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12:29 p.m. - April 04, 2006
The Cleveland Spiders - Or This Is How Low You Can Go
(NOTE: This will be sports related, but RELATED, and those who know not of sports or baseball should read anyway because it is a sad, sad tale.)

Ah, baseball season is here.

This, friends, is my time of the year, and baseball is my sport.

It's a cerebral game, a peaceful game. It is an ethereal game, I feel.

Baseball is one game where anything can happen, and any team can win. In fact, even the worst teams win at least 1/3 of their games.

Well, most of them, anyway.

There have been some really bad teams. The Detroit Tigers won just 43 games and lost 119 in 2003. The 1962 New York Mets went 40-120. The 1935 Boston Braves were 38-115. The 1916 Philadelphia Athletics went 36-117.

But still, there is one team that played a full season (at about the same length as the current major league season) that was worse than those teams. They were a lot worse.

This team was the 1899 Cleveland Spiders.

Their record? 20-134.

Twenty wins. One hundred thirty four losses.

Sure, other teams in the pantheon of pro sports had worse years. The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76'ers won just 9 games in an NBA season. The first Tampa Bay Buccaneers team went winless in the NFL. The 1974-75 Washington Capitals went 8-67-5 in the NHL.

But those sports are different. This is baseball, where any team has a chance of winning, AND, the second worst team of all time won 16 MORE games than those Spiders.

How could a team be THAT egregious?

Well, it's complicated, and I won't go into too many details, but in 1899 you could own more than one team. The St. Louis team was up for sale, and they were awful, going 39-111, but they had a good fan base. The Cleveland team in 1898 was promising, but no one came to see them.

So the Cleveland owners bought the St. Louis team, and wanted to improve it in order to get more fans to the park in St. Louis.

So they kept the few good players on the St. Louis team, and transferred all of the good players from Cleveland to St. Louis. So the Cleveland Spiders had the worst players from their decent team, and the rest of the bad players from the old St. Louis team.

Ick.

And during the season, if St. Louis needed a new player, well, they just plucked the best players from Cleveland.

Double ick.

The season started out bad, as the Spiders won just 3 of their first 23 games, including an 11 game losing streak. But then, they won four out of six, and things may have been looking up for the team.

Then the owners transferred their manager and best player, Lave Cross, back to St. Louis.

In return, the Spiders got perhaps one of the worst players ever to pitch in major league baseball on a regular basis over the past 125 years. A man named Frank Bates.

Sure, Bates had some talent. Even in those days, if you were a fraud, you would be found out quickly by the managers and other players.

Bates' talent was undone by many things though. He never listened to his manager or veteran players giving him advice, he never changed his delivery or his methods. His fastball was straight, and his curves didn't curve much at all.

He was a mess.

He pitched in 20 games for Cleveland, starting 19. He threw 153 innings. In those 153 innings, he gave up 239 hits, and 181 runs (yes, more than a run an inning).

Now, in 1899, there weren't many strikeouts, for whatever reason, and players walked more than they struck out, but it wasn't astronomically higher.

Except for Bates, as in his 153 innings he walked 105 men and struck out just 13. He also hit 23 batters with pitches.

No matter how bad you think you are at your job, you're doing better than he did.

The other pitchers weren't as bad. There was Harry Colliflower, an amateur signed in Washington, who pitched a good game, got signed for the rest of the season, and wound up giving up 122 runs in just 98 innings. Crazy Schmit's won loss record was 2-17, Coldwater Jim Hughey went 4-30, and Charley Knepper, who had "long flowing locks", went 4-22.

So desperate were the Spiders for pitching help that in their last game of the season, they signed a cigar clerk from their hotel to pitch in their last game. They lost, of course, as young Eddie Kolb gave up 19 runs in 8 innings.

So they couldn't pitch, but they made up for that by not hitting. They averaged just 3.4 runs per game, while the league averaged 5.2 runs per game. Almost all of the Spiders' regulars were overmatched at the plate by the league's elite pitchers.

After they lost Cross to St. Louis, the season veered totally downhill, not that it wasn't already on a course for the depths. The normal modus operandi for them was to lose six or seven games in a row, accidentally win one, and then lose another six or seven games in a row.

And to top it off, they played most of the games on the road. The good citizens of Cleveland had better things to do, so the owners decided to just change all of the games to road games (allowable at the time).

On August 25, the Spiders beat New York 4-2 to set their record at 19-94 on the season. Now that was bad enough, sure, but the worst was yet to come.

They played 41 more games. They lost 40 of them. The only win was a 5-4 win over Washington on September 18.

Can you imagine that?

What must have it been like to go out there, day after day, knowing that you will lose, and many times it wouldn't be close at all.

I can't imagine it.

After the season, the National League contracted from 12 to 8 teams, and the Spiders were no more. In 1901, the new American League started and Cleveland got a new team.

Many of the Spiders still played organized baseball to some extent, believe it or not.

I bring their story to you, just to let you know that no batter how bad it has gotten, it can be worse. Much, much worse!

 

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