September is the month when baseball’s long marathon breaks into a sprint known as the pennant race. For some teams, it’s an opportunity to take a victory lap, while for others, it’s a time to either go to the whip or hold on for dear life. However, not every team finishes the year by charging hard toward the finish line. Just as many end the season bringing up the rear, seeking a merciful end to a long summer of losing
The ultimate stigma for a baseball team is a 100-loss campaign. Among the 2,446 major league seasons played by the existing 30 franchises, only 140, or less than 6%, have ended in such ignominy. Unfortunately for the Houston Astros, 2011 was such a year. However, long-time fans should be willing to cut the organization some slack. In the club’s 50-year history, this was the first time it suffered 100 defeats, leaving the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Angels as the only two franchises to never pass the century mark.
No team has lost 100 games more often than the Athletics, who caused fans in three different cities to suffer through 16 seasons of milestone futility. In the National League, the Phillies lead the way with 14 seasons at 100 or more losses, which might explain why Philadelphia has a reputation for being so ornery. Between the two clubs, the city of brotherly love has been witness to 25 years of historically bad baseball, so you probably can’t blame its residents for not believing in Santa Claus.
It took 50 seasons for the Astros to finally drop 100 games, which is noteable because the franchise broke into the National League along with the New York Mets, who lost a record 120 games that year. In 2003, the Tigers gave the Metsies a run for their money, but pulled up short at 119. Even in losing, those Tigers left something to be desired.
Among American League teams, the Yankees enjoy the longest stretch without a 100-loss season, an honor it almost forfeited in 1990. That year, the Bronx Bombers lost 95 games, the most since going down to defeat on 102 occasions in 1912. In the National League, the Dodgers and Cardinals each boast an even longer active streak without a 100-loss season. Both teams last passed the century mark in 1908, which just so happened to be the year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Since then, the Cubs have failed to win another Fall Classic, while the Dodgers and Cardinals have gone on to lead the National League in pennants.
The Astros weren’t the only team to establish a new mark for futility this month. When the Pirates lost their 82nd game on September 15, the franchise increased its record long run of losing seasons to 19. Only 50 games prior, the Pirates enjoyed a share of first place in the N.L. Central, so at least their fans had the chance to dream just a little. The Orioles weren’t as kind to their followers. By the All Star break, it was clear that Baltimore was headed for its 14th consecutive year below .500, which not only extended an organizational record, but also brought the franchise within one of the Red Sox’ and Athletics’ American League leading string of 15 subpar seasons.
Not surprisingly, the Yankees streak of four consecutive losing seasons is the shortest in the American League (the Diamondbacks, in 97 fewer years, have only had three straight subpar seasons). The Pinstripers also own the distinction of having the lowest percentage of below-.500 seasons in the major leagues. On the other end of the spectrum, the Rangers have had the highest percentage of losing campaigns (62.7%) among teams in existence for at least 50 years. Meanwhile, no franchise can compare with the Phillies aggregate level of futility. In the 129 years since the team entered the National League, 72 seasons, or 55.8%, have ended up below .500. Once again, the nastiness expressed by Philadelphia sports fans makes all the sense in the world.
It’s easy to cheer for winners. That’s why bandwagons get so full this time of year. However, we shouldn’t forget all those other teams that get run over and left for dead along the victory trail. After all, in competition, success requires someone else’s failure. So, here’s to the losers. Just don’t let them play for my team!