Seattle Mariners

Feeble Mariners have nothing on 1908 Cardinals

During a slow moment of a plodding Mariners game on Memorial Day, I got to wondering: What is the most feeble everyday lineup in baseball history?

I was reasonably certain it wasn’t the lineup Athletics starter Brett Anderson had been overpowering in Oakland – the lineup threatening to set a Seattle franchise standard for futility – but just to make sure, I checked the record book.

Whew. The Mariners’ hitters can rest easy, not that they need any incentive to rest easy.

The most feeble everyday lineup in baseball history belonged to the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals, who were shut out 33 times. Three regulars hit under .200; five had fewer than 20 RBI. St. Louis managed to finish the 154-game season with more runs scored than errors committed, though it was close: 372 runs, 349 errors.

On the other hand, the Cardinals had some names on their roster that suggested they were equipped to play through the pain, including an occasional battery of pitcher Johnny Lush and catcher Jack Bliss.

And then there was hard-luck starter Bugs Raymond, whose drinking problems weren’t helped by the 11 shutouts he took en route to a league-leading 25 defeats – despite his 2.03 ERA. (After he was traded to the Giants, manager John McGraw tried his best to keep Raymond in line, to no avail. The pitcher’s career fizzled out in the independent leagues. He was 30 when he died of fractured skull sustained in a bar brawl.)

In any case, it’s hard to imagine the Mariners’ struggles to put runners on base, and to advance them farther than 90 feet once they get on base, ever will compare to the 1908 Cardinals, whose anemic offense found them losing 105 times in a 154-game season.

The record for fewest runs scored in a 162-game season belongs to the 1968 White Sox, a team I occasionally watched in person. I saw them pound out seven hits in a 4-2 slugfest victory over the Athletics on May 15 (prevailing memory: the A’s batting coach wielding a bat afterward in a green windbreaker – some guy named Joe DiMaggio), and on Sept. 15, I saw them avoid a shutout by rallying for one run, in the bottom of the eighth, against the Angels.

Not that a shutout would have been all that newsworthy in 1968, as there were 335 during the infamous “Year of the Pitcher.” It was the season of Denny McLain’s 31 wins, and Don Drysdale’s 58-inning scoreless streak, and Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA, and back-to-back gems in San Francisco, where the Giants’ Gaylord Perry held the Cardinals hitless 24 hours before Pasco’s Ray Washburn returned the favor.

Amid such record shattering in 1968, it was almost impossible for a lineup to own a reputation as inept. But Eddie Stanky’s White Sox were up to the task. They were shut out 23 times, beginning with a 9-0 defeat in the season opener. Before they’d win in a game, they would lose by such scores as 2-0, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2, 4-1 and 4-2 – 10 defeats, in all, even though they gave up no more than five runs in nine of them.

An axiom insists that “75 percent of baseball is pitching,” which can be demonstrably proven as nonsense. The 1968 White Sox boasted a solid starting staff of Joe Horlen (2.37 ERA), Jack Fisher (2.99), Tommy John (1.98) and Gary Peters (3.76). Such dominant pitching enabled the team to contend until the last weekend of the 1967 season, but in ’68 Horlen, Fisher, John and Peters went a combined 34-45.

Pitching can’t be 75 percent of baseball when nobody drives in more than 50 runs, or hits higher than .270, or finishes with more than 15 home runs. (The White Sox homer total that season was 71. This was before steroids, of course, and judging from some the offensive stats, it might well have been before milk, too.)

To be fair to the 1968 White Sox, it’s not as though they lapped the field of the offensive-ineptitude derby. The 463 runs they scored represents a 162-game low, but had the second-year Houston Astros – then called the Colt 45’s – not scored on Howie Goss’ RBI single in the second inning of a doubleheader nightcap in June 1963, Houston would have shared the record with the White Sox. As it turned out, Goss’ hit broke a 40-inning scoreless streak, and immediately was followed by a 30-inning scoreless streak.

By late September, the Colts hitting woes became so pronounced that the manager Harry Craft wrote out the first (and last) all-rookie lineup in major-league history. At an average age of 19 years and 4 months, the rookies teamed up to score three times in a 10-3 defeat to the Mets.

As for the 2009 Mariners, the 171 runs they scored through Monday found them on a pace to challenge the 1983 Mariners for the franchise record of fewest runs in a season. That team had 558. It also set also set records for fewest hits in a season, fewest at-bats, lowest batting average (.240) and most games out of first place (39, since tied by the 2008 Mariners).

Still, when it comes to the consistently frustrating exercise of attempting to put a bat on a ball, neither the 1983 Mariners, nor the 2009 Mariners, can compare to the Cardinals of 1908.

As I was saying, whew.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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