A few weeks ago, Washington's own Michael Wilbon said on Pardon the Interruption that he believed the Washington Nationals were "The worst franchise in all four major sports."
A slap in the face to say the least from our own Washington Post columnist, but it got me thinking. Who IS the worst? It's hard to really know how bad a franchise is unless you're following that team every day. It's not fair to make such a harsh claim about another city's club unless you really know the ins and outs and the true ups and downs. So I decided to take it to the city's themselves.
I established a panel of the top blogs from teams that are often conjured up when discussing the worst franchises in professional sports and I asked them to do two things. First, defend your club, unless you think they are in fact the worst, and second, tell us who you think is the worst.
Lets meet the panel:
Pittsburgh Pirates- Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke
Oklahoma City Thunder- Thunder Blitz
Cincinnati Bengals- Cincy Jungle
Kansas City Royals- Royals Review
Los Angeles Clippers- Clips Nation
Detroit Lions- Detroit 4 Lyfe
The Pirates aren't the worst franchise in sports because, quite simply, they're trying to get better. Two years ago, I would've made the case for the Pirates as the worst franchise in sports with anyone and no one could've convinced me otherwise, but since Bob Nutting has taken the reins as primary owner in January 2007, lots of good things have happened.
Dave Littlefield and his awful management team was shown the door while Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington took over the front office. Since then, the Pirates were one of the biggest spenders in the 2008 draft, they were big spenders in Latin America last summer, they've completely rebuilt their facilities in the Dominican Republic, and they seem willing to spend big again on the draft in 2009. They've traded veterans (Jason Bay, Xavier Nady) that didn't have futures with the club for young players, and in general, it's easy to see that for the first time in a long time, the front office has a plan.
The Pirates aren't good right now, but the Major League level is the last place that people are going to see improvement as the management team rebuilds from the bottom up. They might set a record this year for most consecutive losing seasons, but it finally looks like this losing streak might have an expiration date.
The worst franchise in professional sports is, without a doubt, the Detroit Lions. In an era of parity where even the Arizona Cardinals can make the Super Bowl, the Lions haven't been to the playoffs since 1999. They lost every game in 2008, fired Matt Millen as their GM, and promptly hired his assistant to replace him. How can anyone think that's a good idea? Now they're paying Matt Stafford more money than Tom Brady, and they don't have a line to block for him! Yeah, that's going to end well. Sorry, Detroit. No one's worse than the Lions.
Consensus: Detroit Lions
While the Thunder, for the time being, may be the most hated franchisein all of sports, we are by no means the worst.
We did, admittedly, have a piss-poor start to the season. But, after that, things have been looking up. For those of you who don't know, we have a future superstar in Kevin Durant, and very solid young'uns in Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook. We had a very solid February and March, and upset big teams like the Spurs and Mavericks. While the playoffs probably won't come next year, we don't have any dissatisfied players or bad contracts, so it could be looking a lot, lot worse. Plus, we have a really high pick this year. On top of that, we've only technically existed for a year. If you want to go by pure win percentage, then we might be the worst ever. But, for now, we do have the history of the Seattle SuperSonics, and nobody considered them the worst team ever. So there.
In all of the sports I know, the worst team is most clearly the Los Angeles Clippers. To figure that out, you just have to take one look at their logo. It's 25 years old. Or, one could take a look at their uniforms. They might as well be 25 years old. It's like a forgotten relic forever destined to relish in the bottom of the standings. Ever since they left Buffalo, they've been horrible. At one point, they went 15 years without making the playoffs in a league where it's not uncommon for teams to get into the playoffs with a losing record. My Dad moved to San Diego right after the Clippers left it for LA. I asked him, "What did people think of the Clippers leaving?" He told me, "Nobody cared. But, I did have one friend whose life's dream was to bring basketball back to San Diego." Obviously, he wasn't very successful. Their "best" seasons are usually quantified as crawling into the playoffs as a low seed during the late 80s, and when they made the playoffs in 05-06. I think the bottom line here is that they have 0 Championships, 0 Conference Titles, and 0 Division Titles. That's right, they couldn't even win their division once. At least the Cubs have gotten deep into the playoffs at times, and the Lions have had runs with success in the 50s and 90s. The Clippers, even though they've only been in existence for 39 years, have never even come close to being that successful. My only hope is that the team will finally move out of Los Angeles and into a market that really needs a basketball team.
Consensus: L.A Clippers
Calling the Cincinnati Bengals the worst franchise in sports, while popularly granted with their recent history in mind, is still a bit of a stretch. True. Ownership is often legitimately criticized for not only being cheap with their talent on the field, but in the front office as well. They have one of the smallest scouting departments by NFL standards, sport a .352 winning percentage (101-186-1) and one playoff appearance since 1991; the year that owner Mike Brown replaced his father Paul as the team's president and de facto general manager. Some of the drafting decisions have become legendary and I don't have to go into the questionable player acquisitions with a few high-profile issues with "character".
If the question is about worst franchise right now, in my opinion, the winless Detroit Lions, which should include the Matt Millen era, holds credit for that title. Since the standard of success in the NFL is about the Super Bowl, then the Bengals two appearances which should eliminate them as worst franchise of all time; there are several NFL teams that have never appeared in the Super Bowl. If the question is worst franchise since 1991, then Mike Brown can comfortably hold the trophy high above his head on that one.
Consensus: Detroit Lions
I don't see much of an argument for why the Royals are the worst franchise in sports, let alone in baseball. Sure, they had a completely awful stretch from 1994-2008, but one that was hardly worse than similar stretches in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay. On top of that, for much of the 1970s and 1980s, the Royals were a model franchise. In terms of some vague understanding of overall franchise strength NOW, I think the Royals are now easily better than probably ten other Major League franchises, including a large portion of the National League. Even last year, the Royals were more mediocre than truly bad.
As for the worst franchise in sports? The Nationals may be in the conversation, but I'm not sure they're really the worst in baseball, much less in sports overall. They're basically an expansion team, so I'm not certain what the scale should be here. I hate the way the Nationals were delivered to DC and I think their stadium deal is a really bad use of public funds, but that's the world we live in. Beyond that, the Nationals at least appear to be operating in good faith with regard to actually trying to win, which I'm not convinced Florida has been doing. Moreover, their on-field product is pretty comparable to say, the Padres, or the Astros, or any number of similarly bad teams. I actually really like their lineup.
I'd say the worst franchise in sports, if I was to try to imagine what strange rubric Wilbon was using, would probably be either the Lions (obvious!?!), the Charlotte Bobcats, or one of about fifteen hockey teams.
Consensus: Lions, Bobcats, or half the NHL
Is Wilbon kidding? There's no way the Nationals are a worse franchise than the Clippers - not when you look at the cumulative history. Taking the history of the Nats and the Expos, the franchise has finished .500 or better 17 times in 40 seasons. The Clippers and Braves? 7 times in 39 seasons. And I think we can all agree that .500 is a reasonably consistent yardstick across sports. And if anyone is not convinced, I have three words for them: Donald T. Sterling.
Consensus: L.A Clippers
Wilbon may have one thing right; the Washington Nationals very well may be the worst RUN franchise in all of sports. Jim Bowden paraded great potential trade bait around only to let them stay on the team as the trade deadline passed, year after year. The new stadium does not yet even have a permanent name, and up until a few months ago the club refused to even pay rent on it. The brand new stadium doesn't even fill to half capacity on most nights because the Nationals ownership is too stupid to realize that fans wont pay premium prices to see a bad product in person; and don't get me started on the seats behind the plate.
However while our ownership and our executives may be on another planet when it comes to baseball knowledge, or even common sense, there are several reasons we are not the worst franchise in sports. First, we are too young to be judged. Yes the Expos were around for years, but as I see it once the MLB took over the club and ran it themselves they did all but run it into the ground. The product Washington received was not much more than an expansion team. Second, while the ownership is inept they are trying. They went after Mark Teixiera, signed Adam Dunn, built the Stadium, and now will likely shell out the dough to get Steve Strasburg. Lastly the team, despite their awful output, has arguably overachieved. Many called last year for them to set the record for losses in a season, and in the years prior they finished above the curve as well.
I have to say then that the worst franchise in sports has to be the Detroit Lions. The fact that Matt Millon was even allowed to ruin a team that bad is a bad sign. The drafting of wide receiver after wide receiver is another. But what tops it off of course is the 0-16 season, a true embarrassment. As a Redskins fan I am often embarrassed by my ownership and front office, but I can't imagine being that embarrassed and not winning a single game. Sorry Detroit.
Consensus: Detroit Lions
Ok Detroit, time to defend yourself.
Worst franchise ever? The Detroit Lions? C'mon..... So what if we're fresh off perfect futility? A lot of teams have gone 0-16, right? Alright, it goes way beyond being the first franchise ever to go 0-16. The Lions are 31-128 in the past 8 years, just a little over three wins per season. I think saying they've hit a rough patch the last decade would be a gross understatement. The Lions have won no Super Bowls--hell, they don't even have one Super Bowl appearance. They've hosted it twice, though. That goes for something, huh?
All of that is exactly what you would undoubtedly bring up if you wanted to argue that the Detroit Lions are the worst franchise in all of sports. You might also bring up that it's where every quarterback has basically gone to die since the late 1950s. Why the late 1950s? Well, because after Bobby Layne led the Lions to their last championship (1957, before it was called the Super Bowl), he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. As legend has it, he was so upset about being traded after leading the Lions to three championships in nearly a decade that he cursed the Lions and said they would not win for 50 years.
It's now been 52 years to be exact since the Lions last championship. It hasn't been all paper bags, Fire Millen chants, and fan suicide threats, though. The Lions went to the playoffs six times in the 1990s, had one of the best RB in NFL history, and host the annual Thanksgiving Day game--a tradition that dates back to 1934.
Okay, so there's not a very long list of accomplishments for this lowly Lions franchise. I know you want me to start defending my case that they're not the worst franchise by giving a detailed look at another franchise that could possibly be worse. I don't think that would be entirely fair. I hate that the Lions are even in this category of potential teams as much as I hate that the Lions are the butt of every Jay Leno NFL joke, so why should I hurt someone else as much as this hurts me?
I will say, the Lions time will come. Look at the Boston Red Sox. They went 86 years before winning another title. The Detroit Red Wings went 42 years before winning another Cup in 1997. Look where those teams are now. I realize comparing those two to the Lions is like comparing day and night, but I'm just trying to say that the Lions aren't in the biggest drought ever. In fact, I believe that accomplishment goes to the Chicago Cubs, who have made the playoffs just one more time than the Lions in their franchise history and the Cubbies have been in existence nearly 55-years longer. And they've now gone over 100 years since their last championship....
So... I think there's other places to look before stumbling across the Lions as the worst franchise in all of sports.