There is no more demoralizing feat in sports than losing 100 games in a baseball season. In football, there’s the winless season, but that spans just 16 games. A baseball team could lose 16 straight games and still finish over .500. With the new play-off format, that same team could get hot at the right time and make the postseason. 0 for 16 just doesn’t have the same impact as 62-100 or 59-101 or whatever the final tally is in a 100-loss season.
As of last night’s final, the Padres have played 30 games this season. They’ve lost 20 of those games. Their winning percentage sits at an embarrassing .333. That’s barely enough to be considered a good batting average let alone winning percentage. Before the game, they were hovering around .300 for their winning percentage, and if they should lose today, they will quickly drop back to that figure. Should they Padres continue on this pace (winning about 30% of their games), they will lose 113 games – they’re currently on pace to lose 110. That would be good (bad?) enough for one of the worst seasons in Major League history.
Can the Padres turn things around? To a certain extent, sure. But will they be able to avoid the dreaded 100-loss season? That one may not be so simple. Too often San Diego has found itself with nothing more to play for than avoiding 100 losses. Almost as often, that one goal makes the game tedious, sucks the fun out of it, and can actually lead to a team being worse than they otherwise would have been.
Surprisingly, the Padres have reached the summit of baseball futility just five times in their history, and they haven’t done so since 1993. The worst season in franchise history was a 110-loss year in their inaugural run as a Major League club. That 1969 team never had a chance. They were an expansion team still trying to convince the league that San Diego could support more than just minor league ball. The 2012 Padres are on pace to surpass the ’69 team’s loss total.
To put this potential feat in perspective, (and yes I know it’s too early to write off the rest of the year and hand them their 100 losses) only three other teams have lost 110 or more games in a single season more than once. The Mets did it three times, the Washington Senators did it twice, and the Pittsburgh Pirates did it twice (once while still named the Allegheneys). This does not include the records of now-defunct teams, it only includes records of team still in existence regardless of changes in venue.
There are teams who have never even lost 100 games, yet the Padres are on pace for their sixth 100-loss season and their second 110-loss season. Bad is bad regardless of the actual loss totals, but there is something mythical, demonic, and horrifying about 100 losses. It’s the type of struggle that make fans question their dedication, players question their worth in the baseball world, and owners question the validity of owning a Major League Baseball team. These seasons test our faith and offer challenges unseen outside of sports. Do we turn a cynical cheek to the losing and go on watching because we expect failure? Do we stand up and fight poor play with our dollars or lack thereof in the form of boycotted games? Or do we simply give up, take off the hat we wore so long for the hometown nine and switch allegiance in hopes of finding something more?
The answer is no. We push on. We root for our team because it is out team. Regardless of the owner, regardless of the losses, our team is ours. No one can take that away from us. We can move halfway across the country and still cheer our team on. The fact is, no amount of boycotting, cynicism, or anger will force an owner’s hand. No amount of threats will change the fact that San Diego is much smaller a city than we all like to believe. And small-market teams will never be consistent spenders – no matter who the owner may be.
100-loss seasons hurt. They hurt like so many shattered dreams we’ve had in our lives. We watch our friends across the country and find ourselves wishing we too were fans of the successful teams, and then we feel guilt. We are jealous of their happiness, but we must live with our defeat. And that is the wonderful thing about this great game.
Baseball offers us a release. No matter the team on the field, we can cheer them with reckless abandon. We can start every year with the hopes that it will be THE year. We can believe our teams are better than they truly are. But one day, when we get past the 100-loss seasons and the last place finishes, our team will rise above the rest. While the rest of the world will look on in shock, while mainstream media will talk about their unexpected run, we will stand by our team always knowing they would be winners.
100-loss seasons are part of the game. They are milestones we all hope our teams avoid, but they represent something as old as baseball. In 1899, the Cleveland Spiders lost 134 games. The finished the season 84 games back of first place. The 1890 Pittsburgh Pirates finished 90 games under .500. As long as there has been baseball, there has been failure on historic levels. Our jobs as fans are to fight through the losses. We can complain, but we cannot turn our backs. To assume owners have ever had the fans interests at heart is naive. We root for these teams because we love the game, not because we expect owners to provide us a fantastic ball club.
So cheer on your Padres in their quest to avoid 100 losses, but if they do lose 100 games, do not threaten abandonment. Instead, show your true colors and continue to love the game, love the club, and love the distraction baseball offers in our lives.