The worst seasons in New York sports history
No one alive remembers living through a stretch longer than this one without the New York area enjoying a major pro sports championship.
Not since 1905-21 has it been so long – and there is no end in sight to a drought that has lingered since the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5, 2012.
But even in better times, the metropolitan area has managed to produce some memorably awful teams.
To mark the occasion of the Jets’ and Giants’ first combined 0-10 start, here is a list of the worst seasons in franchise history for the eight NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL teams Newsday covers on a regular basis.
(Yes, we know the Liberty went 2-20 in 2020. Too soon.)
Manager: Casey Stengel
The argument: Picking on an expansion team seems mean, but not picking this team would mean ignoring one of sports’ longest-running jokes.
These guys even inspired a Jimmy Breslin book called, “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”
The answer: no. National League fans excited to have a New York team again saw the Mets start 0-9. They later got to 12-19, then lost 17 in a row. They finished 40-120, 60½ games behind the Giants.
Their .240 team batting average was 10th and last in the NL. So was their 5.04 team ERA.
Roger Craig led the staff with 10 victories – and 24 losses. First baseman “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry made a career of poking fun at himself for assorted foibles.
The 120 losses remain the most in the majors since the turn of the 20th century.
The aftermath: Even though they never again were quite as bad, the Mets finished ninth or 10th in each of their first seven seasons and lost more than 100 games in five of them.
But as the ‘’60s unfolded, they assembled a talented young team built around Tom Seaver and the rest of the pitching staff, and in 1969 things got downright Amazin.’
Managers: Clark Griffith, Kid Elberfeld
The argument: All due respect to the 1966 and 1990 Yankees, but it is difficult to go lower than the 1908 team, which was called both Highlanders and Yankees.
This was an era in which the Highlanders played at Hilltop Park in Manhattan (where they drew 305,000 for the season) while the Giants were in an epic pennant race with the Cubs and drawing 910,000 at the Polo Grounds.
They were no-hit by Cy Young on June 30. Walter Johnson shut them out three times – in four days!! – in early September.
Clark Griffith left as manager during the season and Kid Elberfeld took over, later prompting first baseman Hal Chase to leave the team in a huff because of being passed over as interim manager.
Jack Chesbro finished 14-20 despite a 2.93 ERA, a bit of a comedown from his 41-12 season in 1904. The team finished 51-103, 17 games behind the next-to-last-place Senators.
The aftermath: After an improvement to 88 wins in 1910, that decade mostly was marked by mediocrity.
In 1920, Babe Ruth arrived in a deal with Boston. The Yankees won pennants in 1921 and ’22, then moved into Yankee Stadium in 1923 and won it all.
Coach: Allie Sherman
The argument: The Giants have averaged four wins over the past three seasons and had none in their first five tries in 2020, but nothing that has gone on in franchise history can match the 1966 team’s profound futility.
Some of the numbers are stunning for a franchise that had been in six NFL Championship Games in eight years from 1956-63.
They opened with a 34-34 tie against the Steelers, then went 1-12 from there, starting with a 52-7 loss to the Cowboys.
In one five-game stretch, they allowed 55, 27, 72, 49 and 47 points, and finished with 501 points against in 14 games. Their 72-41 loss to Washington in late November remains the highest-scoring game in NFL history.
The offense was less bad than the defense, but still: Quarterbacks Gary Wood and Earl Morrall combined for 13 TD passes and 25 interceptions. Leading rusher Chuck Mercein totaled 327 yards for the season.
The aftermath: Things could not get worse, but they often were not much better over the ensuing 17 years – including nine seasons of five victories or fewer.
It was not until 1984, Bill Parcells’ second year as coach, that the Giants established themselves as consistent winners again.
Coach: Rich Kotite
The argument: Check back in early January, because the 2020 Jets seem poised to make a run at this distinction, but for now the ’96 team remains the flop by which all others must be measured.
There was optimism heading into the season because of the signing of free agent quarterback Neil O’Donnell, who had been in the Super Bowl with the Steelers, to succeed Boomer Esiason.
The Jets also signed Sachem High alum Jumbo Elliott to help at offensive tackle and drafted receiver Keyshawn Johnson No. 1 overall out of Southern California.
O’Donnell started 0-6, hurt his shoulder and was replaced by Esiason’s old college teammate, Frank Reich, who went 1-6. Glenn Foley then went 0-3.
Adrian Murrell led the offense with a career-high 1,249 rushing yards.
Rich Kotite was fired after finishing 1-15 and was succeeded by Bill Parcells.
The aftermath: Parcells cleaned up Kotite’s mess, getting the Jets to 9-7 in 1997 and 12-4 in ‘98, a season that ended with a 23-10 loss to Denver in the AFC Championship Game – after the Jets led 10-0 in the third quarter.
There were high hopes in 1999, until quarterback Vinny Testaverde tore an Achilles tendon in the opener.
Coach: Larry Brown
The argument: So much to choose from here, including 17-win seasons in both 2014-15 and 2018-19. But it is difficult to overstate the dysfunction that marked Larry Brown’s first and last Knicks team in 2005-06.
The 23-59 record was bad enough, especially given a bloated $124 million payroll and a controversial, costly trade that brought in Eddy Curry from Chicago.
But the main event was a season-long, public feud between Brown and his biggest star, Stephon Marbury, who led the Knicks in points (16.3) and assists (6.4) per game.
(Jamal Crawford, Curry, Jalen Rose, Channing Frye and Steve Francis also averaged double digits in points.)
Marbury chafed under Brown’s direction, seeking more “freedom” creatively. The mercurial point guard from Brooklyn won the power struggle, with Brown departing after the season.
The aftermath: There was much more losing over the next four seasons under Isiah Thomas and Mike D’Antoni, and early in 2009 Marbury’s tumultuous Knicks tenure finally came to an end.
Amar’e Stoudemire arrived in the summer of 2010 then Carmelo Anthony that winter, leading to three straight playoff appearances.
The last of them, in 2012-13, followed a 54-win regular season. The Knicks have not had a winning record since.
Coach: Kevin Loughery
The argument: The Nets started 0-18 in 2009-10 and went on to lose 70 games, which deserves mention here. But that was in New Jersey, and at Newsday ties are broken by awfulness closer to home.
Hence the ’76-77 team that marked the one and only NBA season at Nassau Coliseum by going from ABA champs to NBA chumps, finishing 22-60 after selling off Julius Erving to the 76ers.
The Nets had losing streaks of 13 and 12 games.
At least they had memorable nicknames, including from their top three scorers: “Super John” Williamson (20.8 points per game), “Tiny” Archibald (20.5 points, 7.5 assists) and “Bubbles” Hawkins (19.3 points).
They averaged 6,935 in home attendance that season, then come summer fled for Jersey.
“Economic survival in Nassau County was not possible,” Robert Carlson, owner Roy Boe’s attorney, told Newsday at the time.
The aftermath: The Nets played at Rutgers Athletic Center, then Brendan Byrne Arena (among other names), then Prudential Center before moving to Brooklyn in 2012.
They were mired in mediocrity and irrelevance for much of their time in New Jersey, winning one playoff round, in 1984, before Jason Kidd-led teams that won conference titles in 2002 and ’03.
Coach: Frank Boucher
The argument: Holding a wartime season against any franchise is difficult because nothing was normal about pro sports during the years in which World War II consumed the nation’s attention and effort.
But if we are ranking poor performance here, it is impossible to be worse than the ’43-44 Blueshirts, who finished 6-39-5 for 17 points – less than half the 43 points of next-to-last-place Boston.
They went 0-9-1 against first-place Montreal. They were outscored 310-162, including a 15-0 loss to Detroit on Jan. 23, one of seven games in which opponents scored in double digits.
Ken McAuley’s goals-against average was 6.24.
Bryan Hextall led the team with 54 points, but the rookie-dominated roster had been decimated by players serving in the war, a situation worsened by questionable personnel strategy by general manager Lester Patrick.
Things got so bad coach Frank Boucher ended a six-year retirement as a player to appear in 15 games at age 42.
The Rangers began the season with an 0-14-1 stretch and ended it with an 0-17-4 stretch.
The aftermath: The Rangers improved in each of the next four seasons and made the playoffs in 1947-48, but they would not manage a winning record until 1955-56.
Coach: Phil Goyette, Earl Ingarfield
The argument: Yes, they were an expansion team. But 12-60-6 is 12-60-6, right?
The Islanders were outscored 347-170 with an overmatched roster, but there already were glimmers of what was to come.
Billy Smith, Ed Westfall and Gerry Hart were valuable pickups in the expansion draft, and there was time for very young players such as Bob Nystrom and Lorne Henning to develop through the losing.
Rookie Billy Harris led the team in scoring with 50 points. Gerry Dejardins and Smith split goaltending chores.
Phil Goyette was fired as coach during the season and replaced by Earl Ingarfield. As players, they had spent a combined 16 seasons with the Rangers. They each won six games as coach.
An 0-12-3 stretch in late autumn summed up the season.
After it ended with a 4-4 tie against the expansion Flames, Hart told Newsday, “Yes, I’m glad it’s over.”
The aftermath: Coach Al Arbour arrived in 1973-74 and the Isles nearly doubled their points total from 30 to 56. The year after that they shocked the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.
The four years after that they topped 100 points. The four years after that they won the Stanley Cup.