Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Worst Seasons in Baseball History

The 1916 Athletics, one of baseball's worst teams ever
The Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros each had their worst season in franchise history in 2012. For the Rockies, it was a 64-98 record (.395 winning percentage). For the Astros, it was a 55-107 record (.340). It's sort impressive that two teams playing in the same league were both able to have their worst record. How do their marks stack up with other teams' worst ever records? What are the very worst records in modern history? What are the worst seasons in more recent history? Let's take a look.

Modern baseball history dates to 1901, when the American League began play. Many National League teams existed before 1901, but that's as far back as I'm going with this series (which will also examine the worst two and three-season stretches in baseball history). For better or for worse, the Cleveland Spiders are long gone, and their 1899 season, in which they went just 20-134 (.130) predates the modern era. You can read more about them here though, if you're interested. The Phillies and Cardinals also had some dreadful seasons in the 1800s, but they won't be included in this series.

In the chart that follows, the sixteen "original" teams are starred (these are the teams that played in 1901). Other franchises are listed with their first year of play. Some of these teams also played in different cities or even under different names at the time of their worst season, I've made note of that too. Also, ties used to be a semi-regular occurrence in baseball, teams in early 20th century would often finish with 3 or 4 of them. I'm ignoring all ties for this series, for what that's worth.

*This post was originally written just before the 2013 season began. It has been updated to include that season's Astros.

Worst Records in Modern History:

Rank
Year
Team
W-L (W%)
19t
1937
St. Louis Browns (Orioles)
46-108 (.299)
t19
1945
Philadelphia Phillies
46-108 (.299)
18
1939
Philadelphia Phillies
45-106 (.298)
17
1911
St. Louis Browns (Orioles)
45-107 (.296)
16
1909
Boston Doves (Braves)
45-108 (.294)
15
1911
Boston Rustlers (Braves)
44-107 (.291)
14
1915
Philadelphia Athletics
43-109 (.283)
13
1928
Philadelphia Phillies
43-109 (.283)
12
1932
Boston Red Sox
43-111 (.279)
11
1939
St. Louis Browns (Orioles)
43-111 (.279)
10
1941
Philadelphia Phillies
43-111 (.279)
9
1942
Philadelphia Phillies
42-109 (.278)
8
1909
Washington Senators (Twins)
42-110 (.276)
7
1952
Pittsburgh Pirates
42-112 (.273)
6
2003
Detroit Tigers
43-119 (.265)
5
1919
Philadelphia Athletics
36-104 (.257)
4
1904
Washington Senators (Twins)
38-113 (.252)
3
1962
New York Mets
40-120 (.250)
2
1935
Boston Braves
38-115 (.248)
1
1916
Philadelphia Athletics
36-117 (.235)


Philadelphia pulls in eight of those twenty seasons, five for the Phillies and three for the Athletics. The St. Louis Browns put up three of the very worst records before having their identify changed and being moved to a new city as part of the Witness Protection Program. And three cheers for Boston's National League team, which had a sub-.300 season as the Doves, another as the Rustlers, and another as Braves. Of course, that franchise has also won a World Series in three different cities, so there's that.

Each Franchise's Worst Season in Modern History:

Team
Season
W-L (W%)
Played As
Baltimore Orioles*
1939
43-111 (.279)
St. Louis Browns
Boston Red Sox*
1932
43-111 (.279)

Chicago White Sox*
1932
49-102 (.325)

Cleveland Indians*
1914
51-102 (.333)
 Cleveland Naps
Detroit Tigers*
2003
43-119 (.265)

Houston Astros (1962)
2013
51-111 (.315)

Kansas City Royals (1969)
2005
56-106 (.346)

Los Angeles Angels (1961)
1980
65-95 (.406)
California Angels
Minnesota Twins*
1904
38-113 (.252)
Washington Senators
New York Yankees*
1912
50-102 (.329)
New York Highlanders
Oakland Athletics*
1916
36-117 (.235)
Philadelphia Athletics
Seattle Mariners (1977)
1978
56-104 (.350)

Tampa Bay Rays (1998)
2002
55-106 (.342)
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Texas Rangers (1961)
1963
56-106 (.346)
Washington Senators
Toronto Blue Jays (1977)
1979
53-109 (.327)

Arizona Diamondbacks (1998)
2004
51-111 (.315)

Atlanta Braves*
1935
38-115 (.248)
Boston Braves
Chicago Cubs*
1962 & 1966
59-103 (.364)

Cincinnati Reds*
1934
52-99 (.344)

Colorado Rockies (1993)
2012
64-98 (.395)

Los Angeles Dodgers*
1905
48-104 (.316)
Brooklyn Superbas
Miami Marlins (1993)
1998
54-108 (.333)
Florida Marlins
Milwaukee Brewers (1969)
2002
56-106 (.346)

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

Philadelphia Phillies*
1942
42-109 (.278)

Pittsburgh Pirates*
1952
42-112 (.272)

San Diego Padres (1969)
1969
52-110 (.321)

San Francisco Giants*
1902
48-88 (.353)
New York Giants
St. Louis Cardinals*
1903
43-94 (.314)

Washington Nationals (1969)
1969
52-110 (.321)
Montreal Expos


The Angels are the only team to never win fewer than 40% of their games, which is fairly impressive. The Rockies 2012 mark is the "best" worst record of any National League team. The Angels have played 52 seasons and the Rockies have played 20. Looking at only the sixteen franchises who've been around since 1901, the one with the best worst season is the Cubs. Among the eight original American League teams, it's the Indians. Each of those teams has gone longer without winning the World Series than any other team in their respective league; it's a fun coincidence that they also share this bit of history.

Many teams' worst seasons clump together into a few different eras. Let's take a look at how many of these worst seasons each decade hosted, along with the very worst record by any team in that decade.

Worst Season For Each Decade:

Decade
Worst Team
W-L (W%)
Franchises Whose Worst Record Happened Then
1900s
1904 Senators 
38-113 (.252)
4
Twins, Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals
1910s
1916 Athletics
36-117 (.235)
3
Indians, Yankees, Athletics
1920s
1928 Phillies
43-109 (.283)
0

1930s
1935 Braves
38-115 (.248)
5
Orioles, Red Sox, White Sox, Braves, Reds
1940s
1942 Phillies
42-109 (.278)
1
Phillies
1950s
1952 Pirates
42-112 (.273)
1
Pirates
1960s
1962 Mets
40-120 (.250)
5
Rangers, Cubs, Mets, Padres, Nationals
1970s
1979 Blue Jays
53-109 (.327)
2
Mariners, Blue Jays
1980s
1988 Orioles
54-107 (.335)
1
Angels
1990s
1996 Tigers
53-109 (.327)
1
Marlins
2000s
2003 Tigers
43-119 (.265)
5
Tigers, Royals, Rays, Diamondbacks, Brewers
2010s
2013 Astros
51-111 (.315)
2
Astros, Rockies


Only two of the original sixteen teams have had their worst record come since expansion began in 1961, the Cubs and the Tigers. Seven of the fourteen expansion teams have had their worst record in one of their first five seasons, including three who had it in their very first year (Mets, Padres, Nationals/Expos).

The 2003 Tigers are the only team in the last fifty years to win less than 30% of their games, something that was far more common in the pre-expansion era. I suspect with so many more teams, it's that much harder for any one of them to be that much worse than their competition. Hats off to that Detroit team, they lost with the kind of gusto your grandfather could appreciate.

Of course, while every franchise has a worst season, some franchises have had a whole lot more bad seasons than others. There have been 59 seasons in modern history in which a team won less than one third of its games.

Most Seasons With Winning% Below .333:

11: Phillies
7: Athletics
6: Braves
5: Red Sox, Twins
4: Orioles, Mets
3: Tigers, Pirates
2: Yankees, Cardinals
1: Astros, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Padres, Nationals, White Sox
0: Indians, Royals, Angels, Mariners, Rays, Rangers, Cubs, Reds, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers, Giants

All seven of the Athletics' sub-.333 seasons came while they were still in Philadelphia, which means 18 of the 58 worst seasons came from teams playing in the City of Brotherly Love. All six of the Braves sub-.333 seasons came while they were still in Boston, meaning 11 of the 58 worst seasons came from teams playing there. With 29 sub-.333 seasons between them, Philadelphia and Boston have combined  for nearly half of the 59 worst records in modern baseball history. On the other end of the spectrum, Chicago has had just one season that bad, despite having had a team in each league since 1901.

A small number of those teams weren't even the worst team in baseball that season, and in many seasons the worst team isn't nearly that bad.

Most Seasons With Worst Record in MLB:

13: Phillies
12: Twins
11: Athletics
10: Orioles
7: Pirates
6: Red Sox, Braves, Mets
5: Tigers
4: Indians, Rays, Blue Jays, Nationals
3: Astros, White Sox, Mariners, Rangers, Padres
2: Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, Giants
1: Royals, Yankees, Diamondbacks, Reds, Marlins
0: Angels, Rockies, Brewers

Every one of the sixteen original teams has finished with the worst record at least once. The Yankees (1912) and Reds (1934) at just once apiece are both very impressive. I was surprised to see the Cubs have finished with the worst record only twice in franchise history, and to see that the Royals have held that distinction only once.

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There you have it, the worst seasons in modern history, and the worst of every decade, and the worst by every franchise. In Part II of this series, I'll look at the worst back-to-back seasons.

2 comments:

  1. The American League did not begin play in 1901. It began in 1894. Modern baseball did not begin in 1901; it began in 2000 when the NL and AL merged into one league.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      While some of the American League teams existed in some form earlier, they were considered minor league teams, and were bound by guidelines that had been established for minor leagues around the country. It was in 1901 that the AL became a "major" league and that year is the one most often cited as the beginning of baseball's modern era.

      And while the two leagues did officially merge in 2000, there were no significant rules changes caused by the merger. If I were looking for a more modern date to use as the start of an era, I would probably choose either the addition of wildcard teams in 1994, or the introduction of interleague play in 1997.

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