The 2023 Kansas City Royals will lose 100 games, they will likely blow past their team record for losses (106), and right now it looks like a miracle is needed to keep them away from 110 losses. Once you get past 110 losses, the worst teams in Major League Baseball history are in sight.
The 1962 Mets are the 'modern' standard for the worst team in baseball history. Some of us remember that the 2003 Royals boosted themselves over .500 thanks to the 2003 Tigers (Royals finished 83-79 and beat the Tigers 14 of 19 that season). Teams like the 2019 Orioles and 2019 Tigers were also historically bad at a time when the Royals were merely just bad. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders even come up for teams that the 2023 Royals have already surpassed
But the 1962 Mets are not the worst team in Major League history since 1901. In fact, the two post-1901 teams worse than the 1962 Mets don't get mentioned much as pretty much every person to see those teams play has died or isn't willing to admit to seeing such horrible baseball. Any video evidence of the 1916 Athletics or 1935 Braves likely set itself on fire years ago. Most good stories need B-Roll and there's a lot of baseball history that can only be summed up by Ken Burns zooming in on a photo of some player from long ago.
Let me present two of the worst teams in baseball history that don't get talked about, and the worst baseball team in Kansas City baseball history.
1935 Boston Braves (38-115)
How did they get so bad? They actually had a winning record in 1934 (78-73) and a winning record in 1933 (83-71). This Braves team had a prime Wally Berger and several good starting pitchers. Their manager Bill McKechnie had won the World Series in 1925 and would win the World Series again after the Braves fired him. The Braves decided (or were picked to) be the team to acquire Babe Ruth. The Braves were 16 games out of first in 1934 and one could convince themselves into thinking that adding Ruth would make the team even better. One columnist declared "The Chicago White Sox needed [Ruth] badly, yet they didn't ask for him" proving that internet posters of 2023 have more in common with newspaper writers of 1935 than one would realize.
When did they veer directly into the Earth? The Braves started off with a 5-7 record in April. Babe Ruth homered on Opening Day. But things started turning South in May. The Braves went 4-20 for the month. Babe Ruth went into a slump, going 7 for 47 for the month. Babe realized that he was not gonna be allowed to replace a manager who was coming off of a winning season just because he was Babe Ruth, a bitter blow for someone who was able to do whatever he wanted for years because he was Babe Ruth. He decided he wanted to retire. He played his final game on May 30th and retired on June 2nd (one Brooklyn writer checked in to see if the Dodgers would get Ruth after his retirement from baseball because the basics of MLB Trade Reporting existed back then). The Braves responded to the mid-season retirement of greatest home run hitter in history (to that point) by winning 8 of 15, getting their record to 17-34 going into game two of a doubleheader. They lost the second game of that doubleheader and then lost 12 of 15. The Braves would go 5-23 in July, 8-21 in August, and 5-25 in September. They lost their 100th game on September 12th, in game 133.
Did anybody good play for this team? Babe Ruth used to be good (and if you remember the classic 1992 movie "The Babe" he did homer 3 times in a game in May 1935). Wally Berger was still good. Berger hit .295 with a 148 OPS+, leading the National League in Home Runs (34) and RBI (130) despite playing for a 38-115 team. The second best regular on the team hit .303 with an OPS+ of 97. Babe Ruth, who retired early in the season, finished 2nd to Berger in home runs. Berger hit 34, Babe hit 6, Buck Jordan hit 5. The entire Braves pitching staff was below average aside from the two pitchers with the fewest innings pitched. Braves pitcher Ben Cantwell, winner of 20 games in 1933, lost 25 games in 1935. Wally Berger would hit 199 home runs in 8 seasons with the Braves/Bees before being traded to the Giants in 1937 for a player and $35,000. Berger declined hard after turning 30 and was out of baseball by 1940.
How bad were they really? They finished 61.5 games out of first place and 26 games out of 2nd place. The Braves went 7-31 in one run games, allowing for them to finish 12 games behind their Pythag record. They lost 15 games in a row from July 6th to 21st. They allowed 15 runs five times. Also their team president (Emil Fuchs) was forced to resign due to his financial woes, which likely were exacerbated by Babe Ruth deciding to retire and the team being awful.
How long did it take them to stop losing a bunch? Pretty much the next season. I don't know if the 1935 team was hit with the charge of "lack of talent" but the 1935 season appears to have been an outlier for the Braves franchise during this decade. The Braves changed their name to the Bees for 1936 and improved to 71-83. The Bees would have a winning season in 1937 (79-73) but never really threaten to do much until they changed their name back to the Braves and they started to contend in the late 1940s losing to Cleveland in the 1948 World Series.
That's pretty bad, but it's not the worst win percentage in Major League History.
1916 Philadelphia Athletics (36-117)
How did they get so bad? The Philadelphia Athletics were one of the early corner stones of the American League. The combination of losing the 1914 World Series and the threat of the Federal League led Connie Mack to sell his best players and start losing some baseball games, errr I mean "start developing young talent". The A's dropped from 99-53 in 1914 to 43-109 in 1915. 53 players batted at least once for the 1915 A's, 42 of them got hits. You do the math.
When did they veer directly into the Earth? After starting with a record of 13-17 (with a team ERA of 3.59), the Philadelphia A's proceeded to lose 74 of 86 over a period of 3 months. The A's lost their 100th game on September 6th, dropping their record to 29-100 (note that this Royals team will likely not lose their 100th game in Game 129)
Did anybody good play for this team? Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie would play his final games for the 1916 A's. The A's had 48 players bat at least once for them and an unheard of (for the time) 20 pitchers. Their best hitter was Amos Strunk, who hit .316 and was traded to Boston in December 1917 for 3 players and $50,000. The A's best pitcher was Bullet Joe Bush, who finished 15-24 and was traded in the same deal with Amos Strunk. The 1916 A's also employed Moxie Divis, a player so obscure that his weight is unknown and we don't know which side he batted or threw from. The 22 year old Divis is not known to have played any professional baseball before or after his 3 games with the A's in August 1916. For awhile in history, anybody who could plausibly play baseball (while also meeting a few other criteria coughcough) could get to play a few days for the Philadelphia Athletics. It would be like if the 2023 Royals would occasionally roster players who had a really good Junior year at Winnetonka 5 years ago for short tryouts.
How bad were they really? They finished 40 games behind the 2nd worst team in the American League. The 1916 Washington Senators went 76-77 and finished 7th. 3/4ths of the League finished over .500 because of the A's. This team was 11-32 in one run games, better than their overall win percentage. The 1999 Royals had the same record in one run games as the 1916 A's.
How long did it take them to stop losing a bunch? The next year the A's improved (technically) from 36-117 to 55-98. They then lost 100 games in 1919/1920/1921. The 1919 Philadelphia A's was the 5th worst team in Baseball history since 1901. Eventually Connie Mack began to accumulate good baseball players again, getting the A's over .500 in 1925 and setting things in motion for the 1929-31 pennant teams. The Great Depression and other assorted reasons ended that dynasty and Connie Mack stuck around to mostly lose until being forced out as manager at the age of 87.
Before the 3rd team is revealed, here are several very bad teams that don't come up often in regards to bad teams.
The 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys went 23-113, the second worst win percentage in baseball history. The 1889 Louisville Colonels went 27-111. The 1897 St. Louis Browns are likely to remain the worst baseball team in Missouri history unless the Royals finish 36-126. The 1904 Washington Senators finished 38-113. The 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates finished 42-112 in a year that tested Branch Rickey's reputation for genius. Only 17 teams ever lost 110 or more games in a season.
But the 3rd team is not one of those teams
1886 Kansas City Cowboys (30-91)
How did they get so bad? They were allowed into the National League. This was their first and only season in the National League. The Cowboys played at Association Park, a ballpark nicknamed "The Hole" and located in-between Lydia, Sixth (Admiral), John/Tracy, and Independence Avenue in what is now Paseo West. The ballpark earned the nickname "The Hole" as a result of becoming a heat sink during the summer. The ballpark was also declared "One of the worst ballparks in the country" by the Kansas City Times in 1888 due to the accumulation of smelly water and the poor showings of the home team. The neighborhood around this area currently hosts Harold's Drive-In and the Yasmeen Cafe. Coincidentally the Cowboys ballpark is not far from rumored ballpark sites for the future downtown stadium.
When did they veer directly into the Earth? The Cowboys season opened on April 30th, and by May 31st, they were 5-12. Their worst month was June 1886 went they went 4-17. The other months were 6-19, 8-16, 6-18, and 1-9. The Cowboys closed out their home schedule with an overall record of 28-76 and a home record of 17-40. They would close the season with 21 consecutive road games where they would go 2-15 with more ties than wins. The Cowboys also forfeited games on October 7th, 8th, and 9th before closing their season with a 7-5 win over the Washington Nationals
Did anybody good play for this team? The Cowboys best hitter was their shortstop, the Bobby Witt Jr of 1886, Charley Bassett. Bassett hit .260 in 90 games and went on to play in the Majors until 1892. Cowboys second baseman Al Myers would play in the majors until 1891. None of the Cowboys 6 pitchers were actually good that year. George Weidman went 12-36 throwing 427 innings of 4.52 ERA ball. Jim Whitney, the Jordan Lyles of the 1880s (can I use the same joke twice? Yes!), went 12-32 with an ERA of 4.49. Whitney would finish with a record of 191-204 in 10 years of major league baseball.
How bad were they really? They didn't finish in last place. The Cowboys victory over the Nationals clinched a 7th place finish as the Nationals finished 28-92 to the Cowboys 30-91. The Cowboys manager Dave Rowe would manage a different team called the Kansas City Cowboys to a 14-56 record in 1888 before losing his job and the next two managers pulling the 1888 Cowboys towards a 43-89 finish. Rowe would also bat 400+ times for the Cowboys posting subpar numbers.
How long did it take them to stop losing a bunch? The franchise went out of business after one season, selling their players to the league and being replaced by the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. As noted above, there was another Kansas City Cowboys team two years later which lasted through 1889 in the American Association and mostly lost. Kansas City baseball would mostly be the Kansas City Blues and the Kansas City Monarchs (depending on your race) until 1955 aside from two years of the Federal League
In conclusion, it's easy, almost too easy, to lean on the 2018 Royals or the 2005 Royals or the 2003 Tigers or the 1962 Mets as a comparable for the 2023 Royals. It's likely the Royals will be worse than every Royals team that has ever existed before. As for if this team can pass the 2003 Tigers or 1962 Mets, it would take the win percentage dropping even lower than it is right now. Even then, the 1916 Athletics and 1935 Braves lost games at a rate equivalent to a 38-124 or a 40-122 season, which feels almost too much for the currently 28-73 Royals to pull off over the next 2 months.