Blau: The 1890 Athletics, worst team in major league history

From SABR member Cliff Blau at on October 9, 2012:

The worst team in Major League Baseball history.

It didn’t start off that way, of course. But a series of twists and turns brought the Athletics to that point.

Ordinarily, losing three regulars and your pitching ace, and replacing them with career minor leaguers and faded veterans isn’t a recipe for success. But 1890 was no ordinary year. A group of players, mostly from the National League, formed their own league. Six Athletics players jumped to the Players League: first baseman Ted Larkin, ace pitcher Gus Weyhing, stars Lou Bierbauer, and Harry Stovey, and backup catchers Lave Cross and Jack Brennan. They were replaced by the likes of Jack O’Brien, a former Athletics catcher who had been out of professional baseball in 1889, and Joe Kappel, whose previous Major League experience consisted of 4 games in 1884. But they held on to Curt Welch and Denny Lyons, which gave them a leg up in a season in which Louisville, after finishing a distant last in 1889, lost its best player and became an instant contender. The Brooklyn and Cincinnati clubs, having finished first and fourth in the AA in 1889, transferred to the National League, leaving the American Association race wide open. A new Brooklyn team was created to complete the AA, and the Athletics sold shortstop Frank Fennelly to help stock it.

The Athletics held spring training at home in Philadelphia, and gave tryouts to several minor leaguers and amateurs. Most of them washed out, and top returning pitcher Ed Seward came down with a sore arm to boot. The team lost all seven games to its cross-town rivals, the Philadelphia NL club, as well as single games to Yale and University of Pennsylvania. So things weren’t looking good as they headed into the championship season. Veteran George (Orator) Shafer and his much-younger brother Taylor were signed as spring training ended. They were both in the International League the previous season. George took over right field, with Blondie Purcell moving to left to replace Stovey, and Taylor became the regular second baseman. Curt Welch replaced Stovey as team captain. Thirty-year-old rookie Ed Green, tried as an infielder, was retained as a pitcher.

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Originally published: October 9, 2012. Last Updated: October 9, 2012.