Best of Times, Worst of Times: Superlative & Dismal Ten-Year Team Performances

This article was written by Scott Nelson

This article was published in 2002 Baseball Research Journal

Not many fans are still around who remember when the Chicago Cubs compiled the best ten­-year record in major league baseball history over the past century. That’s because it happened from 1903 through 1912. The Windy City Cubs—yes, those Cubs who haven’t made it to the World Series since 1945—won 980 games way back then in a ten-year period. Five times in that stretch the Cubbies won 100 games or more, and that was when teams played just 154 contests a season. In fact, they had just a 138-game schedule in 1903.

The highlight of the run, of course, came in 1906, when the Cubs won 116 games, the all-time MLB record tied in 2001 by the Seattle Mariners. It all hap­pened not when the Cubs played home games at Wrigley Field, but West Side Grounds, their diamond until 1916. That’s when they moved to Cubs Park, which had its name changed to Wrigley Field in 1926.

The Cubs are among nine clubs—six in the National League and three in the American—that posted at least one .600 record in a ten-year period since 1900. The 980-533 win-loss mark (an average of 98 wins a year!) figures out to a .648 percentage for the Cubs.

The next best compilation was .642 by the New York Yankees of 1934-43. That was with two more wins but 14 more defeats than the Cubs. Only the Cubs, Yankees, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates have ever had 400 more wins than losses in a ten-year stretch.

Thirty-five teams—19 in the AL and 16 in the NL­—played at least ten years in the majors in the past century and are listed here with their best and poorest ten-year records through 2002.

To the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, goes the dubious honor of having put up with the poorest ten-year records in both the American and National leagues since 1900. They would be the AL Athletics of 1915-24 (.354) and the NL Phillies of 1936-45 (.335), the only team to ever win or lose more than 1,000 games—1,016 to be exact—in a ten-year period. Seven times in the period the Phils lost 100 or more, includ­ing five years in a row.

Only five teams in history have failed to win at least half their games in some ten-year period, and just one is still around—the San Diego Padres. The old Boston Braves, St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators II, and Kansas City Athletics never had a ten-year stretch above .500.

All but two clubs—yes, even the Yankees—have suf­fered through below-average stretches. Before they began what developed into a dynasty, those Yankees played just .450 ball, 52 games below .500, from 1908 through 1917, But that was BR—Before Ruth. Milwaukee’s Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers are the only clubs without a losing ten-year record ever. 

The Braves spent thirteen summers on Lake Michigan (1953-65), always had at least six more wins than losses, and compiled a .559 record in their worst ten consecutive years. In contrast, and at about the same time, were the Kansas City Athletics—formerly of Philadelphia and in Oakland since 1968—who in thirteen years (1955-67) were always at least six wins short of a .500 finish.

While many of the “bests” and “worsts” were record­ed early on, the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers each posted their best decade in history most recently.

Though the Yankees had their best ten-year record from 1934 to 1943, it was from 1935 through 1944 that they dominated their league like no other team in history, finishing 141 games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers and 416 in front of the last-place Philadelphia Athletics in the American League.

The biggest winning margin in the National League over a ten-year stretch came in 1912-21 when the New York Giants “edged” the Chicago Cubs by 113.5 games. But earlier (1903-12) the Cubs finished 449.5 games ahead of the tail-end Boston Braves in the NL.

There have been close “races,” too. The Yanks edged the A’s by just three and one-half games (.604 to .602) from 1924 to 1933, and the Blue Jays won over the Tigers by the same margin from 1981 to 1990. That Yanks-Athletics ten-year similarity adds fuel to the claim still made by some that Connie Mack’s club of that time was as good if not better than the 1927 Yankees, whom some point to as the best of all time.

The honor for closest ever, though, goes to the Cubs and Cardinals from 1926 to 1935 in the NL. They compiled the same three-digit percentage, but the Cards lost one more game than Chicago to finish one-half game back in the ten-year “pennant” race.

More recently the San Francisco Giants edged the Reds by one game from 1963 to 1972, and the Expos beat the Cards by the same margin from 1979 to 1988. 


Atlanta’s Braves may have just one World Series title to show for it, but they recently compiled the sixth-best MLB regular season record in a ten-year period over the past century. The Braves, with eleven straight NL East titles through 2002 (none awarded in 1994), played .615 ball from 1991 through 2000, winning 955 games and losing 599. Add the 66 games canceled in the 1994-95 strike, and Bobby Cox’s club might have come awfully close to winning 1,000 games. Their pitching Big Three through the stretch was 449-228-.663. Greg Maddux was 145-60-.707 (in eight years), Tom Glavine 175-84-.676, and John Smoltz 129-84-.606.

SCOTT NELSON, like the Minnesota Twins, survived the contraction threat and continues to write. He recently completed a sports history and record book for the Mankato, Minnesota, high school, where he taught English and journalism for 26 years before retirement.



Big League Baseball Electronic Encyclopedia, Franklin Electronic Publishers.

All-Time Baseball Sourcebook, STATS Inc.

Total Baseball, 7th edition.

Sporting News Complete Baseball Record Book.