|The 2003 Tigers: The Worst Team in Baseball Ever?|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on September 09, 2003
This dubious record currently belongs to the 1962 New York Mets who managed an appalling 40 and 120 record in their inaugural season. The 2003 Tigers seem to be well on their way to challenging that record. As of this writing the Tigers are 37 and 105 with 20 games remaining. If they manage to keep up their current winning percentage the last few games they should win roughly 5 of those games and finish at 42 and 120 beating the Mets by only 1.25% and prevent themselves from having the worst record in modern baseball history.
Surprisingly, there have been worse records, notably the Cleveland Spiders of 1899 some of whose trials and travails are covered in the book Our Tribe. They finished the 1899 season 20-134 (a .128% winning percentage). The Spiders however played in the National League and were not really a big league caliber team, but rather a precursor to one. After that fateful season National League ball in Cleveland ended.
The Detroit Tigers have not always been so ill-fated; they were once one of Major League Baseball’s elite franchises boasting over 102 years of history. However, it has been ten years since the Tigers were over .500 (1993 when the Tigers were 85-77), 16 years since their last division title and 19 years since their last World Series appearance and victory.
The Tigers' heyday was really long before most of us remember; in 1907-1909 the Tigers won three successive AL Championships. They lost all three of those World Series to the Cubs and Pirates (in fact they were the last WS victims of the Cubbies in 1908) but they were the class of the American League in those days. Since then they have made the playoffs 8 more times, won the pennant 6 more times, and won the World Series 4 times (1984, 1968, 1945, 1935). It seems a long time ago.
This is a team with a proud history, a team who had players like Cobb, Coveleski, Greenberg, Newsom, Kaline, Lolich, Horton and Trammell playing for them. Today there are no names recognizable by the casual fans. The team has only one name player Dmitri Young, who despite his incredible talent is slowly being beaten down by an ownership with no commitment to turning things around.
Certainly the ownership has tried to revive this team. It was only 4 years ago that venerable Tiger Stadium was abandoned for a new ballpark, Comerica Park, which was supposed to tap into the magic attendance draw that all new parks have. Some people may even say that it worked as over 400,000 more fans flocked to the park to watch the dreadful 1999 Tigers go 69-92 for the season. The Tigers were ten games better in 2000, finishing 3rd in the AL Central 16 games behind the White Sox.
The 2000 Tigers sported many recognizable players, but soon afterwards the players that made that team somewhat interesting were allowed to drift away for financial reasons. It was only two years ago that Tony Clark, Hideo Nomo, Juan Encarnacion, Jeff Weaver, Karim Garcia, Juan Gonzalez, Brad Ausmus, and Robert Fick, who could have all been a decent core, were on the Tigers. Today aside from Dmitri Young, Alex Sanchez, and Bobby Higginson the Tigers are an undistinguished lot. Not that the players are bad, just that they have not made their reputations yet - and most are unlikely to on a team which needs a center, not just role players.
So what about the players who are on the current team? Comparing them with the 1962 Mets should depress them - especially in terms of their careers. The 1962 Mets had two twenty game losers in Roger Craig and Al Jackson - both of whom went on to lose 20 games again - neither had much of a career after 1962. Similar things can be said for most of their hitters. However almost all of the 1962 Mets were older players - which can’t be said of the 2003 Tigers. Regardless, playing for the Tigers is likely to depress any free agent value that they might have had in upcoming years.
Attendance has dropped in Detroit, hardly surprising with the team they have on the field, but that problem is much deeper. Like many other cities that have built new stadiums, Detroit counted on Comerica Park to revitalize the downtown area. It has failed so far, perhaps because the downtown was past redemption. Instead of revitalizing the area, the area has scared away the casual fans leading to an even further erosion of the fan base.
Regardless of the reasons, the 2003 Tigers are having perhaps the most unsuccessful season in modern baseball history. Can they turn things around and avoid becoming the worst team ever? Casual baseball fans are watching every game. Can the franchise be redeemed or is baseball in the Motor City fading away? That is something that every baseball fan wants to know. For if a storied franchise like the Tigers can fail, then almost no team in an urban market can breathe easy in their long-term dreams.