Which Major League Baseball team holds the record for consecutive losses?
•The 40-120 New York Mets in 1962? Believe it or not, not even the team 90 games under .500 lost more than 20 at a time.
•How about the 43-119 Detroit Tigers from 2003? Nope, but it had been a struggle for the Motor City roarers.
Surprisingly, the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies hold that dubious distinction with 23 straight losses from July 29 until Aug. 20. During the skid, the starting pitcher suffered the loss in 22 of 23 games; Robin Roberts was the exception by not taking the loss in the 20th game. The Phillies lost eight games by one run and three by two runs.
The losing streak ended on Aug. 20 during the second game of a doubleheader at Milwaukee. John Buzhardt beat the Braves, 7-4. After the skid, the Phillies won four straight and five of seven, ending the season 17-20.
Second-year Phillies manager Gene Mauch probably acted more fiery than usual and couldn’t avoid blaming his players. Mauch’s statement about Roberts was, “He throws like Betsy Ross.”
Anyway, the 1961 Phillies dropped 109-plus games for the 14th time in club history. The Mauch-led Phillies was the NL’s last-place team at 47-107-1. Fans weren’t even sympathetic as Connie Mack Stadium (formerly known as Shibe Park) admitted 590,205 spectators through the turnstiles.
General Manager John Quinn generated trades in order to try improving a starving ball club. Closer Dick Farrell and shortstop Joe Koppe were shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 4 for outfielder Don Demeter and third baseman Charley Smith. Outfielder Wes Covington came to the Phillies on July 2 from the Kansas City Athletics in exchange for outfielder Bobby Del Greco.
Outfielder Elmer Valo, a Phillie in 1956, returned to Phiadelphia as a free agent on June 17. Catcher Darrell Johnson signed as a free agent on July 9.
Infielder Ted Lepcio packed his bags for the Chicago White Sox on April 3. Johnson spent less than a month with the Phillies, going to Cincinnati on Aug. 4
When in cake time to hit, the Phillies batted .243 (1,265-for-5,213) with 584 runs, 185 doubles, 50 triples, 103 home runs, 56 steals, and 549 runs batted in. Mauch’s starting lineup usually consisted of shortstop Ruben Amaro, Sr., right-fielder Johnny Callison, catcher Clay Dalrymple, Demeter at left field, center-fielder Tony Gonzalez, Smith at third base, and second baseman Tony Taylor.
Demeter collected 98 hits in 382 at-bats with 54 runs, 18 doubles, four triples, 20 long-balls, and 68 RBIs. Callison (121-for-455) scored 74 runs, swatted 40 extra-base hits (20 doubles, 11 triples, nine homers), and knocked-in 47 runs. Other dangerous hitters included Gonzalez (.277, 58 runs, 16 doubles, eight triples, 12 homers, 58 RBIs, 15 steals), Herrera (.258, 56 runs, 17 doubles, 13 homers, 51 RBIs), Lee Walls (.280, 32 runs, six doubles, four triples, eight homers), and Covington (50-for-165, 23 runs, nine doubles, seven homers, 26 RBIs).
Walls (July 11 at Los Angeles) and Gonzales (Aug. 25 against Milwaukee) posted two- triple games. Demeter stole home against San Francisco on June 29.
Thirteen players toted the rubber and pitched for the Phillies, posting a 4.61 Earned Run Average in 1,383 innings with seven shutouts, 29 complete games, 1,452 hits, 521 bases on balls, and 775 strikeouts. The starters were Don Ferrarese (5-12, 42 games, 14 starts, 139 innings, 89 strikeouts, 3.76 ERA), Buzhardt, Art Mahaffey, Chris Short?(6-12, 39 games, 16 starts, 127 innings, 80 strikeouts, 5.95 ERA), Frank Sullivan, Robin Roberts (1-10, 18 starts, 26 games, 117 innings, 54 strikeouts, 5.85 ERA), and Jim Owens (5-10, 17 starts, 20 games, 107 innings, 4.46 ERA). Relievers included new closer Jack Baldschun (5-3, NL-high 65 games, 100 innings, 59 strikeouts, 3.87 ERA), Dallas Green (2-4, 42 games, 10 starts, 128 innings, 51 strikeouts, 4.85 ERA), and Ken Lehman (1-1, 41 games, two starts, 63 innings, 4.29 ERA).
Mahaffey (4.11 ERA in 36 games) led the staff in wins (11), losses (a league-worst 19), starts (32), complete games (12), shutouts (three), innings (219), hits (205), and strikeouts (158). Buzhardt (6-18, 4.50 ERA) started 27 of 41 games, permitting 200 hits, 65 walks, and 92 strikeouts in 202 innings. Sullivan (3-16, 18 starts, 49 games, 4.39 ERA) fanned 144 batters in 159 frames.
On Aug. 22, Mahaffey one-hit the visiting Chicago Cubs as the Phillies earned a 6-0 victory. Mahaffey established a Phillies record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game on April 23 when he fanned 17 as the Phillies defeated visiting Chicago, 6-0.
Philadelphia didn’t have such a gut-wrenching defense, posting the league’s fourth-ranked defense (.976 fielding percentage) with 146 errors and 179 double plays. Dalrymple recorded 86 assists from behind home plate.
The NL selected Mahaffey to participate in the 1961 All-Star Game. Former MLB outfielder William Robert (Billy) Hamilton, who stole 508 bases for the Phullies from 1890 until 1895, was selected for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Minor League affiliates to win championships were Class-AAA Buffalo of the International League (won Junior World Series) and Class AA Chattanooga (Southern Association).
If you wanted to hear Phillies games on the radios, the dial needed to be turned to WFIL. WFIL-TV 6 also broadcasted Phillies games. The announcers were Byrum Saam, Frank Sims, and Claude Haring.
*Information about the 1961 Phillies can be found in “The Phillies Encyclopedia (Third Edition)” by Rich Westcott and Frank Bilovsky.