Just as the conversation about the greatest teams of all time usually starts with the 1927 New York Yankees, the conversation about the worst teams of all time usually begins with the 1962 New York Mets. In their first season, the Mets won 40 games, lost 120, and finished 601/2 games out of first place.
What some people don't know is that the 1962 Mets' .250 winning percentage is not the worst of all time, nor even the worst of the twentieth century. The 1916 Philadelphia Athletics won 36 games and lost 117, which works out to a neat .235 winning percentage. They finished 541/2 games out of first place and 40 games behind the team that finished next to last. Take a look at the 1916 A.L. standings:
Team W L Pct GB
Boston Red Sox 91 63 .591 -
Chicago White Sox 89 65 .578 2.0
Detroit Tigers 87 67 .565 4.0
New York Yankees 80 74 .519 11.0
Team W L Pct GB
St. Louis Browns 79 75 .513 12.0
Cleveland Indians 77 77 .500 14.0
Washington Senators 76 77 .497 14.5
Philadelphia Athletics 36 117 .235 54.5
Every team in the league except the Athletics spent at least three days in first place. The seventh-place Senators, who missed a chance at .500 because one of their games with the Athletics was rained out, were in first place for 16 days, and the sixth-place Indians spent 47 days in first, more than any other team except the pennant-winning Red Sox. Another quirky thing about this league and the Athletics were the consistent records of the A's against every other team in the league:
Opponent Athletics' 1916 Record
New York 7-15
St. Louis 5-17
That's just bizarre. The 1962 Mets, for example, were 9-9 against the Cubs (who went 59-103), 2-16 against the Dodgers, and 6-12 against the Braves. Anyway, the 1916 Athletics were truly terrible. They are the only team in the twentieth century whose offensive and defensive SD score components were both -2.00 or worse. Their overall SD score, -4.39, is horrendous. Remember, when a team's SD score is +3.00 or higher, that's outstanding.
However, the 1916 A's did make an impact on the pennant race. With Boston, Chicago, and Detroit all bunched together, the Athletics beat the Tigers in the only game of a one-game series on September 18. That, coupled with Boston's win over Chicago that day, knocked Detroit out of first place for good.
|THE MONEY GAME|
» I suppose this might be the appropriate place to launch into a short dissertation on the economics of baseball and about what Mack did to his 1910-14 powerhouse and, later on, his 1929-31 pennant winners. I am writing this late in 1998, just a few days after Kevin Brown signed the first $100 million contract in baseball history. Baseball people are bemoaning the increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots and the increasing influence of money on the game. Before I offer my opinion, I want to remind people that for most of its history, baseball has been about the haves and have-nots. It's been about the Yankees winning 29 pennants in 44 seasons and the St. Louis Browns winning one pennant in 52 seasons. In a way, of course, this book is about the ultimate haves.
At present, the ratio of revenue from the very top to the very bottom teams is about 4 to 1. In 1935, when almost all revenue was derived from ticket sales, the Browns drew about 81,000 fans for their entire home schedule, while the Tigers drew more than a million. That ratio is a heck of a lot bigger than 4 to 1. In 1928 the Cubs drew over 1.1 million fans, whereas the Phillies drew about 182,000. Putting aside for a moment the issue of whether such a disparity in revenue and team quality is good for the game, baseball has been like that the majority of the time. This issue is nothing new.
As to how I feel, it seems apparent that it's bad for the game if just five or six teams can compete for all the marbles. In the long run, what will be the value of any team's broadcast rights if a great percentage of the games are against overmatched opponents? Many baseball historians think the Yankees' dominance from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s contributed to the malaise that infected the sport. A return to a similar condition, with very few teams being able to compete, will have negative consequences for owners and players alike. -- Eddie
Philadelphia's best month was May, when they were 11-14. Their worst month? Would you believe a 2-28 July? For a long time, that .067 July winning percentage was the worst by any team, for any month, in the twentieth century. That record stood until April 1988, when my then-employers, the Baltimore Orioles, went 1-22 (.043).
Nap Lajoie played second base for the '16 Athletics. Lajoie's place in history is the subject of debate among baseball analysts. In the fifth edition of Total Baseball, Lajoie's total baseball rating is the second highest of all time, behind only Babe Ruth. Many analysts, including Bill James, argue that the "linear weights" method used in Total Baseball gives Lajoie too much credit for his defense, and that that "flaw" makes Lajoie look like a better player than he was. Indeed, in that same edition of Total Baseball, Lajoie is credited with more career fielding runs than any other player in baseball history. Anyway, Lajoie was forty-one years old in 1916, his last season in the majors. He created 2.46 runs per 27 outs; the league average that year was 3.68, and Lajoie's career average was 7.04. In other words, he was a big part of the problem.
Other Athletics of note were Stuffy McInnis, Wally Schang, and Bullet Joe Bush. Bush, who would go 26-7 in 1922 for the pennant-winning Yankees and finish with 196 career wins, went 15-24 for Philadelphia despite a 2.57 ERA (just two years earlier, when he was twenty-one years old, Bush went 17-12 with a 3.06 ERA for the "same" team). Two other Athletics starters, Jack Nabors and Tom Sheehan, combined for a 2-36 record (or 2-34, depending on the source).
As noted elsewhere in this book, just two years earlier (in 1914) the Athletics won the American League pennant, and in 1913 they won the World Series. People moaned about the quick fall of the Florida Marlins, who won the World Series in 1997 and had the worst record in baseball in 1998. Everything old is new again. Philadelphia went from a World Series title and a pennant in consecutive seasons to the worst record in baseball the next two seasons, and a total of seven straight last-place finishes, a streak that didn't end until 1922 and is highly unlikely to be matched by the Marlins.
I doubt any team has ever declined as much and as fast as the Athletics did after Mack sold off most of his good players. In 1914, they posted a 3.05 SD score. In 1915, their SD score was -3.00, and in 1916 it was even worse, -4.39. I don't think I have to check to see if any other team went from +3.00 or better to -3.00 or worse in a single year. The 1962 Mets were worse than the 1916 Athletics but, as one of the first expansion teams, at least the Mets had a good excuse.
From Baseball Dynasties by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein.
Copyright © 2000 by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein. Reprinted with permission.