The statistic-happy sport of baseball loves big, round numbers.
But the Orioles and their fans sure aren’t embracing the triple digits that were bearing down on them like a fastball — 100 losses.
With a 14-2 loss Friday night at the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore suffered its 100th defeat with 21 games remaining. The last time the Orioles lost at least 100 games was 1988. Before that, they had avoided triple-digit defeats for 34 years.
One-hundred losses holds a special place in the pantheon of baseball futility marks, along with being no-hit and failing to bat .200 in a season (Baltimore’s Chris Davis was hitting .180 before Friday’s game).
Reaching the century mark is a miserable milestone that managers might remember longer than players because their names are singularly attached to team records.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter had never lost 100 games before this year, coming closest in 1998 in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ debut season.
“My biggest challenge of an expansion team [with Arizona] was to avoid losing 100 games,” Showalter said Friday. “What we did the last month of the season is we took the bottom five clubs and we created a division and we wanted to win that division.”
The Diamondbacks went 12-12 in September to finish with 97 defeats while the then-Florida Marlins finished with 108 losses for the worst record in baseball.
If players chance to forget about the ignominious mark, the media is usually around to remind them.
“I'm guessing the press asked about it in the locker room, but we already knew we were bad,” recalls Jeff Ballard, a pitcher on the 1988 team that started the season losing 21 straight games, the worst start in major league history, and ended with a 54-107 record.
"I was called up in May, which was a benefit because I couldn't be blamed for the [21 straight losses] to start the season,” Ballard said. “That team was tired, slow and old, a bad recipe. Then we made wholesale changes for ’89 and, all of a sudden, we had young outfielders like Mike Devereaux, Brady Anderson and Steve Finley, and a different personality.”
Comparisons could be made to the current Orioles, who have a .291 winning percentage and have traded veterans such as Manny Machado and Zach Britton for a young crop of players as part of a rebuild. After the Orioles made changes in 1989, they of course went on to have their “Why Not?” season as they barely missed the playoffs.
This season could end up being the club’s worst since arriving to Baltimore in 1954 from St. Louis, where they were the Browns.
The Browns had some miserable seasons, too. Their win-loss percentage of .279 in 1939 is not far below where the Orioles are now — meaning Baltimore could finish with the worst percentage in franchise history.
Memorably bad big league seasons since 1900 have included the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics (.235 winning percentage and 117 losses), 1935 Boston Braves (.248, 115), 1962 New York Mets (.250, 120) and 2003 Detroit Tigers (.265, 119).
In 1899, the Cleveland Spiders went 20-134.
Longtime Orioles fan Jackie Howell said she has a word to describe her mood this season: "lachrymose," which means in a constant state of crying.
"Hey, I know the rules," said Howell, who writes a baseball blog and drives to as many games as she can from her home in Virginia. “Someone has to have the worst record in baseball. I just wish it wasn’t the O’s.”
Sports marketing expert Bob Dorfman joked that the team could distribute T-shirts marking the 100th defeat or pitch $100 for four box seats, four beers and four Boog’s BBQ beef sandwiches.
“But I’d expect that any marketing person would be fired for even suggesting they acknowledge their team’s abject failure,” said Dorfman, creative director at San Francisco’s Baker Street Advertising.
“Maybe if this was the first time the O’s hit 100, or a record-setting loss total for the league, it might call for for some sort of special attention. But I think it’s best forgotten as quickly as possible by everyone involved.”
The first time the Orioles hit the century mark — in 1954 — it drew all kinds of attention. It was their first year in Baltimore and the players were a mishmash of castoffs and old coots. They hit a league-low 52 home runs; no player had more than eight. Forty-five times, they scored one run or none, and weathered losing streaks of nine, 10 and 14 games. Yet they drew over 1 million fans, more than three times the attendance of their predecessors, the 1953 St. Louis Browns, who finished with the same sorry record (54-100).
The Orioles lost No. 100 in their final game, an 11-0 rout by the Chicago White Sox. The city tried to boost the team’s spirits with a pregame gala that featured fighter jets flying over Memorial Stadium and dancing girls in tights performing on the field.
Alas, an announced 14,755 witnessed one of the worst drubbings of the season. The White Sox chased starter Don “Gooney Bird” Larsen, a fun-loving right-hander who read comic books in the clubhouse. The loss was Larsen's 21st of 24 decisions. (Two years later, he'd pitch a perfect game for the New York Yankees in the World Series.)
Players from 1988 said the losses can take a toll.
Bob Milacki was a rookie pitcher on that team who spent much of the season with the top minor league club in Rochester, N.Y.
Milacki was at Rochester when Wade Rowden, a utility player, was sent down by the Orioles after the team's 20th straight loss. As it happened, Milacki said, Rochester then lost seven games in a row, which saddled Rowden with a 27-game losing streak.
Milacki was the pitcher when the team finally won a game and “I remember Wade running across the field, like we'd won the World Series, and thinking, 'What's he doing?' He even threw his glove in the air. I understand now."
But some players who have experienced triple-digit-loss seasons said they’re just like any other.
In 1988, Pete Stanicek scored the only Orioles’ run in the 100th loss of the year.
"I don't remember the 100th; it didn't stand out. Losing that often, No. 100 to me isn't any different than 99 or 101,” he said. “It was a crazy time and that century mark was just another loss that showed we had a lot of room to improve."