The Lovable Cleveland Spiders
It is human nature to want the best. And why not? What is wrong with striving to get to the top? Absolutely nothing. But, there is something to be said for being the worst. There is a certain lovable quality to hanging around at the bottom. The Ford Pinto, although not the first choice for a safe family ride, has a 21-year old car club that is alive and thriving. Charlie Brown has been a favorite of kids and adults since Charles Shultz brought him to life in 1950. And there is possibly no greater fan base in all of baseball than that of the all-time lovable loser Chicago Cubs. Although, sadly, the Cubbies ditched that moniker in 2016.
While the Cubs have had some bad teams and they owned the lovable loser epithet for over one hundred years, they are not the worst team of all-time, at least as far as a single season record goes. That distinction is bestowed upon a little known club from the Sixth City, the Cleveland Spiders.
The Cleveland Spiders
Streetcars and Ball Yards
Streetcars were all the rage in the late 19th century, and they paired quite well back then. More times than not a baseball field would be located next to the line.
Picture this. It’s 1888, you wake up, take the garbage out to the street, dump it, and head back inside. You check the family for any signs of tuberculosis and yellow-fever. Everyone looks good. Great. So what to do? Why not head to the park and watch a game of baseball? But, you don’t feel like hitching up the old horse to the carriage. No need to worry, just purchase a ticket on the local streetcar line and take it to the field. Good for you and good for the streetcar tycoon who also owns the baseball team and field. Everyone’s a winner.
Frank DeHass Robinson
This is how the Cleveland Spiders came about. In 1887, streetcar magnate Frank DeHaas Robinson–with money he made from his streetcar business–started up the the Forest Citys, a baseball club that was to play in the now defunct American Association (AA). Being the wise businessman that he was, he built a baseball field on his streetcar line and reaped the monetary benefits. For two seasons the Forest Citys played mediocre baseball. And at the end of the 1888 season, the Forest Citys were chosen to replace the sputtering Detroit club in the National League (NL). During their first season in the NL an executive from another team noted that with their black and gray uniforms, and their abundance of skinny players, the Forest Citys looked like a bunch of spiders. The name stuck and the Cleveland Spiders were born.
Oliver and Cy
The Spiders continued to be a less than successful team for their first two seasons in the NL. Then, in 1891, Oliver “Patsy” Tebeau joined the team. Tebeau was a player-manager for the Spiders, who, along with the signing of future Hall of Fame pitcher, Cy Young turned around the fortunes of the once hapless Spiders. Over the next few seasons the Spiders challenged the dominating force in the NL, the Baltimore Orioles. Twice, Cleveland finished second behind the Orioles and competed against them in the Temple Cup, a precursor to the World Series. In 1895 the Spiders won the Cup, beating the Orioles four games to one. And in 1896 they once again competed against the Orioles for the Cup and this time lost four games to none.
A Winning Club That Nobody Cared to Watch
Even though the Spiders were one of the elite teams in the NL, Cleveland fanatics just didn’t care about them. Attendance at home games dwindled as the years went by and Robinson nervously watched as his wealth declined. The nerves quickly turned to anger. Why would these people not want to see a successful team? Filled with spite, Robinson, who had purchased another baseball team in 1898, the bankrupt St. Louis Browns, who changed their name to the Perfectos. He moved all of the Spiders’ best players to the St. Louis club.
1899 was not a great year for the Cleveland Spiders, in fact, it was the worst season by any major league team in the history of the major leagues. Decimated by the relocation of their star players, the Spiders, commonly called “the Misfits” in 1899, finished the season with a 20 – 134 record, a .130 winning percentage. Not great. And, not surprisingly, the 1900 NL season was void of a team called the Spiders. The already fanless Spiders drew even less in 1899, and the club folded never to be seen again, save for the occasional turn back the clock day in Cleveland.
And thus ends the tale of the lovable Cleveland Spiders, a team forever in our broken hearts.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images