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10,151-8,684, if you want to know

So. The Philadelphia Phillies lost their 10,000th game. It was bound to happen eventually. Gentle Readers may not be aware that baseball fans, when they talk about a pitcher with a great many losses on his record, will say that you have to be awfully good to lose that many games. And it’s true; a pitcher who isn’t awfully good won’t get a chance to lose fifty games in his career. Sadly, this does not apply to teams. Despite an astonishing display of awfulness from, say, 1918-1948, during which they only broke .500 in their 1932 78-76 fourth-place triumph and only broke .450 one other time and only finished as high as fifth in the standings three times, they continued to play major-league baseball, or at least to play against major-league baseball clubs. And eventually they recovered somewhat. They’ve still won more games than the Red Sox.

I’ve occasionally suggested that I would enjoy a relegation system for baseball where the bottom team or two in MLB every year (or every five years, or something) would be sent down to the minors, to be replaced by the top team or two from the minors. This set-up would make life interesting for bad teams in August and September. The problem is that it would utterly destroy the farm system. Speaking as a Giants fan, that would be ... well, I think I would enjoy a relegation system. But it’s not what we have, and I suppose it’s a good thing for the Phillies.

Just to point this out: if you played a hundred and fifty games a year for a hundred years, and you lost two-thirds of those games, that would be ten thousand losses. NBA and NHL teams play 82 games a year, NFL teams play 16. Premier League FA teams play 38 games a year. I think rugby Super League teams play 32 games. Major League Baseball teams play 162 games a year, mostly playing six days a week for six months. County and college teams have been playing cricket for a long time, but I suspect ten losses a year is a lot for a cricket side. Of course, in baseball there are no draws.

But my point about this is just that baseball teams play twice as many games a year as any other sport. There are a lot of things about the play of the game that evolved the way they did because it’s an everyday game. The rosters and the way pitchers are used, for instance. You could imagine a version of baseball where they only played one game a week, and each team was allowed only, say, eleven men on a roster, with an ace pitcher, like a quarterback, playing almost all of almost every game. Or a version played three games a week that used a game clock in some way, forcing much faster play. Or perhaps rougher play, never developing the rule that you can’t get a player out by throwing the ball at him. Maybe the amazing fielding we take for granted wouldn’t have developed; the worst-fielding team in the league last year made fewer than one error a game and converted 97.8% of chances, where a hundred years before, the best-fielding team made an error and a quarter a game and converted only 97% of chances, and in 1884 the Phillies (before they were called the Phillies—Kill, Quakers, Kill!) committed four and three-quarters errors a game, converting only eight of every nine chances. If they played once a week, maybe they wouldn’t have started wearing gloves.

It didn’t happen like that. In 1884 the Philadelphia team played one hundred and twelve games, losing 73. In 1907, they played one hundred and forty-seven games, losing only 64 (and coming in third!). In 1947, they played one hundred and fifty-four games, losing ninety-two (and tied with the Pirates). From 1975 to 1984 they went 862-693; my Giants in those years went 752-815. Base Ball became baseball, with closers and the rabbit ball and pinch-runners and gloves and the first two foul balls counting as strikes and the designated hitter and no spitballs and the rosin bag and lights and balks and the batter can’t call for a high pitch anymore, either. Ten thousand losses. You gotta admire that. Not so much the Phillies, although the truth is that they are more fun to watch than the Giants this year, but the league, and the country, and humanity in general. Ten thousand losses, and you know I’ll be rooting for them tonight.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


... a relegation system for baseball where the bottom team or two in MLB every year (or every five years, or something) would be sent down to the minors, to be replaced by the top team or two from the minors...

In the Netherlands, there are two football leagues, one better than the other; after each season, the worst and best teams in the two leagues swap leagues. It works pretty well there, but as you say, there's no farm system to deal with--they're just two separate leagues.

Don't some of the college sports divisions do that as well?

Yes, they suck, but... er... hmmm... *sigh*

Actually it's really that stretch of 1918 to 1948 that's responsible for them getting to 10000 before anyone else. If you look at their record over the past 35 seasons they're actually a slightly better than .500 team over that span. Which means those teams during that 30 year stretch were really, really bad.

Which is not to say that there haven't been some real gutwrenching defeats over that more recent stretch though. Although they've dealt out a few of those as well. (grin)

As far as nicknames go, the Quakers at least makes sense for a Philadelphia team. One of the owners in the early 20th century tried to get reporters to call the team the Live Wires. And that was one of the saner owners they had during that stretch.

I believe that promotion/relegation systems are the norm for professional sports leagues worldwide, and that MLB's farm system is essentially unique. It's hard for me to imagine what the game would be like without it, but of course it was without it until Branch Rickey set the thing up, and could presumably go on without it again sometime.

And, yes, those thirty years of awfulness are what made the Phillies 10,000-game losers. Well, and the fact that unlike Buffalo or Louisville, they still have a team. Heck, Hartford didn't even lose fifty games in the major leagues...


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