The Oakland Athletics have been getting the shaft from MLB for three decades now, thanks to Bud Selig. When the A’s were dominating baseball in 1992—coming off four division titles in five seasons, with three straight World Series appearances from 1988-1990 and the 1989 championship—Selig decided to deny the San Francisco Giants a move to Florida. Then, despite the Giants’ suckitude (just five Octobers between 1958 and 1999), Selig enabled Barry Bonds.

The rest is history; even though the A’s still have been more successful in the twenty-first century—getting to the playoffs 11 times to San Francisco’s 8 playoff appearances despite well-documented and specific payroll disadvantages—Bonds and his PEDs somehow captured the “baseball spirit” of the Bay Area, and the Giants took over a baseball market they had no right to … since the team was so unpopular that it was on its way to Florida before Selig said no to the deal.

Here we are decades later, and with the Athletics having been denied a chance to succeed in Oakland repeatedly by Selig and MLB, the team is on the verge of moving to Las Vegas for the 2025 season. Ownership has slashed almost all talent from the roster, save the “talent” that is cheap. And the result for the A’s on the field is disgraceful already, with a 3-16 record, a team ERA that is painful to look at (7.71), and a run differential of minus-86 after only three weeks of play.

So, we will be checking in every week from here on out through the baseball season to see if the A’s challenge the records for all-time worst teams in MLB history. We’re ignoring the pre-1900 stuff, because even if the Cleveland Spiders went 20-134 in 1899, that was a different era of history in the sport. With the creation of the American League to challenge the National League in 1901, enough changed in the sport to consider it a paradigm shift for record-keeping purposes.

The five worst teams in the “modern” era of baseball are the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, the 1935 Boston Braves, the 1962 New York Mets, the 1904 Washington Senators, and the 1919 Philadelphia A’s. Most recently, the 2003 Detroit Tigers were pretty bad, too, so we’re going to look at all these teams below as a primer for where the 2023 A’s could be headed—and only time will tell where these Athletics end up on the list of the worst teams ever.

Here we go, starting with those 2003 Tigers, who rate out sixth on the list of the worst teams ever (based on “winning” percentage):

  • 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119): minus-337 run differential, 47 games out of first place
  • 1919 Philadelphia Athletics (36-104): minus-285 run differential, 52 games out of first place
  • 1904 Washington Senators (38-113): minus-306 run differential, 55.5 games out of first place
  • 1962 New York Mets (40-120): minus-331 run differential, 60.5 games out of first place
  • 1935 Boston Braves (38-115): minus-277 run differential, 61.5 games out of first place
  • 1916 Philadelphia Athletics (36-117): minus-329 run differential, 54.5 games out of first place

Some briefs thoughts on these six teams? The Tigers would recover to win the AL pennant in 2006 and 2012, while the A’s actually won AL pennants in 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914 before dismantling the team (sound familiar?). The Senators, however, needed 20 more seasons to win back-to-back AL pennants in 1924 and 1925. Meanwhile, the Mets won the World Series in 1969 and won another NL pennant in 1973. The Braves managed to win the NL pennant in 1948.

Incidentally, the A’s won three straight AL pennants from 1929-1931 before dismantling the team again. So every team on this list did experience eventual success; on average, it took them just over 10 seasons to win a pennant after hitting rock bottom (we only counted the 1919 Philadelphia club here, but even adding the 1916 club doesn’t change the average that much). Finishing with a terrible record doesn’t banish a team to the basement of the standings forever. Au contraire!

One also might think the A’s have a history of sucking here, but the franchise also has won 9 World Series titles, which is the third-best mark overall, trailing only the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals. So, the Athletics have experienced strange highs and strange lows throughout their history in Philadelphia (1901-1954), Kansas City (1955-1967), and Oakland (1968-2023). Only time will tell if Las Vegas can change the fortunes of the A’s permanently, though.

Our next Oakland Futility Watch will be posted on Monday, April 24. Stay tuned!