1916 Athletics vs. 1998 Marlins

The next pairing in the Worst of the Worst tournament is an interesting match-up between teams that won world champions then plummeted to the lowest depths the following season. The 1916 Philadelphia Athletics won the world’s championship in 1913, and the American League pennant in 1914 before being upset by the “Miracle Braves” in the World’s Series. The loss prompted Connie Mack to sell off his team and embrace a youth movement, one of the first of such approaches in modern baseball. Though Mack assured the public that the team was building for the future and that any short-term pain would be to the long-term benefit of the franchise. The short term pain was severe, and the long term benefit would not appear for another decade when the club climbed out of the second division to finish second with a record of 88-64 in 1925.

The 1915 A’s lost 109 games, and in 1916, the loss total grew to 117 games which calculated to a .235 winning percentage, the lowest in modern baseball history. The Athletics finished 40 games back — of the next worst team, the Washington Senators. Many experts would place the 1916 vintage of the Athletics as perhaps the one-seed in this tournament. The club did have a Hall of Famer, Napoleon Lajoie, playing in his final season at the age of 41. The major contributors to the Mackmen’s futile efforts were outfielders Amon Strunk (5.5 WAR for 1916) and Wally Schang (3.0). The staff was fronted by Bullet Joe Bush (5.2 WAR). From there, the drop-off on the roster at the plate and on the mound was substantial. The club’s shortstop, rookie Whitey Witt, committed 79 errors! The team committed a total of 314 for an average of more than 2 errors per game! The pitching staff issued a league high 715 walks and only 575 strikeouts for an abysmal 0.805 strikeout-to-walk rate.

The 1998 Florida Marlins were also another “first-to-worst” club that followed in the footsteps of Mack’s 1914-1915 Athletics. The Marlins defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 1997 World Series to become the first wild card winner of the Fall Classic. But in the offseason, the Marlins decided not to renew the contracts of Moises Alou, Jeff Conine, an original Marlin, staff ace Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, and closer Robb Nen. The remaining players either underachieved in 1998 or demanded to be traded. Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, and Jim Eisenreich were traded to the Dodgers in exchange for Mike Piazza, who five games later, was sent to the Mets for Preston Wilson and two minor leaguers. In the end, the fire sale was too much for manager Jim Leyland who left at season’s end to manage the Colorado Rockies.

The format of this tournament is for the two teams to play 50 full seasons, in this case, of 154 games, against one another. The number-three seed Philadelphia Athletics advance in this tournament by losing 44 of the 50 seasons. The Marlins lost only three seasons to the A’s, and remarkably, three seasons were tied. I say remarkably because often the margin of victory for the A’s was finishing 30+ games behind the Marlins. Despite this futility, the Athletics’ star players performed at top level in this round. Amos Strunk led all players with a 1.019 OPS for all 50 seasons. Wally Schang posted a .995 OPS in contrast to Florida’s best player, Gary Sheffield, reached .985 OPS. Bullet Joe Bush led all pitchers with a 3.97 ERA and 861 wins. But the drop off, as in reality, was steep in this tournament. Athletics’ pitchers Jack Nabors (5.21 ERA in average of 37 GS per season), Elmer Myers (5.21 in average of 32 starts/season), and Tom Sheenan (5.88 ERA in average of 18 starts/season). The relief corps were atrocious and often the downfall of the club. Reliever Marsh Williams posted a career ERA of 8.99 in an average of 50 appearances/season! The Philadelphia staff walked a total of 10,023 Marlins and struck out 9414 for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 0.939. I’ll have to double-check if this is the worst pitching performance in the tournament to date. The A’s will face the loser of the final first round match-up of the 1935 Boston Bees and the 1942 Philadelphia Phillies.

Worst of the Worst Tournament results

The Battle of Stinky Sox

Boston 1B Dale Alexander (left), shown here sharing trade secrets with another decent first baseman on Opening Day, 1933, won 1932 AL batting crown despite the complete ineptitude of his teammates.
The next round of the Worst of the Worst Tournament pits the #4 seed Boston Red Sox of 1932 and the #13 Chicago White Sox of 1948. Ironically, this edition of the White Sox appears on Diamond Mind’s Worst of the Worst disk, but my research reveals the ’32 vintage of the Red Sox to be a far inferior team. In fact, the 1932 Red Sox were the worst in franchise history — still holding franchise records for most number of losses (111), worst “winning” percentage (.279), and lowest attendance (182,150). 1932 marked the final season under the ownership of Harry Frazee who sold to a 30-year-old heir to a lumber fortune, Thomas Yawkey.

As is the case wth many of these atrocious teams, Boston manager Shano Collins quite in disgust on June 19 with the Red Sox record at 11-44. The team finished an amazing 64 games behind the world champion Yankees. Yet, among this ineptitude, the team produced the American League batting champion. In fairness, Dale “Moose” Alexander played a little more than half the season with Boston, arriving from Detroit on June 15. Alexander had a .250 average in only 23 games with Detroit. But he caught fire and won the batting title with a .367 average. He edged Philadelphia’s Jimmie Foxx by three points and deprived Foxx of what would have been a second straight Triple Crown. Consecutive triple crown seasons have yet to be achieved in baseball.

The 1932 Red Sox were a team of names: shortstop Rabbit Warstler, outfielder Smead Jolley, and third baseman Urbane Pickering. Pitching for this team was a real adventure, but the pitching was the stronger side of the equation. Boston had a ERA+ of 89 for 1932, compared to a 76 OPS+ for its’ offense. After this disastrous season, the Red Sox would not finish in last place for another 60 years.

The 1948 Chicago White Sox lost 101 games and appear to be somewhat of an equal match to the 1932 Red Sox in that their offense posted a 79 OPS+ and 87 ERA+ for the pitching staff. These Pale Hose did not feature a batting champion, but did have two Hall of Famers in uniform. 41-year-old Luke Appling was winding down his Hall of Fame career at short, and in the dugout, 47-year-old “Sunday” Ted Lyons was the manager. Lyons was inducted in 1955 for his playing career as a White Sox pitcher from 1923 – 1946. Lyons became known as a “Sunday pitcher” late in his career by pitching once a week for most of his career. He took over as manager in 1946, and 1948 was his final season as Chicago dropped to a 51-101 record. Appling and Lyons are one-two on the franchise’s list of career WAR.

The clubs were paired up in a replay of 50 154-game seasons against one another. The team that loses the most seasons advances in this worst-of-the-worst tournament. Though many of the seasons were close, the 1932 Red Sox advance easily by dropping 37 of the 50 seasons. The clubs tied with 77-77 records in four of the seasons. Despite the presence of the batting champ Alexander, the Red Sox were futile in so many ways. Alexander (.349/.434./489) led all batters in on-base percentage, slugging and second in batting average. But, teammates Rabbit Warstler (.196/.247/.245), Marty McManus (.221/.304/.358), and Marv Olsen (.233/.326/.284) more than made up for Alexander’s efforts. The 4th seed 1932 Red Sox will face the 12th seed 1954 Philadelphia Athletics in the second round.

Complete Worst of the Worst Tournament bracket

Credit to Garry Brown’s 2012 tribute to the 1932 Red Sox and SABR’s biography of Dale Alexander.

1904 Senators vs. 1954 A’s – the 5/12 upset?

The tournament's number 5 seed, 1904 Washington Senators, face a potential trap against the No. 12 1954 Philadelphia Athletics.
The tournament’s number 5 seed, 1904 Washington Senators, face a potential trap against the No. 12 1954 Philadelphia Athletics.
The Worst of the Worst tournament continues with the much-anticipated 5/12 matchup. It’s this matchup is almost guaranteed to be the domain of the upset in the NCAA basketball tournament. In one corner is the number 5 seed, Washington Senators of 1904, and their opponent, the number 12 seed, 1954 Philadelphia Athletics.

The Senators recently drew attention as being rated as the worst baseball team of all-time according to the ELO ratings of FiveThirtyEight.The 1904 Senators garnered a composite ELO of 1387, ten points below our No. 2 seed, 2003 Detroit Tigers (1397) and twelve below the No. 1 seed, 1962 Mets. The Senators lost 113 games, and had a team OPS+ of 80. The pitching staff was atrocious with an ERA+ of 74, the second lowest mars among the teams in the tournament. The 1916 Athletics, the three-seed in this tournament, had a team ERA+ of 73. Perhaps it was this season in Washington that spawned the vaudeville joke of “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League”.

These Senators were a mess. Walter Johnson, the Big Train, would not arrive for another three years. Similar to the Montreal Expos a century later (and who coincidentally relocated to Washington), the club was run by their league. American League president Ban Johnson acted in the role of general manager making all team and roster decisions. After losing 13 of their first 14 games, manager Malachi Kittridge was dismissed and replaced with outfielder Patsy Donovan who had managed the Cardinals in 1903. The highlight of the season was a season-best three game winning streak in August. In July, the team made several moves. Johnson traded Al Orth, a 20 game winner with the Phillies in 1901 before jumping leagues to the Senators the following season, to the Highlanders for Barney Wolfe and Long Tom Hughes who go onto a respectable career in Washington, winning 18 games in 1908. 3B Scranton Bill Coughlin and catcher Lew Drill were sold to Detroit. SS Charles Moran was traded to the Browns for 3B Hunter Hill and Frank Heulsman. Joe Cassidy took over the shortstop duties for Moran. He was the regular shortstop for Washington in 1905, but that off-season, he contracted typhoid fever and died at the age of 23.

1954 marked the final season for the Athletics in Philadelphia. They would move to Kansas City and would be considered by many to be a farm team for the New York Yankees. The Athletics were 103 game losers in 1954, and 109 game losers according to their Pythagorean record. They sported the second lowest OPS+ (77) in the tournament. Only the 1952 Pirates who have already advanced to the second round were worse (73). The Athletics pitching staff, anchored by 1952 AL MVP winner Bobby Shantz, turned in an equally inept season. Their ERA+ of 76 is third worst just ahead of these Senators and the aforementioned 1916 Athletics. Shantz was joined by fellow lefty Alex Kellner, and righties Arnold Portocarrero and Bob Trice. Trice was the A’s first African-American player making his debut in September, 1953.

The A’s actually started the season off well. They won their opener against the Red Sox, and April was their only winning month (6-5). Shantz’s arm turned sore and the season went downhill from there. It may have been fortunate for Philadelphia to share their ineptitude with the newly relocated Baltimore Orioles who lost 100 games in 1954. In fact, the Orioles cushioned the A’s from last place going into September, 1954. But, the Orioles went 11-01 in September to pass Philadelphia for seventh place. The A’s lost their final game at Connie Mack Stadium on September 19th as the Yankees rallied to a 4-2 win before 1,715 spectators. The club did manage to win its’ final game as the Philadelphia Athletics beating a Yankee team that featured Mickey Mantle playing shortstop, Yogi Berra at third base, and Moose Skowron at second base. The A’s finished 60 games behind the 111-win Cleveland Indians in 1954.

So can the 12-seed upset the 5-seed in this baseball tournament? The answer is an resounding yes. The A’s managed only seven wins in the fifty 162-game seasons played with the 1904 Senators. Alex Kellner turned in one of the tournament’s worst pitching performances with a career 6.23 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, and 539-104 record in 1.985 starts. Philadelphia’s Pete Suder hit for a low .597 OPS in an average of 190 at bats. Fellow utilityman Hunter Hill of the Senators posted a .662 OPS in an average of 260 at bats. On the bright side, the A’s sole All-Star in 1954, Jim Finigan, had the highest batting average for the 50 seasons (.379). In fact, he posted an impressive .379/.446/.513 slash line for a .959 OPS. Senators catcher Lew Drill recorded the highest career OBP (.476) and SLG (.529). The Senators leading batsman, Jake Stahl, also enjoyed success against the Athletics staff. Stahl hit for an .898 OPS with the highest career total in doubles (2,208), runs scored (6.614) and runs batted in (6,558). Joe Cassidy, the Washington shortstop who died at 23, led with 971 triples. Philadelphia’s Gus Zernial lead with an even 1,000 home runs which is the lowest total posted thusfar in the 50-season format.

So the 12-seed advances to the next round to face the loser between the 4th seed 1932 Boston Red Sox and the 13th seed 1948 Chicago White Sox.

Complete Worst of the Worst Tournament bracket

credit to: Baseball Fever – 1904 Washington Senators
A Final Season: The 1954 Philadelphia Athletics