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It was Tuesday night. While I waited for Roy Halladay to throw the first pitch, I dutifully pored over the Pre-Game Notes, because I am a conscientious sort of fellow. And in the fine print, I noted that the Blue Jays were slowly closing in on victory number 2300.

A little more than two hours later (Doc probably had dinner reservations somewhere), win number 2293 was in the books, and the team's overall log stood at 2293-2344.

That's still 51 games below the break-even mark. I've been going to the Dome and reading those notes long enough to remember when the Jays were on the sunny side of .500 - I remember when they got there, and I remember when they Fell From Grace. And I thought... there's a story here! In fact, there's probably a bunch of stories because there's a whole bunch of teams. They probably won't all be interesting, but we can skip quickly through those ones.

Anyway, here's a review of all-time franchise records, and if they're currently above .500, I want to find the moment when they climbed that mountain for keeps. And vice versa. There is the problem of franchises that have moved - I'm going to saddle them with their entire history.

We shall begin with the National League East...

Florida Marlins (963-1076) - Losers since April 7, 1993
The Marlins only started play in 1993, and managed just two winning seasons in their first 11 years. To the consternation of Cubs fans everywhere, they capped off both winning seasons by adding a World Series title, but over the long haul... they're losers, as you would expect a new team to be. By the end of 2002, they had fallen 141 games below .500, and three straight winning campaigns have barely made a dent so far. But they have been above .500, folks. On April 5 1993, Charlie Hough beat Orel Hershiser in the very first game they played. That was it. That was their moment. They were 113 games under when this season started.

Washington Nationals (2836-3024) - Losers since April 10, 1969
Most of the Nats' history actually took place in Montreal, of course. The Nats' single season of .500 ball hasn't altered anything. Being an expansion team, the Expos started out as Big Losers, and by the end of 1978 they were 202 games below .500. The fine teams that started to emerge at that point made a brave charge towards .500 - from 1979 through 1996, the Expos had just four losing seasons, and had crawled up to just 50 games below .500. Shortly thereafter, the roof fell in, in the form of four straight 90 loss seasons. They ended their time in Montreal 188 games under, which is where the franchise still stood coming into this season. The Expos also had a Marlins moment - they too won their very first game, on April 8 1969. That's the only time this franchise has ever had a winning record.

New York Mets (3311-3677) - Losers Forever (since April 11, 1962).
They started out as The Lovable Losers, and have never looked back. They didn't even get a day like the Marlins and Expos. They lost each of their first 9 games on their way to going 40-120. By the end of 1968, after just seven seasons, they were a whopping 343 games below .500. By this time, they probably didn't seem so loveable either. Have they been able to dig themselves out of that enormous hole? In a word, no - the hole is actually a little deeper. Oh, they've tasted the glory a couple of times, true, but they've never had a sustained run of excellence. The Gil Hodges-Yogi Berra teams whittled their disadvantage down to 284 games below... but that is actually the team's high-water mark. For it was followed by the disaster of the Joe Torre-George Bamberger years. By 1983, the Mets were 499 games below .500. The Davey Johnson teams got them briefly within 300 games of the break-even point, but that moment passed. And so now they need a 366 game winning streak...

Philadelphia Phillies (8679-9878) - Losers since May 15, 1922
The Phillies are one of the Ancient teams - their record goes back to 1883, and once upon a time it was a fine record indeed. They had a pretty good team in the 1890s, and a very good team in the mid 1910s. By 1917, the franchise record was 138 games above .500 - and that is the best it would ever be. That December, they dumped Pete Alexander for a couple of nondescript players and a big whack of cash. They were punished... lordy, but they were punished. In 1921, they went 51-103 and went into the 1922 season with their all-time record just one game above .500. After a bit of see-sawing above and below .500, they gave up the ghost on May 15, 1922, when they were hammered 19-7 by St. Louis. It dropped their season mark to 11-13, and their all-time record to 2728-2729. It was also the first game of a 12 losing streak en route to a 57-96 record. They've had a losing record ever since. The farthest they've fallen was just a few years ago - by the end of the 2000 season, the team lost 1242 games more than they had won. So they fired Terry Francona, and have begun the log slow crawl upwards... and it's probable that none of us will live to see them make it. They come into this season 1199 games under - the worst mark in all the majors.

Atlanta Braves (9533-9556) - Losers since June 4, 1923.
Obviously it seems odd to pronounce Atlanta a loser since 1923, but this is a tale of three cities, several nicknames, and a great many ups and downs. The saga begins in the Centennial year of 1876. The Boston Beaneaters, starring the fabulous Kid Nichols, may have been the greatest team of 19th century baseball. By 1902 Boston had won 502 games more than they had lost. It's been all downhill from there. In 1912, they changed their name to Braves. It didn't help. They crossed over into Permanent Loserdom on June 4, 1923 when the Phillies beat them 9-7. It was their third straight loss (they would extend the streak to 12 in a row, just to be sure) and it dropped their all-time record to 3084-3085. They've been below .500 ever since. They have never reached the dizzying depths of the Phillies, of course. Who could? They slipped 500 games below during World War II, but they hit their absolute bottom fairly recently, after fielding a succession of dismal teams through the 1980s. On April 11 1991 the Braves fell to 0-2 in the young season, and their all-time mark fell to 8102-8627 - a full 525 games below break-even. Since then, the mighty efforts of Cox and Schuerholz have erased almost all of it, a truly remarkable achievement which oddly parallels what the Dodgers did during their last decade in Brooklyn. Those Dodgers only won the big prize once, as well. Anyway, they come into the 2006 campaign with .500 in their sights. All they need to do is win 93 games, just like they do every year... uh-oh. Could this be the year that the magic finally wears out?

The franchise is still recovering from its 40 bad years in Boston, which left them 480 games under (5118-5598). They had a great little run in Milwaukee, erasing half of that disadvantage in barely over a decade (1146-890, which is 256 games over.) The Atlanta years started out OK, before plunging into an abyss for some 15 years. As noted, it all turned around in 1991. Their overall record in Georgia is 201 games over (3269-3068).

Moving on to the NL Central...

Milwaukee Brewers (2761-3100) - Losers since April 16, 1969
They began life as the Seattle Pilots, who got off to a 3-2 start under the sagacious leadership of Joe "Pound Some Budweiser" Schultz. It didn't last - they ended up losing 98 games, fleeing to Milwaukee, and being immortalized by Jim Bouton. In that order. In Wiasconsin they continued losing, sinking to 222 games under .500 by the end of 1978 before suddenly emerging as a 90 win team in the late 1970s. Six straight wining seasons from 1978 through 1983 got them just a shade more than 100 games below break-even... then they started sinking, slowly, slowly into the ooze. They've had just four winning seasons since the Gorman Thomas era, and after the turn of the milennium they began losing big time. By the end of the 2004 campaign, they were 339 games below .500. They dug this hole even deeper during the first half of last season. They reached the deepest pit in franchise history on June 21 2005 when a loss to the Cubs dropped them to 347 games below. They picked it up from there, going 50-42 the rest of the way to end the season where they had begun it.

Houston Astros (3497-3503) - Losers since April 27, 1962
The Houston Colt 45s actually swept their first series, but then they were forced to play other teams (i.e., not the Cubs), and the inevitable destiny of all expansion teams quickly asserted itself. They were in the below .500 before the month was out, and they've been there ever since. The Astros had just two winning seasons before 1979, and those were modest 84 and 82 win seasons. They hit the lowest mark in franchise history on September 24 1978, when they lost both ends of a double-header to the Giants. That dropped them to 227 games below .500, but they won five of their last seven games to finish the season and suddenly bust into contention the next year with an 89 win season. And ever since, they've been making steady if slow progress at climbing the large mountain. They've had just six losing seasons since then. In 2005, they finally played in a World Series, and had almost evened the franchise record. They were just six games below when the current season started.

2006 Update - And this year's Astros burst out of the gate and made a little Houston history on April 22, when they defeated the Pirates for the team win 3509 against 3508 losses. By May 4, they were four games above .500 all-time. Alas, it didn't last - they lost 11 of their next 15, and slipped back beneath the waters again for the first time on May 9. They've been submerged since May 15. But the Rocket is coming back.... and they just need an 84-78 mark this year to even the all-time record.

Pittsburgh Pirates (9253-8903) - Winners since July 31, 1902
The Pirates began play in 1887, and they weren't particularly good. And then the 1890 team put them in an enormous hole - they lost 113 games and won just 23. That's right - they played .169 ball. A 55-80 campaign the next year dropped them to 141 games below .500 after just five years in the league. They whittled away at that deficit over the next few years... and then, in 1897, they unleashed Honus Wagner on the National League. That did the trick. The Pirates made it above .500 to stay in mid-1902, in the midst of a 103-36 season, and they haven't looked back. The Wagner years boosted them as high as 377 games over the .500 mark, although they did start losing again in the great man's dotage. But they came up with another sustained run, with just one losing season between 1920 and 1938, pushing them all the way up to better than 600 games above .500. Their absolute high-water mark was reached a long time ago, however, on September 27 1945, when they stood 641 games above break-even. The 1950s (the Branch Rickey years) were a disaster, as they lost 300 games more than they won, but they had more than enough cushion to withstand it. They had a long run of mostly quality teams from the late 1950s into the mid 1990s, which got them more than 500 games above .500 - by the end of 1980, they were 591 games up, and by the end up of 1992 they had still won 582 games more than they had lost. Since then of course, they've been slipping into the quicksand with fourteen straight losing seasons, but the legacy of Wagner, Waner, Stargell, and Bonds has given them a pretty substantial cushion.

Chicago Cubs (9835-9286) - Winners Forever (since April 25, 1876)
Winners forever? The Cubs? You bet your sweet bippy. They were one of the original National League teams back in 1876, and they won their first four games. How different was the game back then? Here's a clue - by July, Chicago had a 25-7 record, and Al Spalding had started 31 of the 32 games. Spalding, also the manager, would start 61 of the 66 games played that season, and complete all but one of them. The Cubs were a good team for most of the 19th century - they were almost 400 games over .500 when it ended. And then, as I have discussed before, they put together one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball. By 1914, they were a whopping 824 games over .500. They didn't stop there - they continued to field contenders into the 1920s and 1930.They lost the 1945 World Series, but by then they had won 1160 games more than they had lost. They buiilt on that a little more the following season, and on June 14 1947 they reached the giddiest height in franchise history - 1179 games above .500. The team then collapsed, going 40-64 over the rest of the 1947 season. They would have just one winning season over the next 20 years, as they devolved into the Cubs we have all grown familiar with. By then, the cushion was down to 729 games. The Leo Durocher years briefly reversed this trend, but the modern Cubs outlasted Leo. The Cubs won 90 games or more nine years in a row from 1904 through 1912. They have had just four such seasons since World War II ended. They went into this season 548 games above .500, which is roughly where they were in 1906.

Cincinnati Reds (8971-8808) - Winners Since May 29, 1974
Cincinnati's current team actually started play in the American Association in 1882 - they joined the National League for the 1890 season, which is where I begin counting. It wasn't a particularly good franchise for much of its history. They went into the 1910s slightly above .500 and had a terrible decade before wining an unexpected, albeit tainted, World Series in 1919. The franchise fell below .500 in 1913, but climbed back onto the sunny side in 1923. In 1929, however, the stock market crashed and so did the Reds, as they began a run of nine straight losing seasons. They came up with a good team just in team for the second world war, but resumed their losing ways in 1945. This time they put together 11 straight losing seasons. On September 8, 1955 they had an all-time record of 4793-5056 - 263 games below .500. That was the all-time low. And then, in 1956, they came up with a 20 year old named Frank Robinson, and eventually they got him some help. The Reds were contenders through most of the 1960s, and in the 1970s assembled one of the game's best and memorable teams. It was the Big Red machine that did the trick. By the time the 1974 season started, the Reds were just 6 games below .500. Sparky's crew got off to a bit of a slow start that season, but they heated up in May and a seven game winning streak got them over the hump to stay. The Reds haven't won anything since 1990, but they've had decent teams most of the time anyway, and on May 15 2001 they hit what so far is their greatest distance above .500, when their NL record stood at 8624-8370, 254 games above .500. They've given away some 90 games since then, but they've got some margin to work with, and they were 163 games to the good as this season began.

St. Louis Cardinals (8901-8601) - Winners since May 17, 1967
They have a long and proud history, which makes it hard to comprehend how very bad the Cardinals were for a long, long time. They joined the National League in 1892 and started losing immediately. They had just five winning seasons in their first 28 - and when 19th century teams were bad, they were scary, stinky bad. The Cardinals' best team in the four year periood from 1895-98 played .308 ball (40-90). By the time 1921 rolled around, the franchise had already lost 797 games more than they had won. They then got off to a terrible (5-15) start to sink to more than 800 games below .500 - the deepest part of the abyss being 807 games under on May 13, 1921. And then - a miracle happened. At their nadir, the Cardinals turned around both their season (they went 83-51 the rest of the way) and their franchise. This is a saga otherwise known as the Tale of Branch Rickey, the Invention of the Farm System, and the Destruction of the Minor Leagues. The Cardinals were in a huge hole, and it took a long, long time indeed to extricate themselves. Stan Musial's entire career came and went. But the Cards had just three losing seasons over the 33 years from 1921 through 1953, which took care of most of the heavy lifting. They stumbled a bit in the late 1950s, but righted the ship quickly enough. By the end of 1966, they were almost even, just five games under .500. They charged out of the gate in 1967, winning their first six games to get above .500 for the first time since ... well, ever. They treaded water for a bit, falling back, going ahead, falling back - but a five game winning streak in May got them over .500 to stay. They celebrated by going on to win the World Series, and haven't really looked back. By the end of 2005, they were exactly 300 games over .500 for the first time in their history, and this year they continue to chart territory unexplored in the team's long history.

Which brings us to the NL West...

Arizona Diamondbacks (652-644) - Winners since September 24, 1999
The Snakes actually had a decent enough inaugural campaign in 1998 - they didn't lose 100 games - but they were still 32 games below .500 when 1999 began. However, they had made some fairly significant upgrades, signing free agents Randy Johnson, Andy Benes, and Steve Finley and pulling a heist of a deal for an outfielder named Luis Gonzalez. And by September of 1999, they had evened the slate. The Big Unit himself put them over the top with a week to go in the season, and despite a major blip in 2004, they've been there ever since. They have come very close to falling off that perch - the franchise record dipped to exactly .500 three times last season, on September 4, 16, and 18 - each time, however, they won their next game and closed the season strongly enough (winning 10 of their last 12) to go into the current campaign 8 games to the good.

Colorado Rockies (949-1094) - Losers Since April 11, 1993)
The Rockies lost their first two games (to Doc Gooden and Bret Saberhagen) but a pair of victories got them back to .500 for the one and only time in team history. A three game losing streak sealed their fate, for now. The Rockies have never won more than 83 games, and have had just three winning seasons. While they've never had a real calamitous campaign (most losses ever is 95, twice) they are sinking, sinking, sinking and it's going to take some time to get back to square one.

San Diego Padres (2693-3174) - Losers since April 15, 1969
The Padres won their first three games - they're the only expansion team to come out of the gate so well. But reality quickly asserted itself. They were, in fact, one of the worst expansion teams ever (52-110), and they stayed awful for most of the 1970s. In their first eight seasons, their best record was 73-89, and they lost 100 games or more four times. This put them in a big hole from the start, and all they've really done since then... is make it worse. This team has a largely dismal history, punctuated by a couple of out-of-the-blue 90 win seasons that took them all the way to the World Series. Where they got crushed, as was only appropriate. The lowest they have sunk to is 496 games below .500 - they were there repeatedly in the early days of the 2004 season, most recently on April 19 2004. They won 10 of their next 12 and put together a strong season (certainly by Padre standards, anyway), and last year they shaved another few games off their losing log. But they're 481 games to the bad as this season opens, and I frankly don't expect to live long enough to see them on the other side of the ledger.

San Francisco Giants (10,037-8548 )
- Winners since May 5, 1884
They were called the New York Gothams when they began National League play in 1883, and they posted a modest 46-50 record that first season. They leaped from the gate the next season, winning thweir first twelve games, and haven't looked back. They had a good team for their first twenty years - they won a couple of championships and by the end of 1898 were already 268 games over .500. They scuffled for several years around the turn of the century, and gave back more than 100 games to the league, but they were still 147 games over when, in 1903, they put John McGraw in charge. The rest is history. McGraw stayed for 30 years, 10 pennants and 4 World Series titles. When he finally retired the team had won almost 1000 games more than they had lost. His successors could hardly match his achievements, but they did win a couple more world championships, and padded the team's winning margin to a high water mark of 1207 above .500 in April 1956.

Bill Veeck has theorized that Horace Stoneham rather than Walter O'Malley was the driving force behind the Giants and Dogers lighting out for California after 1957. Veeck was almost certainly joking, and O'Malley is the man who has borne the wrath of history (which in this case consists almost entirely of bitter and disgruntled New York baseball writers.) But in the mid 1950s, the New York Giants were one of the game's great and storied franchises, winners of the 1954 World Series. They had one of the greatest and most exciting players ever to play the game, Willie Mays at the peak of his awesome powers. But in 1956 and 1957 they finished dead last in NL attendance, drawing fewer than 700,000 people. In New York City. So, seriously - just why in hell would they stay?

The Giants haven't won a World Series since going west, but they have had consistently fine teams. The San Francisco Giants were winners from the start, and have won 320 more games than they have lost. The franchise's biggest margin over .500 came just last season. They got off to a 14-11 start, which put them 1504 games to the good. They gave a few back before the end of the year, but no National League has as big a cushion.

Los Angeles Dodgers (9296-8464) - Winners since September 4, 1949
Like Cincinnati, Brooklyn came over to the National League from the American Association in 1890, and that's where I begin counting. They were successful in their new league from the beginning, even if they went through half a dozen different nicknames in about twenty years - they were NL champs in 1899 and 1900. But in 1904, they went into the dumpster, and there they stayed for almost four decades (although they did surface to lose a pair of World Series in the 1910s.). They slipped below .500 early in 1908, and hit their lowest mark on April 24, 1939. On that day, they stood at 3483-3736, a full 253 games below break-even. But 1939 was when the long climb to respectability began. That was the year Leo Durocher took over as the manager, and in 1943 Branch Rickey took over the baseball operation. One of the great National League powerhouses soon emerged - it took them just ten years to undo the sorry legacy of almost half a century. On August 14 1949, they rose above .500 for the first time in more than forty years. A 1-7 skid put them back under, but by the end of August they were back to even. They went ahead, fell back again - and then ripped off six straight wins and a 10-1 run that settled the matter. By the end of 1957, the franchise was 288 games over .500, and it had all happened in a very short period of time.

This, of course, was when the Dodgers lit out for the territories. While their first year in California was a loser, they won a World Series in year two. No one wants to say this, and I liked "The Boys of Summer" - but facts are facts. The Dodgers' history in Los Angeles is far, far more distinguished than their history in Brooklyn. The latter really consists of just a single remarkable decade at the end of a long, long stretch of mediocrity. In Los Angeles, the Dodgers have been more than 500 games better than .500, stretching the overall franchise mark to more than 800 games to the good. The highest peak, naturally, came with their jackrabbit start last season - when they were 12-2 in 2005, they were 9237-8375 overall. That's 862 games above .500. The rest of 2005 was a disaster, but they have some margin to work with...

Now we switch to the AL, and... oh, man. I really should make this a two-parter. Don't you think?
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Geoff - Saturday, June 17 2006 @ 06:05 PM EDT (#149216) #
One of the oddest nicknames for franchises I know is the Cubs' previous name, the Chicago Orphans. I'm pretty sure there's a good story behind why the team was named that, or a bad one. I understand that the Cubs were so named for the younger players the team was bringing in, but there might be some relation then to the former name.

Searching the internet shows me some details on Wikipedia and that Craig B. certainly has a distate for Orphans:
More than lame, "Orphans" is pathetic, making it the worst nickname of all time.
And this page tells me the Orphans were so named because:
 their Hall of Fame manager Cap Anson had abruptly retired in 1898.
Hence, their parent had deserted them. I suppose Cubs is a kinder interpretation of this theme, of the ballplayers as children. Previously they were named the Colts and before that the White Stockings.

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