The Cleveland Spiders were a professional baseball team with the American Association before the formation of the National League. They began play in 1887 as the Cleveland Blues before changing their name to the Spiders in 1889 while joining the senior circuit.
They began their ignominous career by finishing with a 61-72 record. They had the worst combined ERA and batting average of all the teams, and their only bright spot was shortstop Ed McKean, who batted .318 with 35 stolen bases. For the next 2 years, the team failed to finish with a winning record, including a dismal 44-88 season in 1890. In 1891, their presence was graced by a young and enterprising third baseman named Patsy Tebeau. Only 26, he was so energetic and strategically oriented that he was named manager 39 games into the season, with the team already suffering at 11-28. He turned the team around to finish out the season with a 50-46 record, good enough for 5th place in the National League with the promise of something more. This team also featured a young Jesse Burkett - but more importantly, a 24 year old fireball ace named Cy Young joined the squad and went 27-22.
1892 was the Spiders' banner year. Playing in their brand new municipal stadium at Lexington and East 66th, the team found ways to win without a lot of talent on the squad. While the Hugh Duffy-led Boston Beaneaters won an amazing 103 games, Young, Tebeau, and Burkett led the Spiders to a second place finish with 93 games. Sadly, they were swept in five games by the Boston squad - as a team Cleveland batted .230 in the series, including a pathetic 0-for-18 stint from Tebeau.
1893 added Buck Ewing's .344 batting average to the lineup, and Burkett's bat came alive for a smoking .348. Even Tebeau seemed to rebound from his championship performance, hitting .329. Cy Young finished 34-16, but the team faded in July and finished third in the league. The following year, the starting pitching fell apart - Young's 3.94 ERA was tops on the team - and they finished fifth, despite Burkett again having a stellar season.
In both 1895 and 1896, Burkett proved to be the best player in the league, leading it in batting average and hits both years. This didn't help the Cleveland box office - both years, the team finished 11th out of 12 in attendance, suggesting no one was as interested in seeing the Hall of Fame careers of Young, Burkett, or to snicker at the amusing addition of "Pussy Tebeau" to the roster. That year, the Spiders finished second to the Baltimore Orioles, but won the Temple Cup, a symbolic four game series between the top two teams for the championship. In the fourth and final game, the crowd got ugly and as McKean made the last catch, the team raced off the field, chased by the angry mob all the way back to Cleveland. In 1896, Young even went so far as to help his own cause by swatting three home runs, but the club finished second once again, this time losing the Cup to the same Orioles.
In 1897, Young was plagued by injuries, as was the Spiders outfield. Virtually no bright spots existed in the starting pitching, though the team posted a .298 batting average. The team finished fifth in the league, and Tebeau was starting to stagnate - at 31 years old, he had had a taste of victory, but it seemed to be slipping from him. In 1898, the Spiders rebounded to win 81 games - which was only good enough for 5th place in the batter-dominated National League. After all of their hard work, they only managed fifth place. Tebeau retired at the end of the season, citing arm injuries and a lack of energy.
Before the start of the 1899 season, the team was sold to St. Louis Browns owner Frank Robison. Robison thought he would get a better baseball draw in St. Louis, so he did the logical thing: he moved all of his talent to his Browns club. This left the Spiders in somewhat of a rut. They picked up Lave Cross from the St. Louis Cardinals, and although Cross had never managed, he had the most experience of all of the players and was given the coaching job. All of the talent from years prior was gone - Tebeau, Burkett, Young, Ed McKean, Cupid Childs, Jack Powell, and Nig Cuppy all vanished. This left a ragtag team of journeymen, untested rookies, and over-the-hill has-beens. Needless to say, it was going to be a pretty ugly season.
None of them had any idea how ugly it would be.
After just 38 games, the team was 8-30. Having had enough of Cross' alcoholism, violence, and poor play, he was sacked as manager and replaced by aging second baseman Joe Quinn. The team showed some improvement, going 3-2 over the next five games.
They then proceeded to lose 26 straight games. They broke their infamous streak with a 8-0 shellacking of fellow patsies the New York Giants ... and then lost 31 straight games to break their own record from just weeks before. All in all, the team finished 20-134, the worst record in professional baseball history. Their batting average was 20 points lower than the next lowest team, and their ERA a full run and a half higher than the next highest. They finished last in hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, and stolen bases. In fact, in most of these records, the league leader doubled the output of the hapless Spiders. The only individual record the Spiders accrued was, of course, losses, which pitcher Jim Hughey captured with a 4-30 record. The team was so inept that after their June 22 performance against the Cincinnati Reds - in which exactly 5 people showed up for the game - the team played the rest of the season on the road, earning them the nickname "Wanderers" by the snarky Cleveland press. Their total attendance was somewhere around 6,000 - about 80 people a game. This is compared to the league champion Brooklyn Superbas, who put 260,000 people in their seats on their way to the top. In apparent apathy to the whole endeavor, starting rightfielder (and first Native American in baseball) Louis Sockalexis was arrested for public intoxication when he took the field rip-roaring drunk in May.
Perhaps too embarrassed to continue by this performance, the Spiders franchise was sold to the Cleveland Blues of the American League. Few of the players from the old team were kept with the new team, although it appears their karma was transferred to the new squad as well - they finished 7th in the league in 1901 with a 54-82 record, and didn't win the World Series until 1920.
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