For Your Consideration: The Worst Baseball Team of the Modern Era

It began as a lark. In my 1969 replay using Diamond Mind Baseball, it was a challenge to get the Padres to a win. I became curious how this expansion team would match up with another infamous expansion team of the 1960’s: the New York Mets. I simmed 50 162-game seasons of the 1962 Mets vs. 1969 Padres, and San Diego came on top in 32 of the 50 seasons. But my curiosity grew: Were the 1962 Mets the worst team ever? I purchased the Worst of the Worst Teams season disk from Diamond Mind. The disk is set up as pre-1950 and post-1950. The pre-1950 teams are 1899 Cleveland Spiders, 1904 Washington Senators, 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, 1925 Boston Red Sox, 1939 St. Louis Browns, and 1948 Chicago White Sox. The post-1950 teams are 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1962 New York Mets, 1979 Oakland A’s, 1988 Baltimore Orioles, 1998 Florida Marlins, and 2003 Detroit Tigers. Using OPS+ and ERA+ statistics from Baseball Reference, I subjectively ranked the teams into a 16-team NCAA-style bracket. In my initial runs, the 1899 Spiders seem to cause some issues with the software so I dropped them from the tournament. This would the the Worst of the Worst in the modern era (post-1901), and the losers would advance to decide who was the worst of them all. To fill in the brackets, I added those 1969 Padres, the 1954 Philadelphia A’s, 1935 Boston Bees, 1942 Philadelphia Phillies, and the worst team I personally witnessed, the 1988 Atlanta Braves.

Each team would be paired in a NCAA-style bracket and play 50 seasons against one another. I would use 154 or 1962 game schedules as appropriate for the era of the teams. The Final Four were the 1979 Oakland A’s (who lost to the ’62 Mets), the 1954 Philadelphia A’s (who drew attention to themselves by being the first team to lose all 50 seasons in their quarterfinal match-up against the 1932 Red Sox), the 1942 Philadelphia Phillies (the team that Bill Veeck allegedly wanted to integrate), and the 1939 Browns. This committee of one apparently did a terrible job of seeding as the highest seed remaining was the No. 7 seed Browns who had edged out the No. 2 2003 Tigers by the slimmest of margins losing 23-24.

In the semifinals, the 1954 Philadelphia A’s continued their mastery of futility by losing 47 seasons to their 1979 counterparts from Oakland. The win differential over 50 seasons was 1,080 wins. In other words, the 1954 A’s on average finished 21.6 games behind. The other semifinal between the 1942 Phillies and 1939 Browns was most closer. The Browns advanced by losing 29 of the 50 seasons. The 12th seed A’s would face the 7th seed Browns for the title of worst club in the modern age. By this point, the 1954 A’s were clearly the favorite to be the final team left on the mat in this tournament.

Unlike real-life, these A’s did not disappoint their fans in this Tournament of Suck. The 1954 Philadelphia A’s undoubtedly claimed the crown by losing 49 of the 50 seasons played against the 1939 Browns. They won the first season played by a 79-75 margin, but fell flat on their collective faces in the next 49 seasons. It wasn’t even close. The A’s won a total of 3,189 games to the Browns’ 4,511 games for a 1,322 game margin. Despite that first season victory, the 1954 A’s finished an average of 26.44 games behind the Browns. This team was indeed the worst.

How could this be? The 1954 Philadelphia A’s were not even included in Diamond Mind’s Worst of the Worst set. To test the tournament result, I added the team to the season disk replacing the 1899 Spiders. I combined the teams into one league and created a schedule. I would sim 50 154-game seasons of this 12-team league and see how this new kid on the block fared against the more recognized teams of futility. The results provided the verification that I sought. The 1954 Philadelphia Athletics finished last in 30 of the 50 simmed seasons. In 11 of the seasons, they finished in next-to-last place or 11th place. 41 seasons out of 50 with 11th or 12th place finishes! Only once, in season #38, did they finish over .500 in fourth place with a 81-73 mark. Just another example of randomness and an outlier season that can occur by even the worst of the worst teams.

The 1954 season is best known for the 111-win Cleveland Indians and the upset by the New York Giants in the World Series sparked by that Game 1 catch by Willie Mays. But perhaps if you look behind the curtain, that Series may not have been quite the upset. That record setting 111 wins were propped up by the first season of the Baltimore Orioles who had relocated from St. Louis, but also by another team on the verge of relocation and who may have been the worst team in modern history, the 1954 Philadelphia Athletics.

Worst of the Worst tournament results

The Worst: Second Round Results

The 1954 A’s were so terrible the club was sold and moved out of Philadelphia the following season. But even the sale could not be done without controversy.

The second round of the Worst of the Worst tournament brought a number of surprises and firsts for the tournament. The premise is to determine the worst team in modern baseball history by setting up a 16-team tournament which each team plays 50 seasons against their opponent. The winner that advances in the tournament is the team that loses the most of the fifty seasons.

  1. No. 1 seed 1962 New York Mets vs. No. 8 1979 Oakland A’s
  2. No. 4 1932 Boston Red Sox vs. No. 12 1954 Philadelphia Athletics
  3. No. 3 1916 Philadelphia Athletics vs. No. 11 1942 Philadelphia Phils
  4. No. 2 2003 Detroit Tigers vs. No. 7 1939 St. Louis Browns

During the first round, I provided a brief history of each of these teams so we will jump right into the results, and naturally in a loser’s tournament, upsets abound. The favorite lovable losers, the Mets, were eliminated by Oakland, 16-34. The margin was a little closer than the scoreboard shows as the Mets averaged 84 wins against 78 losses. The No. 2 seed Tigers were edged out by the slimmest of margins, 23-24-3. The Browns and Tigers were separated by a mere 86 runs (4,007 – 4,093 or 1.72 runs/season) in 50 seasons of play. Another tournament first took place in the ’32 Red Sox and ’54 A’s match-up. The Athletics lost all 50 seasons by an average of 60 games to 93 (I run a 154-game season for the pre-1961 teams; 162 games if a post-1961 team is involved). Here the margin was maybe even worse than the scoreboard as the 1954 A’s won an average of 61 games against an average of 93 losses. In short, the 1954 Philadelphia Athletics put up the worst performance to date in this tournament In the finale, I fully expected the Athletics’ franchise to place three teams in the Final Four, but their National League brethren from Philadelphia, the Phillies of 1942, beat the 1916 vintage of the Athletics by losing 35 of the 50 seasons. The Phils averaged only 74 wins vs. 80 losses.

All of the top seeds fail to advance as the 1979 Oakland A’s will face their 1954 counterparts and the 1939 Browns will face the 1942 Phils. With their most recent performance, the 1954 Athletics are the current favorites to take the title of the Worst of the Worst, but as this round showed, these clubs can’t do anything right!

Worst of the Worst tournament results

1935 Braves vs. 1942 Phils

Babe Ruth isn’t likely thrilled about being in The Worst of the Worst tournament, but he may be even more miffed at his club’s early departure.
The Worst of the Worst tournament continues with the final match-up of the first round. The sixth-seed Boston Braves of 1935 will play the 1942 Philadelphia Phillies, the 11-seed, in 50 154-game seasons; the loser to advance to face the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics. This series pairs two teams so bad their seasons resulted in name changes. After an embarrassing 38-115 campaign (the second worst won-loss percentage behind potential second-round opponent, 1916 Athletics). Owner Judge Emil Fuchs signed legend Babe Ruth as a player-assistant manager, but soon into the season, Ruth learned life as a Brave was not what he signed up for. Ruth retired on June 1, but not before one of his more memorable games in which he hit the final three home runs of his career at Forbes Field on May 25. Wally Berger was the lone highlight for the Braves’ season as he led the National League in home runs (34) and RBI’s (130). In an attempt to perhaps shed the nightmare of the 1935 season, Boston changed its’ name from Braves to Bees beginning with the new ownership in 1936. This name change lasted until 1940 when afterward the club reverted back to the Braves.

Like the ’35 Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies were in the final year of ownership. Gerald Nugent took over the club upon the death of William Baker in 1930. Under Nugent, the Phillies did finish over .500 in 1932, the only time the franchise did so in the thirty years from 1918 – 1948. But in 1942, the Phillies set a franchise worst record with a 42-109 mark. The club was in such financial straits that it had to borrow money from the National League to take part in spring training in 1943. That spring, the club was sold to William D. Cox. Allegedly, Nugent discussed selling the Phillies to Bill Veeck who intended to bring in Negro League stars to revive the Phillies. When Commissioner Kennesaw Landis learned of these plans, he pressured National League president Ford Frisk to quash the deal.

The 1942 Phils (the team wore “Phils” on their uniforms for this season only), under manager Hans Lobert, finished 18 12 games behind the seventh-place Boston Braves. Home attendance was a sad 230,183 for the season. On September 11, 1942, only 393 people showed up at Shibe Park to watch the Phillies lose to the Reds. The team featured only two capable major leaguers, first baseman Nick Etten and left fielder Danny Litwhiler. Etten and Litwhiler were the only Phillies with an OPS+ over 100. The team’s OPS+ was a league worst 85. They were last in runs, home runs, walks, stolen bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Their 395 runs in 151 games was the lowest total of any major league team since 1909, and has been by far the lowest in any non-strike-shortened season ever since. They were shut out 16 times, and scored just one run 36 times which equated to scoring no more than a single run in over one-third of their games. Remarkably, the pitching was likely even worse. 22-year-old Tommy Hughes was the only capable performance, ERA+ of 108 in 253 innings. No other pitcher with more than 20 IP reached an ERA+ over 90. They were last in complete games, shutouts, saves, walks allowed, runs allowed, and ERA. In the field, they were last in errors and fielding percentage, and next-to-last in defensive efficiency. Like Boston, the new owners in 1943 wanted the club to be called the Blue Jays rather than Phillies. However, this change did not catch on and by the end of World War II, the Philadelphia National League club was back to being the Phillies.

In the final tournament of the first round, the Boston Braves won 31 of the 50 seasons played against the 1942 Phils. Philadelphia won 16 seasons, and there were 3 seasons where both clubs finished 77-77. Boston’s Wally Burger (.886 OPS) and Nick Etten (.830 OPS) were the hitting stars over the 50 seasons. Babe Ruth finished with an interesting slashline of .187/.422/.489 in a pinch-hitting role, averaging 80 AB/season. Tommy Hughes was the pitching star with a 2.73 ERA and 771 wins.

The second round will feature a Philadelphia match-up of the 1916 Athletics vs. the 1942 Phils. See the link below for the remaining three second-round pairings.

Worst of the Worst Tournament results