Baseball fans have terrific long-term memories, particularly for the worst teams to ever play the game. It turns out that two of the longest losing streaks in Major League Baseball history didn't happen in this century, or the last one for that matter. The shame of the longest losing streak in baseball (24 games!) belongs to the atrocious Cleveland Spiders of 1899, who broke the 23-game record previously held by the miserable Pittsburgh Alleghenys squad of 1890.
You might not recognize the names, but these two clubs were legitimate National League teams back in the late 19th century. The Alleghenys earned the nickname "the Pirates" in 1891 when they "stole" (signed, technically) a prized second baseman from the Philadelphia Athletics [source: Pirates]. The Cleveland Spiders, however, didn't evolve into the Cleveland Indians of today. Instead, the Spiders were born in 1879 and died in 1899 after playing arguably the worst season of baseball in the game's history [source: Indians].
The most important number here is 24, which is the number of consecutive losses that the Spiders endured during that fateful 1899 season. Equally impressive in shamefulness is the team's season record of 20 wins and 134 losses. The blame for the appalling record certainly rests on the players, but also on the team's owner, who gutted the club of its best players and sent them to his new team in St. Louis [source: Indians].
The 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys suffered a similar fate. After the close of the 1889 season, an Alleghenys star player named Ned Hanlon defected for the Pittsburgh Burghers of the newly created Player's League and took all but four of the Alleghenys' roster with him [source: Dreker]. The abandoned Alleghenys not only lost 23 in a row in 1890, but amassed a demoralizing 23-113 record.
The Burghers folded after only one season, and Hanlon and his fellow defectors went back to the Alleghenys and returned the club to its former pretty-goodness. The 1899 Spiders weren't so lucky: After their record-breakingly bad season, the National League squashed the lowly Spiders for good [source: Indians].
Author's Note: 5 Biggest Losing Streaks in Baseball History
I like a good losing streak as much as the next guy. Call me sadistic, but I love to see the hope in the eyes of the cursed team as they take the field, confident that this will be the day that everything changes. I love the stock quotes from the players and management after another loss. "We're just taking it one game at a time." "This team knows how to win. We just need to make it happen." Maybe we love losing streaks so much, because we know they will end. They have to. In sports, if not always in life, there's always hope for redemption, even during the worst of seasons.
- Baseball-Reference.com. "Connie Mack" (July 24, 2011) http://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/mackco01.shtml
- Donaghy, Jim. Los Angeles Times. "1961 Phillies: They Made Their Mark in Baseball History with 23 Consecutive Losses." May 3, 1988 (July 24, 2011) http://articles.latimes.com/1988-05-01/sports/sp-3190_1_philadelphia-phillies
- Dreker, John. Pirates Prospects. "Ned Hanlon." February 6, 2011 (July 24, 2011) http://www.piratesprospects.com/2011/02/ned-hanlon.html
- Gonzalez, Alden. MLB.com. "Longest single-season losing streaks by club." July 27, 2011 (July 24, 2011) http://mlb.mlb.com/news/print.jsp?ymd=20110727&content_id=22370240&c_id=mlb
- Indians.com. "Indians History Overview: The early years" (July 24, 2011) http://cleveland.indians.mlb.com/cle/history/cle_history_overview.jsp
- Justice, Richard. Washington Post. "Orioles Fire Cal Ripkin Sr." April 13, 1988 (July 24, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/orioles/longterm/memories/1988/articles/ripfired.htm
- Justice, Richard. Washington Post. "Orioles Lose Opener to Brewers, 12-0." April 5, 1988 (July 24, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/orioles/longterm/memories/1988/articles/game1.htm
- Justice, Richard. Washington Post. "Nightmare's Over As Orioles Wake, 9-0." April 30, 1988 (July 24, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/orioles/longterm/memories/1988/articles/game22.htm
- Philly.com. "Remember 1961 Phillies' 23-game losing streak." April 5, 2011 (July 24, 2011) http://articles.philly.com/2011-08-05/sports/29854816_1_ruben-amaro-phillies-gene-mauch
- Pirates.com. "Timeline: 1887-1900" (July 24, 2011) http://pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com/pit/history/timeline.jsp
- Washington Post. "The 1988 Orioles: A Season to Forget" (July 24, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/orioles/longterm/memories/1988/1to10.htm
Foul balls rocket into the stands, hitting fans on the way. Are MLB teams liable for injuries they might cause to fans? HowStuffWorks investigates.