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.
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.
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.
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.
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).