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John Donovan Inside Baseball

The (dis)honor roll

Tigers have plentyof company among all-time worst teams

Posted: Thursday September 4, 2003 1:21PM; Updated: Thursday September 4, 2003 2:40PM
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If we're talking winning percentage alone, or even total losses, if we're talking all-time worst, the 2003 Detroit Tigers can breathe easy. Or at least easier. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders have them covered on all counts.

The problem is, the cellar-dwelling Spiders just don't get lumped among the all-time worst teams that often, even though they went 20-134 back in '99 for an incredibly bad .130 winning percentage. That's because the Spiders played when the ball was dead, the statistics were all screwed up and the players had names like "Sport" and "Crazy" and "Highball."

So, throwing everything pre-1900 out of the mix, the Tigers can't take it easy. If they keep going like they're going, in fact, they are about to get lumped in with the 1962 New York Mets as one of the worst teams in baseball. Ever.

It's not a nice place to be lumped. But, if it's any consolation, there is a lump there. A big lump.

Here's a look at the worst lumps -- ah, teams -- in major-league history, by winning percentage, post-1900.

And pre-2003 Tigers.

The 1916 Philadelphia Athletics (36-117, .235)

Forget the '62 Mets, for now. This is the team the Tigers really want to avoid. The Athletics hold the American League record for most losses in a single season. The '03 Tigers are already on pace to supplant them.

The '16 Athletics were the boys of Hall of Fame skipper Connie Mack, who toiled from 1901 through 1950 in Philadelphia with some wildly different results. He won the World Series in 1913 and the AL pennant in '14.

But by '15, the Athletics were on their way down, losing 109 games that year. It was the first of what would become a major-league record 15 100-loss seasons by this franchise (which later would move to Kansas City and then Oakland).

In '16, they bottomed out, finishing in last place, 54 games behind the Red Sox.

Nap Lajoie, the Athletics' second baseman, was 41 years old that season. He hit a career-low .246 and quit afterward, ending a 21-year career that would land him in the Hall of Fame. No thanks, of course, to the '16 Athletics.

The 1935 Boston Braves (38-115, .248)

Before they left for Milwaukee (where they won the World Series in 1957) and before they moved to Atlanta (where they won another and have been in quite a few others), the Braves were pretty bad in Beantown.

The Boston Braves had only 12 winning seasons and won only two pennants (including a World Series in 1914) from 1900 until the team's move to Wisconsin in 1952. They lost 100 games or more 11 times in that half-century or so.

The 1935 team was the worst.

Things started out well. Babe Ruth, who at 40 had been let go by the Yankees, was on this team, and in his first at-bat, against the Giants' Carl Hubbell, the Babe homered in his NL debut. It was home run No. 709.

Things went down hill in a hurry from there. The Braves ended up with a .263 batting average, the league's worst, and a 4.73 ERA, also bottom in the league. Ruth struggled through June and finally took himself out of the lineup. He had hit five more home runs in his last year, for a career total of 714.

The 1962 New York Mets (40-120, .250)

Ah, the Pinnacle of Pathetic, the veritable Grail of Gawdawfulness. The '62 Mets own the record for the most losses in a single season, post-1900. And, boy, did they earn that distinction.

A collection of castoffs and re-treads, the Mets were an expansion team meant to take the place of the Dodgers and Giants in the hearts of New Yorkers. Managed by the irascible Casey Stengel, who turned 72 that season, the Mets struck a chord with fans by being lovable losers from the get-go.

When he was named manager, the lead-tongued Stengel reportedly told the press that he was delighted to take over the "Knickerbockers" and to play in the "Polar Grounds."

The Mets committed 210 errors in their 162 games, had an ERA of 5.04 and had losing streaks of 11, 12 and 17 games. They opened 0-9. They finished 60 games behind the San Francisco Giants. They were mathematically eliminated from the pennant race on Aug. 7.

The Mets' most recognizable player was their lug of a first baseman, "Marvelous" Marv Throneberrry. Their best pitcher was Roger Craig, who won a National League pennant as manager of the Giants in 1989. With the Mets of '62, Craig was 10-24.

But, really, just how bad were the '62 Mets?

"The only thing worse than a Mets game," Stengel once reportedly said, "is a Mets doubleheader."

The 1904 Washington Senators (38-113, .251)

This was not the same team that became the Texas Rangers of today. But, like today's Rangers, these Senators had no pitching. In a deadball era, they had a 3.62 ERA. It was the worst in the league.

As bad as they pitched, the Senators were even worse at the plate. No regular hit better than .262 and the team's batting average was a league-worst .227. Even in a deadball era, that was 17 points below the league average.

It wasn't that way all over the league. Cleveland's Nap Lajoie -- who 12 years later would be on the awful '16 Athletics -- led the AL with a .376 average that season, his third batting title in four years.

The Senators -- these Senators later would become the Minnesota Twins -- were so poor in '04 that they finished 13 games out. Of last place. That was 55 games behind the pennant-winning Red Sox.

The 1919 Philadelphia Athletics (36-104, .257)

The '19 Athletics were not much better than the '16 squad (above). Mack still was the manager. Lajoie had retired. This was mostly a team of no-names and never-would-bes that has been lost in one of the most famed years in baseball history.

This was the season that Boston's Babe Ruth really came into being The Babe, blasting a record 29 home runs and going 9-5 in 17 starts for the Red Sox. After the season, Boston owner Harry Frazee, pinched for cash, sold Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000, and a curse was born.

This was also the season for the infamous Black Sox scandal, in which several members of the AL champion Chicago White Sox threw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds (though few knew until the next year).

In Philly, the Athletics were led by pitcher Rollie Naylor (5-18, 3.34 ERA) and first baseman George Burns (.296, eight homers, 57 RBIs). The Athletics would lose 100 games in each of the next two seasons, too, before making the climb back up and winning back-to-back World Series in 1929 and '30.

The 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates (42-112, .273)

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This was the first of three straight miserable seasons for the Pirates, who lost 104 the next season and 101 in 1954. In '52, it wasn't all that surprising. The Pirates were all but a one-man team.

Ah, but that one man. In 1952, Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, one of the most remarkable sluggers of the time, smashed 37 home runs.

It marked the seventh consecutive season that Kiner had led, or had a share of the league lead, in home runs. It's a mark that stands today.

Kiner hit only .244 that year, the best of a team that was worst in the league with a .231 average. Kiner would retire prematurely a few years afterward with a bad back.

Later, he'd become a broadcaster. For the Mets.

The 1909 Washington Senators (42-110, .276)

A terrible pitching team that was the worst in the league in ERA (3.04 in the deadball era), the '09 Senators had one redeeming value.

He was a 21-year old who went 13-25 in '39, with a 2.22 ERA (again, that dead ball) and worked almost 300 innings. As bad as his numbers turned out to be, it would be his last losing season for 10 years, a streak in which he won at least 20 games every year (and he won 36 in 1913).

The big right-hander from Humboldt, Kan., eventually went on to win 417 games -- losing only 279 -- with a lifetime ERA of 2.17.

It tells you how bad the '09 Senators were that even Hall of Famer Walter "Big Train" Johnson couldn't help them.

The 1941 (43-111, .279) and '42 (42-109, .278) Philadelphia Phillies

It's hard to separate these two Philadelphia failures. They are maybe the worst back-to-back duds in the history of baseball. The Mets, for instance, followed their disastrous debut by losing 111 games in '63, giving them 231 losses in their first two years of existence. But the Mets were 51-111 in '63, which is a .315 winning percentage, which is a lot better than either of these Philly stiffs.

And at least the Mets showed improvement.

Doc Prothro and Hans Lobert, two short-tenured skippers who were responsible for four 100-loss seasons in the four total seasons they managed, were at the helm of the Phillies of '41 and '42. But they could hardly be blamed.

The Phils had second baseman Danny Murtaugh (a .254 career hitter and, later, a World Series winning manager with the Pirates), outfielder Danny Litwhiler (an All-Star in '42) and righty Cy Blanton (an All-Star in '41, though he ended up 6-13). Hardly the stuff of championships.

These two Philadelphia teams marked the tail end of five straight 100-loss seasons for the Phillies, a major-league record. The Phillies hold the NL record for most 100-loss seasons, at 14.

The 1932 Boston Red Sox (43-111, .279)

After Boston won the World Series in 1918 -- it was, as any suffering fan of Red Sox Nation will tell you, the last time Boston won the World Series -- the Red Sox went 15 straight years without getting to .500.

The drought was at its driest in 1932. The Red Sox finished 64 games behind that year. Behind, as you might suspect, the first-place Yankees.

Like many of these all-time worst teams, the Red Sox were both the worst-hitting (.251) and worst-pitching (.502 ERA) team in the league in 1932. They started 11-44 (.200) under manager Shano Collins, who then was replaced by Marty McManus, who took them the final 99 games (32-67, .323).

First baseman Dale Alexander hit .372, outfielder Smead Jolley led the team with 18 homers and 99 RBIs and right-hander Ivy Paul Andrews was the only Red Sox starter with a winning record. He went 8-6 after coming to the Red Sox in a trade with the Yankees.

The 1939 St. Louis Browns (43-111, .279)

There was a first baseman on this team, George McQuinn, who hit .316, who was second in the league with 195 hits and was an All-Star, the first of his seven All-Star trips.

So much for the good stuff.

The '39 Browns -- they'd later move to Baltimore and become the Orioles -- were just a terrible pitching team. The Browns had a 6.01 ERA. They allowed a staggering 1,035 runs, which works out to almost seven runs a game. The major-league record for giving up the most runs in a season belongs to the '30 Philadelphia Phillies (52-102), who allowed 1,199 in 156 games (about 7.7 runs a game). The AL record is property of the 1996 Detroit Tigers (53-109), who allowed 1,103 in 162 games (about 6.8). So, if you're figuring runs per game, the '39 Browns may have had one of the worst staffs ever, certainly in the AL.

Right-hander Vern Kennedy, who was an All-Star in '36 with the Chicago White Sox when he went 21-9, was 9-17 for the Browns after arriving in a trade from Detroit. Rookie Jack Kramer, who would become an All-Star after World War II, was 9-16 with a 5.83 ERA.

It was also the rookie year for skipper Fred "Pudge" Haney, who would lose 100 games three more times -- once more with the Browns and twice with the Pittsburgh Pirates -- before winning a World Series in Milwaukee in 1957.

John Donovan is a senior writer for SI.com.

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