10 worst World Series games ever

It’s that time of year again – the Fall Classic is upon us. I have a lot of fun researching World Series related stuff. Two years ago, I wrote a series of articles on the best games in the history of baseball’s annual finale. (Partially as a result of those pieces, I wrote an article for the upcoming 2010 THT Baseball Annual on the 1972 World Series, the most underrated one in history).

Let’s flip around my articles from two years ago. It’s one thing to celebrate the greatest moments of all, but what were the worst World Series contests of them all?

I went through Baseball-Reference’s World Series gamelogs and chose the worst games to ever grace the game’s biggest stage. Main criteria are a complete lack of drama (blowouts and games decided early), and poor play (pitchers unable to throw strikes, fielders unfamiliar with the proper operation of their gloves, hitters who can’t drive in the runners).

Based on that, here are the bottom 10:

10. At the time, no one knew it was setting up a memorable October upset

Oct. 6, 1960: New York Yankees 16, Pittsburgh Pirates 3. The 1960 World Series has a special place in the history of the Fall Classic, primarily because of its famous conclusion where Bill Mazeroski‘s walk-off home run gave Pittsburgh the title.

What helps make that game memorable was that all October long it looked like the Pirates were hopelessly overmatched. Sure, they won three of the first six games, but all their losses were double-digit drubbings. In that sense, Game Two on Oct. 6 – while pathetic in and of itself – helped create a great overall October storyline.

True, but this 16-3 contest was one of the most lopsided game in all October-dom. Actually, as bad as the final score looks, the game wasn’t as close as it indicates because the Pirates actually scored twice in the bottom of the ninth. Had it not been for that, this would’ve been the biggest blowout in World Series history. Unless I missed something, it’s still the only time any team ever led by 15 at any point in the game.

For that reason alone, this game belongs on the list. Had it not been for the Series’ storyline, this would rank much higher. Random added bonus: The Pirates also did a horrible job hitting with runners in scoring position, as they tallied 13 hits, three walks, and a HBP while accruing their three measly runs.

9. Big, dumb and shoddy

Oct. 5, 1957: New York Yankees 12, Milwaukee Braves 3. This could not have been a fun game to watch. First, it was an easy Yankees lead, scoring seven runs by the middle of the fourth. This game entirely lacked suspense.

Many World Series games have been snoozers, though. What sets this one apart was how the teams got there. No one could pitch. These teams accounted for 19 walks in all – eight surrendered by the Yanks and the remaining 11 by the Braves. To this day, that’s the most ever in a nine-inning World Series game. As if that wasn’t enough, the game also included a wild pitch, passed ball, a hit batsman and an error (by a pitcher, naturally).

But wait, there’s still more! While the pitchers performed pitifully, Milwaukee’s batters also embarrassed themselves, going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. They tied a (since broken) World Series record with 14 runners left on base. Yuck.

I should note, many of the game’s greatest games were shoddily played. For example, 1986′s Buckner Game featured five errors, as many as any other World Series contest in the past 30 years. Yet shoddy play can add to drama when the contest is tight. (Again the Buckner game dramatizes this, as it ended with an error that followed a wild pitch).

However, when shoddy play occurs in the midst of a dull game, it merely amplifies the contest’s fundamental torpor.

8. OK, OK – we get it (jeez) – there will be a Game Seven

Oct. 9, 1968: Detroit Tigers 13, St. Louis Cardinals 1. The Cardinals began the day hoping they could clinch their third world title in five years, as they had won three of the first five games. It didn’t take long for those hopes to falter.

Instead, the Cardinals lost – and in historic fashion. The Tigers scored 10 runs in the top of the third, the most ever allowed in one inning. A quartet of Redbird pitches combined to allow seven hits, four walks and a hit batsman in the inning of doom.

Detroit led 12-0 by the bottom of the third, making this the earliest any team ever attained a double-digit lead in the World Series. If anyone’s curious, St. Louis’ sole run came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

7. The worst first

Oct. 1, 1959: Chicago White Sox 11, Los Angeles 0. This was very similar to the previous game – actually that game was a little worse, but it has a little bit of inherent drama going for it as a Game Six while this was merely a Game One. (Similarly, Game sevens of 1934 and 1985, both 11-0 contests, don’t make this list because of the anticipation inherent in a Game Seven – though I’m sorely tempted to put 1985 on the list for the horrible way the Cards acted in that one).

Anyhow, the Sox scored seven in the bottom of the third to take a 9-0 lead, and scored the game’s final two runs in the next inning. Adding further embarrassment to the game, the Dodgers committed a trio errors.

6. The most one-sided game of them all

Oct. 2, 1936: New York Yankees 18, New York Giants 4. In the annals of World Series blowouts, none can top this one. At 14 runs, this is the greatest margin of victory of any Fall Classic contest.

In Game Two of the 1936 Series, the Yankees buried the Giants early, and then kept shoveling all game long. They led 9-1 by the middle of the third, but still had enough energy to add a half-dozen more runs in the ninth. The Giants used five pitchers, all of whom were tagged for at least one run.

Joe McCarthy kept his entire starting lineup in for the full game. Everyone collected at least one hit, and six batters (including the top five in the order) had multiple hits. I suppose McCarthy wanted to make a point, as his team lost Game One. Beginning with this contest, they won 17 of 19 World Series games.

Aside from being an epic drubbing, this was also featured some sub-standard pitching, as both units combined for 16 walks.

5. The game that gloves forgot

Oct. 26, 1911: Philadelphia A’s 13, New York Giants 2. When I began researching this article, I assumed the game with the most errors would be an obvious addition. Well, no. The most errors in one game were nine, which came in Game Five of the 1917 Series.

However, that game was actually a somewhat dramatic contest, albeit a poorly played one. Ultimately, a blowout featuring eight errors is a worse game than a hard-fought one with nine errors.

A half-dozen different players committed a flub, with A’s shortstop Jack Barry personally making three misplays.

Philadelphia can make one impressive claim: They left only three runners on base while scoring 13 runs.

4. A lousy start to a lousy game ending a lousy Series

Oct. 9, 1961: New York Yankees 13, Cincinnati Reds 5. There wasn’t much suspense in this one. By the time the first Reds batter stepped to the plate, the Yankees had already scored five runs in the top of the first.

That isn’t the most runs any team ever scored in the first inning (the Braves mauled the Yankees for seven runs in the bottom of the first and a 7-1 lead in 1958′s Game Two). It’s not even the most runs scored in the top of the first (stay tuned for that one).

Yet this was the archetypal lousy start. A big inning at a game’s outset can be more deflating than one later on because it immediately robs the game of almost all its drama. Perhaps never had a game lost so much drama so quickly as this one.

This wasn’t just a team rolling up a big lead early. It was the Yankees. Nothing will make one’s eyes glaze over quicker than seeing the Yankees do well in October. Furthermore, it was in the midst of a Series the Yankees already had well in hand. They won three of the previous four games – two by shutout, including a 7-0 mashing the day before. Finally, the Yankees won 16 more games in the regular season than the Reds. If ever it looked like a game had been put away early, it was this one.

The Yankees, being the Yankees, kept piling it on – taking an 11-3 lead by the middle of the fourth. I guess one could argue this game was a great performance, but that doesn’t even hold true. After all, the Yankees let the Reds score five runs. This game couldn’t even bother to be impressively one-sided.

3. I refuse to believe there were 14 teams in baseball that year capable of playing less inspired baseball

Oct. 15, 1912: New York Giants 11, Boston Red Sox 4. Technically, this was a Game Seven, but a previous game ended in a tie, so it wasn’t a “real” Game Seven – the series would be decided in the following contest.

At the top of this article I mentioned that there were two main criteria for including a game on this list: lack of drama and shoddy play. Going purely by those standards, this might be the worst game in the history of the World Series. It encapsulates everything a game shouldn’t be.

First, there was zero drama. The Giants set a World Series record that still stands by scoring six runs in the top of the first. Other games had wider margins of difference, but none were put away so quickly and thoroughly. (Incredibly, the hard-hammered pitcher was Smoky Joe Wood, who went 34-5 that year and won his two previous World Series starts).

Second, the game featured all-around poor play. There was something in this game to bug fans of all stripes.

Let’s start with pitching a defense. Obviously, a game that allows 15 runs didn’t feature very effective run prevention. The fielders were atrocious, committing a half-dozen errors on the day. Sure, it was 1912, but six errors in nine innings was still bad. Heck, four of the game’s runs were unearned – and they came off four separate errors.

The pitching also wasn’t very good. It wasn’t that the hitters were bettering them, it’s that the hurlers underachieved. In 1912, an average staff allowed three walks per game. Both of these units allowed five. (Added bonus: Boston fanned only one batter). Each side allowed a homer, even though teams averaged only one longball every five games in 1912. (Another added bonus: One of the homer hitters wouldn’t hit another round-tripper until 1914). The game also saw a wild pitch and hit batsman. Last but not least, pitchers were tagged for 25 hits.

Well, I suppose the hitters at least did well. Fifteen runs scored off 25 hits (which set a World Series record for most hits in a game – it was actually broken by 1917′s nine-error game). Even with the batters a problem exists: They were at their worst when it mattered most. On the day, they batted .207 with runners in scoring position.

It was uncanny: They hit great until someone was in scoring position (a .404 average with second and third bases empty), but then stammered from there. The problem was especially bad for the Red Sox: They had one hit with RISP in 13 at bats, one of the most futile efforts of clutch history in any World Series game. Then again, after the first inning, the Giants were hardly better at clutch hitting.

Heck, even the base running was substandard, as the game featured a pickoff and the Giants ended their big first inning with a caught stealing.

Individually, none of this was historic. Games have been bigger blowouts, or featured worse fielding, or lamer clutch hitting, or more substandard pitching – but no October contest ever combined those features like this one.

2. Not that anyone cares or anything, but it turns out the game also sucked

Oct. 17, , er, Oct. 27, 1989: Oakland A’s 13, San Francisco Giants 7. Yep – it’s the earthquake game. While it was a memorable event, the game was the most forgettable one of the TV era. Who could care about baseball after a calamity like that happened?

Even if you could care about baseball, who could care about this particular game? The A’s took an early lead an never trailed (in fact, they never trailed at any point in the entire World Series). The Giants scored four in the bottom of the ninth to make the score look better than the game actually was.

1. Well, yeah. . . .

Oct. 9, 1919: Cincinnati Reds 10, Chicago “Black” Sox 5. You knew this one was coming, right? I don’t see how this game couldn’t be first.

Other games had been thrown in the Series, but none so blatantly. By all accounts, Lefty Williams threw batting practice – nothing but easy-to-hit pitches.

When he swiftly departed, Cincinnati’s lead wasn’t incredibly imposing, but it didn’t need to be. Between the players on the take, and others who heard the rumors, Williams’ performance was as soul-crushing and deflating as humanly possible. The Sox were suffering from the lowest morale of any World Series competitor by that point. Not surprisingly, the Reds kept rolling up more runs as the game went on. The final score wasn’t too bad, but that was due to a late and utterly meaningless rally.

Other games are worse on paper, but the stigma of a fix puts this one to the very bottom of World Series history.

References & Resources
Stats and info at Baseball-Reference.com came in handy.

I tapped my (admittedly rusty) memory of Eight Men Out for the bit about the 1919 game. I was unable to get a hold of an actual copy of the book itself for this article, though.

Speaking of rusty memories, I actually did most of this research on this article in August and lost some of my notes. Six runs is the record for a team in the top of the first, but in fairness I should note the 1912 game might only be tied for that distinction.

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Comments

  1. Mike Emeigh said...

    WRT the 1912 game, #3 on this list:

    Mike Vaccaro has written an excellent book, “The First Fall Classic”, about the 1912 series, in which he discusses this game at some length. Wood, like Lefty Williams in 1919, was throwing batting-practice speed out there – enough so that there was some suspicion that this game was thrown as well.

    It’s almost impossible to look at any WS of the teens and “not” suspect that some of the games weren’t on the level. Even at the time, some people questioned 1912, 1914, and 1918, and there were some rumors floated about 1911 and 1917 as well.

  2. Tracy said...

    In the third inning of that 1936 Yankees-Giants game, Joe McCarthy ordered a sacrifice with two on and no outs.

    With Joe DiMaggio batting.

    The game has certainly changed.

  3. Karlmagnus said...

    To be fair to Smokey Joe, while the game may well have been thrown, the instigators of the throw may have been the Boston management rather than the Mob—they wanted the Series to include an eighth game because it meant an additional round of gate money, with no extra expenses for paying players. A $500 bonus promise would probably have done it in those circumstances.

    1914 and 1917 looked thrown to me when I investigated this, but probably not 1918.

  4. Devon Young said...

    Game 1 of 1996 didn’t make this list? I remember that being a pretty big blowout and it made me think the Yankees had no chance at all of beginning to compete with Atlanta in the series. It just looked like it was all over in 1 game. Or maybe game 2 should be on the list, ‘cause the Yankees were shutout, which made the series feel even more dull…we had no idea how much that would change or how quickly.

  5. DSFC said...

    Here’s another vote for Game 1 in 1996.  The Braves were up 8-0 after three innings, and the Yankees ended up losing 12-1 with one run on four hits.

  6. Tony in Hitchin said...

    Game 7 1985. The self-capitulation of the Cards and the stroll to the title for the Royals – my Royals. Does Saberhagen’s performance prevent this game from appearing on the list? Maybe, but in every other respect (especially for anyone but a Royals fan) this wasn’t a game you could enjoy, I think.

  7. Chris J. said...

    1985’s Game Seven was right on my borderline.  I had that bundled in a tie with 1934’s Game Seven (also 11-0).  At first I had that one on the list and the 1960 game out, then decided 1960 belonged instead.  If I made the list 10 times, I’m sure the 1985 game would make it at least a few times. 

    Strangely, the Cardinal meltdown made it less likely I’d put it on.  That was bizarrely compelling.  I never saw a team act like that in such a big game before.

  8. Dennis Boznango said...

    right series, wrong blowout for 1960. Game 3 was worse than game two.

    Score by inning

      Game 2 Game 3
    1 0-0   6-0
    2 0-0   6-0
    3 2-0   6-0
    4 3-1   10-0
    5 5-1   10-0
    6 12-1   10-0

    And coming on the heels of the 16-3 game, that 6-run 1st must have been even more deflating. The Pirates put up a lot more fight (13 hits vs 4 hits) in game 2 as well.

    Game two was more lopsided in innings 6-9 and game three was more lopsided in innings 1-5… earlier = worse.

  9. Chris J. said...

    “Considering your criteria, I’m surprised game 6 of the 2001 series isn’t included.”

    Ya know, I’m not sure why they weren’t either.  I remember coming across them when I looked at World Series games, but somehow forgot to include them when I narrowed the list down to about 15 possibles. 

    Thanks for the catch.

  10. Gary Maloney said...

    It may be that a truly awful game requires a level of mediocrity on both sides. By this reckoning,

    1960 Game 3 and 1985 Game 7 were distinguished by FINE pitching performances (Ford and Sabes pitching shutouts).

  11. Jim C said...

    This would be a lot harder to research, but how about 10 worst umpire mistakes in World Series history? We can start with Don Denkinger in 1985, but he’s had a lot of company. There was the Carlton Fisk/Ed Armbrister play in ‘75, and that call at the plate involving Elrod Henrdicks in 1970, and lots more. I know one of the years the Blue Jays won, Devon White made a spectacular catch with two runners on that should have been the first World Series triple play, but one of the umps was asleep and missed the third out. Any other ideas?

  12. rslitman said...

    Game 4 of 1993 – a game in which both teams scored in double digits – should also have some consideration for such a list.

    The play involving the would-be triple play in 1992 would have been the 2nd triple play in World Series history. There was an unassisted one in, if I recall correctly, 1920. Ironically, the only World Series triple play so far was an unassisted one, just as the only World Series no-hitter so far was a perfect game.

  13. Zain said...

    Ummm how about last year’s world series game that clinched it for the Phillies. Pause a game midway through the 6th inning and start it two days later?
    That was pathetic

  14. Chris J. said...

    Zain, I considered that one, but the game itself was good, even though the circumstances in was played in were terrible.

    Easily on the list of ten worst game conditions in World Series history, though.

  15. JEsse said...

    Game 7 – 1985 SHOULD be on here just because of the Cardinals’ complete meltdown in the 5th inning. Watch that game on YouTube sometime. It’s hilarious. It’s just one short-infield blooper after another…run after another…pitcher after another…ejection after another. Had to be the longest inning in history. It was a wonderful site…but in your defense: It wasn’t boring (despite the score).

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