way to 11.8 rWAR.