There are several ways to determine the “worst” team of all time for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Let’s take a look at some of them…
What is the worst team in Pittsburgh Pirates history? Well, there is a few ways one could go about trying to figure this out.
You could go by winning percentage, since that more accurately represents how a team performed relative to the number of games they played. You could go by pure losses, but that could omit some deserving teams from consideration.
You could use subjective metrics, like which teams were comprised of players you personally deem without value. I guess you could even see which teams won the fewest games, but that might also be the team that lost the most (spoiler alert, it is). Or you could even add up individual player WAR and see which team produced the least.
Or you could combine several of those metrics simply because the math worked out that way, which is what I’ve done. If you go to the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Reference page, the first thing you’ll be greeted with is the entire history of the franchise.
Scroll down and sort every Pittsburgh Pirates team by fewest wins, most losses, lowest winning percentage, or even the most runs allowed, and you’ll come up with the same answer.
The 1890 Pittsburgh team.
That’s right, in the franchise’s 9th year in existence it had its worst season ever. This came at a time when they were still the Alleghenys. I won’t keep you in further suspense. That team went 23-113, which works out to a .169 winning percentage.
I know, I know. Disgruntled fans say some of the more recent installments of the Pittsburgh Pirates might as well have been that bad. But they weren’t.
Let’s dive in a little more with the 1890 Alleghenys.
That was just the team’s fourth year in the National League, after they had moved on from the American Association. They had three listed ballparks: Mahaffey Park, Recreation Park, and Island Grounds. I couldn’t find any information on Mahaffey, but presumably was in Mahaffey, Pennsylvania, a small town near the center of the state. Recreation Park was used most frequently between 1884-1890, while Island Grounds was in Wheeling, West Virginia, and is now home to a casino.
Guy Hecker was the Pittsburgh player/manager at the age of 34. That was his ninth and final season in organized professional baseball, spending the vast majority of his time with the Louisville Eclipse/Colonels of the AA. He was a pitcher worth just over 37 wins in his career. In 1884, he started 73 games for Louisville, finishing 72 of them, while carrying an ERA of 1.80.
But in 1890, he wasn’t Pittsburgh’s best player – not even close. His ability had waned by then. Pitching was the biggest concern for the team. Of the seven players who pitched in 10 or more games, the lowest ERA, a stat that wasn’t invented until 1912, was 4.42.
The best player for that club was Doggie Miller, worth 3.0 wins. Miller hit .273 and drove in 66. His OPS+ would’ve been the highest on the team, at 116.
Phenomenal Smith was player number two for Pittsburgh. Smith, with a surname not quite as excellent as his forename, was worth 1.2 wins as a pitcher. There’s one major caveat to that: he pitched mostly in Philadelphia that year, only making his way to Pittsburgh (or Mahaffey or Wheeling) for five games.
Unsurprisingly, this team finished last in the National League. The next worst team was the Cleveland Spiders, who finished 44-88, or 23 games ahead of Pittsburgh. The Brooklyn Bridegrooms (86-43) ended up winning the National League without much competition, besting the Chicago Colts by 6.5 games.
The Bridegrooms would become the Dodgers, while the Colts would become the Cubs, both franchises making several stops on the name train along the way.
The first modern World Series was held in 1903, but the 1890 campaign did have a World Series, in a way. It saw the Bridegrooms paired against the Colonels, and the finished in… a tie. It should be noted that everything prior to the 1903 World Series is considered an “exhibition.”
It should be noted that the average runs surrendered that season was 751, but the Alleghenys allowed 1,235, which was also 403 worse than the next closest team, Cleveland. The team’s 5.97 ERA is akin to a little league team, while it’s ERA+ of 56 is laughable. Finally, the staff threw 47 more wild pitches than the next worst team, the New York Giants (now of San Francisco). The team’s 607 errors was also significantly more than the rest of the pack.
In the following season, the team, this time around as the Pittsburgh Pirates, still logged a record under .500, but were trending upward, at 55-80.
By 1892, they had reversed fortune, totaling wins greater than or equal to their losses until 1896. After struggling for the rest of the 19th century, by the time 1901 rolled around, the Pirates had hit their stride, winning 90 games in ’01, 103 in ’02, then 91 in ’03, culminating in a World Series appearance against the Boston Americans.
At this point, I think we’re all just hoping that baseball will return sometime in the near future.