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Published: Sunday, 7/6/2003

Worst team ever?

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Sometimes the state of the Tigers is enough to make you cry. Here, pitcher Adam Bernero ponders a poor outing. Sometimes the state of the Tigers is enough to make you cry. Here, pitcher Adam Bernero ponders a poor outing.
DUANE BURLESON / AP Enlarge

DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers are more than halfway through their forgettable season.

At 21-64, they are on pace to surpass the post-1900 major league record of 120 losses in a season, set by the 1962 New York Mets, who went 40-120.

At their present pace, the Tigers would finish 40-122 and take Casey Stengel's bunch off the hook as the worst team of the modern baseball era. (The Mets had two rainouts that were not made up.)

“None of us want to see it happen,” Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “I hope that we get some wins, and we don't have to worry about it.”

Detroit also is on pace to lose the most games and register the lowest winning percentage in the franchise's 103-year history. And the Tigers are threatening the major league-record low .235 winning percentage for a season, set by the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics.

“I've never been around anything like this,” said infielder/designated hitter Kevin Witt, who was called up to the Tigers in mid-May after beginning the season with the Triple-A Mud Hens. “It does get frustrating. It gets old watching [ESPN's] SportsCenter. They're always making fun of us, and talking about how bad we are.”

The constant losing has made for some long trips on construction-riddled I-75 for Witt, whose wife and two young children still live in Toledo.

“It's normally a 40-to-45-minute drive [from Detroit] to Toledo, but some nights driving home after games, it seems like two or three hours,” Witt said. “The whole way home, I'll be asking myself, `How'd we lose another game?'”

Witt's teammates, coaches and team management have been asking themselves that question all season. Unfortunately, most are unable to provide an adequate answer.

“Nobody likes to lose,” Dombrowski said. “I don't like to lose. But I don't think of our team in terms of being the worst team in baseball history. If you think of that, you think of a team that's worst in hitting and worst in pitching.”

Here are the ugly numbers for the 1962 Mets, who at least had an excuse for their pitiful play - they were an expansion team loaded with over-the-hill veterans.

  • 40-120.

  • National League-low .240 team batting average.

  • Outscored 948-617.

  • 5.04 ERA.

  • NL-high 210 errors.

  • NL-worst .967 fielding percentage.

    Detroit, on the other hand, has the worst hitting team in the majors this season and has struggled mightily to score runs.

    Consequently, the Tigers were the first team ever to lose 60 games before July1.

    “I don't think we've lied to people about what we're not,” rookie manager Alan Trammell said. “We're not a very good team. We're trying to get better, but of late, it's not better.

    “We've gotten to a point, like it was earlier in the year, where I'm not looking at the papers, or ESPN, anymore. I'm not doing any of that because it might upset me more.”

    Outfielder Bobby Higginson has played on some bad teams during his tenure in Detroit. The 1996 team lost a franchise-record 109 games under Buddy Bell. Last year's squad lost 106 times, and there was a 97-loss season in 1998.

    “Our record is a little embarrassing, for sure,” Higginson said. “But I don't think we'll come close to 120 losses.”

    Depite their horrendous season, the Tigers have a remarkably upbeat clubhouse.

    The Tigers were 20-61 at the halfway point of the season on Tuesday; the Mets were 23-58 after 81 games in 1962.

    “Everyone's taking little shots at us,” outfielder Dmitri Young said. “This team might be struggling, but I'm not a loser and neither is anyone else in this clubhouse.”

    The Tigers are just 8-33 at Comerica Park, but they are 13-31 on the road.

    “We know we're better than we've been playing,” pitcher Nate Cornejo said. “That said, we all know what we need to do - we've got to start winning.”

    Several Tigers have been stung by the daily jokes and criticisms aimed at the team.

    “My son plays baseball in Troy, and I've heard it all, from how we stink to how bad we are,” catcher Matt Walbeck said. “You can't take it personally. Detroit is a great sports town and the fans want to see us win.

    “As players, we have to come to the park ready to play every day and give them an honest effort. It's tough enough to play at this level. And when you're losing a lot like we are, it makes it even tougher. But feeling sorry for yourself and hanging your head is not an option.”

    Trammell, who played 20 seasons for the Tigers and helped lead them to their last World Series title in 1984, has tried to stay positive.

    “What I'm finding out is, I have to be a little tougher right now,” he said. “What I said before is that these guys might be a little fragile and I can't be too tough. I'm throwing that out the window.”

    The Tigers are well on their way to their 10th consecutive losing season. The last time they had a winning record was 1993, when they finished 85-77.

    Witt, who spent most of his previous nine seasons of professional baseball toiling in the minor leagues, has been one of the few bright spots in Detroit's dismal season. Yet, he wouldn't trade places with many people.

    “A horrible day in the majors is better than the best day in Triple-A,” he said.

    Even so, Witt and the Tigers can expect the media attention and scrutiny to intensify in the second half of the season, especially if their free fall continues, and they are closing in on the Mets' record for futility.

    “The only way to avoid getting poked fun at is to play better, and do your job better,” starting catcher A.J. Hinch said. “Winning has a way of taking care of a lot of problems, and silencing a lot of critics.

    “None of us want to be a part of history - I know I don't - so we've got to take it upon ourselves not to let that happen.”



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