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

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