By DAVID MILLER News Sports EditorSClBMuch is made these days about social media. I’m no expert. In fact, the only social media in which I engage is Facebook. The best part about that device is that it permits communication between friends. Through it I have been able to locate and communicate with folks I hadn’t heard about for years.
There is a lot of trash on the medium, however, and one has to learn to ignore or delete the offensive stuff. Often I delete things I don’t like with the hope that by doing so I will be shielded from receiving similar things in the future.
Not too long ago a pop-up feature, you know one of those that is loaded with ads not so subtly hidden, caught my eye. It promised to reveal the worst sports teams in history. In my many years of being associated with bad teams, the prospect really piqued my interest. I bit and began the journey of trying to avoid clicking on some unwanted advertisements with a modicum of success.
But my success was for naught as the whole article was a bit disappointing. Most of the teams listed were from the past 10 or 15 years. I concluded that the author must be a youngster uninformed about anything that predates the 21st Century.
My disappointment encouraged me to dig back in my memory to come up with my own list.
Of course, I can’t ignore two teams of which I was a part. The Mankato-Jewell County American Legion baseball team of 1961 was atrocious. I think I have written about it in the past. The team played something like 40 games and it lost all but two (or maybe three). Two of the wins came late in the season, indicating that perhaps the team was beginning to improve. One of those wins involved me being assigned to the opponent to give it a full complement of nine players. After Jewell County won that game, the coach not so kindly suggested that he might want to assign me to the opponent in all future games.
Another really bad team of which I was a part was the Decatur Foundry slow-pitch softball team of 1972. It is very difficult to strike out in slow pitch softball, but that happened at least once a game for the Foundry. Batting averages are usually in the .300s or .400s or higher in the slow pitch game. But the Foundry team had several batting below .100. Like the Jewell County team, however, the Foundry sluggers actually won a game late in the season. The sports
editor of the Decatur Herald cameto see one of our games (his eldest son was our manager). The sports editor was impressed by our ineptitude and wrote about it the next day for the whole world to see. Up until three or four years ago I saw the byline of his son the manager almost every day. We knew him back then as “Little Bob” but his byline read “R. B.” Fallstrom. R. B. was the St. Louis sports beat writer until he recently retired. One of my recent Facebook connections was also a member of the team. In one of his posts he claimed the business that sponsored our hapless team had given some thought to suing the players for defamation of character.
My connection with bad teams also was a part of my college experience. In my three years at Kansas State, the football team won three games. Until the Bill Snyder years beginning in 1989, K-State was known for its ineptitude on the gridiron.
Before my K-State years I spent one year at KU, which almost always has had great basketball teams. An exception was the year I spent in Lawrence. The 1961-62 team was possibly the worst in Jayhawk history. It won only three Big 8 games and tied with Missouri for last place in the conference.
Moving on to other bad teams with which I had no personal connection:
The 1962 New York Mets was one team that made the otherwise disappointing list that got me started thinking about bad teams. That team won only 40 games and lost 120. Two games were rained out and mercifully not rescheduled. Casey Stengel, who had had great success as manager of the Yankees, was the manager of the team and one can only imagine the frustration he might have experienced. “Can’t anybody here play this game?” was his oft quoted lament.
“Marvelous” Marv Throneberry was a prime example of the ineptitude of the Mets. One famous story told about Marv concerns a game in which he hit a triple. He was called out for not touching second base and when Stengel came out to argue, the umpire told him “Don’t bother arguing, Casey. He didn’t touch first base either.” The Mets had four losing streaks that exceeded 10 games each. The longest winning streak they enjoyed was three.
Another bad team I remember was the 1960 Dallas Cowboys. This was the first year for the franchise and since not much was expected I was automatically a fan. Back in those years while choosing a team to root for I almost always picked the underdog. The Cowboys of 1960 were most certainlyunderdogs. Their first game was on television, primarily because they were playing the ever-popular Pittsburgh Steelers. I was pretty excited when Dallas scored the first two touchdowns and led 14-0. The Steelers eventually won, but it was being said by so-called experts that the Cowboys had a pretty good team. I only read about their second game, which they lost to Philadelphia, but it was very close. From there on, the season went downhill and the Cowboys ended up losing many games by embarrassing margins. On the final week of the season the Cowboys tied the New York Giants 31-31 and the tie kept New York from winning the NFL Eastern Conference title. Dallas finished the year with zero wins, 11 losses and one tie. Eddie LeBaron had started as the Cowboy quarterback, but in midseason a youngster by the name of Don Meredith took over. Meredith eventually became a pretty good quarterback and the Cowboys turned out to be “America’s Team.”
By the way, the Cowboys had another terrible season, one that I almost overlooked. It was 1989 when Dallas was 1-13. Troy Aikman was the quarterback and Dallas had other stars, but things just didn’t come together until the next season. Two years later, Dallas was in the Super Bowl.
The 1962 Mets and the 1960 Cowboys were expansion teams. Another expansion team that was pretty bad was the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs that year lost all 14 games on the schedule. Oklahoma Sooner fans probably know that Lee Roy Selmon was a rookie member of that team. Selmon went on to greatness and the Hall of Fame. The coach was John McKay, who was paid big, big bucks to leave a rather cushy job at the University of Southern California. Like Stengel, McKay was accustomed to winning and the 0-14 season had to wear on him.
He made one comment that summed up his frustration. “We don’t block real good. But we made up for it by not tackling.” The team lacked much offense and failed to score in each of its first three games. The Bucs scored in the fourth game, but only a field goal. It wasn’t until the fifth game that it finally scored a touchdown. Things didn’t improve much in 1977. Tampa Bay lost its first 12 games of that season to extend its losing string to 26 before it finally won for the first time.
Speaking of losing streaks, the Prairie View A&M football teams of 1989 to 1998 lost 80 consecutive games. Prairie View defeated Mississippi Valley State on Oct. 28, 1989 and didn’t win againuntil it defeated Langston in a game played in Oklahoma City on Sept. 26, 1998. Makes the K-State teams of the 1960s and 1970s look like pikers as far as losing goes.
In basketball, New Jersey Institute of Technology lost 51 straight games in the years 2007-2009. By the way, New Jersey Institute of Technology is a proud member of the Great West Conference. You read that right. A school from New Jersey is part of the same conference as the University of Texas-Pan American, Utah Valley, North Dakota, South Dakota, Houston Baptist and Chicago State.
Back to baseball, the 2003 Detroit Tigers had a record that rivalled that of the 1962 Mets, winning only 43 games and losing 119. At the beginning of the season, Detroit named future Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammel as its manager. Trammel had no idea of what was going to be his team’s fate when he joyfully accepted the job. Several of the top players in 2002 left the team for one reason or another and the Tigers management got no one to replace the departed. Detroit was so bad that it was on a course to break the Mets mark of futility. They avoided that ignominy by winning five out of the last six games.
There are teams with worse records than the 2003 Tigers, but one writer has pointed out that the Mets were an expansion team in 1962 and there were mitigating circumstances for all the other bad teams. “The 2003 Tigers were probably the worst team without an excuse,” he said.
One of those other bad teams was the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. The Spiders won 20 games and lost 134. The story behind the Spiders was that the team’s owner bought the St. Louis Browns after the 1898 season. They did not divest of their ownership of the Spiders, a clear conflict of interest. After the purchase they decided that St. Louis was a better market for a baseball team. So, they transferred all the Spider players to St. Louis leaving the Spiders with no one with Major League experience. The Spiders were so bad that after a while rival teams refused to play them in Cleveland, where attendance averaged about 150 persons per game. They finished the season with 110 of their losses being on the road. The Spiders were 84 games out of first place and 34 games behind the 11th-place Washington Senators. The league decided to disband four teams after the 1899 season. Cleveland was a clear choice to be one of those teams.
In a couple of years the American League was formed and Cleveland given a franchise, which exists to this day.