Day 425: Screwing The Scoreboard – Worst Sports Teams

originally published February 28, 2013

Every month I take a look at some of the worst mistakes art has made, from misguided movies to terrible tunes to the rectum of the airwaves known as reality TV. But art is subjective. I’m sure there are tens, even dozens of people who found Manos: The Hands Of Fate to be inspiring, who think a reality show about people trying to keep their hands pressed against a truck to be riveting, or who dream of building their own city on rock ‘n roll.

But sports is a different bag of fish-parts. When you stink up the field, arena, pitch, court, park, stadium, or Light Cycle battledrome, everybody knows it. Maybe you’ve managed to secure a truly imperfect season, with no wins. Maybe you should have stuck with your original instincts to forego professional sports and become an accountant. Maybe you would have sucked at that also.

Every professional sports league has some team who claims the title of being the worst. Now they can receive the honor of having their shame thrown in their faces once again.

Holding high the rancid wilted flag of Worst Season Ever is the 1906-1907 Liverpool City rugby club. A goose-egg in the Win column is bad enough, but to rack up 30 losses would make one ball-shatteringly morose. They scored 76 points in those thirty games, while allowing their opponents to pile up nearly 1400 points against them. These weren’t thirty narrow scrapes; the other teams in the league decimated them.

The following year, Liverpool City was replaced in the league. It would be over 80 years before another team would come close to touching this record, when the 1989-90 Runcorn Highfield club finished 0-28, with their highlight being a 92-2 loss against Wigan. According to Wikipedia, the team took five successive wooden spoons before disbanding in 1997. I don’t know what this means; I guess professional rugby involves cutlery somehow.

Still makes more sense than cricket.

Finishing a season in Major League Baseball with zero wins would be too atrocious to even conceive. I think there’s a clause somewhere in the Constitution (probably near the bottom) wherein any city who can’t pull off even one win in a 154 or 162-game season is automatically annexed to Mexico. The closest any team has come would be the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who finished with an unremarkable 20 wins and 134 losses. Horrible, yes. But it wasn’t the players’ fault.

Owners Frank and Stanley Robinson purchased the St. Louis Browns shortly before the season, a conflict of interest that wouldn’t be allowed today. Stan announced up front that the Cleveland team would be a ‘sideshow’, and pilfered all the quality players for his St. Louis franchise. After a few teams complained of not even covering their travel expenses when they traveled to Cleveland (fan turnout was almost nonexistent, averaging 199 people per game), the Spiders were forced to play extra road games. As a result, their 101 road losses in this season is a record that will probably stand forever.

Over to basketball, where the Washington Mystics of the WNBA have the dubious distinction of clocking a dismal 3-27 record, one of the worst win percentages of all-time. But the NBA has been around longer – how far into the past must we look to find the embodiment of a perfectly putrid performance? All the way back to last season. The 2011-2012 Charlotte Bobcats posted 7-59 record, with a depressing .106 winning percentage.

Okay, it was a lockout season, so the league was in a bit of disarray when the season should have started in the fall. But Charlotte never pulled it together, and even team owner Michael Jordan couldn’t jump-start them out of the slump. No doubt the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who had held the worst NBA record up to that point (a .110 winning percentage), were thrilled when Charlotte took this stinky crown.

The Bobcats have turned things around though. As of this writing their record is a whopping 13-44 – still the worst in the league by three games, but they’ve almost doubled their win total from last year! Go ‘cats!

Sure, the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators were an awful team, winning only once on the road in an 84-game season. But it was their first year in the league; we can cut them some slack. I suppose then that we should be equally as kind to the 1974-75 Washington Capitals, who finished with an 8-67-5 record in their first year in the NHL.

The Kansas City Scouts – the other expansion team in the 74-75 season – finished 15-54-11. Not great, but a lot less embarrassing. The Capitals redeemed themselves somewhat though: of their paltry eight wins, half of them were won by three or more goals. So when they were on, they were really on. And I guess they had the last laugh, since Kansas City relocated to Colorado (and subsequently, New Jersey) just a few years later, while the Capitals showed they have staying power.

Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 0-14 in their first season of existence – 0-26 before they snagged a win in their second year. But again, first-year teams are notoriously awful. They have to scrounge together a presentable squad from the scraps they pick up at the start of the season. There is no time for development, no growth, no maturity. But when a 79-year-old team can’t pull it together even once in a season, that’s just not good.

The 2008 Detroit Lions team was terrible. In a painful irony, the team rode into the regular season with an added pinch of confidence, thanks to a perfect 4-0 preseason. The regular season collapsed right away with a loss to Atlanta. In week six, the Minnesota Vikings snagged a last-second field goal to pull ahead 12-10 – this was the only game all year which was decided on the last play. I don’t know if that relieves the agony of stinging last-minute defeat, or if it’s worse because the Lions were never in the running all year. The 517 points they allowed is second only to the 1981 Baltimore Colts’ 533 for most points allowed in a season. And even the Colts were able to squeak out two wins that year.

And though I can find no natural transition to this photo, I feel I must include it, because somebody thought this tattoo would be a good idea:

There is no joy in being the worst, but there is a certain honor. When the Lions made it to the playoffs three years later, the scars of the ’08 season were part of the toughness that got them there. The Cleveland Spiders and Liverpool City rugby club may have dropped off the planet after their infamous seasons, but the Washington Capitals survived and made the playoffs for fourteen consecutive years, starting in 1982.

So buck up, Charlotte basketball fans. You may simply be earning the scrapes and bruises that will make that championship down the road taste that much sweeter. Besides, it can’t get any worse. Can it?

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