Did the Baltimore Orioles just play the worst stretch of baseball in modern MLB history?

Did the Baltimore Orioles just play the worst stretch of baseball in modern MLB history?

Whew! The Baltimore Orioles won a game this week for the first time since Aug. 2. In between the victories were 19 straight defeats.

That matches the 2005 Kansas City Royals for the longest losing streak of the wild-card era. But hey, the silver lining is that Baltimore did not reach the depths of its 1988 Oriole predecessors, who set an American League mark with a 21-game skid. And the Orioles fell a full four games shy of the longest losing streak of the modern era, which was the 23-game slide of the 1961 Phillies. And if you go back even further into baseball’s misty past, two teams in the 1800s had even longer losing streaks.

There have been 20 losing streaks since 1900 of 17 games or longer, including one by the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this season. While Baltimore lands on that list, it’s just another long losing streak, right?

Actually, no. The Orioles might have ended their streak short of setting some unwanted records in duration, but the three weeks in which Baltimore knew nothing but pain, despair and defeat might well have been the worst extended stretch of baseball in the modern history of the sport.

To reach that conclusion, dig a little deeper than the final tally of losses and consider just how noncompetitive the Orioles were. To make our point, we will examine all 20 losing streaks of 17 games or longer that have occurred since 1900. We will rank them in reverse order, from the lowest run differential to the highest.

By that criterion, where do the Orioles rate when compared to the exclusive class of baseball’s worst slumps? And what do the O’s have to look forward to? How long did it take each of those losing teams to get better?

(Note: All data from baseball-reference.com.)

20. 1920 Philadelphia Athletics

18-game skid | minus-50 run differential

Hall of Fame Athletics manager/owner Connie Mack saw a lot of feast and famine during his epic career, and so he ends up on this list with three different editions of his White Elephants. His 1920 club was in the middle of a three-season stretch of losing 100 games. This was during the dark time after Mack tore down his great teams from the previous decade and before his winning clubs of the mid-to-late 1920s emerged.

Fun fact: During the days of train travel, homestands and road trips used to be a lot longer than we ever see now. Thus, of the 20 teams on this list, the 1920 A’s are the only one whose entire losing streak took place on the road.

How long it took to get better: Nine years

As bad as it was in 1920, the first pieces of Mack’s next contending club were beginning to fall into place. Infielder Jimmy Dykes and hurler Eddie Rommel both logged significant time in 1920 for Mack and were still around when the worm began to turn. Still, it was five years before the Athletics climbed back over .500 in 1925 and nine years before they won the World Series in 1929.

19. 1943 Philadelphia Athletics

20-game skid | minus-52 run differential

Between this terrible Mack club and the one above, Mack had built his team into the second dynasty he created in Philadelphia, then tore it down again. By 1943, the A’s had not won a pennant since 1931 and they would never win another one for Mack or in Philadelphia or during their 13-season stay in Kansas City. The Athletics snapped their streak with a win in the second game of a doubleheader at Comiskey Park on Aug. 24, so that skid closely aligned on the calendar with this season’s O’s. One name to remember from this club: Outfielder Elmer Valo, then 22, played in the first three games of the streak before departing for a two-plus-year stint in the military during World War II. You’ll understand why we mention him a little later.

Fun fact: This losing streak had to be particularly torturous for Mack. Eleven of the 20 losses were by two runs or fewer, and only three were decided by five or more. That rate of noncompetitive losses — 15% — is the lowest of any team on the list.

How long it took to get better: 28 years

In actuality, it never got better for fans of the Philly version of the Athletics. The A’s posted a couple of .500 seasons late in Mack’s career but never climbed above fourth place. Between 1934 and 1969, when the Swingin’ A’s teams in Oakland began to take root, the franchise finished first in its division only twice. The A’s returned to the postseason in 1971 and won their first title since 1930 in 1972.

18. 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks

17-game skid | minus-55 run differential

This one is fresh, as it happened just a couple of months ago, from June 2 to June 20, when the wheels completely came off a Diamondbacks season that should not have been this bad. While the Orioles can point to their status as a rebuilding team, Arizona was expected to be better this season.

Fun fact: Arizona’s pitching staff gave up 29 homers during the losing streak, the second-highest total on this list.

How long it took to get better: TBA

We’ll find out, won’t we? The Diamondbacks haven’t been in the playoffs since 2017, so their drought will extend to four seasons this year. But their run of sub-.500 seasons will stand at only two.

17. 1975 Detroit Tigers

19-game skid | minus-56 run differential

The Tigers had been generally competitive since the early 1960s, won the World Series in 1968 and won a division title as late as 1972. In 1975, members of the good teams were still around — Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich — but the core was aging. The future of the club, Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris, had not yet arrived.

Fun fact: The Tigers lost 12 games by one or two runs during the skid, the most close losses of any team on the list.

How long it took to get better: Nine years

Detroit was back over .500 just three years later and remained there for 11 seasons. The Tigers reached the pinnacle when the great Kirk Gibson-led club in 1984 dominated its way to a championship.

16. 1962 New York Mets

17-game skid | minus-56 run differential

The Amazin’s! There’s not much new you can say about the ’62 Mets, the most famous terrible team in sports history. This streak started on May 21, dispelling any notion that Casey Stengel’s veteran-laded club might overachieve. Before the skid, New York was a pedestrian 12-19 but had somehow won nine of 12. Then this happened.

Fun fact: Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who had the misfortune of spending his final big league season with the ’62 Mets, played in 15 of the 17 games during the skid and hit .364 with a .990 OPS.

How long it took to get better: Seven years

A longtime Orioles fan will remember when the Mets emerged from their expansion chrysalis. In 1969, a franchise that had never sniffed .500 exploded for 100 wins, a National League pennant and a World Series win … over Baltimore.

15. 2011 Seattle Mariners

17-game skid | minus-57 run differential

Before the losing streak started on July 6, 2011, the Mariners stood 43-43 and were just 2 1/2 games out of first place in the AL West. By the time they won again, they were 15 1/2 back.

Fun fact: The free-swinging Mariners drew 32 walks during their skid, the fewest of these teams. The M’s finished last in the AL in walks (435) and on-base percentage (.292). That’s the worst on-base percentage in franchise history but was a part of a three-year streak of sub-.300 OBPs. Seattle has had only three such seasons but … through Wednesday’s play, this year’s club is at .299.

How long it took to get better: TBA

The Mariners have never won a pennant or a World Series and have not been to the playoffs since 2001. However, this year’s team is hanging stubbornly close in the wild-card standings at the moment.

14. 1926 Boston Red Sox

17-game skid | minus-62 run differential

It’s hard to imagine what it was like to be a Red Sox fan at the time, especially if you had idolized Babe Ruth during his time with the club. During a three-year period, in which Ruth was arguably at the apex of his global fame, Boston lost 105, 107 and 103 games, respectively. The middle figure is 1926, the year of this skid. Fourteen of those losses came at Fenway Park, though mercifully none of those came against the Yankees. In fact, Boston finally snapped the streak on Sept. 8, 1926, at Yankee Stadium, beating New York 5-2 while Ruth went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Fun fact: The Red Sox did not hit a single home run during their skid, the only team on the list to do that. They hit just 32 homers all season, 15 fewer than Ruth hit for the Yankees, but the Indians hit even fewer (27), so it was also a sign of the times.

How long it took to get better: 20 years

The parameter for “getting better” here is making the postseason. The Red Sox won the 1946 pennant, their first in which Ruth starred for them on the mound and at the plate. But let’s face it, it didn’t really get better for Sox fans until the Curse of the Bambino was lifted with the 2004 championship.

13. 1914 Cincinnati Reds

19-game skid | minus-69 run differential

The year 1914 was one of the strangest in National League history. That’s the season in which the Miracle Braves went from 15 games back on the Fourth of July to winning the NL pennant by 10 1/2 games. The Reds weren’t actually that bad for most of the season. Cincinnati was 26-15 and in first place at the start of June and while they had dropped from the race by the time the skid began, they were still 56-65. They snapped the skid by beating the rampaging Braves on Sept. 23, but by that time, Cincinnati had all but completed its tumble from first place to the NL basement.

Fun fact: The Reds allowed 29 unearned runs during their losing streak, the most of these teams.

How long it took to get better: Five years

Here you go Orioles fans! See how quickly it can turn! Five years is still a long time, you say? Sorry. That’s the best news you’re going to get from this list. The Reds went from the cellar in 1914 to the championship in 1919. Of course, the World Series the Reds won that season is better remembered for the team they beat — the Black Sox of Chicago.

12. 1948 Washington Senators

18-game skid | minus-69 run differential

The Senators were mostly known for losing during their six-decade run in the nation’s capital, but it was rarely as bad as it was in 1948, during the midst of another long run of futility.

Fun fact: Hall of Famer Early Wynn took three losses during the skid. Wynn went 8-19 in 1948 and lost 12 of his last 13 decisions.

How long it took to get better: 17 years

By the strict parameter of this list, things got “better” for the franchise when the Twins won the 1965 AL pennant. But that didn’t do much for the long-suffering fans in D.C. In fact, the wounds didn’t fully heal until 2019, when the Nationals returned baseball’s championship to Washington for the first time since 1924.

11. 1969 Montreal Expos

20-game skid | minus-75 run differential

The Expos were an expansion team playing in a makeshift-looking ballpark with a swimming pool a little way beyond right field. The pitching was particularly bad. During the length of this skid (May 13, 1969, to June 7, 1969), Expos pitchers topped our list with 95 walks and 30 homers allowed.

Fun fact: Montreal was managed by Gene Mauch. It’s not Mauch’s only entry in today’s ranking.

How long it took to get better: 12 years

Montreal built slowly but surely into a talented franchise by the late 1970s and earned its only postseason berth in 1981, when the Expos just missed a World Series appearance. The first championship finally came in 2019, but by then the franchise was in Washington.

10. 1959 Washington Senators

18-game skid | minus-75 run differential

Did we mention how bad the Senators were for much of their time in Washington? By 1959, it was all winding down as this was the next-to-last edition of the original Senators. (The next edition, now the Texas Rangers, wasn’t any better.) The ’59 Senators finished second in the AL in home runs (163) but ranked just seventh (out of eight) in runs.

Fun fact: During the skid, the Senators hit just .182, the lowest figure on the list, but hit 17 homers, the second most of these clubs.

How long it took to get better: Six years

The same comments made for the ’48 Senators apply here, only the good days in Minnesota were growing closer. The ’59 Senators featured Harmon Killebrew, who tied Roy Sievers’ franchise record with 42 homers that season. Also on hand was Bob Allison (30 homers), who, like Killebrew, would star in Minnesota for the good Twins teams to come.

9. 1903/04 Washington Senators

18-game skid | minus-76 run differential

These Senators perhaps should not be on the list, as their losing streak occurred over two seasons and included a tie in the midst of it. But who wouldn’t want to read about a team with a roster that included players named Malachi, Boileryard, Rabbit, Scoops, Highball, Happy and Champ?

Fun fact: OK, not fun, but the ’03 Senators did feature Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty, one of the best hitters of his time. Delahanty hit .346 over a 16-year career, with two batting crowns that included a .410 season in 1899. But on July 2, 1903, he was thrown off a train near Niagara Falls because of drunkeness. Shortly thereafter, he somehow fell, jumped or was thrown off a bridge over the Niagara River. His mostly naked body was found 20 miles downstream a few days later.

How long it took to get better: 20 years

For all our tales of woe about Washington baseball, there were a few good times as well. Most of them included the great Walter Johnson, who led the Senators to their only title in 1924.

8. 1906 Boston Beaneaters

19-game skid | minus-78 run differential

The 1914 Braves weren’t called the “Miracle Braves” just because of their worst-to-first turnaround that season. It was also a product of just how bad Boston had been before that season. After fielding many strong clubs behind Hall of Fame pitcher Kid Nichols and Hall of Fame manager Frank Selee, the Beaneaters (soon to be the Doves, then the Rustlers, before finally settling on Braves) had fallen on hard times. That decline was already complete by 1906 when this streak happened.

Fun fact: It was the Deadball Era, but this is extreme even for the time: Boston scored just 29 runs during the streak. They were shut out nine times, including one stretch of four games in a row.

How long it took to get better: Eight years

After the Miracle Braves won in 1914, Boston enjoyed two more seasons over .500 before another franchise crash occurred. They didn’t make it back to the Fall Classic until 1948 and never won it again while the franchise was in Boston.

7. 1961 Philadelphia Phillies

23-game skid | minus-79 run differential

These are the record holders: The ’61 Phillies hold the mark for the longest losing streak of the modern era. However, as you can see, the Phillies don’t come close to having the worst differential during an epic streak. In fact, the Phils lost 11 times by one or two runs. This is the other team on the list managed by Mauch, who during the streak was reported to have done a great deal of damage to items in the dugout.

Fun fact: The ’61 Phillies had a 40-year-old pinch hitter who split the season between Philly and Minnesota, but was around for this losing streak. Lucky him. He went 0-for-10 with a walk in 11 appearances during the skid, all as a pinch hitter. That player was Elmer Valo, a member of the second team we mentioned on this list, the 1943 Philadelphia Athletics.

How long it took to get better: 15 years

The Phillies saw little success for most of the first century of their existence, save for the occasional emergence in pennant seasons like 1915 and 1950. By 1976, the Phillies had Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and a load of other talented players who rewrote the sad history of the franchise. They began a run of division titles in 1976 and won the club’s first-ever title in 1980.

6. 1906 Boston Americans

20-game skid | minus-83 run differential

What a terrible year for baseball in Boston! Like the ’06 Beaneaters, the Americans suffered an epic-length losing streak, and they occurred roughly back to back. The Beaneaters’ 19-game streak ran from May 17, 1906, to June 8, 1906. The Americans’ 20-game skid rank from May 1, 1906, to May 24, 1906.

Fun fact: All but one of the Americans’ losses during the losing streak came at home, back when the future Red Sox played at Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds.

How long it took to get better: Six years

The Americans/Red Sox fell apart quickly after winning the first World Series in 1903 but didn’t stay down for long. They were back over .500 by 1909, won the World Series in 1912 and added three more titles by 1918. After that … well, never mind.

5. 2005 Kansas City Royals

19-game skid | minus-84 run differential

If there was ever a time in which it seemed like the Royals might never make it back to the postseason, it was probably 2005, when K.C. lost a franchise-record 106 games. The skid included two losses from likely Hall of Famer Zack Greinke, who went 5-17 at the age of 21 that season, and then very nearly quit baseball, or at least pitching.

Fun fact: The pitching staff gave up 148 runs during the skid, the most of any team on the list until this year’s Orioles. Opponents reached double figures in runs seven times during the streak.

How long it took to get better: Nine years

And of course the Royals did get back to the postseason in 2014 and won the title in 2015. That was a decade after this losing streak, arguably the nadir of the long playoff drought K.C. endured after winning the 1985 World Series. So … patience was required. And it was worth it.

4. 1916 Philadelphia Athletics

20-game skid | minus-84 run differential

Old man Connie Mack is back, though in 1916 he wasn’t so old. The ’16 Athletics were probably the worst in franchise history, going 36-117-1 while getting outscored by 329 runs during a low-run era. As bad as this 20-game skid was, it could have been a lot worse. Before winning the second game of a doubleheader on July 20, 1916, Philadelphia had dropped nine straight. If they’d lost that contest — which they won 2-0 thanks to a shutout from Bullet Joe Bush — the losing streak would have been 30 games. Before that 30-game window of losing opened, the A’s won 4-2 on June 22 to snap an 11-game skid. So that’s two two-run wins away from a 42-game losing streak.

Fun fact: The 1916 Athletics had two pitchers — Tom Sheehan and Jim Nabors — who combined to go 2-36 despite both posting ERAs under 4.

How long it took to get better: 13 years

Here we can return to our comments from the 1920 Athletics, only these A’s were four years further away from their return to the top. As bad as this team was, Mack had to feel like another pennant would never happen.

3. 1988 Baltimore Orioles

21-game skid | minus-85 run differential

The Orioles established the still-intact American League record by losing 21 straight in 1988. But what makes the streak an all-timer is that Baltimore lost its first 21 games. Even those old enough to remember it, or who saw it up close, have a hard time fathoming how such a thing could happen. By the time the Orioles won their first game, they were 15 1/2 games out of first place.

Fun fact: As bad as the O’s were in 1988, they featured two Hall of Famers in the everyday lineup in Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. They had another one in the dugout in manager Frank Robinson, who replaced Cal Ripken Sr. after the Orioles dropped their first six games.

How long it took to get better: Eight years

Baltimore didn’t return to the postseason until 1996, but don’t forget that one season after the 107-loss debacle of 1988, the Orioles went 87-75. In fact, Baltimore led the AL East through the end of August in 1989, and finished in second place, just two games behind Toronto.

2. 1977 Atlanta Braves

17-game skid | minus-87 run differential

The post-Hank Aaron Braves of the 1970s were awful, but they hit bottom with 101 losses and this losing streak in 1977. They got off to an 8-5 start but then went into a full-fledged nosedive. Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro lost five times during the skid on his way to a 20-loss season.

Fun fact: The Braves’ losing streak reached 16 games when owner Ted Turner decided that rather than fire manager Dave Bristol, he’d give his skipper a day off. And then he decided to manage the team himself. Turner was in the dugout for Atlanta’s 17th straight loss, a 2-1 defeat to the Dodgers on May 11, 1977, in which Niekro went the distance. Turner returned to the owner’s box the next day — and Atlanta finally snapped its skid.

How long it took to get better: Five years

Things began to solidify by 1978, when Atlanta hired Bobby Cox for his first stint as the Braves’ manager. By 1982, Joe Torre was in the dugout, and on the steam of a 13-0 start and an MVP performance from Dale Murphy, Atlanta returned to the postseason in 1982.

1. 2021 Baltimore Orioles

19-game skid | minus-108 run differential

And here we are. As you can see, there have been longer losing streaks than the Orioles’ just-snapped skid. But arguably no one has played worse than Baltimore just did over a three-week period. To draw it out: The Orioles were outscored by 108 runs during the skid — a differential 21 runs worse than the next-worst team in the ranking.

Fun facts: There too many to reduce to one. So here’s where the Orioles’ losing streak stands out even on this listing of the most epic skids.

1. That run differential.

2. Baltimore’s 8.50 team ERA during the streak was 1.19 runs higher than the next-worst team on the list, the 2005 Royals.

3. The Orioles lost just one one-run decision during the skid. Every other team on the list had at least two such games.

4. The Orioles lost just two games by two runs, for a total of three close losses. Every other team on the list had at least five close losses.

5. Baltimore lost 10 times by five or more runs, the most of any team in the rankings.

6. Oriole batters hit 25 homers during the skid, the most of these teams, but also struck out 177 times — 25 more than any of the other teams.

How long it took to get better: TBA

As we’ve seen, the teams that suffered epic-length losing streaks have all eventually returned to relevance. But it has required various degrees of patience from their fans for the turnaround to happen. And for some fans, it didn’t happen until their club had moved on to another city.

The average team on this list took 12 years to return to postseason and 22 years to win a title, and for a couple of those teams, those waits are still accumulating. The Orioles have been in rebuilding mode for a few years at this point, so for the sake of their fans, let’s hope that this horrific streak represents the worst of times and not a sign that the good times are still a long way off.

One way to look at it is this: If this was truly the most horrific stretch of baseball in modern history, it can only get better from here, right?

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