As the Pittsburgh Pirates embark on yet another season, with the goal being to snap a streak of 20 losing seasons, the question comes to mind: What are the worst teams of the last 25 years? Which squads have been most brazenly offensive to our notions of good baseball? While the Pirates claim the prize for body of work — no other major US professional sports team can boast a longer slog of ineptitude — other franchises posted single seasons that were cringeworthy. Let's count down the worst of the contemporary era.
Picking just one team from the cornucopia of bad Royals' outfits is a challenging endeavor, but the '05 club, um, "wins." That season, the Royals dropped 106 games, endured a 19-game losing streak and somehow managed to run through three different managers. The offense finished last in the league in homers, and Emil Brown led the team in RBIs with just 86. The real problem, though, was the rotation, which posted a tidy ERA of 6.00. As a unit, it averaged barely 5.0 innings per start and struck out roughly as many batters as did the KC bullpen, which, it should be noted, wasn't especially good.
The first and only 100-loss season in franchise history came in 2002, when the Brewers went 56-106. They couldn't win close games (14-28 in one-run affairs), and they couldn't win blowouts (also 14-28 when the margin was five or more runs). On the bright side, they went 10-7 against the Cubs that year! The 2002 season marked the 10th straight losing campaign for Milwaukee, and the Brewers would log two more losing seasons before finally getting to the .500 mark in 2005.
These days, the Rays are perhaps the best organization in baseball, but for much of their early history they were the worst organization in baseball. Take the '02 team, for instance. That year, the Rays — then the Devil Rays — lost 106 games and finished 48 games behind the first-place Yankees. Like a lot of bad teams, the D-Rays were afflicted with criminally bad pitching. The Tampa Bay staff (with an assist from a terrible team defense) surrendered 918 runs on the year, and they recorded more balks than shutouts. On the upside, the D-Rays had ceased signing pointless veterans (a hallmark of the Chuck LaMar regime) and had begun to build with young talent.
2011-12 Houston Astros
The Astros wrapped up their stay in the NL Central in embarrassing fashion. The 2012 squad pratfell their way to 107 losses, which constituted the second 100-loss season in franchise history; they lost 106 games in 2011. All this despite playing in one of baseball's weakest divisions. Of course, the 2012 Astros didn't have the advantage of being able to play the 2012 Astros. In 2013 they are members of the AL West.
To start the season, the '88 O's were blanked by the Brewers 12-0, thereby setting the record for worst shutout loss ever on Opening Day. Things would get worse. A couple of weeks later, they lost their 14th straight game to open the season — also a record. They'd go on to lose an unthinkable 21 in a row before finally notching a win on April 29. Despite the presence on the roster of greats and near-greats like Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Fred Lynn and Mike Boddicker, Baltimore limped to a record of 54-107. Mostly, a listless offense was to blame. In fact, over the last quarter century no AL team (with the exception of a handful from the strike-shortened 1994 season) scored fewer runs than the '88 Orioles.
Some fans may be too young to remember this, but the franchise that won 14 straight division titles and is presently tops in the NL was once something of a punchline. In '88, the Braves went 3-16 in April and never quite recovered. They wound up 54-106, their worst mark since the franchise was in Boston. Second-year lefty Tom Glavine showed occasional promise, and a young right-hander with control problems named John Smoltz made his debut. Two years later, Dale Murphy was traded, Bobby Cox moved from the front office to the dugout and John Schuerholz took over as GM. The rest, as they say, is history.
Connoisseurs of pitching and defense, please shield your eyes. The '96 Tigers, en route to a record of 53-109, joined the 1930 Phillies as the only teams in history to surrender 1,100 runs or more in a season. Specifically, Detroit yielded 1,103 runs on the year. Other crudities: The team ERA was 6.38, they used 15 different starting pitchers on the season, they coughed up 241 home runs and they went 4-22 in September. The following summer, the Tigers compounded miseries by wasting their hard-earned top overall draft pick on Matt Anderson.
Just three seasons removed from the belt and the title, the '04 Snakes fell to 51-111. Randy Johnson managed a perfect game that season, but otherwise it was a thoroughly forgettable campaign for Arizona. The rotation behind Johnson and Brandon Webb was an absolute disaster, and the offense ranked last in the league in OBP and SLG despite playing home games in a great hitter's park. The Snakes also went 3-16 against the hated Dodgers.
After hoisting the trophy in '97, the Marlins descended so quickly that oxygen masks should've dropped down. Then-owner Wayne Huizenga, angry that South Florida taxpayers wouldn't buy him a new ballpark, systematically dismantled the reigning champs. Gone were core contributors like Kevin Brown, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Charles Johnson, Gary Sheffield, Al Leiter, Robb Nen and Devon White and replacing them was a pile of young prospects, most of whom turned out to be of little consequence. The result? A 54-108 record in 1998. Grim oddity: That season, the Fish were a combined 0-30 against the Brewers, Giants, Reds and Yankees.
From 1901 onward, only the '62 Mets lost more games than the 2003 Tigers, who went 43-119 on the year. Following a loss to the Royals on Sept. 22 that year, the Tigers dropped to 80 (!) games below .500, but fortunately they "rallied" to avoid that unseemly distinction. Detroit had three starters lose 17 or more games, and Franklyn German and Chris Mears tied for the team lead in saves with ... five. The Tigers somehow managed to post a winning record in one-run games, so things easily could've been even worse. Three years later, they won the pennant. We've spared the Tigers the indignity of putting on this list the 2002 team, which finished 55-106 and was essentially the same club as this one.