The Cleveland Spiders of 1899

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the Cleveland Indians changing their name. One of the names presented is one that has been previously used in Cleveland by a National League franchise. However, what is so interesting about the Cleveland Spiders is not their name. It is how they pulled off the worst season in MLB history.

The story starts like many in baseball, with atrocious ownership. Two brothers, Frank and Stanley Robison owned the Spiders. The team was reasonably good under their watch, having more winning seasons than losing from 1887 until 1898. Then, in 1899 something curious happened. These owners purchased a second team [something you absolutely cannot do now]. They bought the St. Louis Browns out of bankruptcy and renamed them the St. Louis Perfectos. What they proceeded to do next was some Rachel Phelps level shit.

A few weeks before the season, through a series of transactions they traded all of the best players, including Cy Young, from the Spiders to the Perfectos. I’ve included career bWAR just for fun:

To St. Louis
Frank Bates (-2.8), Nig Cuppy (39.4), Cowboy Jones (1.2), Pete McBride (0), Jack Powell (55.5), Zeke Wilson (8), Cy Young (163.8) HOF, Lou Criger (16.1), Jack O’Connor (9), Jimmy Burke (2.1), Cupid Childs (44.3), Ed McKean (38.7), Ossee Schrecongost (12.3), Bobby Wallace (76.3) HOF, Joe Quinn (4.7), Harry Blake (-.5), Jesse Burkett (59.7) HOF, Emmet Heidrick (15.9), and Patsy Tebeau to be manager

To Cleveland
Kid Carsey (7.2), Jim Hughey (1.7), Harry Maupin (-.9), Willie Sudhoff (12.9), Jack Clements (26.8), Joe Sugden (8.5), Joe Quinn (4.7), Suter Sullivan (-.6), Tommy Tucker (25.3), Tommy Dowd (-1.6), Dick Harley (-.6), and Lave Cross to be player/manager

Frank Bates was traded back to Cleveland in June
Willie Sudhoff was traded back to St Louis in June
Jack Clements was released by Cleveland in May
Kid Carsey was released by Cleveland in June

A whopping 543.7 career bWAR traded for 83.4 career bWAR, but as noted, Cleveland traded 12.9 of that back to St.Louis for -2.8 and released 34 more. Ms. Phelps would be so proud, especially since they knocked attendance down to just over 6k for the season. In comparison, St. Louis had 373k.

Where this differs from Rachel Phelps is that Stanley was very public about what he was doing. Saying that ownership viewed and ran the team as a sideshow. As you may expect, the team was terrible. They finished 20-134 and 84 games out of first place. But the public announcement of this intention is what helped the Spiders attain a record that cannot be broken under the current league rules. Because teams and fans knew about this, no fans would come to games and therefore opposing teams demanded the games be transferred to their home parks. This lead to the Spiders only playing 42 home games. Their home opener pushed until May. It also lead to the unbreakable record of 101 road losses. A beautiful 11-101 road record that is simply impossible now.

What is often lost in the story of the last season of this franchise’s history and the incredibly bad team that took the field is that all of their best players were traded to the Perfectos, who only finished in fifth place in the NL.

Imagine merging all of the players from two teams (including 3 hall of famers) and finishing 18.5 games out of first. I think the team that traveled for 112 of their games and still managed to field a team every day is far more impressive than the stacked team that only managed to be mediocre. GFY Robison brothers.


Leave a Reply