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Which City Had the Worst Sports Year of All-Time?

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Yesterday a good friend of mine, Kevin, posed a question to me. Is Cleveland having the worst single sports year of any city in history? Without delving in to how LeBron giving the city the finger on his way out of town may have hurt the economy, for this question I turned to the on-field numbers… more specifically winning percentages.

He listed the current records of the Big 3 sports franchises in Cleveland. I am aware that the NFL and NBA span into a second calendar year, but for the sake of the story, I am using sports years, which for my money, start when the season does.

Below is how the Cleveland sports franchises have performed in the 2010 sports year:

NFL: Browns (5-11): 31.25 win %

MLB: Indians (69-93): 42.59 win %

NBA: Cavs (currently 8-44): 15.38 win %

I then took the winning percentages (with a few more decimals than shown above), combined them and divided by 3 to produce Cleveland’s current 2010 sports year winning percentage of: 29.74%. If the Cavs lose out, and who’s to say they won’t, that percentage will fall to: 27.87%

It’s hard to fathom a city with the big 3 professional sports franchises can combine to only win one out of every four games, but that’s the ugly truth staring at the people of Cleveland. Losing 70.26% of the time is brutally bad, but is it the worst ever?

For that answer I turned to the internet. I wanted to compare apples to apples as best I could so I stuck with cities that have professional sports teams from the MLB, NBA, and NFL. I love the NHL but much of America looks at a Stanley Cup win the same way they look at winning the MLS Championship. Sad? Yes. Misguided? Yes. But unfortunately, true.

I found twenty cities that fielded teams from the big 3 leagues for at least a decade. I gave the Patriots to Boston, because let’s face it, everyone else does. I gave the Bills to Toronto out of proximity. Golden State moved to Oakland in 1971; prior to that they were in San Francisco (1958-1971) so the Warriors franchise is used twice. The Bullets moved to DC in 73, but the Senators were gone by then, so DC only has from 2005-present for their worst sports year. Luckily they have been bad enough to provide a strong showing for themselves.

These numbers are based on physical location played in that given year. Yes, technically the Lakers franchise worst season was in Minneapolis, but LA didn’t care about that, and neither do I. Also worth noting there are cities like New York that field more than one team in a given league. In their case, eligibility begins the first year that they field a team in all 3 leagues. For New York that was 1949 when they had the Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. As years passed, teams got added; Mets in 62, Jets in 70, so their records would be taken into account from that time forward.

Without further ado, here is the list of twenty cities and their teams:

Atlanta Braves Hawks Falcons
Baltimore Orioles Bullets (1963-72) Colts (1953-83)/Ravens
Boston Red Sox Celtics Patriots
Chicago Cubs/White Sox Bulls Bears
Cleveland Indians Cavs Browns
Dallas Rangers Mavericks Cowboys
Denver Rockies Nuggets Broncos
Detroit Tigers Pistons Lions
Houston Astros Rockets Oilers/Texans
Los Angeles Angels/Dodgers Lakers/Clippers Raiders (1982-94) /Rams (1946-94)
Oakland Athletics Warriors (1971-pres.) Raiders
Miami Marlins Heat Dolphins
Minnesota Twins Timberwolves Vikings
New York Yankees/Mets Knicks Jets/Giants
Philadelphia Phillies 76ers Eagles
Phoenix Diamondbacks Suns Cardinals
San Francisco Giants Warriors (1958-71) 49ers
Seattle Mariners SuperSonics (1967-2008) Seahawks
Toronto Blue Jays Raptors Bills
Washington DC Senators/Nationals Bullets/Wizards Redskins

The next step was to take a look at the records for these teams side-by-side, year-by-year to really ascertain if Cleveland is having the worst sports year of all-time. I had a hard time believing that any city could possibly trump the year Cleveland is having, but I was wrong, so wrong that Cleveland isn’t even in the top 5 of worst years, yet. They could easily work their way into that position if the Cavs keep showcasing their lack of skills every few nights. However, even if the Cavs do lose out, Cleveland will be nowhere close to the worst sports year winning percentage of all-time.

That honor goes to:

Philadelphia (1972) – City Winning Percentage: 21.47%

NFL: Eagles (2-11-1): 15.63 win %

MLB: Phillies (59-97): 37.82 win %

NBA: 76ers (9-73): 10.98 win %

The runner up is:

Miami (2007) – City Winning Percentage: 22.79%

NFL: Dolphins (1-15): 6.25 win %

MLB: Marlins (71-91): 43.83 win %

NBA: Heat (15-67): 10.98 win %

The bronze medal position belongs to:

Houston (1982): City Winning Percentage: 25.24%

NFL: Oilers (1-8): 11.11 win %

MLB: Astros (77-85): 47.53 win %

NBA: Rockets (14-68): 17.07 win %

Those three positions are untouchable by Cleveland or anyone else this year. Philadelphia’s 1972 year may be up there with Cy Young’s 511 wins as a record that will never be broken. Depending on how the Cavs finish up (spoiler alert: it will be terrible) they could slot into the #4 spot, but currently they are sitting out of the top 5 at #6.

In fourth as of today is:

Detroit (1979): City Winning Percentage: 28.27%

NFL: Lions (2-14): 12.50 win %

MLB: Tigers (85-76): 52.80 win %

NBA: Pistons (16-66): 19.51 win %

…and rounding out the top five is:

Oakland (1997): City Winning Percentage: 29.43%

NFL: Raiders (4-12): 25.00 win %

MLB: Athletics (65-97): 40.12 win %

NBA: GS Warriors (19-63): 23.17 win %

Cleveland is sitting sixth right now with their 29.74%. It’s destined to drop which will allow them membership in the elite under 30% win percentage club. Cleveland was on the right track to getting there in 1981, but wound up at 33.34%. By my count, this year Cleveland will break the record for most years under the 40% barrier with five. The other years were 1990: 35.51%, 1970: 38.40%, 1974: 39.25%, and the aforementioned 1981: 33.34% and 2010: 29.79% and dropping.

On the flipside, four cities have never been below 40%. They are:

Baltimore, which had the big 3 from 1963-1972 and had a yearly low of 46.67 in 1963.

Denver, who have had the big 3 since the Rockies inception in 1993; yearly low of 41.54 in 1999.

Seattle, they had the big 3 beginning in 1977 and experienced their yearly low in 1980 at 40.57%.

Los Angeles, their yearly low actually occurred in 1994 when they fielded 6 professional teams. Their worst winning percentage year was 1994 with 42.04%. Also worth noting, Los Angeles has never had a year when all of their teams finished under .500. 1994 was the closest that they came, but the Clippers finished at 41-41. Leave it to the Clippers to even screw up losing.

New York, with their current 5 professional team landscape has never been below 40% win percentage either, with their low occurring in 1983 at 43.59%. However, in 1966, they did field teams from the big 3 and finished with a 35.06%.

Below is a chart listing each of the cities in order of yearly low:

City Year Low Year NFL MLB NBA
Philadelphia 21.47% 1972 Eagles (2-11-1) Phillies (59-97) 76ers (9-73)
Miami 22.79% 2007 Dolphins (1-15) Marlins (71-91) Heat (15-67)
Houston 25.24% 1982 Oilers (1-8) Astros (77-85) Rockets (14-68)
Detroit 28.27% 1979 Lions (2-14) Tigers (85-76) Pistons (16-66)
Oakland 29.43% 1997 Raiders (4-12) A’s (65-97) Warriors (19-63)
Cleveland 29.74 % (current) 2010 Browns (5-11) Indians (69-93) Cavs (8-44)
Washington DC 31.04% 2009 Redskins (4-12) Nationals (59-103) Wizards (26-56)
Toronto 34.64% 1997 Bills (6-10) Blue Jays (76-86) Raptors (16-66)
New York 35.06% 1966 Giants (1-12-1) Yankees/Mets (70-89, 66-95) Knicks (36-45)
Atlanta 35.18% 1975 Falcons (4-10) Braves (67-94) Hawks (29-53)
San Francisco 35.13% 1964 49ers (4-10) Giants (90-72) Warriors (17-63)
Dallas 36.19% 1988 Cowboys (3-13) Rangers (70-91) Mavericks (38-44)
Chicago 36.55% 1999 Bears (6-10) Cubs/White Sox (67-95, 75-86) Bulls (17-65)
Phoenix 37.41% 2003 Cardinals (4-12) Diamondbacks (84-78) Suns (29-53)
Boston 38.7% 1992 Patriots (2-14) Red Sox (73-89) Celtics (48-34)
Minnesota 39.51% 1990 Vikings (6-10) Twins (74-88) Timberwolves (29-53)
Seattle 40.57% 1980 Seahawks (7-9) Mariners (59-103-1) Sonics (34-48)
Denver 41.54% 1999 Broncos (6-10) Rockies (72-90) Nuggets (35-47)
Los Angeles 42.04% 1994 Raiders/Rams (9-7, 4-12) Angels/Dodgers (47-68, 58-56) Lakers/Clippers (48-34, 17-65)
Baltimore 49.66% 1963 Colts (8-6) Orioles (86-76) Bullets (31-49)


3 Responses to “Which City Had the Worst Sports Year of All-Time?”

  1. Sweet article. I wouldn’t have guessed it was Philly but I’m definitely not shocked we have so many “under .400” years. We’re used to massive and continuous failure. Will our percentage increase tonight with a win over the pistons and an end to the streak? We’re favored in Vegas by 1.5 for tonight and if it was based solely on that then I like those odds, but factor in that Cleveland as a city is rated a 9,000,000 point underdog by God in the long run, I think we’ll lose.

    Posted by Kevin Hocevar | February 9, 2011, 7:33 pm
  2. This is very important research to know who hit rock bottom the hardest. Shocked to see Cleveland wasn’t at the top but there’s always next year!

    Posted by Dubba | February 10, 2011, 1:23 pm
  3. “Sad? Yes. Misguided? Yes. But unfortunately, true.”

    Again, all hersay.

    Posted by Bobby Digital | February 11, 2011, 11:04 am

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