It is possible that one of the great victories in baseball history, or in any sport, actually, slipped under your radar about a month ago.
Cal Tech won.
When it comes to rarities people like to say when something extremely unusual happens that it is like lightning striking. I’ve got to think that when the California Institute of Technology’s baseball team won a game in Pasadena, California over Pacifica in early February that the odds were far greater than a lightning bolt hit.
Forget the Casey Stengel New York Mets, Cal Tech must be the baseball team cursed with the greatest futility of any age. The Beavers won this game 9-7 to end a 228-game losing streak that spanned about 10 years.
Two-hundred and twenty-eight!
That makes the record-setting Mets look like world champs. In 1962, their first season, the Mets finished 40-120 and inspired all kind of jokes, not the least those uttered by manager Stengel, who on many occasions could not believe what he was seeing. Stengel put up with a lot that year but at least New York won an average of every fourth day. Cal Tech is averaging a win a decade.
There have been many other horrible Major League teams to rival the Mets, though the Mets are still the kings of defeat. Or should that be jesters?
The 2003 Detroit Tigers had the worst-of-all-time title in their sights and blew it during the final week of the season by winning too often and finishing 43-119.
Not nearly as well remembered as the Mets’ follies were the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 1950s. They were so bad that catcher Joe Garagiola picked up a lifetime’s worth of fodder for speaking at banquets and on television. Pittsburgh’s nadir was 1952 when they finished 42-112. One might say that was just the warm-up for the Pirates’ current 20-year losing streak. Of all the teams in all the pro sports in the land no team has approached Pittsburgh’s current streak of two decades straight of below .500 ball.
Nobody laughed about the Philadelphia Phillies the way they did about the New York Mets. The Phillies of 1933 to 1948 produced sustained crying. They are due special mention for the length and depth of their hopelessness, even though it is difficult to quantify just which season was really the worst of all.
Between 1933 and 1948 the best season the Phillies had was 69-85 in 1946 and that was an aberration. In 1941, the Phils finished 43-111. In 1942, the Phils finished 42-109. That made seasons four and five in a row with at least 103 losses. Then, after a break, in 1945, Philadelphia finished 46-108.
It should come as little surprise that the Phillies were no great gate attraction at the time and the owners became desperate to sell. The story goes that creative owner Bill Veeck, then just a minor league boss, sought to buy the Phillies. He planned to turn around their fortunes immediately by hiring stars of the Negro Leagues to break the sport’s color barrier before Jackie Robinson, but that he was headed off at the pass. That certainly would have changed history.
Cal Tech, meanwhile, competes mostly against NCAA Division III competition, the non-scholarship level of college ball. When the Beavers won their historic game it came in the second game of a double-header, a 5-0 loss, and coach Matthew Mark remarked, “It was almost as if they had been there before.” However, since that was a non-conference win, the Beavers’ 463-game losing streak in league play was intact, going back to 1988. Points for perseverance at Cal Tech.
All of this leads to the thought of just how bad the Miami Marlins might be during this 2013 Major League baseball season. Stripped of most of the veteran talent by excessively frugal owner Jeffrey Loria, the Marlins appear doomed not only to finish in last place in their division, but to perhaps become historic losers. Is the Mets’ worst record in jeopardy? Can the Marlins do worse than finishing 60 1/2 games out of first place, which the Mets did? Will anybody at all attend Marlins games?
As history shows us, it’s darned difficult for a team to win less than 40 games in a season. Maybe the cheapskate Marlins can turn the trick.