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Three for the Tank
2006-05-01 10:15
by Mike Carminati

We have now completed the first month of the season, and amid the rousing successes like the Reds and White Sox, we should not overlook the abysmal failures.

So far three clubs have a sub-.300 winning percentage: Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Florida. It's not as if anything less, or rather more, was expected of these franchsies. The Pirates and Royals have become baseball's version of the LA Clippers—though I need to be reminded that they made the NBA playoffs this year, so as a Sixers fan, maybe I shouldn't pick on any other team at this point. The Marlins had a wholesale makeover cutting about three-quarters of their payroll. They will be the first franchise in baseball history to completely overhaul all of their starting position players (the only holdover is Miguel Cabrera, who is in a different position).

So the only drama remaining for these three stooges is to see how bad they can be. Can one of them be the worst team of the last hundred years or so? The current record holder for that dubious honor is the 1916 A's with a .234 winning percentage. KC's current 5-17 record is seven percentage points worse than that.

Here are the worst teams since the early days of baseball (i.e., min. of 100 games):

1899Cleveland SpidersNL20134.130
1890Pittsburgh AlleghenysNL23113.167
1889Louisville ColonelsAA27111.193
1897St. Louis BrownsNL29102.220
1886Washington NationalsNL2892.224
1916Philadelphia AthleticsAL36117.234
1886Kansas City CowboysNL3091.238
1904Washington SenatorsAL38113.242
1884Detroit WolverinesNL2884.246
1935Boston BravesNL38115.248
1962New York MetsNL40120.248
1898St. Louis BrownsNL39111.253

Even if the Royals don't out-crappy the '16 A's, this could be an historic season for shoddy play. Right now, all three of these teams have a winning percentage under .300: KC .227, Pittsburgh .269, and Florida .273. And not too far behind are the Nats (.320), who are one loss away from joining the other sub-.300 teams.

Baseball has not had three teams below .300 in the same season since 1890 when the Players League challenged the (then) two established major leagues, the National League and American Association. We haven't seen four sub-.300 teams since 1884, when the Union Association challenged the other two leagues. The only other years in which there were three sub-.300 teams were prior to the organization of the NL.

Here are all the major-league seasons with three or more sub-.300 teams:

1872Brooklyn Atlantics.243Cleveland Forest Citys.273Middletown Mansfields.208
1872Brooklyn Eckfords.103Washington Nationals.000Washington Olympics.222
1873Baltimore Marylands.000Elizabeth Resolutes.087Washington Blue Legs.205
1875Brooklyn Atlantics.045Keokuk Westerns.077New Haven Elm Citys.149
1875Philadelphia Centennials.143St. Louis Red Stockings.211Washington Nationals.179
1884Altoona Mountain City.240Detroit Wolverines.246Indianapolis Hoosiers.264
1884Kansas City Cowboys.195Pittsburgh Alleghenys.273Richmond Virginians.261
1884St. Paul Apostles.222Washington Nationals.190Wilmington Quicksteps.111
1890Buffalo Bisons.269Brooklyn Gladiators.260Pittsburgh Alleghenys.167

If you think that these three teams have just run into some early-season bad luck and that at least one of them will pull out of their current nosedive, consider that this sort of tripartite sucking has been pretty rare even in the early going in seasons past. Here are the only seasons since 1901 in which three clubs have had a sub-.300 winning percentage though 22 games (there were not any with more than three):

KC1981616.273611045053.48542nd half AL West Champ

You'll note that the '81 Royals made the postseason in a strike-interrupted season. Besides that just two clubs have gone on to reach .500 (both in 1902).

However, one can argue that only two teams in the list finished with a record below .300. So that does not help our argument for all three this year to finish below .300.

One thing's for sure, the Marlins will have more rumors about where they will move than wins this year. With the Pirates in a new stadium, the Twins acquiring an apparent new stadium deal, and the Nationals apparently finding new ownership soon, the Royals might be the frontrunners to join Florida as the most likely to get contracted when the owners earn the right to extinguish teams without the players union's approval at the end of the year.

It's hard to believe how far a franchise that looked so great for so long has fallen.

2006-05-01 10:20:13
1.   Humma Kavula
[posting as Bud Selig]

This wouldn't happen if baseball had a salary cap.

2006-05-01 20:54:15
2.   Yu-Hsing Chen
I think the Phillies are in little position of laughing about other teams sucking though... ack..... we need to get our acts together fasttttt or else even a implosion on the Mets part would not save the season.
2006-05-02 08:42:13
3.   dianagramr
So what do the Royals do to right the ship? They fire their hitting coach ...

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