How the worst baseball team ever failed

8 Jan

When most people think of the worst professional (MLB) baseball team ever they generally recall the 1962 New York Mets whose forty win season was a complete shambles. Really knowledgeable fans will cite the 1916 Philadelphia A’s who managed only thirty six wins, or the forty three win 2003 Tigers. A pile of semi-literate turd muffins on helium think it’s the Cubs or Tigers or teams they just don’t think meet expectations. All are good guesses, aside from the helium crowd,  but they are wrong. Unless of course you restrict the guessing to a specified era. The worst MLB team of all-time was actually the 1899 Cleveland Spiders and they never ever should have been considering the roster they should have had. What follows is a look at that team and how they went from a winner to the biggest loser ever over night.

You never heard of the Spiders probably as they were diminished to a minor league team after their 20-134 1899 season. The Spiders were a member of the American Association which was then a major league. In 1891 they Joined the National League and began assembling a championship roster that included the likes of Cy Young who went on to compile more wins than any pitcher in MLB history. Even with winning records the Spiders were not winning any titles but they did manage an 1895 Temple Cup appearance which was akin to today’s World Series. Everything appeared to be good until March the twenty ninth of 1899 which was seventeen days before the season opened.

The Spiders were owned by the Robinson brothers and what they did made history and changed the rules of professional baseball forever, they purchased outright ownership of a second team the St. Louis Perfectos. They were dual team owners. As such they had the ability to trade players from one team to the other no matter how lopsided the deal was with nobody to protest but the other owners, and they did! The problem was their protests were too late and it would take a full season to sort the whole mess out.

The Robinson’s decided they could make more money with a good team in St. Louis than Cleveland so they began wheeling and dealing- with their own teams. The first thing the did was send seven pitchers from the Spiders including Nig Cuppy and Cy Young, their two best to St. Louis for four pitchers that could barely hold a job, in fact four of the worst pitchers in the league. As pitchers are partial to certain catchers often that swapped them too.

Next they swapped infields including sending two Spiders that would later be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Bobby Wallace and Jimmy Burke. Still not satisfied they sent the Spiders starting outfield including yet another Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett for the Perfecto’s two worst. Then they even swapped managers between the teams. Even worse than that was that as the season went on any Cleveland player that showed promise was traded to St. Louis for a Perfecto that may be struggling or injured. Once a slump was broken or injury healed the trade could always be reversed. Essentially the Spiders became a minor league team.

To truly appreciate how bad they were consider they lost forty of their last forty one games and managed to only compile a winning percentage of .130, the worst mark ever. They finished a full eighty four games behind the Brooklyn Superbas who won the pennant, and thirty five games behind Washington who was the next worst team. They were so bad that other owners refused to even send their teams to Cleveland to play because there was nobody in the stands to see them get shelled, hence they had to play their last thirty six games on the road. This did however allow them to set a record that will never be broken in a 162 game season which is 109 road losses in a single season.

Their longest winning streak of the year was two games. They had a .092 winning percentage on the road. They gave up ten or more runs forty nine times and only managed to draw an average home attendance of 179 people per game. Oddly enough Brooklyn’s owners had done essentially the same thing only a couple years early when they wrestled control of Baltimore and traded several Hall of Famers, but this was so lopsided and so damaging that it became the final straw that led to reform and outlawed dual team ownership or control.

Following that year the Spiders along with three other teams were contracted and the American League entered the scene. Although Cleveland was the worst team ever they didn’t have to be. Their losing was a direct effect of unabashed deliberate raiding of it’s talent by ownership with no regard for protecting the integrity of the team or game.

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