Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Strange Baseball - The Curse of the Spider

I am an intermittent participant in a Trivia Night at our local watering hole.  We do reasonably well particularly when we play under my preferred team name The Cleveland Spiders.  It is only fitting after all that a Trivia Team play with a name that is an answer to a trivia question.

The question being:

Name the Worst Major League Baseball team in history.

Ah, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders.  Those of us whose stars lead us to root for a team with mixed fortunes can always find solace the the fact that, no matter what, our team simply can't be that bad.

It really need not have been so.  In the mid 1890's the Cleveland Spiders were a championship team, or at least a serious contender.

But their owners, a much reviled pair of brothers named Robison, went out and bought a second team in St. Louis.  They then proceeded to strip the Spiders of all available talent including the immortal Cy Young.  St. Louis was going to contend.  Cleveland would be a back water, a side show.

This is not a recipe for success.  The Spiders went on to a dismal record of 20-134 for a winning percentage of .130.  Fans could not be expected to endure much of that, so attendance at home games was almost zero.  Other clubs refused to come to Cleveland, so home games were cancelled and the Spiders began to play almost entirely on the road.  They were 11-102 in away games, a record that can never be approached, given the current 162 game schedule and equal split between home and away games.

They finished 84 games out of first place.  The lost 40 of their last 41 games.

Remarkably they were so desperate that in their final game of the wretched season they sent to the mound a certain Eddie Kolb, a 19 year old clerk in the cigar shop at the Spiders' hotel.  Eddie seems to have volunteered the night before on a lark, but actually did not end up with the worst ERA on the staff of the hapless Spiders.

Although the team's official name was Spiders, the merciless press corps gave them any number of unofficial monikers that year:

Misfits, Exiles, Discards, Remnants, Outcasts, Cast Adrifts, Wandering Willies, Tramps, Caudal Appendages, Homeless Ones...

Ah well, my misgivings about off season trades notwithstanding my beloved Minnesota Twins will be a resounding success in comparison.

An odd side note.  I thought it would be interesting to see if you could buy a repro hat from the Cleveland Spiders.  Well, sure you can.  Right here.

But in the process of looking around I was shocked to learn that there is, or at least recently was, another Cleveland Spiders team.

They hail from the small Minnesota town of Cleveland.  It is in the same general region that my family hearkens from.  Indeed, they play against a team from my dad's home town.

The most recent information that I can find indicates that the little community of Cleveland actually had two baseball teams in the local amateur league.  Well, did that work out any better than it did in 1899?

It appears that midway through the 2012 season the Cleveland (Minnesota) Spiders were 1-12 with a winning percentage of .077!

I have not been able to determine so far whether it was an undertaking either conceived of, or carried out in, a sober fashion, but I shall be keeping an eye on the upcoming 2013 season with a mind to heading over to cheer for the modern Misfits.


J. Thomas Hetrick said...

The story of this team resides in “MISFITS! Baseball’s Worst Ever Team” by J. Thomas Hetrick, Pocol Press, 1999.

Tacitus2 said...

A niftly looking blue copy of which, indeed, sits on my shelf of baseball books! Nicely done Mr. Hetrick!