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MLB’s Worst Seasons: 1966 Chicago Cubs

When it comes to MLB’s worst seasons, the more historic the team, the more difficult it is to pinpoint just which of their seasons was truly the worst. For some, like the Colorado Rockies or Miami Marlins, it is simply a matter of finding the season in which they had the fewest amount of wins. But for our subjects today, the Chicago Cubs, grandiose lines of historic data can help to mar the search. The team has been around so long that they’ve played in nine separate seasons of less than 100 games…and that includes the 2020 pandemic. So, just to be fair to other teams in this series, we will be discussing their worst season by winning percentage.

Unfortunately, this is where the search hits yet another snag. In the 1960s, the Cubs were such an organizational roller coaster that they put up the same record twice in four years (1962 & 1966). That record was 59-103, which stands as their worst mark of the Modern Era. So, the question now becomes which of the two is actually worse. After comparing the two, it seems to this writer that the actual bigger folly is the 1966 season, because it was such a waste of some prime, Hall of Fame offensive talent. Let’s dig in, then, and see how a 1966 Cubs team featuring Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo could wind up as one of MLB’s worst seasons.

MLB’s Worst Seasons: 1966 Chicago Cubs

An Offense Worth Praising

Now, it is true that the Cubs did not have the best offense in 1966. In some cases, they were statistically rather poor. However, the things that they did well, they amplified. One of their great successes was hitting home runs. The team finished with 140 long balls, good for fifth in the league. Six of the regular starting nine finished in double digits. Santo crushed 30, Williams hit 29, and Banks, entering the twilight of his career, still managed a respectable 15. Meanwhile, catcher Randy Hundley hit 19 and outfielders Byron Browne and Adolfo Phillips each contributed 16. Philips was also an accomplished base stealer, swiping 32 bags on the year.

Put The Ball in Play

The 1966 Cubs, much like the 1932 Chicago White Sox, simply did not strike out. They did so less than 1,000 times as a team. Three of their starters finished with less than 50 strikeouts. Williams, despite being a hitter well known for his dangerous power, only whiffed 61 times in 648 at-bats. However, the real hero of patience and persistence was second baseman Glenn Beckert. He was fanned 36 times in 656 at-bats for a total strikeout percentage of 5.2%. In fact, Beckert would only strike out 243 times in over 5,200 career at-bats. The lack of strikeouts helped guide the team to 1,418 hits, also good for fifth in the league.

The Achilles Heel

Pitching is so often the downfall of teams whose evolution sees them find their way into MLB’s worst seasons. Such was the case for these Cubs. Of course, you can’t have the bad without the good, and 1966 saw the debut of one Fergie Jenkins. The future Hall of Famer had been shipped to the Cubs from the Philadelphia Phillies. His rookie season was a solid one (3.31 ERA, 111 ERA+). The late Ken Holtzman pitched to a 3.79 ERA in his first full season, and even outdueled Sandy Koufax in a late September showdown against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field.

However, the rest of the staff was quite far behind. Staff ace Dick Ellsworth only managed eight wins. Former Cy Young favorite Ernie Broglio pitched to a mid-six ERA in what turned out to be his final season. It seemed that the Cubs threw everything at the wall to see what would stick. Even 39-year-old Robin Roberts made nine starts. But thanks to a myriad of plights, the 1966 Cubs had the worst pitching staff in the entire league, helping to solidify their place on the list of MLB’s worst seasons.


Photo Credit: © Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports


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