Phillies as MLB’s All-Time Losers


From 1883 through 2014, the Philadelphia Phillies have a combined all-time win-loss record of 9,464-10,551. The team is 1,087 games below the .500 mark. It would thus take the franchise approximately 60 consecutive 90-win seasons to get back to that all-time break even mark.

Those 10,551 losses are more than any club in MLB history. Only the Braves franchise with 10,303 are even remotely close. The Phils .473 all-time winning percentage is not the game’s lowest mark: the Padres (.464), Mariners (.468), Rockies (.469), and Marlins (.470) are all lower. But each of those was a relatively recent expansion team, with San Diego’s 1969 start the earliest of the bunch. 

More from Phillies History

While the Phillies had losing records in each of the first two seasons in franchise history, including a woeful 17-81-1 mark in that first 1883 campaign, they have not always been on the losing side of the all-time win-loss ledgers. In fact, as late as 1919, a full 37 seasons into their existence, the club was above the .500 mark.

After that slow start, under the guidance of Hall of Famer Harry Wright, the Phillies became consistent winners. From 1885 through the 1917 season the team had 19 winning and 14 losing seasons. Most of those winners were big winners, and a number of the losers were barely on the negative side.

Under manager Pat Moran the Phillies won the 1915 NL Pennant, and reached a franchise high 138 games above the all-time .500 mark in 1917.

In 1915 under skipper Pat Moran, the Phillies won their first National League Pennant. The club would come close, finishing in 2nd place the following two seasons under Moran’s guidance. By the end of that 1917 season, the Philadelphia Phillies franchise was a full 138 games over the .500 mark all-time. At this point, fans could probably never imagine the sustained losing that was about to begin.

In 1919, in the final season under Moran, the club slipped to 55-68-2 and finished in 6th place. It was the club’s worst losing percentage since 1904, and would prove to be a portent of things to come. For the next three decades the team would never finish higher than 4th place, something they would accomplish only once.

From 1919-1948 the Phillies finished in 8th place in the 8-team National League an astounding 16 times, more than half of those 30 seasons. They finished in 7th place an additional 8 times, meaning that in 24 of 30 years the Philadelphia Phillies were one of the two worst teams in the league. There were also a trio of 6th place finishes, and a pair of 5th place finishes.

During this stretch, the Phillies didn’t just lose, they often lost big. The team lost 100 or more games a dozen times, including five seasons in a row from 1938-42. The 1941 team lost a franchise all-time record of 111 games. The following year, the 1942 version improved…to “only” 109 losses.

In that stretch there was a lone island of winning. The 1932 Phillies went 78-76 under manager Bust Shotton, largely thanks to an MVP season from Chuck Klein. It was the lone 4th place finish during that long, futile stretch.

The Phillies finally emerged from all the losing as the Whiz Kids developed. In 1949 the young group went 81-73 under manager Eddie Sawyer, the club’s best mark since 1917. The following year they won the NL Pennant with a 91-63-3 mark.

Between 1949 and 1957 the Phillies had 4 winning seasons and 2 more at the exact .500 mark. But then the losing began again, with 4 consecutive last place finishes from 1958-61. When the NL expanded to 10 teams in 1962, the Phils finished in 7th, but then began winning again. Under Gene Mauch, the Phils had 6 consecutive winning years from 1962-67, and nearly won the 1964 NL Pennant. 

But in 1968, the losing was back, and it would last through the end of Connie Mack Stadium and into the early years of Veteran’s Stadium. Finally, in 1974 under Danny Ozark, the Phillies began to win regularly, capturing 3 straight NL East crowns from 1976-78. Under Dallas Green, the Phils finally won the first World Series in franchise history.

Since that 1974 season, the Phillies suffered through one major losing period. From 1988 through 2000, a period of 13 seasons, the club had only the magical 1993 Phillies to celebrate as a winner. Around that period, the majority of the last 40 years (until the last 2) have been winning ones for the franchise, and they won a 2nd World Series in 2008.

So what caused the team to go from 138 games over the .500 mark after 1917 to 1,087 games below it today? Clearly it was that 30 years of sustained, deep losing from 1919-48. But what happened in those years? The biggest problem was ownership. William Baker, for whom Baker Bowl was named, and his successor Gerry Nugent were two of the most inept owners in baseball history. 

Nugent especially had a reputation for selling off any player who emerged with talent. He was debt-ridden, and finally forced to sell the team. The man to whom he sold it, William Cox, was himself banned from baseball for betting on the team. There was finally consistent improvement when he was forced to sell, and Bob Carpenter took over.

Under the guidance of Carpenter and his son, Ruly, the Phillies would finally regain equilibrium as a franchise, and ultimately win that first World Series crown. But the damage done by the Baker, Nugent, and Cox regimes to the all-time win-loss record was already done.

Poor ownership that cares very little about the competitive side of the game. That was what caused the Philadelphia Phillies to collapse into oblivion, a state in which they remained for three full decades. Another couple hundred games in the hole was added in that poor era from the late-1980’s through 2000.

The Phillies have just come through their longest sustained period of excellence. From 2001 through 2011, a dozen seasons, the Phils finished either 1st or 2nd place a total of 9 times. They won 5 consecutive NL East crowns in that period, and that 2008 World Series.

But for the last two seasons, the Phils have collapsed back to losing. The current management regime is on record as saying they do not expect to compete for at least the next two seasons. Ownership of the team appears to be drifting, at best. Unfortunately for Phillies fans, it doesn’t appear that the franchise is ready to start chipping away at that 1,087 game deficit any time soon.