(Jason Vargas reacts after giving up five runs in the fourth inning to the Yankees on Monday as the Mariners lost their 16th consecutive game. Photo by Associated Press).
The fact that I even have to pose the question is in itself a very bad sign, even if you feel the answer is no. Because even those who would argue for the supremacy of another embarrassing moment would have to, I submit, at least agree that this current 16-game losing streak (and counting) is in the debate.
The Mariners have become a national punchline and a local punching bag. Neither is a good place to be. Any notion of progress being made this season — the story line of much of the first half, lest you’ve forgotton — has been pushed aside by the sheer enormity of their extended futility. It is reaching historic proportions, already a club record for consecutive defeats and fast approaching the longest streaks in baseball history. Here is a list I culled from a 2005 Baseball Digest article on long losing streaks. It includes all the streaks over 18 games, the most recent of which was the 19-game loss streak of the 2005 Royals (who picked up consecutive losses 16, 17 and 18 at Safeco Field against the Mariners):
1889 Louisville Colonels, 26 (May 22-June 22)
1899 Cleveland Spiders, 24 (Aug. 26-Sept. 16)
1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys, 23 (Aug. 12-Sept. 2)
1961 Philadelphia Phillies, 23 (July 29-Aug. 20)
1890 Philadelphia A’s, 22 (Sept. 16-Oct. 12)
1988 Baltimore Orioles, 21 (April 4-April 28)
1894 Louisville Colonels, 20 (May28-June 18)
1906 Boston Americans, 20 (May 1-May 24)
1916 Philadelphia A’s, 20 (July 21 -Aug. 8)
1943 Philadelphia A’s, 20 (Aug. 7-Aug. 24)
1969 Montreal Expos, 20 (May 13-June 7)
1906 Boston Beaneaters, 19 (May 17-June 8)
1914 Cincinnati Reds,19 (Sept. 5-Sept. 23)
1975 Detroit Tigers, 19 (July 29-Aug. 15)
2005 Kansas City Royals, 19 (July 28-Aug. 19)
1876 Cincinnati Reds, 18 (July 11-Aug. 22)
1894 Louisville Colonels,18 (Aug.15-Sept. 5)
1897 St. Louis Browns, 18 (Sept. 3-Sept. 26)
1920 Philadelphia A’s, 18 (June 8-June 27
1948 Washington Senators, 18 (Sept 3-Sept. 18)
1959 Washington Senators, 18 (July 19-Aug. 5)
That’s 21 streaks at 18 games or more, topped by the 26 games of the Louisville Colonels in 1889. But I’m going to toss out all the losing streaks in the 1800s, when the game was so vastly different we’d hardly even recognize it. That eliminates the legendary Cleveland Spiders of 1899 (24 straight losses), who finished the year with a 20-134 record. In fact, it eliminates eight of the 21 streaks, reducing our list to 13 teams — five of whom did so in 1920 or earlier.
If you want to look at more or less modern baseball — which we’ll generously classify as anything after 1920 — you have a mere eight teams in those 91 seasons who have lost 18 or more consecutive games. In the expansion era (which began in 1961), the number drops to just five (not four, as I originally posted) teams: the 1961 Phillies, who hold the modern record for consecutive losses with 23; the 1988 Orioles (21), the 1969 Montreal Expos (20); the 1975 Tigers (19) and the aforementioned Kansas City Royals (19).
The Mariners are two losses — at Yankee Stadium, against the team with the second-best record in the American League — away from joining that list. To answer my original question, I’d say that this is indeed the low point for the franchise in my memory. Perhaps you can point to off the field moments involving their long, painful quest for a new stadium, when it looked for sure like they were headed out of Seattle. But as far as the product on the field, I can’t think of anything to match this. There have been painful losses in the past, to be sure, but those were in the context of successful seasons that simply didn’t extend as far as they could have. There have been awful seasons, but many of those came in the early years, when the Mariners still had the excuse of being an expansion team to fall back on. And while the recent downturn has been painful — five last-place finishes in the last seven years, two of them with triple-digits in losses and another at 99 — I’d say that their abrupt demise in 2011, punctuated by this hideous losing streak, is the absolute nadir.
The only point in time I believe compares on the embarrassment meter occurred in 2008, when the Mariners became the first team in history to lose 100 games with a payroll over $100 million. That was indeed a shining example of ineptitude, one that got them a lot of unwanted attention for an epic job of squandering their resources. But the Mariners have been selling us on the progress they’re making to get out of the giant hole they’ve dug for themselves in recent years (and for awhile, it appeared, aptly so). As a growing number of baseball fans around the nation begin to focus on the Mariners’ monumental train-wreck of a skid, however, it’s getting harder and harder to buy into.