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.