It usually doesn’t matter how bad things are; they could always be worse.
Unless you were the 1899 Cleveland Spiders.
And while many among us have led a tortured summer without baseball, the Spiders proved that you could lead a tortured summer with baseball.
This was, without a doubt, the worst team in baseball history. The 1962 New York Mets hold that distinction for the so-called ‘modern era.” They compiled a lackluster record of 40-120. The 2003 Detroit Tigers challenged that ineptitude, finishing at 43-119.
The 1899 Cleveland Spiders went 20-134. Their .130 winning percentage remains unsurpassed as the worst ever recorded. The Spiders finished a mind-boggling 84 games out of first place — and 35 games behind the next worst club!
Judging by their win total alone, they were twice as awful as the ’62 Mets.
Cleveland spent two years as a member of the American Association before joining the National League in 1889. They finished second in ’92, ’95, and ’96.
They won the Temple Cup in ’95. That was a two-team playoff that eventually led to the World Series. The Spiders beat the Baltimore Orioles of John McGraw, four games to one.
They weren’t that bad in 1898, either. They finished in fifth place with a record of 81-68.
The last-place team that year, the hapless St. Louis Browns, finished 39-111. This made them available for purchase, and in February 1899 they were bought by Frank and Stanley Robison.
Coincidently, the Robisons also owned the Spiders. This would shortly lead to the league rule prohibiting ownership interests in different franchises. The Spiders had never drawn well in Cleveland, and the Robisons felt a winning team would — in St. Louis.
And so, the Robisons sent their best pitcher from Cleveland to St. Louis. Fellow by the name of Denton True Young, better known as Cy. He had won 241 games for Cleveland and would win another 270 in his career. His career record of 511 wins stands as the most untouchable record in all of sports.
Also sent to St. Louis were future Hall of Famers Jesse Burkett and Bobby Wallace. Wallace hit 12 home runs in 1899, matching the total of the entire Cleveland team.
Another seven players were transferred, including player-manager Patsy Tebeau. As a result, St. Louis rose from 12th place to fifth in the standings.
The Spiders started the season 8-22, at which point player-manager Lave Cross was sent down the Mississippi. Second baseman Joe Quinn managed the team the rest of the way, compiling an unprecedented record of 12-104.
How bad were the Spiders? Their season was low-lighted by a 24-game losing streak, still the all-time record for consecutive futility. They also complied six streaks of at least 11 straight defeats.
The Spiders longest winning streak? Two games. Achieved once.
This team was so hideous that when they beat the Orioles in June, Baltimore manager McGraw suspended and fined pitcher Jerry Nops. The next day, the Orioles won, 21-6.
If run differential is the truest measure of a team’s merit, the Spiders earned their putrid record. They scored 205 fewer runs than any other team, and allowed 269 more runs than any other team. Their total run differential was –723. The next worst team in the league posted a run differential of –240.
The Spiders posted the worst marks in the league for runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, stolen bases, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Four players tied for the team lead in home runs. They each hit two.
And how would you like this starting rotation: Jim Hughey (4-30, 5.41 ERA), Charlie Knepper (4-22, 5.78), Crazy Schmit (2-17, 5.86), Frank Bates (1-18, 7.24), Harry Colliflower (1-11, 8.17), Willie Sudhoff (3-8, 6.98), Bill Hill (3-6, 6.97) and Kid Carsey (1-8, 5.68.) That’s the crew that started 139 of Cleveland’s 154 games.
The entire staff allowed 1,252 runs over the season, a record of largesse that still stands. That works out to over eight runs per game; they surrendered 10 or more in a game 49 times. For the final game of the season, the Spiders turned to an amateur pitcher and full-time cigar store clerk, Eddie Kolb. The Reds beat him, 19-3.
This team was so hideous that no National League team ever played another home game in Cleveland. The Spiders were disbanded after the season.
According to legend, once the season mercifully drew to a close, the players presented traveling secretary George Muir with a diamond locket. The dedication noted that Muir “had the misfortune to watch us in all of our games.”
So, just when you think it can’t get any worse, remember: it already has.