06 December 2008 by Published in: Research and Writing 14 comments

Those of you who read this blog regularly know how much I love baseball, and you also know how much I love the Philadelphia Phillies.

As some of you may know, Michael Aubrecht and I are working on bringing to fruition an idea for a book on baseball that I cooked up in 1974, when I was 13. I came up with the idea of doing a study of the worst teams in the history of Major League Baseball, which I wanted to call The Losers. I picked out some teams and thought it would be fun to do the research for a project like this. I even wrote a letter to Joe Garagiola, then a star announcer for NBC, asking for permission to quote from his book, Baseball Is a Funny Game. I still have his letter denying me that permission tucked inside an album full of sports autographs I’ve had since childhood.

I wanted my project to be celebration of the very worst teams in the history of Major League Baseball, a lighthearted look at the worst that the National Pastime has had to offer. My problem was that I was only 13 years old when I came up with this concept, and I had absolutely no idea what was involved in researching and writing a book like this.

Consequently, I stored this idea away years ago, never figuring I would ever get a chance to do anything about it. I just didn’t have the resources or knowledge how to do that sort of research, and I always had other projects. I continued to harbor the hope that I might someday find a way to bring the project to fruition, but with each passing year, the likelihood of doing so grew less and less.

I met Michael Aubrecht as a consequence of our mutual interest in the American Civil War. I knew that Michael had done a great deal of writing on baseball over the years for Baseball Almanac, and I also knew that he knew how to do this sort of research. In the course of a few exchanges of e-mails some months ago, I mentioned my idea for a study of the worst that Major League Baseball had to offer to Michael, who fell in love with the concept once he learned more about it. That clinched it. After further discussion, we decided to find a way to bring my long-dormant dream to fruition.

Here’s a taste of the project. This is a piece that I wrote for the book on the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies, which was one of the teams that I identified in 1974:

The Philadelphia Phillies called tiny Baker Bowl home during the 1930’s. The little stadium featured tin-covered outfield fences, meaning that baseballs rebounded off them with a loud “boom”. The tiny bandbox featured a right field fence that loomed only 272 feet away from home plate, meaning that it was a hitter’s paradise. A routine pop fly would end up a home run in the nearby right field stands. And the 1930 Phillies could hit. They took advantage of new baseball that featured a hitter-friendly resilient core and flatter seams. Featuring future Hall of Fame leftfielder Chuck Klein, the 1930 Phils posted a team batting average of .315. Every regular position player on the team hit at least .282 that season.

Klein had a monster year. He hit .386, with 250 base hits, including 59 doubles and 40 homers. He scored 158 runs and drove in a staggering 170. Right fielder Lefty O’Doul, a failed pitcher who had been converted to the outfield, nearly matched him. O’Doul hit .383, with 202 hits, 37 doubles, and 22 homers. He scored 122 runs and drove in 97. Third baseman Pinky Whitney hit .342 with 207 hits and 117 RBI’s. The team scored 944 runs and just pounded the ball all over their friendly little ball park. This Phillies team set franchise records for hits, singles, doubles, total bases, runs, and runs batted in, all of which still stand, nearly 80 years later.

With that kind of offense, one would think that the Phils would have won the National League. Wrong. This team posted a 52-102 record and finished dead last. Why? Because opposing teams hit a staggering .350 against what has to be the worst pitching staff in the history of Major League Baseball. The team ERA was an incredible 6.71. The Phillies also made matters much worse by leading the National League with 239 errors, 23 more than the next worse fielding team. The wretched pitching and awful fielding combined for a total of 1,199 runs being scored against the Phillies that year, a record for wretchedness that stands to this day. The Phightin’ Phils would regularly score 10 runs a game and still lose.

“Fidgety Phil” Collins was the only member of the pitching staff to have a decent season, posting a 16-11 record and an ERA of 4.78. The right-hander was the only hurler with an ERA less than 5.0. Supporting him was righty Claude Willoughby, who went 4-17 with a ghastly ERA of 7.59. Willoughby gave up a staggering 241 hits in only 153 innings. Southpaw Les Sweetland posted a 7-15 record with an ERA of 7.71. He surrendered 271 hits in 160 innings. Right-hander Ray Benge went 11-15 with a 5.70 ERA. Righty starter Hap Collard was 6-12 and 6.80, and right handed relief pitcher Hal Elliott was 6-11 with a 7.67 ERA, meaning that he gave up least one run in every relief appearance that season.

Even Grover Cleveland “Old Pete” Alexander, one of the greatest pitchers to ever toe the rubber, put up terrible numbers in his final major league season. Alexander, who had gone 31-10 with a 1.22 ERA for the National League champion 1915 Phillies, was now 43 years old and clearly at the end of the line of a glorious career that featured a record of 373-208 and a guaranteed spot in the Hall of Fame. In 9 appearances in 1930, Alexander went 0-3, with an astronomical 9.14 ERA. The ancient righty gave up an unfathomable 40 hits in just 22 1/3 innings. He wisely retired after 19 years in the major leagues before further tainting his otherwise magnificent career.

It’s difficult to imagine a pitching staff much worse than the one employed by the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies, which proved, beyond doubt, that a winning team needs quality pitching and not just unlimited offense. Indeed, the incendiary 1930 Phillies staff richly deserves the hard-earned title of worst pitching staff in the history of Major League Baseball, establishing a record for wretchedness that will probably never be eclipsed.

I have to admit that I’m having an absolute blast working on this, and Michael is doing a great job with his portion. Michael has a taste of one of his contributions in his blog entry of December 3. Check it out. Here’s a link to a basic site that Michael designed to describe the project and to update on its status.

I think that the final product will be great fun to read. I will keep you posted as to its progress.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Jim Epperson
    Sat 06th Dec 2008 at 9:26 pm

    I’m sure one of the recent editions of the Detroit Tigers will make the book 🙁

  2. Sat 06th Dec 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Jim,

    You bet–the 2003 Tigers will be spotlighted.

    Eric

  3. John Cocktosin
    Sat 06th Dec 2008 at 10:52 pm

    This is a great idea!

    do you have any specific criteria/formula for how you picked these teams other than they had a bad record/you remembered them being terrible? Curious.

    Look forward to reading it.

    -John

    p.s. no mention of the 11th Mississippi POWs at a Union Prison Camp? I hear they had no relief the whole season.

  4. Sat 06th Dec 2008 at 10:57 pm

    John,

    It was pretty subjective. We looked for the teams with the worst records, we looked for especially bad feats, and we looked for stories that we thought would be fun, such as Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in 1979. There was no real magic to it.

    Eric

  5. Kent Dorr
    Sat 06th Dec 2008 at 11:07 pm

    How many of the horrible Tribe teams from the 60s, 70s and 80s are in the book?

  6. Phil LeDuc
    Sun 07th Dec 2008 at 12:06 am

    For a bad feat of sorts, consider the 2008 Seattle Mariners – the first team with a $100 million payroll to lose 100 games. (Then there are our other Seattle teams – the 2-11 Seahawks, the 0-12 University of Washington Huskies, the 2-19 Seattle Sonics … oh wait, we lost the Sonics to Oklahoma City. Maybe things aren’t so bad for Seattle sports fans after all.)

  7. Sun 07th Dec 2008 at 8:51 am

    It’s ironic that your “loser” project is finally getting up a head of steam in the same year that the Phillies won the World Series. Maybe that makes the project less painful.

    Good to see mention of Lefty O’Doul. I’ve had a number of drinks at Lefty O’Doul’s on Geary Blvd. in San Francisco, and the big 3rd street draw bridge next to SF’s ATT park is the Francis Lefty O’Doul Bridge. http://tinyurl.com/63w7bs

  8. Sun 07th Dec 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Kent,

    Just one–the 1991 Tribe.

    Eric

  9. Sun 07th Dec 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Dave,

    Believe me, the irony is NOT lost on me.

    Lefty O’Doul was one of those one dimensional players–he could do one thing and one thing only: hit the cover off the ball.

    Eric

  10. kevin kearns
    Sun 07th Dec 2008 at 6:47 pm

    philadelphia both al and nl would be a book all to themselves.

  11. Sun 07th Dec 2008 at 10:33 pm

    2008 Seattle Mariners will be added. 🙂 Thanks Phil.

  12. Tom
    Mon 08th Dec 2008 at 9:45 am

    This looks like fun. I think you will wear out your thesaurus looking for synonyms for “wretched” and “dismal.”

  13. Tue 09th Dec 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Tom,

    I fear you are correct.

    Eric

  14. Phil LeDuc
    Fri 12th Dec 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Eric –

    I see that a deal is imminent between the Phillies and Seattle Mariners free agent Raul Ibanez. This is a loss (yet another one of another kind) for Seattle and a gain for the Phillies. Ibanez is the consumate professional on the field and in the clubhouse. Although he’s getting a little long in the tooth, he keeps himself in great shape and is a consistent, professional (that word again) hitter. Congrats to the Phillies – may they benefit with Raul as much as they have with ex-Mariner Jamie Moyer.

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