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.