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Futile lords? '06 Cubs in bad company
When the Cubs began to become respectable in the late 1960s after 20 years of second-division finishes, columnist Mike Royko decried the rise of bandwagon-jumping fans. "Are they really Cubs fans?" Royko wrote in a 1968 Chicago Daily News column. "Were they around, were they loyal, when everything the Cubs did was disgusting? Were they out there cheering when the only thing to cheer about was when the ball came off the screen and hit the batboy in the head?"
Nearly four decades later, with the Cubs on pace for a 98-loss season, fans who leaped on the bandwagon in 2003 are jumping off. The remaining loyalists are left to compare the current edition with some of the most memorable losing teams of the team's glory-challenged past.
Despite taking two of three in Cleveland, the '06 Cubs go into Minnesota on Friday having lost 35 of their last 50 games, a mind-numbing .300 winning percentage. While there's still more than three months left to turn things around, on their current pace this year's team would finish with the fifth-worst winning percentage since their inaugural season of 1876excluding the strike-shortened 1981 season.
It may be small consolation for Dusty Baker, but he's in good company, joining Leo Durocher as managers of two of the least-successful teams in history. The only teams with a lower winning percentage than the 2006 Cubs are the 1962 team, which went 59-103 under the College of Coaches; Durocher's '66 team that also finished 59-103; the 1901 team that went 53-86; and the 1960 team, managed by Charlie Grimm and then Lou Boudreau, which went 60-94.
Here are our choices for the four worst teams in modern Cubs history:
Perhaps the closest analogy to the '06 team is the '80 edition that went 64-98 under manager Preston Gomez, who was fired after 90 games, and his replacement, Joey Amalfitano. Despite closer Bruce Sutter's league-leading 28 saves and Bill Buckner's league-leading .324 batting average, the '80 Cubs were a train wreck from the outset. They hit .251 with only 107 home runs and a .365 slugging percentage, paving the way for the exit of once-revered slugger Dave Kingman.
With Derrek Lee out for two months this year, Baker has perhaps the most feeble-hitting Cubs team since '80, with a .260 average, 60 home runs and a .395 slugging percentage.
The '60 team was run by Grimm, who said upon getting the job for the third time: "Managers are expendable. I believe there should be relief managers, like relief pitchers." Grimm was relieved of his job after a 6-11 start, trading places with Boudreau in the WGN-AM booth.
Ron Santo's debut at third base at the age of 20, Ernie Banks beating Hank Aaron for the NL home run title 41-40 and Don Cardwell's no-hitter were the bright spots in an otherwise dull season.
Banks shifted from shortstop to first base to save his knees, Ken Hubbs was named Rookie of the Year, Billy Williams and Santo combined for 39 home runs and 174 RBIs as a youth movement was in motion. But they managed to beat out only the expansion Mets in the second year of the College of Coaches, an ill-fated experiment akin to the new Coke.
Dick Ellsworth went 9-20 with a 5.09 ERA before improving to 22-10 with a 2.11 ERA in '63. Promising rookie Lou Brock hit .263 but eventually wound up as a symbol of Cubs futility when he became a Hall of Fame outfielder after being traded to St. Louis in '64.
In Durocher's first year, he told the media, "This is definitely not an eighth-place ballclub." The Cubs finished 10th, behind the Mets, despite a lineup that included Banks, Williams, Santo, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley, and young pitchers Ken Holtzman, Bill Hands and newly acquired right-hander Fergie Jenkins.
Under Durocher, this core eventually evolved into the '69 Cubs, an iconic team in Chicago sports history.