Misery Loves Company: Baseball’s Worst Losses, AL Edition

Elvis Andrus helped deliver the Rays their worst beat in franchise history. (via Dirk Hansen)

Back in February, I offered up the first part of this work, a collection of the worst defeat suffered by each baseball team in the National League (at least since 1901). After a slight interruption, I am back with the second half, covering the American League for the same timeframe, 1901 to the present.

For those wondering how I define a team’s “worst defeat,” I refer you back to the opening of my earlier piece. Essentially, it means the loss causing the worst heartache to that team’s fans. Postseason defeats, the later the better, are preferred but not required. Massive whippings, coughing up huge or late leads, and self-inflicted damage all score points toward this end. There are other circumstances that can set a defeat apart, as you will see.

The American League posed a mildly tougher challenge than the senior circuit did. There have been more franchise shifts in AL history, and I set myself the task of picking a separate defeat for each separate location. Also, a pair of very obscure teams in the earliest days of the league forced me to do some deeper digging.

There is one trend you will see continued and augmented from the NL chapter. A high proportion of these heart-breaking defeats involve the New York Yankees on the other end: three for the NL, and six for the AL. The cause for this is fairly obvious. Historically, Yankees teams have been great teams. They’ve been in position to beat other teams in the postseason, or beat them out for the postseason, much more often than other clubs, and it is that kind of game that rates highly as a heart-breaker.

For those ticked about this Yankees dominance, I will note the irony that second place in dealing out AL pain goes to their arch-rivals, the Boston Red Sox. If this does not soothe you, I will just remind you that the New York Yankees also have a worst defeat ever. Relax: they’ll get theirs.

That’s enough for preliminaries, except to say as I did last time that teams that changed leagues are listed in the one where they took their worst beating. The Houston Astros were in the previous chapter; the Milwaukee Brewers are in this one. Actually, both Milwaukee Brewers teams are in this one—as are both Baltimore Orioles franchises, as you’ll see right now.

Baltimore Orioles (1901-1902): July 17, 1902

This is the team that was once considered the precursor to the New York Yankees, but no longer is. It had been intended all along that the Baltimore franchise would move to New York, once political hurdles could be cleared (meaning, finding owners that Tammany Hall would approve). The move was hastened, in shocking fashion, by Orioles player-manager John McGraw.

McGraw, dissatisfied in Baltimore, had a clandestine offer to manager the New York Giants. He contrived to get himself suspended by the American League (with his temper, it looked natural) and released by the Orioles. As his parting shot, he helped the owners of the Giants and Reds buy up the majority of Orioles stock. They then plundered most of its players for their National League clubs.

On July 17, the Orioles had to forfeit a game to the St. Louis Browns because they could field only five players. The AL took over the franchise and stocked it with players from the other seven teams so it could complete its schedule. It was a zombie team, though, its Baltimore tenure doomed.

(This is just the barest gloss of an astonishing tale. See References and Resources for a link to the full story.)

Baltimore Orioles (1954-present): August 22, 2007 (first game)

The O’s have suffered nasty post-season defeats, like the Jeter-Maier home run game in 1996 and the “Where’s Zach Britton?” Wild Card game in 2016. But there’s still something incalculably humiliating about a game, even an August game, where you’re beaten by three runs per inning.

It was, bizarrely, the Orioles who took the early lead, 3-0 after three innings. Then Texas struck back with a five-run fourth, and salted away the game with a nine-run sixth that produced a 14-3 advantage. The Rangers weren’t even halfway done with their scoring. They piled up 10 more runs in the eighth, then took advantage of being the visiting team to tally six more in the ninth. The final was 30-3.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Every Ranger who went to the plate got a hit and scored a run; nine apiece got multiple hits and multiple runs. Eight Rangers notched multiple RBIs, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ramón Vázquez who knocked in seven each. It was the most lopsided pasting ever delivered on a major league diamond.

And it wasn’t over for the Orioles. This was just the first game of a double-header: they still had the nightcap to play. They lost that one too.

Boston Red Sox: October 25, 1986

A 3-2 Series lead heading into the night. A go-ahead homer in the visitors’ 10th by Dave Henderson, who had torn out the Angels’ heart with a last-chance homer 13 days before. Wade Boggs coming home with an insurance run. The Mets taken down to their final out.

It had to be. The Curse was dead, at the age of 68.

But the Red Sox had sown the seeds of disaster. They had traded with the Mets for reliever Calvin Schiraldi, and he now gave up three straight singles to give New York life. Schiraldi gave way to Bob Stanley, who on a 2-2 count to Mookie Wilson threw a game-tying wild pitch (that some think should have been called a passed ball on catcher Rich Gedman). And then the little roller up along first, to the physically battered first baseman that manager John McNamara had not subbed out defensively as he had done all postseason.

It got through Buckner. The Red Sox lost. Then they lost Game Seven. The Curse lived.

Chicago White Sox: October 8, 1919

Those who hadn’t heard, or didn’t believe, the rumors thought Chicago had a chance. After falling behind Cincinnati 4-1 in this best-of-nine Series, the White Sox had taken two straight, and were back home for the final two. Time to show what the White Sox were really made of.

They did. Lefty Williams gave up four straight hits and got knocked out in the first. Cincinnati, up 4-0, kept up the barrage against his two relievers, piling up six more runs on a total of 16 hits. Reds hurler Hod Eller pitched masterfully in the first seven innings, and by the time he weakened in the eighth, the matter was no longer in any meaningful doubt. Cincinnati took the World Series with a 10-5 win.

Many sour White Sox fans must have grumbled about their team taking a dive, even, or especially, if they didn’t mean it. A year later, they were shown to have been right.

Cleveland Indians: September 25, 1921

Six games from season’s end, the defending champion Indians were in a virtual tie for first with the Yankees. The teams were playing the third of a four-game set at the Polo Grounds. So deep into a tight pennant race, each game, each run, could widely swing both teams’ fortunes.

New York put paid to that cliché, scoring so many runs that the last several scarcely mattered. They piled up seven runs in the first three frames, and when Cleveland got four of them back, retaliated with an eight-run fourth, begun with 10 straight Yankees reaching base. With the score 15-5 after four and a half, player-manager Tris Speaker ran up the white flag by pulling four of his starters (plus a relief pitcher).

It wasn’t even Babe Ruth leading the pummeling. Babe had a single and two walks, scored once, and didn’t knock in a run. It was his substitute, Chick Fewster, who homered, the perfect insult added to injury.

The 21-7 massacre left the Clevelanders shell-shocked. They won just one of their final five games, dropping like a rock out of the race. It would be over a quarter-century before they won their next pennant.

Detroit Tigers: October 16, 1909

It was the Detroit Tigers’ third consecutive World Series. They had lost the first two to the Cubs by a combined eight games to one, but this time it seemed they might have the measure of the Pittsburgh Pirates, in an epic battle of superstars Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. After holding off a late Pirates rally to win Game Six, 5-4, it was one game, at home, for the whole ball of wax. And that rookie pitcher Pittsburgh kept sending out, Babe Adams, couldn’t beat them three straight times, could he?

He didn’t just beat them, he whipped them. Adams pitched his third straight complete-game six-hitter against Detroit, and this one was a shutout. Detroit’s hurlers, Bill Donovan and George Mullin, gave up seven hits but also 10 walks, while three errors were committed behind them. It was an 8-0 whitewashing.

Detroit, the first team ever to lose two straight World Series, was now the first to lose three straight. The Tigers wouldn’t get to their next World Series for a quarter-century. Ty Cobb would never see another World Series game without buying a ticket.

Kansas City A’s: September 25, 1965

In their 13 years in Kansas City, the A’s never had a winning season. They entered no game with enough at stake for the team that their failure landed with too sickening a thud. For their worst disappointment, we must shift our gaze to the personal, and the historic.

Owner Charlie Finley made a splash, and raised a ruckus, when he signed Satchel Paige, of uncertain antiquity (he was 59, but mystery made for better copy) to pitch a tail-end game for the tail-end A’s. Some feared it was a stunt, a travesty. Paige proved them wrong. He pitched the game’s first three innings in an economical 28 pitches, yielding one hit to Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski while walking nobody and allowing no runs. He left to a standing ovation, and with a 1-0 lead.

He wasn’t going to win, scoring rules being what they are, but his A’s could have, with their lead at 2-0 after six. Instead, Boston cracked Satch’s successors for five runs in the seventh and eighth, and won 5-2. A storybook ending to an amazing career had fizzled. The best player ever to wear the Kansas City A’s uniform had been let down by his teammates.

Kansas City Royals: October 9, 1977

Kansas City craved revenge for the walk-off defeat to the Yankees in the 1976 ALCS. The Royals missed one chance the previous afternoon in Game Four, but Game Five looked more promising. Yankees manager Billy Martin was keeping a slumping Reggie Jackson out of the lineup against fellow lefty Paul Splittorff. With the Martin/Jackson feud thus stoked, the tinderbox Yankees might blow themselves up.

It worked early for the Royals, as they drove Ron Guidry out in the third. Splittorff carried a 3-1 lead into the eighth. A leadoff Willie Randolph single, though, took him out and started the merry-go-round. Manager Whitey Herzog would insert five relievers in the next two innings, as things spun out of control.

New York edged up to 3-2 in the eighth, aided by a single from Jackson, put in the game once Splittorff was gone. In the ninth, with K.C. three outs from its first pennant, the first three Yankees got aboard to tie the game. Randolph’s sacrifice liner against Mark Littell—who had given up the pennant-losing homer last year—pushed the Yankees ahead. George Brett would then airmail what would have been the third out over first baseman Pete LaCock, giving New York insurance.

The Royals got a man aboard in the last of the ninth, but a bang-bang double play sent them home without a pennant, again.

Los Angeles/California Angels: October 12, 1986

With a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and a 5-2 lead over Boston going into the ninth inning, the Angels were on the brink of their first pennant. Their manager, Gene Mauch, was on the brink of his first pennant in a 25-year managing career. They needed three outs.

They got one before Don Baylor’s homer made it 5-4. They got a second before Gary Lucas plunked Rich Gedman, and was pulled for a hurting Donnie Moore. Moore couldn’t get the third before Dave Henderson launched his own home run to make it 6-5, Red Sox.

What’s often forgotten is that the Angels didn’t lose in the ninth. They rallied to tie, and got the bases loaded with one out before reliever Steve Crawford shut the door and forced extras. The final blow came in the 11th, with Moore still on the mound, and Dave Henderson again at bat. His bases-loaded sacrifice fly pushed Boston back ahead, and this time California couldn’t make it up.

The stunned Angels would lose the next two games at Fenway Park. The Red Sox would go to the World Series, thinking the breaks were finally on their side.

Milwaukee Brewers (1901): April 25, 1901

This team existed for one year at the dawn of the American League. Their very first game, at Detroit’s Bennett Park, began auspiciously. Two runs in the second inning and five in the third moved them out to a big lead. Detroit got three back in the middle frames, but Milwaukee posted three-spots in the seventh and eighth. Detroit closed the gap to 13-4 in the eighth with a lone, apparently meaningless run.

It ended up critical, because Detroit assembled a ninth-inning rally for the ages. They hammered Brewers hurlers Pete Dowling and Bert Husting for five singles and five doubles. Jimmy Burke’s error at third base was also key, as Detroit was down to its final out when they pushed across the 10th and final run of the frame.

Milwaukee had lost an unlosable game, 14-13, and would lose their next four. They finished the season with an awful 48-89 record, and would start their next season as the St. Louis Browns.

Milwaukee Brewers (1970-present): April 10, 1976

The early spring game had swung hard twice already. Milwaukee had piled up a 6-0 lead on New York after six, but a four-run seventh pulled the Yankees close, and a five-run eruption in the ninth put the Brewers down 9-6. Down to their last licks, they fought back. A single, walk, and error brought up Don Money as the potential winning run with nobody out. On Dave Pagan’s 1-0 pitch, Money launched the game-winning grand slam into the left-field stands.

But the game didn’t end, because the home run hadn’t happened, because first base umpire Jim McKean had called time before Pagan delivered the pitch. He called the Brewers back to their bases, as boos and debris showered from the stands. Money hit a short fly-out on the do-over, and Milwaukee could get just one run on a sac fly before running out of outs and losing 9-7. The umpires departed with a police escort summoned by Brewers owner Bud Selig.

Skipper Alex Grammas protested the game the next day—which by rule is a day too late to protest. Brewers aplenty protested to reporters, which had the same effect. The game they had won remained lost.

Minnesota Twins: October 1, 1967

The Twins had been in first place, alone or tied, for 27 days in September. They arrived at Boston in control of their future. Win both games, and the worst they’d have was a playoff. Even after dropping the first game, it was the same. Win to eliminate the Red Sox, and have a playoff with Detroit at worst. Lose, and they were eliminated.

Tony Oliva gave them the lead in the first, and they held it through five and a half. Then starter Dean Chance wilted, and five straight Red Sox reached base to push them ahead 3-2. Reliever Al Worthington heaved two wild pitches, scoring a fourth, and a hard grounder went off Harmon Killebrew’s glove to make it 5-2.

Minnesota got one back in the eighth on a Bob Allison single, but he made the third out stretching for second. Three batters in the ninth, and it was over. Boston’s Impossible Dream had come true. Minnesota’s dream of converting its formidable core into an American League dynasty had not.

New York Yankees: October 20, 2004

Game Seven of the 2004 ALCS wasn’t close. It wasn’t tense. It didn’t have huge swings of fortune. Those had all come earlier in the series. It did have awful inevitability, the giant boulder plummeting toward Wile E. Coyote as he cowers under a ludicrously small umbrella. Also, being a Yankees-Red Sox game, it lasted three and a half hours, so the agony was prolonged.

Most importantly, it was the capper to the biggest playoff collapse in sports history. Needing one win out of four to finish off their blood enemies, the Yankees got zero. With this final chance to stop the comeback, they rolled over and died, 10-3. They coughed up the pennant to Boston, which swept into and through the World Series, smashing The Curse that Yankees fans had gloated over for generations. The cherry on the Red Sox’s sundae is who they beat, and how, to gain that chance.

And Yankees fans have to live with that shame, that irreversible failure. Forever.

Oakland A’s: October 6, 2003

Three straight years, the money-balling A’s had made the playoffs, but gotten bounced out of the first round in decisive Game Fives. In 2003, they reached October again, and this time took the first two in the ALDS from Boston. They were on the verge of silencing the know-nothings’ mockery of Billy Beane and, oh by the way, getting a step closer to a pennant.

Then Boston copped Game Three in extras on Trot Nixon’s walkoff dinger. Then the Sox bagged Game Four on David Ortiz’s two-run double in the eighth. Then they trashed Oakland’s slim lead in Game Five with bombs by Jason Varitek and Manny Ramírez to drive ahead 4-1. Oakland pecked away in the sixth and eighth, but came into the ninth still trailing 4-3. Hope rose from consecutive walks—and then Ramón Hernández bunted the runners to second and third.

But—the A’s never sacrifice! It’s against their religion! Never mind that it was a sound play by Win Expectancy. The mockers could crow that Oakland had violated its sacred principles when it counted, admitting intellectual bankruptcy—and still lost! Derek Lowe punched out Adam Melhuse and Terrence Long to ice the game. Another year in the competitive window, before other teams got wise, was wasted.

Philadelphia A’s: October 12, 1914

It was nightmarish. These upstart Boston Braves, dead in last place on the Fourth of July, had charged through the pack to win the NL pennant. Then they took the first two games of the World Series from the dynastic A’s, and matched them tally for tally to take Game Three into extra innings. But then Home Run Baker singled in two men in the top of the 10th to put Philadelphia ahead 4-2. The second runner came home while Johnny Evers at second was just holding the ball, a shocking brain-freeze.

This had to be the turn, the restoration of sense. With this game in hand, Connie Mack’s men could get to the business of taking the Series from these arrivistes.

It wasn’t in hand. Hank Gowdy homered to lead off the Boston 10th. After a whiff and a walk, Evers came up. He just tipped a 1-2 pitch into catcher Wally Schang’s glove—and it popped back out. Evers exploited his reprieve with a single, so Joe Connolly’s fly-out, instead of ending the game, brought in the tying run. In the Boston 12th, Gowdy hit a ground-rule double, and after a free pass, Herbie Moran dropped a bunt. Pitcher Bullet Joe Bush fielded it and threw toward third—but missed. The error brought Gowdy home with the winning run.

The sweep ended the next day. Over the winter, the Federal League raiding his roster, Mack dismantled what remained of his championship club. The A’s entered the wilderness.

St. Louis Browns: September 18, 1922

The Browns’ potential championship season was teetering. After leading the league for most of summer, they had slipped to second behind the surging Yankees. In their last series of the year, they’d split the first two, keeping New York half a game up. The rubber game of what The New York Times called the “Little World’s Series” was played before a record crowd in St. Louis, 32,000—and this on a Monday! If the Browns won, they’d retake the lead.

The game was a scoreless duel through four, but St. Louis nicked Bullet Joe Bush for singletons in the fifth and seventh. In the eighth, a wild throw by second sacker Marty McManus let across one Yankee run. The Browns still led 2-1 entering the ninth.

Wally Schang led off by singling off pitcher Dixie Davis’ glove. (Dixie versus the Yankees. Appropriate.) He took second on Hank Severeid’s passed ball, and beat an unwise throw to third on Mike McNally’s bunt. Everett Scott walked, filling the bases. One home force-out later, Whitey Witt’s single drove in McNally and Scott. Bush would retire the side in order to preserve the 3-2 win.

St. Louis lost the pennant by one game. Had the Browns won this contest, they would have won the pennant by one game. Instead, they wouldn’t get closer than 15 games to first place for the next 21 seasons.

Seattle Mariners: October 4, 1995

In their 19th year of existence, this was the Mariners’ first playoff series—and they were already down 1-0 to the Yankees. Game Two felt must-win. Vince Coleman’s third-inning longball put them ahead, but that was just prelude to a stretch of punch and counter-punch that left the teams locked at four runs apiece after seven. Seattle threatened to edge ahead in the ninth, but closer John Wetteland came in to douse the fire, and the game rolled into extras.

The break came in the 12th, when Ken Griffey Jr.’s homer put Seattle ahead 5-4. Again came the counter-punch. Rubén Sierra’s two-out double plated the tying run, though Bernie Williams was thrown out trying to win it. Tied again, but now Seattle had an edge. The Mariners had knocked out Wetteland and were into the soft underbelly of the Yankees’ bullpen, in the person of some failed starter from Panama.

Over three and a third innings, Seattle and the world would learn who Mariano Rivera was. The only threat against him was in the 15th, and he coolly snuffed it. It was Tim Belcher who finally broke in the 15th, giving up the game-winning homer to Jim Leyritz.

Seattle was flattened, on the brink, needing a miracle to survive. The Mariners didn’t yet know that they’d get it.

Seattle Pilots: April 20, 1969 (First gane)

The Pilots lasted just one season in Seattle before Bud Selig bought their bankrupt carcass and transformed them into the Milwaukee Brewers. That’s not long enough to raise hopes sufficiently high for a proper in-season dashing, but there is something reasonably close.

Seattle had beaten Chicago three out of four times in the young season when they met for an April 20  doubleheader at White Sox Park. Pilots starter Gary Bell matched up well with Tommy John in the opener, and the sides went into extra innings knotted 2-2. Tommy Harper opened Seattle’s 10th with a walk, but got picked off first, snuffing the embryonic rally. Reliever Diego Seguí notched one out in Chicago’s half before Bill Melton took him into the seats, for a 3-2 White Sox win.

That dropped Seattle’s record to 4-5. The Pilots would never get back to .500. From that moment onward, the Pilots would never be anything other than a losing team—at least, until they were nothing at all.

Tampa Bay Rays: October 12, 2010

The 2008 pennant run was a gift to long-suffering Rays fans. In 2010, though, they had higher expectations. Tampa Bay compiled the best record in the AL that year. Fans expected postseason success, especially against a team, the Texas Rangers, that had won exactly one playoff game in its history.

Texas shocked them by winning the first two. The Rays revived to tie the series, but the decisive Game Five was an exhibition of basepath embarrassments.

Texas took a 1-0 lead when Elvis Andrus, running on a full count, scored from second on a 3-1 groundout without even a throw home. The Rays tied the game, but lost a chance for more when Jason Bartlett pickled himself between third and home on a soft grounder. Half an inning later, Kelly Shoppach threw the ball away on a steal of third, and Nelson Cruz scampered home to make it 2-1. In the sixth, a just-missed double play and a split-second of blankness from Rays first baseman Carlos Pena let Vladimir Guerrero dash second-to-home to make it 3-1.

Texas got the rest of its runs the standard longball route in a 5-1 eliminator. The Rangers went to the World Series, twice. The Rays have never since gotten as close to a second pennant.

Texas Rangers: October 27, 2011

I wanted to give this to the 2015 ALDS and Jose Bautista’s monster bat-flip. I even considered giving it to Game Seven of the 2011 Series, rather than Game Six. Putting such a tremendously enjoyable game, for all fans of baseball, on this list felt wrong, as if I’d hung Game Six in 1975 around the Reds’ necks.

But there are differences. The Reds were four outs from winning it all when Bernie Carbo’s homer knotted up their game. The Texas Rangers were one strike away when David Freese’s triple got over Nelson Cruz’s head, erasing their two-run lead. Texas got that two-run cushion back in the 10th, and still held a one-run lead moving one strike away again. Then Lance Berkman tied up the game, again.

The inning after that, David Freese happened, again, only more so.

Twice at the brink, Texas couldn’t get that final strike. The deflation the Reds had suffered in 1975, that they were able to overcome to win Game Seven, was much greater for the Rangers, and they could not overcome it. They wouldn’t win their first title ever. Team president Nolan Ryan wouldn’t win his first ring since he was a raw, wild kid with the 1969 Mets.

Ryan has since managed the feat, back with Houston. That only twists the knife for Rangers fans.

Toronto Blue Jays: October 4, 1987

The division was cinched, right? Toronto had beaten the pursuing Tigers three straight, the last two in walk-off fashion, to pull 3.5 games ahead with seven to play. What could go wrong?

The remaining four games the Jays had against Detroit, that’s what. They lost the first one in 13 innings, leaving them 2.5 up. Then after getting swept out of Exhibition Stadium by the Brewers, they arrived in Detroit for the final three, still a game ahead. By the time Sunday’s finale rolled around, they were a game behind. If they couldn’t salvage this one for a playoff, the collapse would be complete.

Their starter, Jimmy Key, answered the call, pitching a complete-game three-hitter. One of those hits, though, was a second-inning solo homer by Larry Herndon. Toronto needed to get back one run against Frank Tanana. The Jays could not. Their best chance was probably in the fourth, with Manuel Lee’s two-out triple. It would’ve been a game-tying triple, had not a caught stealing just erased … Cecil Fielder.

To quote baseball philosopher Charlie Brown, “AUUUUGH!”

Toronto’s fourth straight loss to Detroit—all by one run—and seventh straight overall, killed thei Jays’  season without the slightest pity. And just to remind you: Cecil Fielder.

Washington Senators (1901-1960): October 15, 1925

“World Champion Washington Senators” still sounded weird in 1925, but not only was it true, the Senators were defending their title. They went up 3-1 on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series, before the Bucs charged back to tie and force Game Seven in Pittsburgh.

Washington sent Walter Johnson, already a legend, to pitch for all the marbles. This natural choice was an unfortunate one, as the combination of a head cold, a hurt leg, and increasing rain throughout the game that turned the mound treacherous worked against him. Still, Walter scuffled to a 6-4 lead at the stretch.

A pop fly opened the Pirates seventh, one that Washington shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh muffed. It was his seventh error of the Series, and Pittsburgh exploited its chance to score twice and tie the game 6-6. Peckinpaugh redeemed himself with a home run in the eighth to make it 7-6. Johnson, running on fumes but left in by manager Bucky Harris, got two outs before letting in the tying run. Then Peckinpaugh threw away a grounder, his eighth World Series error keeping the inning alive. Kiki Cuyler’s subsequent double made it 9-7, and that’s where the game and the Series ended.

Johnson took the loss. Bucky Harris was reprimanded by no less than AL President Ban Johnson for managing with his heart in sticking with the living legend. And the city of Washington still has not won its second World Series.

Washington Senators (1961-1971): September 30, 1971

The second Senators franchise is similar to the K.C. A’s: it had one fluky winning season in 1969, but otherwise barely offered even the promise of success. By the close of the 1971 season, ownership had already announced its upcoming move to Texas.

The Senators’ final game, at RFK Stadium, began badly. The visiting Yankees roughed up starter Dick Bosman for an early 4-0 lead. The Senators, though, showed spirit beyond their 63-95 record. By the sixth inning they had tied the game 5-5, and in the eighth, two Yankees errors helped them surge ahead 7-5.

The fans were getting a parting gift of winning baseball from their Senators … and rejected it. From confetti showers and a triple curtain-call after Frank Howard’s last Senators home run, they turned to angry chants of “We want Short!” (meaning departing owner Bob Short) and dozens of fans coming onto the field before the eighth inning. After two Yankees outs in the ninth—putting Washington one out from victory—the dam burst. Thousands swarmed the field, tearing up the bases and turf for souvenirs, then plundering the scoreboard.

Crew chief Jim Honochick had no alternative but to declare the forfeit, and the last game in Washington Senators history, a game they had all but won, was lost.

And that is the end of our sad tales … except for the ones you wish to offer as worse than the ones I recounted. You know where you can tell those.

References and Resources

  • Baseball-Reference
  • Retrosheet
  • Philip J. Lowry, Green Cathedrals (2006 edition)
  • Bruce Nash and Allen Zullo, The Baseball Hall of Shame
  • Rob Neyer, Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders
  • Cecilia Tan, The 50 Greatest Yankee Games
  • John Thorn, ”The House That McGraw Built”, writing at the Our Game blog
  • Larry Tye, Satchel
  • The Milwaukee Sentinel
  • The Milwaukee Journal
  • The New York Times
  • MLBClassics channel on YouTube
  • Various radio broadcast files accessed from Internet Archive

A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 years ago

What a great article Shane. As a 7 year old Yankee fan I remember feeling very ashamed of how the umpires gave the win to the Yankees against the Brewers in April of 1976. However, it was only an April game in a rebuilding year in which the Brewers were going to finish 32 games behind the Yankees.

Instead, for the Brewers, I would offer game 7 of the 1982 World Series against the Cardinals. Harvey’s Wallbangers were up 3 -1 going into the bottom of the 6th with their ace and Cy Young Award winner Pete Vukovich on the hill when a quick hook and ineffective relief by Bob McClure put the Cardinals ahead. The Cards added 2 insurance runs in the 8th to win the deciding game 6 – 3.

For fans of the Brew Crew it would be another 26 years before they made the playoffs again, the 2008 NL Division Series, (which they also lost). Game 5 (in 1982 the Brewers lost game 6 of the World Series soundly 13 – 1) of the 1982 World Series would be the last post season victory the franchise would ever have in the American League. The franchise would not win a post season series until 2011.

4 years ago
Reply to  GoNYGoNYGoGo

…only to lose to the Cardinals again in the 2011 NLCS, and they’ve yet to return to the playoffs since then.

4 years ago

As an Oakland fan I’d have chosen the demoralizing loss in game 1 of the 1988 WS, especially since we have see Gibson pumping his fists around the bases every single post-season game we’ve tuned into since then. Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS, in my mind, is a worse loss than game 5, as Oakland could have put Boston away if only 1) Brynes had tagged home plate instead of pushing Varitek and trotted toward the dugout and 2) Tejada ran home and scored instead of assuming interference and inexplicably stopping half way home. They recorded 2 outs instead of 2 sure runs, beating themselves with stupid mistakes to let Boston back into the series. And I didn’t mention their 4 errors.

Paul G.member
4 years ago
Reply to  Franski

I can certainly see the argument for both of them. Shane used me as a sounding board for Oakland specifically and we kept going back and forth on which one was the worst. My tendency is to think that if there is a bad game that preceded a somewhat worse game, the latter game is the worst of the two because (a) it is bad in itself and (b) it inherits the badness of the prior game. Your mileage may vary.

Game 1 in 1988 has some especially bad moments. Oakland threatened to score a lot of runs early:

1st: bases loaded with 2 outs
2nd: bases loaded with 2 outs
3rd: first and second with no outs
4th: runner on second with no outs (gets thrown out at third), first and second with 2 outs

Canseco hit a grand slam in the 2nd to cash that in, but that’s it. After that, Oakland simply stopped hitting, only netting a single and a walk (though the walk managed to get to second with 1 out). Oakland could have easily put this game out of reach and didn’t.

Then there is the fact that Eckersley somehow managed to walk Mike Davis right before Gibson. Davis is a notorious free agent bust who batted all of 196 (54 OPS+) and, most notably, only hit 2 home runs that year. It says something when you walk a guy who can’t hit, followed by giving up a home run to a guy who can barely walk.

Paul G.member
4 years ago
Reply to  Paul G.

That’s not quite right. Let me try again.

If there is a bad game that follows a somewhat worse game, then the later of two games inherits the badness of the earlier game. It’s a piling on effect.

4 years ago
Reply to  Franski

Hm, I’d offer up game three of the 2001 division series, too, when Oakland took the first two games from New York, then dropped the third when Jeremy Giambi inexplicably declined to slide at a play at the plate, and Jeter’s equally inexplicable flip nailed him by a hair. The A’s dropped the next two games.

Not only did Oakland lose, but that game and play generated possibly this young century’s best piece of sportswriting: Slide, Jeremy Slide, by Vecsey.

That series really did feel like an opportunity to unhinge ourselves from the past, coming as it did during our short period after 9/11 when we were recovering from collective trauma in unified good feeling. An A’s victory would have meant…so much. Instead, it was the Yankees and, well, here we are.

4 years ago

Fair enough. I think 1988 sits with me due to the fact that the homer off Eck is such an iconic moment that I re-witness it in the playoff “highlight reel” that precedes nearly every playoff game. That, and I was 12 yrs old when it happened, the first OAK loss that brought me to tears.

I don’t necessarily disagree with 2003 ALDS game 5, but I may have resigned myself to an A’s loss by that point (that, and I still get angry thinking about the game 3 loss).

4 years ago

I also wanted to add that these were an excellent pair of articles!

4 years ago

I just expected the Jeter-Jeremy play, I didn’t remember the Ramon Hernandez bunt.

4 years ago
Reply to  touchstone033

The flip was such an incredible and unexpected play that it doesn’t upset me much. I also I lived in NYC at the time, so it was a great baseball environment to be in and the A’s were still up 2-1 and had a great team. Little did I know that that series would follow up on the previous years ALDS to continue the trend of devastating A’s playoff losses that still continues–the 2014 WC game turned me off of A’s baseball for the entire year that followed.

Envy Angelmember
4 years ago

This loss, for me as an Angel fan, was so bad that I couldn’t even gloat when Boston lost the World Series that year.

Forgotten in the discussion of the Angels’ meltdown is that they were one strike away, twice, from winning game five of that series. Both times, instead, Boston hit home runs. After that loss, the Angels did not make the postseason for another sixteen years.

Another note of irony about that game is that Dave Henderson had a Bobby Grich flyball go off his head and over the fence for a home run in the seventh inning. He was doomed to be the goat until his homer in the ninth.

What made this series particularly painful for Angels fans was that the team had lost to Milwaukee in the 1982 ALCS despite having a similar lead. They had yet another meltdown in 1995 that ended with the infamous trapped-ball game against Seattle in that one-game playoff.

How bad was this loss? Bobby Grich retired after this year, and poor Donnie Moore never recovered.

Oh, this one was painful, but it made the 2002 World Series win so much sweeter . . .

4 years ago

You also point out that Walter Johnson stayed in the last game of the 1925 series where like the “Where’s Zach Britton?” they had relief ace Firpo Marberry unused. Odd trivia fact: the 37 year old pitcher Johnson had a 163 OPS+ during the regular season that year. No steroid allegations.

4 years ago

Agree on most of the teams listed. I would vote for game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the Indians (only because it’s within the memory of a lot of their fanbase), and you could make a strong case for the 1995 AL West one-game playoff for the Angels. They were up in the division by 10 1/2 games as late as August 15, only to choke it all away.

4 years ago
Reply to  Yankees18

As an Indians fan I completely agree. While disappointing and even back-breaking, the 9/25 loss cannot be considered heartbreaking and so cannot be compared to 1997. On 9/25/21 they were still reigning champions, in 1997 they were 2 outs away from their first WS win in 49 years! I would also put the 9/27/40 Giebell-Feller game as more heartbreaking than a 21-7 blowout which knocked them out of first for good with 5 games remaining. Or maybe something from the last week of 1908 or 1955? Or the late-August 4-game massacre by Chicago in 1959? Or Herb Score 5/7/57?