Heading back into the twentieth century, another candidate for the worst team of all time is either the 1938 or 1939 Philadelphia Phillies. Take a look at the amazing similarity between those two seasons:
Year W-L Pct Scored Allowed SD Score
1938 45-105 .300 550 840 -4.02
1939 45-106 .298 553 856 -4.01
That degree of resemblance between consecutive seasons for the same team is, as you might suspect, extremely uncommon. Only six teams in the twentieth century have had an SD score of -4.00 or worse for even a single season, and no other team "achieved" that in consecutive seasons (although one other team, which we'll get to later, was very close).
It may have been just a coincidence, but 1938 was the year the Phillies moved out of the tiny Baker Bowl and became co-tenants of Shibe Park with the Athletics. That season, the Phillies and Athletics both finished in last place in their respective leagues. (In 1939, the Athletics climbed all the way to seventh, ahead of another powerhouse, the 43-111 St. Louis Browns.)
Eight times during the 1930s, the Phillies finished last or next-to-last. They posted only one winning season (78-76 in 1932) and only one season (also 1932) when they finished fewer than 31 games out of first place. For the decade, their average record was 58-94, their average finish was seventh place, and the average number of games they finished out of first place was about 36.
The bad times continued for the Phillies, as they were last every year from 1938 through 1942, for a total of five straight last-place finishes. In February of 1943, the National League took control of the Phillies and sold them to William Cox, who owned the club just long enough to be banned from baseball for betting on his team. The club was then sold to the Carpenter family, which owned the team until the early 1980s.
This team (1938-39) was the one for which Hugh "Losing Pitcher" Mulcahy toiled. In 1938, Mulcahy went 10-20 with a 4.61 ERA. In 1939, he was 9-16 with a 4.99 ERA. He led the Phils both years in starts and innings. In fairness, Mulcahy probably wasn't that bad a pitcher-he just happened to be the workhorse for a terrible team.
Two Phillies hurlers were rescued and ended up contributing to the N.L. pennant winners in 1939 to 1941. Bucky Walters pitched for the Phillies from 1934 until June 13, 1938 (he went 4-8 with a 5.23 ERA as a Phillie that year), when he was traded to Cincinnati for Spud Davis, Al Hollingsworth, and cash. The Reds won the National League pennant in 1939 and 1940, and Walters was one of Cincinnati's, and the league's, best players, topping the loop in wins and ERA both seasons. I wonder if Walters celebrated on June 13 every year after the trade.
Kirby Higbe's first full big league season was spent primarily with the 1939 Phillies (10-14, 4.85 with Philadelphia), who acquired him from the Cubs in May. In November of 1940, Higbe was traded to the Dodgers for Vito Tamulis, Bill Crouch, Mickey Livingston, and cash. In 1941, Higbe went 22-9 with a 3.14 ERA for pennant-winning Brooklyn. Supposedly, the Dodgers were also interested in Hugh Mulcahy, but when the first military draft lottery was held on November 18, 1940, he had drawn a low number, which meant he was more likely to be inducted earlier rather than later. Mulcahy was inducted into the Army on March 8, 1941, and didn't pitch again until 1945. Timing is everything, I guess.
From Baseball Dynasties by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein.
Copyright © 2000 by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein. Reprinted with permission.