Worst of the worst

If you watch enough of the MLB Network—and it will surely not shock you to learn I watch a lot of the MLB Network—you will eventually see footage of pretty much every notable baseball game or event for which footage is extant. Sometimes this is in ads for programming, sometimes the programming itself, but ultimately, you see it all.

I bring this up because I was watching something the other day—Quick Pitch, probably, which towers over every other baseball highlight show like Babe Ruth towering over the American League in the 1920s—and for some reason or another they played a clip from the 2004 ALCS.

As you might imagine, I’m not fan of seeing that. But it occurred to me that fans of nearly every team must experience this sometimes, which further got me thinking about what could be classified as the worst game in history for each team. So that’s what we’re doing this week.

Before we begin, a few notes. First, owing somewhat to space restrictions, but more towards the difficulty in picking them, I’m only listing the worst games for teams I feel sure about. Furthermore, I have been using the word “team” rather than “franchise” for a reason. Insofar as franchise history is concerned, the worst game for the Expos/Nationals is “Blue Monday” in the 1981 playoffs. For Nationals’ fans though, that game means little, and for Expos’ fans I can only assume that October 3, 2004—the last day the team was actually the Montreal Expos—is the worst. So we shall worry instead only about games taking place in the team’s current city.

One last thing before we begin: it is important I point here that, when discussing worst games, I am only discussing baseball worst. As bad as losing to Boston in 2004 was for Yankee fans, August 6, 1979, when the team hosted the Orioles after returning from Thurman Munson’s funeral, was far more terrible. That’s real-life—I’m only here for the game.

New York Yankees: 2004 ALCS Game 7

Ugh. The Yankees have had some tough losses, Game 7 of the 1960 World Series springs to mind, as does Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Both of those games, however, either immediately preceded or followed a World Series victory. On the other hand, this game came a year after the Yankees had lost a World Series—ugh—and was the culmination of a disastrous four games that saw the team blow a 3-0 lead to the hated Red Sox and do so while getting blown out at home. Ugh. Let’s just move on.

The Cards celebrate giving the Rangers their worst loss ever (US Presswire)

Boston Red Sox: 1986 World Series, Game 6

Conceding there’s not a real way to make a study of this, I would guess the Red Sox have more “worst games” than any other franchise. Moving backwards in time (and excluding the worst game above), there was the final game of the 2011 season, Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Game 7 of the 1975 World Series, Game 7 of the 1946 and so on. Those are all pretty bad losses in their own right, but even more so in the context of the Red Sox inability to win a World Series for so many years. Of course, they’ve turned it around since then as the above story—ugh—establishes.

Despite those other struggles, I think this is the clear choice for the worst game in Red Sox history. Decades away from their last World Series title, the Red Sox were repeatedly just one strike away from winning it all. Instead, they not only ended up losing the game, but losing the game owing to a succession of misplays.

Texas Rangers: 2011 World Series, Game 6

Speaking of losing the World Series when a team is just one strike away, it’s the 2011 Texas Rangers. This was one of the greatest games in baseball history, but I doubt any Ranger fans will want to watch it again for pure aesthetic appreciation. In both the ninth and tenth inning, the Rangers had two-run leads, including a two-run lead with two outs and two strikes in the ninth. No team has ever come closer to a World Series title without ending up celebrating.

San Francisco Giants: Game 7, 1962 World Series

Of course, when I say no one has come closer to winning a World Series without actually doing so than the Rangers, I am speaking figuratively. Speaking literally, no one has ever come closer than the 1962 Giants. In Game 7, trailing by one run, the Giants puts runners on second and third with two outs and slugging Willie McCovey at the plate. It had not been a great World Series for Stretch, but a hit in that situation would make everyone forget. On the other side, Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry, who had surrendered Bill Mazeroski’s series winning home run in 1960, was looking for redemption.

Ultimately, McCovey got a pretty good pitch to hit and sent a line drive in the direction of Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson. McCovey had made good contact—he would later say the ball was the hardest he ever hit—but Richardson was placed perfectly and made the catch to end the series. Had the ball been hit slightly to the left, or to the right, or up, the Giants would have unquestionably tied the game and—with Willie Mays on second—probably won it.

Many noticed this fact, but perhaps no one took it as hard as Charlie Brown, who lamented the play not once, but twice.

Florida Marlins: March 31, 1998

This is rather an unusual choice, but I think it is an easy one when it comes to the Marlins—who have had a lot more good than bad in their days. This day was the first of the 1998 season. On Opening Day 1997—a year which ended for the Fish, of course, with 92 wins and the World Series title—the Marlins starting line-up included Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Devon White, Moises Alou and “Mr. Marlin” Jeff Conine. By Opening day of 1998, all of those names save Sheffield were gone, replaced with the likes of Ryan Jackson, Josh Booty and a pre-competence Mark Kotsay. The Marlins would end up losing 108 games that season, and checking out the line-up on Opening Day, Marlins’ fans no doubt recognized the glory of 1997 was not to be repeated.

So that’s five teams. At this point, I throw it open to you to fill in the remaining 25 teams. I have some ideas on it, but for some teams, I’m at a genuine loss even for candidates for worst game. Let me know what you think in the comments, and perhaps we’ll revisit this topic another day.

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  1. Frank said...

    As an A’s fan, the one that still stings is game 1 of the 1988 WS. Not only did it bring my 13 year old self to tears, but I have to re-watch Gibson pumping his fist around the bases before every single post-season game these days.

  2. Frank said...

    As a life-long Cubs fan, there weren’t as many choices as you’d think. Decades of futility will do that. After mulling over games 4 and 5 of the 1984 NLCS, for me, it came down to the Bartman game in ‘03. Five outs away, and then one of the most colossal collapses/implosions EVER. I don’t blame Bartman, but that play got the whole thing going.

  3. InnocentBystander said...

    I’m a Yakees fan and I disagree with your pick. That 04 ALCS loss is only the 3rd worst for me. In 2nd I put the 2001 WS. I know that the Yanks had just won in 2000, but I felt like the 2001 WS would have been a nice distraction after 9/11. Obviously nothing in the world of sports could offset what had happened in real life, but the way the 2 comebacks happened earlier in the Series it felt like it was supposed to be. Major let down when it didn’t happen.

    The worst was 1995 Division Series against the Mariners. Remember at the time the Yanks hadn’t won anything. And what I thought was a better team in 1994 was never given a chance to play in the post-season (thanks Bud!). Mattingly’s career was ending and the future was a complete unknown. Definitely my worst.

  4. Patrick said...

    I have to agree with Marc, as a young fan in the early 90’s, the Bream game was devastating and I would argue the beginning of the downward spiral that the Pirates are now still trying to correct.

  5. scott said...

    As an Indians fan, Game 7 of the 1997 WS.  They had a mediocre (86-75) season but got hot (and lucky) in the postseason, and given that the team and city hasn’t won anything in decades, a win would have stopped that in its tracks.  But their luck ran out with 2 lousy outs to go.  Oh well…

  6. Jim C. said...

    Personally, I don’t think you can ever say that a WS Game 7 is a franchise worst.  No matter how ignominious the loss, your team still came within one game of a world championship.  That’s got to be considered a highly successful season by any standards.

    Instead, I’d point to games like the Bucky F-ing Dent Game, or the Robert F-ing Andino Game, or one of the games of the 1964 Phillies Phold.

  7. hopbitters said...

    I agree with InnocentBystander on 94/95 kind of rolling together into a massive crushing disappointment culminating with the ‘95 DS.

    And even as a Yankee fan, the Andino game was rough to watch. It’s one of those “you wouldn’t wish that on your worst enemy” type of things that actually came to fruition. I still laugh about Bucky Dent, though. Sorry.

  8. Rob said...

    Game 5 of the ALDS in ‘95 is the worst Yankee loss. Besides the crushing nature of the defeat, it was also Mattingly’s last game.  Game 7 in 2001 is second.

  9. Chris N. said...

    For the Phillies I have the 1977 NLCS Game 3 “Black Friday” game,or the 2011 Game 5 playoff game loss of 1-0 to the Cardinals. I would take the 2011 game because it appears that the loss ended the greatest era of baseball in Phils history.

  10. JBL said...

    Just agreeing with my fellow Yankee fans that the 1995 ALDS game 5 was the worst.  2001 was bad, but bloops off Rivera happen.  2004 was almost inevitable by game 7, and I wasn’t surprised when Brown and Vazquez were destroyed.

    1995 I was really expecting a win and to have a lead converted to a loss in one play is very painful.

  11. Dale said...

    The one that hurts the most as a Braves fan is the Leyritz game.  Being up 6-3 with five outs to get, you could almost taste the championship knowing that between Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine you’d only need to win one more game.  It wasn’t to be, though.

  12. Richard Barbieri said...

    Munson died on August 2nd, but the first game after the funeral—when Bobby Murcer walked-off the Orioles—was August 6th.

  13. Jim C. said...


    I understand your point, and am sympathetic.  But I still think it’s worse to get your knees cut out from under you just short of the playoffs/WS than to lose a WS Game 7.  So if I were an Indians fan (which I’m not), I think I’d be more unhappy about Game 4 of the 1996 ALDS, when a superb Tribe team was sent home by Roberto Alomar’s 12-inning home run in the twilight off Joe Table.

    Also, I know it’s outside the scope of this article, but the worst game in my memory is Senators-Yankees on September 30, 1971.  That was the Senators’ last game in Washington, a game they were winning until the fans rioted and caused a forfeit.

  14. Bad Bill said...

    Yes, for the Cardinals, Denkinger.

    Personally, however, I think there’s also a case to be made for the Cardinals game of September 16, 1963, a 3-1 loss to Los Angeles which brought a tremendous stretch drive between them (they’d just won 10 in a row and 19 out of 20) and the Dodgers to a screeching halt, sent Stan Musial (who homered to no avail in that game) off into retirement without a final World Series, and caused a certain small boy in Illinois to cry himself to sleep that night.  Bobby Shantz, may you get what you deserve.

  15. gdc said...

    As some of the others say, losing when ahead is worse than failing to win from behind…would it have been a black mark if Mazeroski’s fly was caught at the wall and they lost in 10?  So McCovey’s liner finding leather wasn’t as bad as game 6 in 2002, up 5-0 (97% WPA) at the 7th inning stretch with Ortiz cruising on a 2-hit shutout and just nine outs to San Francisco’s first WS win.  Like the Denkinger call game or Buckner’s ground ball, the fact that there was another game after doesn’t destroy its infamy.
    Or for the Angels, Sunday, October 12, 1986 which was game 5 of the LCS with a 5-2 lead and 97 WPA at home after 8 to go to the WS.  Donnie Moore, need anyone say more?

  16. Ed DeCaria said...

    I wasn’t in Chicago in the 80’s, but 2003 NLCS Game 6 was crushing.

    How about a game from Baltimore in April 1988? You could of course pick their 21st straight loss to open the season, in which they were winning early, but in the moment of the streak I might go with Game 16 on April 22nd. After getting swept five series in a row, they arrived in Kansas City, grounded out three straight times in the top of the first, and then gave up seven straight singles in the bottom of the first en route to a 9-running inning.

    Loss expectency entering the top of the second inning = 98.3%.

  17. bucdaddy said...

    Marc Schneider said…

    The Bream game for the Pirates?
    Of course. Nothing in my 55 years even comes close. I’d bought my World Series tickets that day.

  18. Michael Caragliano said...

    For the Mets: putting aside the well-documented 2007 and 2008 last day crash-and-burns, the worst was September 11, 1987- the “Terry F-ing Pendleton” game. The defending champs finally had momentum and healthy players, and they were gaining on the Cardinals. It looked like they were going to inch within a half game of the Cards on September 11th, as they had a 4-1 lead in the top of the 9th of a three-game weekend series opener at Shea. That’s when Terry Pendleton whacked the three run shot off Roger McDowell that tied the game, which the Cards won in ten. That really pulled the rug out from under the momentum.

    A close second goes to game 4 in the 1988 NLCS, when Dwight Gooden gave up the 9th inning homer to Mike Scioscia to tie the game that would have given the Mets a 3-1 lead in the series. Same deal as the Pendleton game; the momentum stopper came from nowhere. Those two games really threw the ice water on the dreams of a Mets late ‘80’s dynasty. Plus, in 1987 and 1988, Mets fans really believed the team was going to win. In 2007 and 2008, there was a real taste of ugh, we’re gonna lose.

    For what it’s worth, game 7 in 2006 can’t make the list because it was such a tight, crisp game that came down to the final pitch, and, in a correlary to Jim C’s point, there’s no shame in losing in Game 7, even in an LCS. In Carlos Beltran’s defense, nobody was gonna hit the curveball Adam Wainwright threw. I think Mets fans just wanted to see him swing at it and miss rather than stand there frozen.

  19. scott said...

    I must disagree, Jim C.  For decades, Indians fans wanted just to be in a pennant race, and from that standpoint being in a Game 7 would seem like success.  But when you’re the Indians, who have won 2 lousy titles in 112 years (they won’t win this year either), being so close to something most of the team’s fans haven’t experienced in their lifetimes, it’s a bit of a bitter blow.  And I would say the Giants’ 1962 game 7 loss is similar – they were THAT CLOSE to their first championship in SF, and when they lost they would go nearly 50 years before they finally came back and won it all.

    That, my friend, is what makes it hurt.

  20. Paul Blocklyn said...

    Any compilation of the “worst of the worst” would surely have to include the Philadelphia Phillies’ spectacular collapse in the fall of 1964, which granted Chico Ruiz a permanent place in baseball history.

  21. Larry S said...

    As an Astros fan, I enjoyed listening to Vin Scully via MLB at Bat in his farewell broadcasts of the last games of the Astros in LA as an NL team. He very poignantly described Houston “as the team that came so close but remained so far”.

    He recounted all of the heartbreakers. Personally, I consider the 1980 NLCS game 5 to be the most heartbreaking. But that really doesn’t mean it was the “worst”. It was the greatest experience a baseball fan could have had – I saw Games 4 and 5 in person.

    The “worst” for Astros fans was that indistinguishable blur of play off losses to the Braves back in the day the Braves pitcher got to throw at 25 inch plate. Or maybe that crappy 1998 series with the Padres where we took our 102’ win team and had to seemingly play every game in late afternoon sun and shadows. Or maybe when we got stuck having to play the White Sox in the only World Series we will ever been in and not winning a single bleeping game even though we were only out scored by 5 runs. Or most likely, there is no single game that made for the “worst”, compared to getting kicked in the teeth and having 50 years of baseball history ripped from your heart as your team gets booted to the outback that is the AL West. Thanks for the memories……

  22. Larry S said...

    @Bad Bill – I can see where a bubble popping game in mid-September of 1963 could have broken a little boy’s heart. I guess that was your first real pennant race – the Cards hadn’t been in a WS in what, about 15 years. But think of how much sweeter it made the drive one year later to overtake the Phillies and beat the Yankees to become 1964 World Champs. How many of those 19 out of 20 did Bobby Shantz win?

  23. Dom DeCaria said...

    Without a doubt – for Pittsburgh that loss to Atlanta was one of pure devastation for the franchise.  The only good thing that came from it was that we learned Sid Bream’s middle name, and it starts with an F.

    For the Tigers, has to be Game 163 in 2009.  Crushing not only because it kept them out of the playoffs after leading the division for much of the season, but worse because Nick Punto (whose middle name also begins with F, as it turns out) was the key gnat in the Twins foul-ball-spraying, pitch-count-burning lineup.

  24. pat rocket said...

    For Atlanta, it’s G7 in 91 v Minnesota.  Despite a great season, the legacy of so many years of sh** baseball comes to the fore in poor baserunning and lousy relief pitching. 

    After that, WS G4 v NYY in 96 (Mark Wohlars won’t throw a fastball game), NLDS G4 v HOU in 05 (Clemens game.  How WAS he able to pitch so well in relief on two days’ rest?) and the NLCS game v FLA in 98 where Livan Hernandez had his own personal strike zone.

    And for BAL may I suggest the Jeffrey Maier (sp?) game; v NYY in ALDS G1 96.

  25. Philip said...

    So far as Giants history if New York were included, their worst game could be one that they actually didn’t even lose. I am referring to the Merkle’s Boner game in 1908. Instead of beating the Cubs on September 23rd, his base-running miscue resulted in a tie-game. When the season ended with the Cubs and Giants tied after 153 games, a make-up game was played.

    Although not a playoff game or tie-breaker in the normal sense, it was every bit in meaning – the winner would win the NL pennant. The Cubs won the game 4-2 and went on to beat the Tigers in the World Series. They haven’t been World Champs since. (The ‘‘Merkle Curse’‘?)

    For the Los Angeles Dodgers? They have a number to choose from. Mostly involving the Giants.

    1962. Game 3 of the NL playoff series vs. San Francisco. Perhaps the worst-managed game of Walt Alston’s career for the way he handled the pitchers. The Dodgers give up 4 in the top of the 9th and lose, 6-4.

    The Bobby Bonds’ Labor Day bottom of the 9th grand-slam that saw L.A. lose at Candlestick 11-8 after leading the game 8-0. The Dodgers lost sole possession of 1st place that day after the next night, the Cincinnati Reds never relinquished first place.

    1980. One game playoff vs. Houston. After sweeping the season ending season to tie the Astros and winning the coin toss to get a 4th straight at home vs. Houston, the Dodgers came up short.

    1982. Little Joe’s homerun the day after the Dodgers eliminated the Giants returns the favor. The Braves and Joe Torre don’t get a change to blow the division title in a playoff game vs. L.A.

    1985. Jack Clark. Tom Niedenfuer. ‘Nuff said.

    As for 2004 ALCS Game 7 highlights being played over and over and over? Sorry, Richard. But that more than makes up for us having to watch Bucky Bleeping Dent’s home run over and over and over for years, too.

  26. Ted said...

    For me, a Die Hard Houston Astros fan, Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS.  We drove four hours to the Astrodome to see the game.  This 13-year-old cried the entire fours going back home. 

    Sorry Larry S, for this Astros fan, 1979 through 1982 were the toughest years for me.

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