Down and Out in Philadelphia

There have been 5 truly awful teams in Major League Baseball history. I define that as teams that lose 115 or more games. The most famous is the 1962 New York Mets. The most awful is probably the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. In between lie the 2003 Detroit Tigers and the 1935 Boston Braves (which included Babe Ruth in his final half season). Then there is the team that fell the farthest the fastest, the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, two years removed from the World Series.

Between 1910 and 1914 the A’s won three World Series (1910, 1911, 1913) and lost one (1914). The advent of the Federal League changed the financial system in baseball making bigger contracts for the players. It also pulled players from the established leagues. For the A’s, pitchers Chief Bender and Eddie Plank went to the Feds. Financially strapped, A’s owner/manager Connie Mack sent Eddie Collins (2nd base), and Eddie Murphy (outfield) to the White Sox. Pitcher Jack Coombs ended up with Brooklyn. During the season Mack sent shortstop Jack Barry and pitcher Herb Pennock to the Red Sox, and hurler Bob Shawkey to the Yankees. Third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker held out for the entire season looking for more money. Of the eight primary starters and four top pitchers who played in the 1914 World Series, only 3 remained by 1916.

Mack sent a bunch of new guys, a couple of old guys, and a few of his holdovers to play in 1916. They got killed. The holdovers did OK, but not great. First Baseman Stuffy McInnis hit .295, not bad, but the first year below .300 for his career. Amos Strunk, the centerfielder managed .316 and led the team in both hits and runs. Wally Schang, the 1914 catcher, moved to left field and led the team with 7 home runs.

The old guys were 41 year old Napoleon LaJoie and 30 year old Jimmy Walsh. It was LaJoie’s last year. He played like it, hitting .246 with a .312 slugging percentage. It was the second time he hit below .280 for his career. Walsh didn’t last out the season, being traded 120 games in. With the A’s he hit all of .233.

The new guys were everybody else.  They ranged from 28 year old Charlie Pick to 19 year old Val Picinich. The team hit .242 with  380 RBIs, and 447 runs. All were league lows (actually the .242 tied with Washington for last).

It was the pitching that was really awful. The team ERA was 3.84 almost a full run higher than anyone else. Bullet Joe Bush led the team with 15 wins, but had 24 losses. Elmer Myers had 14 wins and 23 losses and no one else won more than two games. Tom Sheehan and Jack Nabors won two games between them (one each) and lost 34. Rube Parnham was the only pitcher with a winning record managing to go 2-1 in four games. It was the high point of  his career.

The result of all this was the worst winning percentage of either the 20th or 21st Century, .235. By contrast the ’35 Braves winning percentage was .248, the ’62 Mets were at .250, and the 2003 Tigers managed .265. Only the 1899 Spiders did worse. They were 20-134 for an all-time low percentage of .130 (Gimme some time, it’s coming).

Mack weathered the storm. It took a while, but he finally put together another fine team from 1929 through 1931. It won two World Series and lost a third. It was Mack’s last great team. It was followed by another series of bad teams, but nothing ever again like the woeful team of 1916.

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