The worst Cubs team ever?

Cubs fans of long standing have come to expect two kinds of teams: Disappointing and just plain bad.

This year’s team, of which little was expected and less has been delivered, fits without question in the latter category. But how bad?

This bad: At its current pace, you can make a case that the 2011 edition will be the worst Cubs team ever.


Bear with me. As of Sunday evening, the Cubs are playing .390 ball. Now, almost 100 games are left in the season. They might wind up doing better, but they might fall even further. For purposes of this exercise, though, let’s assume that the last 60 percent of the Cubs’ season will mirror the first 40.

Going back 110 seasons to the start of the modern era, the Cubs have finished .390 or worse six times. Here are those awful teams:

1901: (.381) Still called the Orphans, they had Frank Chance, but not yet Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers.
1956: (.390) Ernie Banks hit. The Cubs fired their manager and GM.
1960: (.390) Lou Boudreau came down from the radio booth to manage. Glen Hobbie lost 20 games.
1962: (.364) Under their “College of Coaches,” they beat out the first-year Mets for ninth place.
1966: (.364) New manager Leo Durocher famously declared, “This ain’t no eighth-place ballclub.” The Cubs finished 10th.
1981: (.381) In a strike-shortened season, the Cubs dumped Bruce Sutter, Dave Kingman, Rick Reuschel and the Wrigley family.

Now, let’s compare those teams’ accomplishments with the current squad’s:

Hitting: Runs scored per game (2011 through Saturday):

1. 1956    3.80
2. 1981    3.85
3. 1962    3.90
4. 1966    3.98 
5. 2011    4.05
6. 1960    4.06
7. 1901    4.13

Pitching: Runs allowed per game:

1. 2011     5.13
2. 1962     5.10
3. 1960     4.97
4. 1901     4.99
4. 1966     4.99
6. 1981     4.56
7. 1956     4.51

Fielding: League rank, number of errors.

1. 2011 (16th of 16)
2. 1981 (11th of 12)
3. 1966 (eighth of 10)
4. 1901 (sixth of eight)
5. 1956 (fifth of eight)
6. 1960 (fourth of eight)
7. 1962 (fourth of 10)

(I use ranks here because it’s misleading to compare fielding over eras. Also, more advanced fielding metrics are not available and/or not reliable for baseball’s early years, so errors will have to do.)

Add up these “worst-to-less worse” rankings of the really bad Cubs teams over the past century-plus—one point for first worst, two for second, etc.

Your 2011 Cubs are on pace to be No. 1 in franchise history!

Joe Distelheim is a retired newspaper editor whose career included stints as sports editor of The Charlotte Observer and Detroit Free Press. He co-authored Cubs: From Tinker to Banks to Sandberg to Today.
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11 years ago

Yes injuries have been a major drag. However, they were a drag on a .500 team at best. This is a roster that desparately needs to be blown up. Get Zambrano, Soriano, Fukudome, Ramirez, Byrd, Grabow and their bloated salaries out of town and see what you have from Colvin, Smith, Jackson, etc. Hopefully you find some useful parts to plug in along with Castro, Barney, Soto, Garza, Cashner, Marmol, Marshal & Wells – a decent core of youngsters to build around. And add Pujols or Fielder to bring in some power to compete in 2012!

11 years ago

I agree Nick, I think that was the plan coming into the season.  This is a transition year, get those contracts off the books and rebuild.  They had a good run with the ARam, DLee, Zambrano, Dempster core, but it is and did not win a Championship.  Let’s give it some time, this is the best the Cubs farm system has looked in awhile.  I want a full on youth movement, see what they have and then fill in the holes via free agency.  Money is not an issue.

Jeffrey Gross
11 years ago


What are the adjusted runs relative to the league? A 4.05 RPG this year is not the same as 4.05 in 2003.

Normally I’d say good article, but I’m a Cubs fan, so BOOOOOO!

Jeffrey Gross
11 years ago


Goose has hit it 100% on the head

Harry Pavlidis
11 years ago

The Cubs also had Silva as their sixth starter until he huffed off. And you have to at least mention Rodrigo Lopez, even though he made just one start being on the roster is noteworthy.

Michael D
11 years ago

A .500 team with a lot of injuries seems like a pretty apt description of this team.  Actually maybe a slightly below .500 team with a lot of injuries seems even more correct. 

However, that would suggest that this will not be the worst Cubs team of all time.  If they play .500 the poorly the rest of the month, and then finish playing .500 the rest of the year, they will be substantially better than the rest of those teams.

11 years ago

It is hard to deny the fact that injuries have played a factor in their start.  Doug Davis, Casey Coleman, and James Russell have combined to start 18 games this season and have 2 Ws between them.  Not exactly who they were expecting heading into 2011 with injuries to Cashner, Wells, and Garza.

11 years ago

I’m with Jeff, the RS/G and RA/G figures are pretty meaningless without context.

11 years ago

Young players?  Castro.  Colvin (assuming he ever fully comes back around from being impaled).  Garza. Soto’s like 28, so he’s still got a few prime years yet.  Barney’s realistically a 5th infielder, but he can do that.  Marmol and Marshall are both good and on the right side of the hill.

It’s not a long-cause longterm, but this year was never going to be good.  My optimistic guess was 76 wins.

11 years ago

‘ASSUMING”  “A FEW PRIME YEARS YET”  “REALISTICALLY A 5TH OUTFIELDER”  Cubs bad now with bleak future.  Move over Pirates, here come da Cubbies

11 years ago

Will you listen to yourselves—-“figures are pretty meaningless w/o context”…:“add Pujols or Fielder”…“money is no issue”

Would addition of any one player make this team a contender?  Exactly what “young players” do the Cubs have to build on?

If Williams, Santo, and Banks could not “do it”, the Cubs won’t ever. Who do you think you’re rooting for, the Marlins?