Americans disagree on a long list of subjects these days, but most of us can agree that 2020 was a bit of a stinker.
How bad was it? So bad that it may have been even worse than the insufferable years experienced by our Bottom 10 nominees for the worst sports seasons in college and pro sports history. Teams and individuals were given due consideration.
1. 1916 Cumberland College football: Many sports fans are familiar with Cumberland’s mind-boggling 222-0 loss to Georgia Tech, but The Worst College Football Season Ever would not be complete without acknowledging a 107-0 loss to Sewanee (Tenn.) in Cumberland’s only other game that season.
The 222-0 “contest” remains the most lopsided game in college football history. Georgia Tech, stocked with players who would win the national championship a year later, scored 32 touchdowns and forced 15 turnovers. Tech did not attempt a pass, rushed for 501 yards, scored on 18 of 28 plays from scrimmage and held Cumberland to minus-42 total yards.
Tech was coached by John Heisman. Yes, THAT Heisman. Cumberland dropped football as an official varsity sport after the 1915 season, but Heisman refused to let the little Tennessee school out of its contract to play in Atlanta. Cumberland gathered whatever warm bodies they could find on campus, played a tune-up game with Sewanee, then limited Tech to a mere 126 points in the opening half.
2. 1899 Cleveland Spiders baseball: The biteless Spiders disbanded after a 20-134 season (.149), the worst in major league history. So few fans attended Cleveland’s home games that the Spiders played most games on the road, where they compiled an 11-102 record.
The Spiders, who still hold the National League record of 24 consecutive losses, lost 40 of their final 41 games to finish 84 games behind the league champions from Brooklyn. Jim Hughey, the “ace” of a pitching staff that compiled a 6.37 earned run average, finished 4-30 with a 5.41 ERA. He was supported by an offense that mustered 12 home runs all season during the “dead ball” era.
3. 1942 Detroit Lions football: The 0-11 Lions were shut out five times, scored 38 points all season (an NFL record of just 3.5 points per game), never scored more than seven points in a game, lost by an average margin of 20.5 points … anybody noticing a trend here?
Leading passer Harry Hopp, a running back by trade, completed just 29.4% of his passes for 258 yards, zero touchdowns and – get this – 13 interceptions on 68 pass attempts. That’s almost one pick for every five passes, folks.
4. 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats basketball: The 7-59 Bobcats shot themselves in the foot all season. It’s comforting to know the Bobcats could hit anything with a shot, since they hit just 41.4% of their field-goal attempts, including 29.5% from 3-point range.
Owner Michael Jordan’s Bobcats lost 16 in a row at midseason, then finished on a 0-23 run. Things could have been worse: A lockout shortened the NBA season by 16 games (read: potential losses) for each club.
5. Herman Long, 1889 Kansas City Cowboys baseball: The savage punches of former boxing champion Roberto Duran earned him the nickname “Hands of Stone.” That nickname also could have been applied to Long, a rookie shortstop who set the major league record of 122 errors in one season.
Baseball gloves and field conditions were crude back in the day, but no other Cowboy committed half as many errors as Long in 1889. One year later, Philadelphia Athletics shortstop Billy Shindle tied Long’s infamous record, but Shinkle posted far better offensive numbers than Long and played on a much better team. The Athletics were 68-63; Long “helped” the Cowboys finish 55-82.
Long’s fielding percentage was (blush) .874 over 136 games. Interestingly, Long spent all or part of 15 more seasons in the big leagues and twice led National League shortstops in fielding percentage.
6. 1889 Louisville Colonels baseball: Long and the Cowboys weren’t the only ones struggling in the American Association (a major league at the time) in 1889. The Colonels compiled a ghastly 27-111 record (.196), thanks partly to a 26-game losing streak that remains a major league record.
Louisville finished 66½ games out of first place. The club’s top two pitchers, Red Ehret and John Ewing, posted respective records of 10-29 and 6-30. Outfielders Chicken Wolf and Farmer Weaver – honest, that’s their names – tied for the team lead in batting at .291.
7. 1974-75 Washington Capitals hockey: Watching this club play hockey amounted to Capital(s) punishment for Washington fans. The 8-67-5 Capitals set NHL records for lowest winning percentage (.131), fewest wins (70 games minimum) and most goals allowed (446, or 5.6 per game).
The Caps, an expansion team that year, lost 17 consecutive games late in the season. Only three of those losses came by less than four goals. Aging center Tommy Williams led Washington with 58 points – 23 more than any of his teammates – but his minus-69 plus-minus mark ranks among the worst in NHL history.
8. 1991-92 Prairie View A&M men’s basketball: Where do we start with coach Elwood Plummer’s hapless squad? Not only did the NCAA Division I Panthers lose all 28 of their games, but they lost by an average of 34.5 points (99.0-64.5). Three of their losses came by 60 or more points.
The Panthers improved to 1-26 the following season. Officials at the Texas school were so impressed, they retained Plummer as coach for nine more seasons – all resulting in losing records.
9. Chris Davis, 2019 Baltimore Orioles baseball: The former all-star first baseman hit rock bottom when he set major league records for a non-pitcher by extending his hitless streak to 54 at bats and 62 plate appearances. Davis went hitless in 17 consecutive games, including his first 12 games in 2019.
Davis finished the year batting .179 with 12 home runs, 36 RBIs and 139 strikeouts in 105 games. He struck out once every 2.5 at bats. That’s a career worst for Davis, who ranks 15th all-time with 1,852 strikeouts in 12 seasons.
Davis, a former Spokane Indians standout, led the American League in home runs with 53 in 2013 and 47 in 2015. However, a stunning drop in production in recent years leaves the Orioles wondering what to do with Davis and the $46 million left on the remaining two years of his contract.
10. John Coleman, 1883 Philadelphia Quakers baseball: Coleman suffered a major league-record 48 losses in 1883, but no one can question the little right-hander’s work ethic. Not only did Coleman throw complete games in all but two of his 61 starts (!), but he also played 31 games in the outfield and one game at second base.
Coleman, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound rookie, pitched a whopping 538⅓ innings, gave up a record 772 hits, won 12 games and posted a 4.87 earned run average for the 17-81 Quakers. Coleman spent most of his eight-year major league career in the outfield, which seems like a worthy punishment for a pitcher who often left Quakers outfielders exhausted from frequent pursuits of hard-hit balls.
Howie Stalwick covered sports for The Spokesman-Review and various other media outlets nationwide for more than four decades. He retired in his hometown of Spokane in 2016. Howie may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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