This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
The dreaded Sports Illustrated cover jinx. For those who don’t know, there is an urban legend about making the cover of the famous magazine. If someone or a team is on the cover of Sports Illustrated prior to an event or season, that athlete or teams performs poorly right thereafter. Which is precisely what happened to the Cleveland Indians in 1987.
The Indians were tagged to win the American League East in 1987, after years of futility. Instead they hit rock bottom. The Tribe finished with a record of 61-101, the worst record in Major League Baseball in 1987. Manager Pat Corrales was fired midway through the season and replaced by Doc Edwards. The season, filled with so much promise, was a complete nightmare in Cleveland.
The main reason for Cleveland’s woes was pitching. The Indians had a major league worst 5.28 ERA, with no starting pitcher having an ERA below 4.00. No pitcher had more than 7 wins. That was shared by staff ace (if you can call any Indians pitcher an ace in 87) Tom Candiotti, veteran knuckleballer Phil Niekro and reliever Scott Bailes. The Indians did sign Steve Carlton before the season, but the future hall of fame left-hander had nothing left on his once dynamic left arm. Carlton went 5-9 with a 5.37 ERA before being dealt to the eventual World Series Champion, Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline.
The bullpen wasn’t much better. Doug Jones led the Tribe with a mere 8 saves as the Indians went with a closer by committee setup. Bailes did record 6 saves to go with his 7 wins. But he also gave up a whopping 21 home runs to the opposition. He suffered neck spasms from constantly turning his head to see how far the batter hit one of his pitches.
The defence didn’t help out the pitching one bit. The Indians committed the most errors in the field with 153 defensive gaffes. No bigger culprit than Brook Jacoby whose 22 errors was the worst of all third basemen in the American League. Shortstop Julio Franco made 18 errors, but at least could make the odd spectacular play in the field.
The Indians could hit the ball though. Three players topped the 30 home run mark.Right fielder Cory Snyder hit 33 out of the yard to lead the team. First baseman
Joe Carter and Jacoby smashed 32 into the cheap seats. Problem was, only Carter topped the 100 RBI mark, driving in 106 runs for the Indians. Snyder was an all or nothing guy, as he was third in baseball with 166 strikeouts. The tribe couldn’t get anyone on base for their power hitters. Franco did hit .319 but also hit into 23 double plays, second most in the American League.
The Indians weren’t helped by their home stadium. The cavernous Cleveland Stadium, known more affectionately as “The Mistake By The Lake” was usually empty and dreary. Despite seating over 77,000 people, the Indians averaged a mere 13,307 spectators inside the monstrosity of Cleveland Stadium. It also didn’t help that the “Mistake” was built for the Cleveland Browns and it is never a good idea trying to but a baseball diamond inside a football field. People involved in the Witness Protection Program would have been safe inside Cleveland Stadium during an Indians game because no one would think to look there.
The only inspiration this team provided was the movie Major League which was based on the sad-sack Indians. Unfortunately Charlie Sheen is in it which means it is not winning.
The Indians would continue to lose for a few more seasons. However things started to look up in 1994, when the Tribe finally left Cleveland Stadium to a brand new ballpark, Jacobs Field in downtown Cleveland. The next season, Cleveland made it to the World Series for the first time since 1954. They lost in 6 games to the Atlanta Braves. Two years later, the Indians returned to the World Series, only to lose in 7 games to the Florida Marlins. The Indians last World Series title was in 1948. Today the Indians are back near the bottom of the American League Central division. Jacobs Field is now named Progressive Field, and attendance has sunk yet again. However, it never was as bad as 1987. Blame Sports Illustrated.
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