6 of History's Greatest Losers

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The Detroit Lions are currently 0-12, and with a tough remaining schedule, it's hard to see how the team will avoid the ignominious distinction of completing the season without a win. In the interest of giving the Lions and their fans some much-needed company in their misery, we've found a few more of history's spectacularly consistent or notable losers.

1. The Washington Generals

WashingtonGeneralsLogo.jpgThe Harlem Globetrotters can boast that they have the highest winning percentage of any franchise in professional sports; the team alleges it has won 98.4% of its contests. Of course, all of this success has come at the expense of the Globetrotters' futile opponents, the Washington Generals. The nail-versus-hammer dynamic has been going strong since 1953, when former Villanova star and NBA champion Red Klotz got the opportunity to put together a team to tour the world playing the Globetrotters. Klotz's team, the Generals, got off to a rocky start as the straight men for the Globetrotters' gags. Not only were they being teased, the Generals were also taking thumping after thumping on the court. It's hard to tell just how many games the Generals lost in a row to the Globetrotters, but the teams agree that when Klotz's team finally got the upper hand in a 100-99 game in 1971 Harlem was riding a 2,495-game winning streak. (Who hit the winning shot in that game? None other than Red Klotz, at the time a 50-year-old player/coach/owner.) Klotz retired the Generals name in 1995, but in 2007 the team reformed for more years of futility.

2. Norman Thomas

norman-thomas.jpgAny old Dukakis or Mondale can lose a presidential election. It takes someone special, though, to be soundly rejected by the electorate, shrug it off, and run again four years later. In this realm, Norman Thomas had no peer. When the Socialist Party of America's perennial presidential candidate Eugene Debs died in 1926, Thomas picked up the Sisyphean job of heading the Socialist ticket in presidential races. He actually picked up over 250,000 votes in the 1928 election and grabbed almost 900,000 votes in 1932. However, after those two races his vote totals declined precipitously, although he continued running every four years until 1948, for a total of six unsuccessful presidential bids.

But Thomas can't match Canada's John C. Turmel, who holds the Guinness record for most unsuccessful runs. Turmel has lost in 66 separate elections while running as an independent and for a variety of minor parties, some of which he founded himself.

3. Newhart

newhart.jpgIt's hard not to pull for Bob Newhart and his mild-mannered brand of comedy "“ unless you're an Emmy voter. Newhart's sitcom Newhart ran for eight seasons between 1982 and 1990 and received generally positive reviews. The tales of an author acting as an innkeeper in rural Vermont even received 25 Emmy nominations. Here's hoping that if Newhart ever used the old cliché that "it's an honor just to be nominated," he said it sincerely. Despite the 25 nominations, Newhart never took home a single statuette, a record for Emmy futility.

Bob Newhart, for his part, seemed to take it all in stride without holding an anti-Emmy grudge. For the 2006 Emmys, he agreed to be locked in a box with exactly three hours of breathable air to keep the proceedings moving; if award winners went too long in their acceptance speeches, they would be responsible for the beloved comedian suffocating. The notoriously long award show actually ended three minutes early that year.

4. Cy Young

The very mention of Cy Young's name evokes pitching greatness for baseball fans. After all, you have to be pretty snazzy on the mound to have the annual award for each league's best hurler named after you. Young, though, holds another distinction in baseball history: he's the game's most accomplished loser. Over the course of his 22-year career, Young piled up 316 losses, a Major League record. Of course, Young also has the MLB career lead for wins with 511. His high loss total is less a function of any deficiency on Young's part than it is a reflection of how pitchers were used in his era. Young took the mound much more frequently than his modern counterparts do, and with few relief pitchers available, he pretty much always pitched a complete game and got a decision when he started. (He had a now-unthinkable 749 career complete games.)

5. The Arizona Cardinals

neil-lomax.jpgIt must be doubly galling for the Lions to be so bad while having to watch the Cardinals, the team that's usually their fellow NFL punchline, make a playoff push. Even if the Lions can't squeak out a win this season, though, they can console themselves that they're not close to taking the Cardinals' title as the NFL's all-time losingest franchise. Since the team's inception in 1920, the Cardinals have bounced from Chicago to St. Louis to Arizona, but losing has followed no matter where the franchise tried to hide. The Cardinals have lost 672 games in their storied history, 107 more than the next-closest contender (the Lions). Granted, the Lions' franchise is ten years younger, but 107 extra losses is quite the cushion. (Of course, if Matt Millen still had personnel control in Detroit, another seven straight winless seasons wouldn't seem so far-fetched.)

6. 1962 New York Mets

62mets.jpgFew teams are quite as synonymous with "failure" as the 1962 New York Mets. The Mets were in their first year as an expansion franchise, and despite getting some solid players like Richie Ashburn through the expansion draft, they were bad. Really, truly, hilariously bad. The rest of the roster was largely populated with aging former members of the Dodgers and Giants who were meant to attract fans of these departed franchises. Legendary Yankees manager Casey Stengel came out of retirement to lead the ill-constructed team to victory, but the task was beyond even his talents. Although the Mets had two of baseball's finest names that season, Choo Choo Coleman and Vinegar Bend Mizell, they couldn't string together any wins. The team staggered to a 40-120 record, which put them a mere 60.5 games out of first place. Since 1900, no team lost more games in a season, though the 2003 Detroit Tigers came close, finishing 43-119.

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December 4, 2008 - 3:56am
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