The 2018 Orioles’ season may feel as if it’s lasted forever, but it hasn’t reached the All-Star break. The cellar-dwelling Orioles have nearly half their schedule left to play.
At this point, unless the Orioles play above .500 ball from now until the end of the season, it seems inevitable that they’ll suffer their first 100-loss campaign since 1988 (and only third in club history).
There’s also the distinct possibility that they’ll set a new franchise record for losses by topping the 107 defeats of that ’88 club. Thanks to an 0-6 road trip, the Orioles are now on pace for a 44-118 record, by far the worst in the majors since the 2013 Houston Astros went 51-111.
Here’s an uncomfortable question: Could the Orioles possibly reach the 115-loss mark this year?
It’s a daunting task. Only five teams in MLB history have lost 115 or more games in a season. But given the Orioles’ 118-loss pace, and considering how hapless they’ve looked in nearly every facet of the game this year — and how they’ve been in no rush to make significant roster or personnel changes, but likely will deal away some of their better players this month — it’s not outlandish to think they’ve got a real shot at historic futility.
What does it take to lose 115 games? I took a closer look at the five teams who have reached the dubious milestone.
5. The 1935 Boston Braves (38-115)
For fans wondering how the Orioles could be so terrible with stars like Manny Machado on the roster, well, get a load of the ’35 Braves — they lost 115 games with Babe Ruth on the roster.
Of course, the Braves’ version of Ruth was a far cry from the slugging Sultan of Swat who’d emerged as baseball’s greatest player in his New York Yankees’ years. By 1935, Ruth was ailing and overweight, a shell of his former self. The Braves acquired him as a homecoming of sorts, after the crosstown Boston Red Sox had dealt Ruth to the Yankees 16 years earlier.
Ruth’s career petered out that season. He hit just .181 in 28 games before calling it quits in early June. But he was far from the biggest problem for the horrendous Braves. Their pitching staff’s 4.93 ERA was the worst in the NL. Of their nine pitchers with 20 or more innings pitched, six had an ERA of 5.00 or worse. Starter Ben Cantwell went 4-25; lefty Ed Brandt was 5-19.
Outfielder Wally Berger was essentially a one-man offense for the Braves. He hit 34 homers and drove in 130; no other Brave hit more than six home runs (and that was Ruth). The Braves averaged just 3.76 runs per game, the only team in the majors below four. Oh, and the club was beyond helpless on the road, going 13-65 away from Boston.
On June 19, the Braves held a bad (but not horrible) 17-34 record. They proceeded to finish the season with just 21 wins in their final 102 games. They suffered losing streaks of both 14 games and 16 games, and in one stretch from Aug. 18 to Sept. 21, they went 2-28.
4. The 1916 Philadelphia Athletics (36-117)
The 1916 Athletics are the standard bearer for incompetence in the modern baseball era. Although their 117 losses aren’t the most in MLB history, those defeats came in just 153 games, giving them the worst winning percentage in baseball (.235) since 1900.
The ’16 Athletics were memorable for all the wrong reasons, spawning several books to capture the sheer ridiculousness of the club. They had a batboy who was fired for excessive heckling. Their head groundskeeper died before the season and their field was often left unmowed and in haphazard shape.
But nothing could match how awful the club was on the diamond. Manager and part-owner Connie Mack, in a cost-cutting move, dismantled a roster that had been to the World Series four times in a five-year span from 1910-1914. Of the 39 players who appeared on the Athletics’ 1914 World Series team, only 11 still remained two years later. The 1916 roster boasted Hall of Fame second baseman Nap Lajoie, but he was 41 and had the worst season of his career — a .584 OPS — before retiring.
The rest of the team was made up largely of untested youngsters who were way out of their depth. That included rookie shortstop Whitey Witt, who committed 78 errors in 142 games. Third baseman Charlie Pick made 44 errors of his own. The Athletics committed 314 errors that year, by far the most in the majors.
As a result of the atrocious defense, 25 percent of the runs the Athletics allowed that year — 191 of 776 — were unearned. That led to a litany of pitchers getting saddled with poor records despite decent ERAs. Bullet Joe Bush (24), Elmer Myers (23) and Jack Nabors (20) lost at least 20 games (Nabors went 1-20). Tom Sheehan was 1-16.
3. The 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119)
The ’03 Tigers are the only team in the last half-century to reach the 115-loss mark. And it was only a hot streak in the last week of the season — during which they won they won five of their last six games — that kept them from topping 120 defeats. Don’t feel too bad for the Tigers, though; just three years after this debacle of a season, they made it to the World Series.
Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski put a young team on the field in 2003. Ten of the 12 position players with the most games played were younger than 30, and all 10 pitchers who started a game were age 26 or under. Dombrowski was content to let them sink or swim — and they didn’t just sink, they drowned.
The Tigers were bad at everything. Their offense was woeful, averaging a league-worst 3.65 runs per game in a year where the AL average was 4.86. Shortstop Ramon Santiago (.576 OPS) and catcher Brandon Inge (.605) were two of the biggest drains on the lineup. The Tigers couldn’t field, either, leading the AL in errors with 138.
And the pitching? Yikes. Detroit compiled a 5.30 team ERA. That actually was only second-worst in the league, besting the Buck Showalter-managed Texas Rangers (5.67). But a look at the Tigers’ team stats makes it hard to figure out who their good pitchers were, if any. Their “ace” was righty Nate Cornejo, whose 4.67 ERA was best on the starting staff even though he went 6-17. Lefty Mike Maroth lost 21 games, posting a 5.73 ERA, and rookie Jeremy Bonderman, who made the major league club at age 20, suffered through a 6-19, 5.56 season.
The Tigers didn’t have a closer to speak of. Eight different pitchers picked up saves, but none had more than five. Among that group was a 26-year-old Fernando Rodney, who is the only member of that ’03 Tigers club still active in the majors. Rodney, at 41, is currently closing for his ninth team, the Minnesota Twins.
2. The 1962 New York Mets (40-120)
Nowadays, the phrase “playing like the ’62 Mets” has become synonymous with playing sloppy, fundamentally poor and just plain bad baseball. For many longtime baseball fans, the ’62 Mets are the worst team of their lifetimes.
The expansion Mets were greeted with a hero’s welcome in New York in 1962, bringing National League baseball back to the city after the Dodgers and Giants left for the West Coast in 1958. But the shiny, new Mets were just as pathetic as they were popular. They lost their first nine games of the season and were off to the races.
Even Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel couldn’t wring success out of the roster of aging veterans and untested youngsters. They committed a league-worst 210 errors in their 160 games, but it’s not as if their pitching staff needed help giving up runs. The Mets’ 5.04 team ERA was 50 points worse than the next-worst NL team.
The rotation was headed by 10-24 Roger Craig and 8-20 Al Jackson, with plenty of awful filler around them. Once, Stengel came out to remove lefty Bob Miller from a game. When Miller told his manager he wasn’t tired, Stengel replied, “You might not be, but your outfielders are.”
Miller, who finished with a 7.08 ERA, was one of two Bob Millers to pitch for the Mets that year. The other was a right-hander who went 1-12.
The offense wasn’t much better. Only the Houston Colt .45s, a fellow expansion team, kept the Mets from trailing the majors in runs scored and OPS. The Mets truly found every possible way to lose. As Stengel told his team after they sealed their modern-era MLB record 120th loss: “Don’t feel bad. This was a group effort. No one player could’ve done all this.”
1. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134)
Here we have it: the worst major league baseball team of all time. The gold standard for losing. The best of the best … at being the worst of the worst. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders, ladies and gentlemen.
The Spiders’ nightmarish season was no accident. Their owner, Frank Robison, essentially sabotaged the team before the ’99 season. Tired of the sparse attendance in Cleveland, Robison bought a competing National League team, the St. Louis Browns, but maintained his ownership of the Spiders.
Wanting to build a super-team in St. Louis, Robison promptly shipped nearly every competent Spiders player to his new club. Almost the entire Spiders’ 98 starting lineup went to St. Louis. Among them were their best hitter, outfielder Jesse Burkett, and their first baseman Patsy Tebeau, who doubled as the team’s manager. The Spiders’ four best pitchers also jumped to St. Louis, including a 31-year-old right-hander named Cy Young.
Needing to build an entirely new roster, the Spiders slapped together a patchwork club that included ex-semipro players and unheralded minor leaguers, as well as whatever washed-up veterans were available. It was a disaster.
The Spiders were outscored by 723 runs. They scored nearly two fewer runs per game than the league average, and posted an unthinkable 6.37 team ERA (the league average was 3.85). Among their legendarily bad players were shortstop Harry Lochhead, who batted .238 with a .540 OPS and committed 81 errors; right-handers Frank Bates and Harry Colliflower, who combined for a 2-29 record and 7.60 ERA; and “ace” Jim Hughey, who lost 30 games while winning four.
Making matters worse, the Spiders rarely got to play at home that season. Attendance was so miserable in Cleveland that opponents refused to come to town, saying their travel expenses would outweigh the ticket revenue. So, the Spiders had to play 122 games on the road — including 85 of their last 93 — and just 42 at home. Their road record? 11-101. I think we can safely say that’s a record that won’t be broken.
From Aug. 26 to Sept. 16, the Spiders lost 24 consecutive games, still an MLB record. They won their next game … and then lost the next 16 to finish their season. In the 12-team National League, the Spiders finished 35 games behind the 11th-place team. Their .171 winning percentage was the worst in MLB history.
The NL contracted the Spiders’ franchise after that season, putting them out of their misery. Perhaps spurred by Robison’s ugly example, MLB no longer allows anyone to own more than one team.
So, no matter how bad things may get for the 2018 Orioles, they’ve got one thing going for them: They’re not the 1899 Cleveland Spiders.