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Listed below are the Major League Baseball teams with the worst season won-lost records, as determined by winning percentage (.300 or less), minimum 140 games played.

Year Franchise Lg W L Percentage
1899 Cleveland Spiders NL 20 134 .130
1916 Philadelphia Athletics AL 36 117 .235
1935 Boston Braves NL 38 115 .248
1962 New York Mets NL 40 120 .250
1904 Washington Senators AL 38 113 .252
1898 St. Louis Browns NL 39 111 .260
1919 Philadelphia Athletics AL 36 104 .257
2003 Detroit Tigers AL 43 119 .265
1952 Pittsburgh Pirates NL 42 112 .273
1909 Washington Senators AL 42 110 .276
1942 Philadelphia Phillies NL 42 109 .278
1932 Boston Red Sox AL 43 111 .279
1939 St. Louis Browns AL 43 111 .279
1941 Philadelphia Phillies NL 43 111 .279
1928 Philadelphia Phillies NL 43 109 .283
1915 Philadelphia Athletics AL 43 109 .283
1911 Boston Braves NL 44 107 .291
1909 Boston Braves NL 45 108 .294
1911 St. Louis Browns AL 45 107 .296
1939 Philadelphia Phillies NL 45 106 .298
1937 St. Louis Browns AL 46 108 .299
1945 Philadelphia Phillies NL 46 108 .299
1938 Philadelphia Phillies NL 45 105 .300

NL=National League, AL=American League


1898 St. Louis Browns and 1899 Cleveland Spiders[]

The 1899 Cleveland Spiders own the worst single-season record of all time and for all eras (with one exception) finishing at 20-134 (.130 percentage) in the final year of the National League's 12-team experiment in the 1890s. The only team to do worse, the 1884 Wilmington Quicksteps of the Union Association, played only 18 games, compiling a 2-16 record and a .125 winning percentage. Prior to 1899, as shown in the list, the St. Louis Browns had owned the worst record for a large season schedule, the year before; and the one situation led to the other (see below).

With shorter schedules during much of the 19th century, there was less of an "evening out" effect that accrues over a season of 154 or 162 games, so 19th century baseball features both the best and the worst percentages of all time. It was much more common for teams to finish with sub-.300 winning percentages. Those teams are not listed because they played shorter schedules. For example, the 1876 Cincinnati Reds (not the same franchise as the modern-day Reds) went 9-56 for a .138 percentage. By 1899 the National League was playing the standard 154 game schedule.


The Spiders had had a fair amount of success in the 1890s, with seven straight winning seasons 1892-98 and a Temple Cup victory in 1895. Meanwhile, the once four-time American Association champion St. Louis Browns had fallen to a then-all-time low of 39-111 in 1898. But Spiders ownership (the Robison brothers) bought the Browns in time for the 1899 season, creating an obvious conflict-of-interest situation which was later outlawed. On the eve of the season they traded many of Cleveland's good players to St. Louis in exchange for mediocre players, with respectable results for St. Louis and disastrous results for Cleveland.

The 1899 Spiders set the major league record for most consecutive losses in a season (24, from July 26 to September 16), most losses in a month (27 losses in July), had 6 double digit losing streaks, and lost 40 of their last 41 games. They also finished 84 games behind the 1899 National League champion Brooklyn Dodgers. Ironically, the Dodgers had done much the same thing to the Baltimore franchise, transferring several future Hall of Famers from the old Orioles to the new Dodgers. But they at least left Baltimore with a decent club, which finished in fourth place, ahead of the St. Louis club, which had hoped to get a better boost in the standings than they did.

The 1899 Browns, renamed the "Perfectos" and staffed with all the best players from the 1898 Spiders—six of the Spiders' eight starting position players and four starting pitchers, including the great Cy Young—would improve by a whopping 44½ games, from 39-111 to 84-67. However, all St. Louis did ultimately was to trade places with Cleveland in the standings, falling short of the implications of their temporary new nickname. The Browns/Perfectos would be renamed the St. Louis Cardinals in 1900, and are unrelated to the American League St. Louis Browns that adopted the discarded nickname and also appear on this list.

The shameless intra-league raiding by the Browns and the Dodgers helped spell the demise of four teams after the 1899 season. The Spiders were practically a cinch to fold after their disastrous season, and ultimately the League contracted from twelve to eight clubs. Baltimore, Louisville and Washington were also phased out. The American League soon arose to fill the void.

Philadelphia clubs[]

Of the 23 teams on this list, nine played in the city of Philadelphia.

The Phillies, responsible for six of the teams on the list above, have an all-time winning percentage of .468 (through 2006, dating back to 1883), which ranks last among the "Original Sixteen" pre-expansion franchises. They suffered their 10,000th franchise loss on July 15, 2007, several hundred more than the Chicago Cubs, despite being seven years younger as a franchise. The 1938 club abandoned their ballpark, Baker Bowl, which had become as much of a joke as the team had, and leased Shibe Park from the Athletics in mid-season. Prior to the arrival of the expansion New York Mets in 1962, who stole the Phillies' thunder, so to speak, the Phillies were generally regarded as the dregs of the league (and the team that kept the by-then inept Cubs out of last place). The team bottomed out in 1961 with a 47-107 season that barely failed to qualify for the above list, and included a 23-game losing streak. A cartoon in a 1962 baseball magazine showed a baseball player applying to the French Foreign Legion, with the caption, "I was released by the Phillies."

The Philadelphia Athletics had been a baseball power in the early days of the 20th century, and a significant contrast to the Phillies (who played their games a mere five blocks east of the A's) having won six pennants and three World Series between 1902 and 1914. But after the A's lost the 1914 World Series to the "Miracle" Boston Braves and several players left to join the new Federal League, owner-manager Connie Mack tore down the team. In two seasons, the A's went from pennant-winners to one of the worst teams of the modern era, rivaled in ineptitude only by the 1962 New York Mets and the 2003 Detroit Tigers. The 1916 A's finished forty games behind the next-to-last team in the AL that year, the Senators. Washington was 76-77 and every other team in the American League had a winning record. Forty-one-year-old future Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie finished his career with the 1916 A's. The A's would rebuild into another powerhouse, to win three consecutive pennants during 1929-30-31 and the World Series in 1929-30. Then Mack dismantled the team again, and it was the late 1960s before the franchise would revive, albeit on the west coast.

Other teams[]

The 1935 Boston Braves featured Hall of Famers Rabbit Maranville (age 43) and, famously, Babe Ruth. Braves owner Emil Fuchs had promised Ruth an ownership stake in the Braves and a chance to manage the club in the near future, but had little intention of delivering either. Ruth retired on June 1, 1935, having hit .181 in 72 at-bats for the Braves, with six home runs (the last three all coming on the same day, May 25, 1935, at Pittsburgh). The Braves had won the league pennant and World Series in 1914, but had fallen into mediocrity and hit bottom in 1935. The Braves would win the league pennant again, 13 years later.

The 1962 New York Mets were an expansion team created to fill the void caused when the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers left New York City after the 1957 season. The Mets, filled with castoffs like "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry as well as aging future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn and low-talent rookies such as Choo Choo Coleman, would finish with the third-worst winning percentage in the modern era and the modern-era (1900-present) record for most losses. The Mets would go on to finish last or next-to-last for seven years in a row, before they shocked the baseball world by winning the 1969 World Series. Ed Kranepool was an "original Met" on the 1969 team. Although he had played only three games for the 1962 Mets, he had become a Mets regular by 1964.

The 2003 Tigers seemed like a sure bet to break the 1962 Mets' record for most losses when they stood at 38-118 after 156 games, but they won five of their last six to avoid ignominy. On September 27, in their next-to-last game, the Tigers came back from an 8-0 deficit to beat the Minnesota Twins 9-8.[1] When the Tigers won the season finale to avoid tying the record, they received a standing ovation from the crowd. The Tigers caught a break in the fact that the Twins had just clinched the division and were resting their regulars. Mike Maroth, a starting pitcher for the 2003 Detroit Tigers, went 9-21 and became the first pitcher to lose 20 games in a season since Brian Kingman dropped 20 games for the 1980 Oakland Athletics.[2]

Three years after losing 119 games, the Detroit Tigers went 95-67 after an outstanding and unexpected run, although on the last day of the season they were passed in the standings by the resurgent Minnesota Twins, who had "helped" the Tigers escape ignominy three years earlier. Nevertheless, the Tigers attained the American League Wild Card in 2006, and went on to win their tenth American League pennant before losing the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. Players common to the 2003 and 2006 Tigers teams included Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago (who spent 2004 and 2005 with the Seattle Mariners), Craig Monroe, Dmitri Young (released in September 2006), Omar Infante, Mike Maroth, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Jamie Walker, Wilfredo Ledezma, and Fernando Rodney.

Changes of scenery[]

Several of the more chronic franchises on this list wound up relocating and finding much better success. These results include the 2006 season:

  • The Senators would become the Minnesota Twins and win eight division titles, three league pennants, and two World Series championships in their new home.
  • The Browns, whose only postseason appearance in a half-century in St. Louis was a loss in the 1944 World Series to their same-ballpark rivals the Cardinals, would become the Baltimore Orioles, and would win six league pennants and three World Series championships in Baltimore.
  • The Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City with little gain as they effectively served as a "farm club" for the New York Yankees for awhile (the closest modern equivalent to the 1898-1899 situation); and then transferred to Oakland under new ownership, where they would win six league pennants and four World Series championships.
  • The Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee, where they had meteoric success with two pennants and one World Series win; and later to Atlanta, where they have enjoyed many divisional championships, several league pennants and one World Series championship; during the 50-plus years since they left Boston.

See also[]

References and further reading[]

  • Statistics and game logs at Baseball Reference
  • "The 1899 Cleveland Spiders: Baseball's Worst Team", article by David Fleitz
  • "Nothing worse than the 1899 Cleveland Spiders", ESPN article by Rob Neyer. Neyer's ten worst teams of all time.
  • Excerpt from Chapter 8 of Neyer and Epstein's Baseball Dynasties, "The Worst Teams of All Time"
  • Neyer, Rob, and Eddie Epstein. Baseball Dynasties: The Greatest Teams of All Time. Norton, 2000, 384 p.
  • On a Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place: Baseball's Worst Teams, by George Robinson. Profiles of several of the teams on this list.
  • MISFITS! Baseball's Worst Ever Team, by J. Thomas Hendrick. About the 1899 Spiders.