Nusbaum: Spiders and Perfectos: how the worst team in baseball history changed the sport forever

From SABR member Eric Nusbaum at Sports Stories on October 1, 2019:

Today is Tuesday, October 1, 2019. It’s the first day of the baseball playoffs, and also happens to be the 120th anniversary of the final game played between the 1899 St. Louis Perfectos and Cleveland Spiders, two teams that were not exactly playoff caliber in their day. But playoffs or not (and in the case of the Spiders, it was really, really not), this seemingly prehistoric National League game represented the culmination of an era. The destinies of these clubs were deeply intertwined–and echo all the way to the present day.  

The Perfectos were like a favorite child. They wore beautiful white uniforms with a cardinal red trim and would soon change their name to honor the popularity of those uniforms, and that color. As the St. Louis Cardinals, they would go on to become one of the great franchises in the history of American sports. The Spiders, on the other hand, were more like refugees. They wore uniforms that were literal hand-me-downs. Soon they would cease to exist. In fact, even as they took the field that afternoon at League Park in St. Louis, they barely existed.

To put it bluntly, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders were the worst team in the history of baseball. Ninety years before the movie Major League hit theaters, the Spiders were a ballclub in Cleveland that was literally built to lose. And they lost a lot: they finished with a record of 20-134. At one point, they lost 40 of 41 games. The high point of their season came in May, when they put together a winning streak of two games.

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Originally published: October 3, 2019. Last Updated: October 3, 2019.