clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What a really bad Phillies team looks like: the 107-game losers of 1961

Lousy as the 2015 Phillies have been, they'll have to step up their losing pace to match the franchise's last 100-game losers

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As I write this, the Phillies have a 10-19 record that's a half-game better than the Brewers for worst in baseball. It would be a pretty big surprise if Milwaukee doesn't pass the Phils within the next few days, and a bigger one if any other team craters to a degree that they pass our heroes on the race to the bottom. If my math is right, the 2015 Phils are currently on pace to finish 56-106. Given likely trades of Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and others, it seems very likely they'll crack the 100 loss mark for the first time since 1961.

But as bad as this Phillies team has been and will continue to be, they might need to find another gear of suck to approach their inept forbears. The '61 Phils went 47-107-1, dead last in the eight-team National League, 46 games behind the pennant-winning Reds and 17 back of the seventh-place Cubs. They lost 23 straight between July 28 and August 20, setting a futility record that still stands. Under second-year manager Gene Mauch, who allegedly made Larry Bowa look like Fred Rogers, that probably wasn't much fun.

Please take a minute to contemplate what would happen here on TGP if the 2015 Phils lost every game for more than three weeks. I don't know if internet cannibalism is a thing yet, but I suspect it would be after that.

Even beyond that epic streak, the 1961 Phillies were admirable in the consistency of their awfulness. They did not have a winning record in any single month: their best mark was September, with 10 wins and 14 losses. They stunk on the road (25-52) and were even worse at home (22-55). They were terrible in the first half (23-55) and very slightly less hapless after the break (24-52).  They had a losing record against every single one of their seven NL opponents, coming closest to competitiveness against the Cubs and Cardinals (9-13 each). They went 19-35 in one-run games and 11-29 in blowouts decided by five or more runs either way.

While that team certainly wasn't good—it wasn't in the same time zone as good—it was at least young: their average age of 25.8 was the youngest in the NL by a full year over the Giants. The first thing that jumps off the '61 Phils' B-R page, which obviously is my spirit animal here, is the fact that every regular was between 22 and 27 years old. The youngest of the regulars was also the name today's fans might know best: left fielder Johnny Callison, age 22, whose .266/.363/.418 triple-slash was second-best among the starters.

Caliison would earn the first of three all-star selections the following season, and would star in 1964 as the MVP runner-up for the infamous Phillies team that blew a 6.5 game lead in the final weeks of the season. The '61 doormats featured two other regulars from the very good team of three years later: catcher Clay Dalrymple, whose .220/.281/.294 triple-slash is actually much better than his backups; and center fielder Tony Gonzalez, whose 12 homers and 15 steals made him the team's closest approximation of a power-speed combo. Like Callison, they both soon sharply improved.

But the most valuable position player on the '61 Phillies was—wait for it—Ruben Amaro. Senior, of course: the current GM wouldn't be born for another four years. The original Ruben was a shortstop with a decent-ish bat (.257/.351/.349) and solid glove whose 2.5 WAR led the team. So evidently it's a family thing.

The offense was easily the league's worst, averaging 3.77 runs per game against a leaguewide mean of 4.52. Likewise their 584 runs scored, 105 fewer than the seventh-ranked Cubs; .243 batting average (next worst: the Cubs again, at .255); .310 OBP (Cubs, .325); and .357 slugging percentage (Cardinals, .393). They actually tied the Cards for last in homers with 103.

Things were little better on the pitching side. The Phils' team ERA of 4.61 was naturally last (next-worst: Cubs, 4.48), though they did manage to avoid having the fewest strikeouts, the most walks or the most home runs allowed.

In the rotation, eight Phillies made at least 14 starts; their combined won-lost record (including decisions earned in relief) was 31-97. That's not a misprint, and I checked the math a couple times. Among this number was future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts (1-10, 5.85), in his last of 14 seasons with the Phils. Perhaps surprisingly, Roberts moved to the AL after the season and enjoyed three strong seasons with the Orioles. Other pitchers included 23 year old Art Mahaffey, who led the Phils with 11 wins (and 2.7 WAR) and paced the NL with 19 losses; and Chris Short, another 23 year old who three years later would go 17-9, 2.20 for the '64 Phils. Old pal Dallas Green was on the '61 staff as well, with ten starts among 42 total appearances: big D went 2-4, 4.85.

1961 marked the Phils' fourth straight last place finish. But in a development that maybe offers some encouragement for today's fans, things got better pretty quickly: the next year, the team finished 81-80 (mostly by virtue of a combined 31-5 mark against the expansion Mets and Houston Colt .45s). They'd stay above .500 for five more seasons.

Thinking about it a little more, it's actually not impossible the 2015 Phillies could bottom the '61 club. Awful as that Phillies team was, their Pythagorean record was a somewhat less wretched 56-98, suggesting they played in some bad luck. By contrast, through 29 games this year, the 2015 Phils currently have a Pythagorean W/L of 8-21. So the next time someone says Ryne Sandberg is no Gene Mauch, there's your comeback. Or maybe that good luck will level off, and with the overall talent level likely to go down through transactions… well, maybe best to keep the forks and knives handy.