Forget Lakers' woes — these SoCal teams' seasons were memorably bad

If you think Lakers' season is dreary, consider this bottom 10 of bad years for Dodgers, Angels, Kings et al.

As brutal as this season has been for the Lakers, who are on pace for one of the worst records in the 55-year Los Angeles history of the franchise, it could be a lot worse.

Kobe Bryant and (Bad) Co. are nowhere near as dreadful as that Clippers club that won a mere 12 games in 1986-87. These Lakers haven't left a trail of unpaid bills and broken promises, as the Los Angeles Express football team did during its frightful and final 1985 season.

Players haven't staged a mutiny in an effort to overthrow Lakers Coach Byron Scott like those deans of dysfunction — the 1999 Angels — did in an attempt to oust their manager. And the Lakers probably won't pack up the moving vans and relocate to St. Louis, the way the Rams did after their dismal farewell season in 1994.

So take heart, Lakers fans; the glass from this season may actually look half-full compared to this Bottom 10, the worst seasons in Southern California professional sports history:

Not so sterling

Weighed down by underachieving, out-of-shape 7-foot center Benoit Benjamin, one of the biggest first-round flops in NBA history, and notoriously cheap owner Donald Sterling, the Clippers went 12-70 in 1986-87 and finished 53 games behind the Lakers.

Playing without injured guard Norm Nixon and forward Marques Johnson, the Clippers lost 28 of 29 games from Nov. 13-Jan. 12 and closed the season with 14 losses. Their .146 winning percentage is tied with that of the 2010 New Jersey Nets for fourth-worst in NBA history.

"Well, it's over, thank God," coach Don Chaney said after the season finale. "It's been a horrendous season, and there probably will never be another one like it for a long time. I didn't sleep this year. It's been a nightmare."

A lack of talent wasn't the only problem. The Clippers' attitude and effort were also questioned by forward Michael Cage, who said, "It was like a hotel … guys were checking in and out all the time."

Brother, can you spare a dime?

The United States Football League's Express, born in 1983, made a huge splash in 1984 by signing star quarterback Steve Young to a 10-year, $40-million contract. A year later, the franchise was swimming in debt.

The collapse of owner J. William Oldenburg's financial empire forced him to turn the Express over to the league, which ran the club on a shoestring budget. Attendance plummeted to an average of 8,500 a game, and a club expected to contend for a title fell to 3-15 in 1985.

The cheerleaders were fired to save money. The Express nearly missed one game when a bus driver's check bounced and he refused to drive the team to the Coliseum until Young and other players chipped in enough money to pay the driver.

A stack of unpaid bills from hotels, bus companies, truck companies, advertisers, plumbers and painters led to numerous lawsuits. The final home game was moved to Pierce College. The Express — and the USFL — folded in 1986.

"You'll never again see a pro franchise like this one," said Paul Sandrock, the team's controller. "And God help the world if we do."

Dodger dogs

The Dodgers followed a 93-69 season in 1991 with one of their worst years in franchise history, going 63-99 and finishing 35 games out in the National League West in 1992, their first last-place finish since 1905.

The five errors they made in their first spring-training game against Atlanta provided a hint of what would come. The Dodgers committed a major league-high 174 errors that season, 20 more than any other club, including 42 by shortstop Jose Offerman and 27 by second baseman Lenny Harris.

The Dodgers were laughably bad, losing one game because catcher Mike Scioscia illegally stopped a ball with his mask and another because catcher Mike Piazza did not properly call time out.

Pinch-runner Eric Young forgot to wear his spikes one game and was thrown out trying to steal second in his turf shoes, and Dave Hansen failed to throw a runner out because he tripped over a bat … while playing third base.

Exit strategy

The Rams had worse records than their 4-12 mark in 1994, but there was no uglier a season in the storied, 49-year Southern California history of the franchise.

The team capped its fifth straight losing season with seven straight losses amid the anger and frustration of fans who accused owner Georgia Frontiere and team president John Shaw of running the franchise into the ground, thus making it easier to justify a move to St. Louis in January 1995.

Shaw seemed more focused on escaping the team's Anaheim Stadium lease and securing a lucrative deal in St. Louis or Baltimore than he did in improving the Rams. A crowd of 25,705, smallest in the club's 15-year Anaheim history, showed for the final game, a 24-21 Christmas Eve loss to the Washington Redskins.

"To see what these people have done to destroy a franchise, to grind it into the ground, then for them to … point their finger at the fans, is blasphemous," former Rams defensive end Fred Dryer said at the time. "It's an outrage.... The lawyers and accountants have ruined the team."

Angels and demons

The Angels were picked by many to win the American League West in 1999 after signing slugger Mo Vaughn to a six-year, $80-million contract.

But the first baseman suffered a severe ankle sprain when he tumbled into the dugout in the season opener, an omen for the tumultuous six months that followed. The underachieving Angels went 70-92 and finished 25 games back, costing manager Terry Collins and general manager Bill Bavasi their jobs.

Players staged a mutiny of sorts in May, complaining to Bavasi about Collins' impending contract extension, and the team collapsed on the field and crumbled in the clubhouse in July and August.

Players pointed fingers at one another for being soft, for not taking losing hard enough, for having a lackadaisical attitude and for putting individual goals above team goals. And they ripped one another for airing their beefs in the media.

Team president Tony Tavares was so sickened by the toxic atmosphere that he called the clubhouse "a day-care center." Before Collins' Sept. 3 resignation, Tavares said: "Someone told me, 'You can't trade 25 guys.' I said, 'Why not?'"

Kings of futility

The Kings have become a model NHL franchise, winners of two Stanley Cup championships in the past three seasons, but they weren't exactly born with silver (and black) spoons in their mouths in 1967.

They endured six straight losing seasons before breaking even (33-33-12) in 1973-74, and they endured the worst season in franchise history in 1969-70, when they went 14-52-10 and fired first-year coach Hal Laycoe after just 24 games.

How bad was this Ross Lonsberry- and Eddie Joyal-led group? It went 10 games without a victory in November, 17 games (0-13-4) without a win from Jan. 29-March 5, and its only two wins away from home all season were on Dec. 2 at Oakland and Jan. 10 at Minnesota.

The Kings mustered a franchise-low 38 points, fewer even than their 41 points in 1994-95, a season shortened to 48 games because of a work stoppage.

Clippers clunker

Choosing the worst seasons in Clippers history brings to mind that Lay's potato-chip ad: How can you pick just one? The Clippers had three 17-65 seasons, in 1987-88, 1994-95 and 1997-98.

But the worst of that bunch was probably 1994-95, when the Clippers opened the season with 16 straight losses, one shy of the NBA record, and were 7-40 on Feb. 7 en route to the worst record in the NBA.

The team's highest-paid player, 7-foot center Stanley Roberts, missed the entire season because of an Achilles' injury, forcing 6-9 Tony Massenburg to the center spot and journeymen centers Eric Riley and Matt Fish to key reserve positions.

The Clippers, under the direction of first-year coach Bill Fitch, were outscored by an average of 105.8-96.7 a game and outrebounded, 3,619-3,140 on the season. They finished 42 games behind Pacific Division-winning Phoenix.

A real buzzkill

The core of an Angels team that won its first AL West title in 1979 — Rod Carew, Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, Joe Rudi, Carney Lansford — returned for 1980, but there was a huge void in the rotation.

General manager Buzzie Bavasi refused to meet Nolan Ryan's contract demands and allowed his best pitcher, nicknamed "The Express," to leave as a free agent, claiming he could "replace him with two 8-7 pitchers."

It was a statement Bavasi came to regret after the flame-throwing right-hander dominated for another decade en route to the Hall of Fame. The Angels stumbled to a franchise-worst 65-95 record in 1980 and finished 31 games back.

The rotation struggled, with Frank Tanana going 11-12 with a 4.15 earned-run average, Don Aase going 8-13 with a 4.06 ERA and Chris Knapp going 2-11 with a 6.14 ERA, and every position player except Carew had a subpar season.

No Roman holiday

Roman Gabriel threw for 29,444 yards and 201 touchdowns during a distinguished 16-year NFL career, but he was a wobbly rookie playing behind a shaky offensive line on a mistake-prone Rams team in 1962.

Gabriel took over as starter for the ineffective Zeke Bratkowski midway through the season, but the future Pro Bowler couldn't prevent a 1-12-1 finish, the worst record in the franchise's Southern California history.

The Rams were often competitive, losing six games by seven points or fewer, but they couldn't generate enough offense to win, scoring a total of five points in back-to-back losses to Detroit and Baltimore in November.

But Gabriel drew high praise from legendary Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi after a season-ending 20-17 loss to the Packers. "He's looking real good; as a matter of fact, he's looking a little too good," Lombardi said of Gabriel. "It's about time the Rams traded him to the Giants."

Futbol flops

Chivas USA began its inaugural 2005 season full of promises, that it would set Major League Soccer alight with an exciting style of play mirroring its parent club, Chivas de Guadalajara, and the passion of its fans.

That was impossible with a collection of unproven players and over-the-hill veterans, many of them discarded from other MLS clubs in the expansion draft.

Chivas USA suffered through a dismal 4-22-6 season, in which coach Thomas Rongen was replaced with Hans Westerhof after a 1-8-1 start and attendance dwindled in the Home Depot Center throughout the summer.

"A marketing strategy based on scantily clad ChivaGirls and ticket giveaways will not work," former Times soccer expert Grahame L. Jones wrote that season. "Los Angeles-area fans are sophisticated enough to know that the presence of cleavage does not make up for the absence of players."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
80°