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The worst teams since I became a fan

This is the second of two posts inspired by the 1983 Topps Jeff Newman card (the first one). You never know where you're going to find inspiration.

By 1983, Newman and the A's had experienced Billy Ball and a slight improvement in their fortunes, although they'd backslide in the mid '80s until the Bash Brothers came along.

But Newman was part of the worst team of my childhood, the 1979 Oakland A's. They went 54-108 for a .333 winning percentage and they seemed like the most pathetic club ever produced.

Here is a general look at that team from the 1979 Topps perspective:

I know these are actually pictures of the 1978 A's, but they weren't very good either and, still, what a collection of "who???" In hindsight, players like Tony Armas, Mitchell Page and Mike Norris would go on to be name players. But when we were collecting these cards, very few of these guys were familiar. (This should have been a Joy of a Team Set post).

As I pulled Taylor Duncan over and over in 1979, I only knew Rico Carty and Steve Renko, plus a couple other guys had appeared on cards I collected in previous years like Sosa, Burke and Broberg. But overall this team was pretty anonymous, especially in comparison to the A's names a year or two earlier, Bando, Blue, Jackson, Fingers, Rudi and Campaneris.

So for years that team has stuck in my mind as one of the worst ever, certainly since I started becoming a fan (I wasn't born for the 1962 Mets or the 1952 Pirates).

But a small amount of research told me that the '79 A's definitely weren't the worst team since I started following baseball. A lot of teams have topped ... er, bottomed them.

In fact that same year, the three-year-old Toronto Blue Jays finished 53-109, which is a .327 percentage, worse than the A's.

Follow me now for some other really putrid teams all the way to the present.

Neither the 1988 Orioles nor Braves finished with records worse than the '79 A's or Blue Jays but both came very close and 1988 is one of the few years since I became a fan that can match '79 and produce two really lousy squads.

The Braves -- how I miss those Braves teams -- were 54-106 (.338), and the Orioles, who had that famous 21-game losing streak to start the season, were 54-107 (.335).
OK, let's get to some teams that equaled the '79 A's or were even worse. 

1996 Detroit Tigers, 53-109 (.327)

The Tigers kind of have a tradition for really terrible teams. The first bad team that I was faintly aware of as a kid were the 1975 Tigers, who finished 57-102, which isn't bad enough for this review, but they were not good.


1998 Florida Marlins, 54-108 (.333)

The Marlins were famously gutted by ownership after winning the World Series the previous season. Still seems like a crime.

2003 Detroit Tigers, 43-119 (.265)
Here are the Tigers again and here we are at the actual worst team since I started following baseball. I wasn't watching baseball much at this time so I can't recall a lot about this team except Mike Maroth's 9-21 record.

2004 Arizona Diamondbacks, 51-111 (.315)

The last 25 years or so have really cranked up the abysmal meter on MLB teams. Teams like the Diamondbacks, Tigers and Orioles are the best at scaring away fans with their play.

2013 Houston Astros, 51-111 (.315)

The Astros had been tanking for a few years before bottoming out in 2013. By 2015 they'd turned it around and are now the juggernaut most of us love to hate. At least I found a reason not to dislike J.D. Martinez after many years of doing so.

2018 Baltimore Orioles, 47-115 (.290)

The worst major league team since the 2003 Tigers. The Orioles of this period have a similar pattern to the Astros of 10 years prior. Baltimore is in the postseason this year for the first time since 2016. There's a Topps Now card recognizing the feat and everything. All they had to do to get it was depress their fan base for a number of years.

2019 Baltimore Orioles, 54-108 (.333)
2019 Detroit Tigers, 47-119 (.292)

Two veterans of the basement revisited their familiar surroundings at the same time in 2019, the third year of two really bad teams since the mid-1970s.

There would be a repeat two years later ...

2021 Baltimore Orioles, 52-110 (.321)
2021 Arizona Diamondbacks, 52-110 (.321)

Woo-hoo, identical records, the Orioles and Diamondbacks get to share the booby prize! (.321 is a popular "bad" percentage, both the '69 Expos and Padres went 52-110).

MLB hasn't figured out disparity between teams yet and I don't know if they ever will. I think some of these teams cry about big-spenders and "small markets" but I'm convinced some franchises just aren't trying all that much.

In 2023 we're in the same situation, with one new candidate and a team that completes the circle.

So far:

2023 Oakland Athletics, 46-103 (.309)
2023 Kansas City Royals, 48-102 (.320)

I expect both of those teams to finish below the 1979 A's, so that would make 13 teams since I started watching ball that are worse than those '79 A's.

Here are the top 10 worst:

1. Detroit Tigers, 2003, .265
2. Baltimore Orioles, 2018, .290
3. Detroit Tigers, 2019, .292
4. Oakland Athletics, 2023, .309 (incomplete)
5. Arizona Diamondbacks, 2004, .315
5. Houston Astros, 2013, .315
7. Kansas City Royals, 2023, .320 (incomplete)
8. Arizona Diamondbacks, 2021, .321
8. Baltimore Orioles, 2021, .321
10. Detroit Tigers, 1996, .327
10. Toronto Blue Jays, 1979, .327
There have been a whole lot of worse teams than those ones going way back, the '62 Mets, the '52 Pirates, the '52 Tigers (another two-fer year), the '61 Phillies and the famed 1899 Cleveland Spiders who went 20-134 (.130).
But, thank goodness, I didn't experience those teams. The ones I did were bad enough. 

(P.S.: In case you were tuning into this thinking it was about the worst Dodgers teams since I became a fan, the worst would be the 1992 team (.389). I've done a post on them already and I hope to never discuss it again).


Zippy Zappy said…
I agree with your doubts about if teams actually want to try. Like the Orioles are fun and good again for the first time in years and their ownership is already telling fans to quell expectations about their homegrown core being there for their entire careers/beyond maybe their second time through arbitration. And that's to say nothing of actually getting help for that core.
Jimetal7212 said…
There was a whole lot of discussion before the year started about the A's potentially breaking the Mets "record" for most losses. Looks like that one is safe for another year. As for the not trying, well, Orioles, Pirates and Reds (amongst others) have all said in recent years they aren't trying. They refuse to spend money; says the team ain't worth it. See Zippy's comment about the Orioles; a shame. Miami/Florida has always operated like this regardless of owner; it's why Jeter left. Pathetic.
bryan was here said…
Wow, I didn't realize the Dbacks were that bad in '04. That was the year Randy Johnson spun his perfect game against the Braves. And only three years after winning one of the greatest World Series of modern times.

I, for some reason, thought the '91 Indians had lost something like 108 games. Guess it was only 105.
Nick said…
Goodness, how did I not realize the Orioles managed to lose *115* games in 2018? I knew they were bad, but I didn't realize they'd reached that level of awful. Kinda intrigued to see how many games the A's/Royals end up losing this year - a competition I'm sure neither team wants to win.
beefman said…
There's a lot of orange in this post. But no Giants! There's always next year...
Fuji said…
It's pretty sad that I'm actually happy there's no way the 2023 A's can unseat the 2003 Tigers... even if the lose the rest of their games (which is plausible).

As for those 1979 A's... not sure how many I would have recognized had I opened up packs that year. But more than a handful of them stuck around with them into the Billy Ball years... and that's when I really started paying attention and tracking Oakland A's baseball.
Bo said…
If the Orioles win the pennant this year, that would be three teams on that list that won a pennant within five years of their terrible season.
GCA said…
O's and Nats have successfully made me ignore them since before the pandemic. Not to mention that I can't see the games anyway (The local MASN doesn't appear on any streaming services).
I went to the one game in Baltimore, but I still haven't watched or listened to them otherwise. Looking forward to seeing them in the playoffs.
mr haverkamp said…
This post hits close to home, N.O. I spent a lot of time at '79 A's home games (it was the summer between HS graduation and my freshman year of college). Don't remember Rickey H at all, the only player that excited the fans was "The Rage", Mitchell Page. Very strange to see that 5 other guys on that team out-homered him, including a pretty decent year from 1B Dave Revering. I specifically went out of my way to see the '03 Tigers in a meaningless late season game in SF because I wanted to see a team worse than those A's, and they delivered! They did employ a HOF manager however, (Trammel). Here's hoping the '23 A's win 55 or more!
Anonymous said…
As a Tigers fan, definitely a lot of memories here! The 75 tigers were bad but the next season saw the true emergence of Ron LeFlore for a few years, plus the one great year from Mark the Bird Fidrych and a nice trade for Rusty Staub. That team would finish with 86 wins in 78 and eventually WS champs in 84. The 96 team was the fault of very bad drafts starting in the 1980s. Other than Travis Fryman and John Smoltz (traded as a MiLB to Braves), the draft failures killed the team. It was a terrible team that didn't even win a home game all September. The 2003 team makes people forget just how bad the team was in 2002. Amazing how my team could go to the WS in 2006 and 2012 and then be bookended by such horrific teams. As for the 79 As, I remember stories about them that year how they'd have games with 2 or 3 thousand fans. My local minor league team draws more. For the most part, one common theme is cheap owners hoping to make a buck off of fan loyalty. We heard ad nauseum in Detroit during the more dark times that we were following the Astros blueprint of being 110 losses to becoming WS CHAMPS someday. We're still waiting!
Jafronius said…
Surprised the Cubs didn't make the list, with all their years of sucking. Thanks for the research!
Jon said…
The concept of someone owning a sports franchise and NOT trying to win seems completely insane to me. In a perfect world such owners would be stripped of their teams, but I know that that's not gonna ever happen. At a minimum though, it would be nice if people in those markets would just stop going to games altogether in protest. It might not change anything, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to try.