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Remembering the Darkest Days of Every MLB Franchise

Doug MeadCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2017

Remembering the Darkest Days of Every MLB Franchise

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    Highlights abound with each MLB franchise in existence. From World Series championships to Hall of Fame players to other remarkable achievements, fans of every team hold dear the good times.

    But for every team, bittersweet memories are also etched indelibly in the minds of fans as well.

    Each team has suffered through its share of bad times or events, such as a tragic loss of life, a highly publicized negative story involving players or management or simply just a period of dismal play on the part of the team itself.

    Bleacher Report will take a look at the history of each MLB team and recall the darkest days in each franchise's history.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Hiring and Firing of Wally Backman

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    The 2004 season for the Arizona Diamondbacks was a complete disaster—a 51-111 season that was one of the worst in the modern baseball era.

    During the following offseason, the Diamondbacks sought to find a permanent manager after Al Pedrique had replaced the fired Bob Brenly midway through the '04 season.

    Managing partner Ken Kendrick, who had taken over control of the Diamondbacks after Jerry Colangelo stepped down, named former New York Mets second baseman Wally Backman as the next skipper on Nov. 1, 2004.

    Backman had been managing in Arizona's farm system, taking charge of their Class-A Lancaster team for one year.

    However, four days after Backman was officially hired, he was immediately fired after the Diamondbacks received the results of a background check.

    Backman had several issues, includiing a misdemeanor harassment charge, a DUI and a bankruptcy filing. During his interview with Kendrick, Backman declined to mention any of these incidents before the background check was conducted.

Atlanta Braves: 1935 Season and Babe Ruth

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    The Atlanta Braves went through some trying times in the 1920s and 1930s while they were in Boston, only posting three winning seasons between 1917 and 1934.

    In 1935, owner Emil Fuchs was fighting to hold on to his club, being hit hard by the Depression at the time. He made the decision to acquire an aging Babe Ruth from the New York Yankees, effectively bringing Ruth back home to his major league roots in Boston.

    Fuchs had reportedly offered Ruth a vice presidency and a share of the team profits. Ruth quickly found out that Fuchs had absolutely no money, and was actually looking for Ruth to use part of his own personal fortune to help in the Braves' operations.

    Ruth fled from a sinking ship, opting to retire on June 1 and the Braves finished the season with a 38-115 record, the second-worst in modern baseball history.


    Reference: Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball BlundersRob Neyer.

Baltimore Orioles: Glenn Davis Trade

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    After winning 87 games in 1989, the Baltimore Orioles slipped to 76-85 the following year.

    Looking to bolster their offensive production, GM Roland Hemond pulled off a trade with the Houston Astros on Jan. 10, 1991, acquiring hard-hitting first baseman Glenn Davis. In return, the Astros received outfielder Steve Finley and pitchers Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling.

    It would become the worst trade in Orioles history.

    Davis suffered a back injury right out of the gate in spring training of 1991, limiting him to just 49 games in his first season. He missed another 56 games the following year, and in 1993 he broke his jaw in a bar fight in May. He was then felled by a wayward foul ball hit into the dugout in August. 

    Davis hit just 24 homers in parts of three seasons, just barely more than the total of homers he hit in his final year for the Astros.

    Meanwhile, Finley, Harnisch and Schilling all went on to productive careers, leading to All-Star berths and World Series championships.

Boston Red Sox: Sale of Babe Ruth to New York Yankees

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    In 1919, the Boston Red Sox were owned by Harry Frazee, a man who fancied himself as a Broadway producer.

    In late December of that year, Frazee entered into a deal with the New York Yankees in which he sold star pitcher/right fielder Babe Ruth for $125,000 and $300,000 for the mortgage on Fenway Park.

    Several reports at the time stated that Frazee was using the money to fund his play No, No Nanette, but other accounts have disputed that.

    Nonetheless, the ill-advised transaction turned Frazee into an instant enemy in Boston and sparked the Curse of the Bambino; a curse finally exorcised when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004.

Chicago Cubs: The Steve Bartman Incident

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    Just five outs away from their first trip to the World Series in 58 years, a fan by the name of Steve Bartman brought the dreams of Cubs fans crashing down.

    Bartman's interference in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS between the Cubs and Florida Marlins was the catalyst that sent the Marlins on to a big-time rally. Cubs fans were once again disappointed.

Chicago White Sox: Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox Scandal

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    Eight Chicago White Sox players accused of conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series. The biggest event in sports at the time was put under the microscope because of eight men who allegedly conspired to throw the Fall Classic.

    The shocking events of the day spawned the famous movie, Eight Men Out, as well as countless other books, TV specials and cable documentaries.

    Shoeless Joe Jackson, without question one of the greatest hitters in baseball, was one of the eight men accused. Even though the men were acquitted in a court of law in 1921, MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis saw to it that the eight members of the White Sox would never again play professional baseball.

    It would take another 40 years before the White Sox made it back to the World Series.

Cincinnati Reds: All-Time Hits Leader Banned from Baseball for Life

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    The Cincinnati Reds in the mid-to-late 1980s were managed by the man who would become the all-time hits leader—Pete Rose.

    Rose broke Ty Cobb's long-standing hits record by recording his 4,192nd hit on Sept. 11, 1985, and would go on to record 4,256 hits before retiring in 1986.

    Rose would continue to manage the Reds for parts of three more seasons, but in February 1989, MLB started an investigation into Rose on the allegation that he had been betting on baseball games.

    Rose had been known to fancy the horses already, dropping bets at tracks around the country during his playing days. However, after a three-month long investigation led by attorney John Dowd, it was found that Rose indeed had a hankering for betting on baseball as well.

    The intense investigation, chronicled at the time by Sports Illustrated, clearly showed a pattern that detailed Rose's gambling habits involving numerous baseball games over a period of time.

    MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti and Rose came to an agreement on Aug. 24, 1989 that permanently banned Rose from baseball, although he continued to deny that he bet on baseball games for the next 15 years.

    Rose finally admitted in 2004, through his book My Prison Without Bars, that he had indeed bet on baseball games, including games involving his own team, the Cincinnati Reds.

Cleveland Indians: Ray Chapman Killed by a Thrown Pitch

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    Colorado Rockies: President Keli McGregor Found Dead

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      Keli McGregor was a star on the football field at Colorado State University and for two years in the NFL before embarking on a career in sports administration.

      McGregor came home to Colorado to join the Rockies as a senior director of operations in 1993. McGregor quickly ascended the ladder, being named as team president in 2001.

      For over eight years, McGregor took the time to get to know each and every member of the Rockies organization, becoming well-respected and much beloved in the process.

      While on a business trip to Salt Lake City in April, 2010, McGregor was found dead in his hotel room. An autopsy showed that McGregor suffered from lymphatic myocarditis, a rare viral infection that directly affected his otherwise healthy heart.

      McGregor was only 47 at the time of his death.

    Detroit Tigers: The Randy Smith Era

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      The Detroit Tigers suffered through a period of 12 straight losing seasons from 1994 to 2005, much of that time under the guidance and direction of general manager Randy Smith.

      Smith took over as GM in 1996, and through a series of trades and bad signings, including that of Juan Gonzalez in 2000, Smith quickly fell out of favor in Motown.

      The Tigers hired former Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski to serve as the team's president in late 2001, and it didn't take long for Dombrowski to realize that Smith was part of the problem and not the solution.

      Dombrowski fired Smith six games into the 2002 season, but the damage had already been done. The Tigers lost 106 games that season and followed up with an American League record 119 losses the following year.

    Houston Astros: The Rise and Sudden Collapse of J.R. Richard

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      In 1980, J.R. Richard was entering his sixth full season as the ace of the Houston Astros' staff, having won 74 games in the previous four seasons. In 1979, Richard led the NL with a 2.71 ERA, struck out 300 batters for the second time in his career and finished third in balloting for the Cy Young Award.

      By mid-July 1980, Richard was again one of the elite pitchers in baseball with a 10-4 record and a stingy 1.90 ERA. On July 30, while playing catch before a game, Richard suffered a debilitating stroke and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors performed emergency surgery to remove a blood clot in his neck.

      Richard recovered, but never again appeared on the mound for the Astros.

    Kansas City Royals: The Death of Dick Howser

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      Dick Howser cut his teeth in managing by leading the New York Yankees under irascible owner George Steinbrenner. His 103-59 record in 1980 wasn't enough to keep his job, as Steinbrenner fired Howser after the Yankees were swept in the ALCS by the Kansas City Royals.

      The Royals, in turn, hired Howser the following season, managing the final 33 games of the strike-shortened 1981 season.

      Howser became a popular manager with the players and fans, successfully guiding the Royals to their first World Series championship in 1985.

      The following year, Howser was the manager again and by virtue of the Royals winning the championship the prior year, was selected as the manager for the 1986 All-Star game.

      That would be the last game that Howser would manage. After complaining of being sick, Howser was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent an operation to remove the tumor.

      The following spring, Howser traveled to Florida intending on returning as the manager. But the tumor had weakened Howser considerably, and Billy Gardner took over before the regular season.

      Howser sadly passed away on June 17, and the entire city mourned the loss. On July 3, 1987, the Royals retired Howser's jersey No. 10 in an emotional ceremony at Kauffman Stadium.

    Los Angeles Angels: Nick Adenhart Killed by a Drunk Driver

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      The Los Angeles Angels had already known tragedy before the 2009 season, losing Lyman Bostock back in 1978 when he was tragically killed in a drive-by shooting in which he wasn't even the intended target.

      Once again, the Angels family was saddened when former reliever Donnie Moore turned a gun on himself and took his own life after attempting to kill his wife in 1989. Moore was never the same after giving up a home run to Boston Red Sox center fielder Dave Henderson in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS.

      Fast forward to 2009. Young starting pitcher Nick Adenhart so impressed manager Mike Scioscia during spring training that he was named to the starting rotation.

      On April 8, Adenhart was impressive in his first start of the season, holding the Oakland Athletics to no runs and seven hits in six innings, striking out five.

      Just hours later, Adenhart's life, along with two of his friends', was taken when a senseless drunk driver plowed into the side of the vehicle Adenhart was a passenger in.

      To this day, Angels' starter Jered Weaver, a close friend of Adenhart's, etches his buddy's initials in the dirt behind the mound before each start.

    Los Angeles Dodgers: Roy Campanella and His Paralysis

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      Almost exactly one year after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, former Negro Leagues catcher Roy Campanella followed suit.

      Campanella instantly became one the best players in all of baseball, earning selection to the All-Star team nine straight times between 1949 and 1956 and winning the National League MVP Award three times (1951, 1953. 1955).

      After the 1957 season, the Dodgers made the decision to relocate to Los Angeles, however, Campanella would never don the Dodgers' uniform in a new city.

      On Jan. 28, 1958, Campanella lost control of his car on an icy road in Long Island, breaking his neck. The accident left Campanella paralyzed from the shoulders down, tragically ending his magical career.

      Campanella's No. 39 was retired by the Dodgers in 1972, three years after he became the second African-American after Robinson to be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

    Miami Marlins: The Dismantling of the Marlins by Owner Wayne Huizenga

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      In 1993, Wayne Huizenga introduced baseball to the South Florida community. Five years later, he departed, leaving an organization in tatters.

      Huizenga was awarded the Florida Marlins' franchise in 1991, and the team began play as an expansion team in 1993.

      Just four years later, Huizenga spent money to sign free agents Bobby Bonilla, Alex Fernandez and Moises Alou. The team not only made the postseason as a Wild Card team, they defied odds and defeated the favored Cleveland Indians in the 1997 World Series, making the Marlins the fastest expansion team at the time to win a world championship.

      However, Huizenga claimed that his team was bleeding money, losing as much as $30 million during their championship season, despite the added gate receipts from the playoffs.

      Huizenga proceeded to trade off almost all of the team's most prominent players within days of winning the World Series, dealing away Alou, Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Jim Eisenrieich and Bonilla.

      The following year saw the Marlins lose 108 games, the only team in MLB history to lose 100 games one year after winning the World Series. Huizenga sold the team to John Henry at the end of the 1998 season, putting an end to the Huizenga era.

    Milwaukee Brewers: The Seven-Year Reign of Wendy Selig-Prieb

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      In 1970, Bud Selig bought the expansion Seattle Pilots in bankruptcy court and moved them to Milwaukee, renaming them the Brewers. For the next 29 seasons, Selig was at the helm until he was appointed the permanent commissioner of baseball in 1998 after serving in an interim capacity for six years.

      Selig sold his interest in the Brewers to his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb. Thus began the worst seven-year run in the history of the franchise.

      The Brewers were a combined 480-652 during Selig-Prieb's reign, a paltry winning percentage of .420. Cries of ineptitude could be heard from fans throughout the city, and Selig-Prieb finally stepped down as CEO in September 2002.

      Selig-Prieb remained with the team as part-owner until Mark Attansio officially ended her time in Milwaukee by purchasing the team in 2004.

    Minnesota Twins: The Threat of Contraction

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      Two years after the Minnesota Twins won their second World Series in 1991, the team went on a stretch of eight losing seasons before finally playing above .500 in 2001.

      However, during that time, attendance at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome had plummeted, and the Twins were bleeding money.

      MLB commissioner had already been mulling contraction, and the Twins and Montreal Expos were named as the two teams likely to be disbanded at the start of the 2003 season.

      However, the Metrodome sued in court, saying that the Twins had a signed lease that extended through the 2003 season. A higher court upheld the ruling in January 2002, giving the Twins and their fans a temporary reprieve.

      Contraction talks stalled, the Expos moved to Washington and the Twins eventually got their new stadium years later. Ironically, the Twins won the AL Central Division title the next three seasons.

    New York Mets: The Collapses of 2007 and 2008

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      The New York Mets had become known as a team, in the past, capable of coming back from deficits against the odds.

      In 1969, they trailed the Chicago Cubs by 10 games in the NL East Division before roaring back to win 38 of their final 49 games to capture the title.

      In 1986, the Mets were one out away from elimination in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series before again rallying to defeat the Boston Red Sox in seven games.

      So, when the Mets were seven games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East on Sept. 13, 2007, it was assumed they would roll on to the playoffs.

      Not this time.

      The Mets won only five of their remaining 17 games, being overtaken by the Phillies on the final day of the regular season when starting pitcher Tom Glavine uncharacteristically gave up seven runs in a losing effort.

      In 2008, the Mets were once again leading the NL East, this time by 3.5 games with 17 games to play. Again they folded down the stretch, losing 10 of their final 17 games to again lose to the Phillies.

    New York Yankees: The Death of a Captain

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      New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson played with an abandon and gritty style that led fans to admire and love him, and teammates to follow his example.

      It was that example that led Munson to become the captain of the Yankees in 1976, the first time that honor had been bestowed on any Yankees player since Lou Gehrig.

      Munson responded by leading the Yankees to their first World Series berth in 12 years and winning the AL MVP Award. He would again lead the Yankees back to the World Series in 1977 and 1978, this time coming away with back-to-back victories.

      In 1979, Munson again was enjoying a solid season, hitting .288 by Aug. 1. On a rare day off the following day, Munson was killed when his Cessna Jet clipped a tree while he was practicing a landing at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport.

      Munson's jersey No. 15 was immediately retired by owner George Steinbrenner, and in 1980, Munson's plaque took its rightful place in Monument Park.

    Oakland Athletics: 1914 World Series Upset and Dismantling of Team

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      21. Philadelphia Phillies: Eddie Waitkus Shot by Obsessed, Deranged Fan

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        Pittsburgh Pirates: The Tragic Death of Roberto Clemente

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          San Diego Padres: The Early Years

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            An expansion franchise always experiences rough times, and that was certainly true for the San Diego Padres.

            In fact, the Padres were so bad at the beginning that they lost no fewer than 89 games in the first nine years of their existence, including four seasons of at least 100 losses.

            Things really hit a low in 1970, when Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter against the Padres while supposedly under the influence of LSD.

          San Francisco Giants: Juan Marichal's Vicious Attack on John Roseboro

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            The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers had a long rivalry dating back to their days in the boroughs of New York—the Dodgers in Brooklyn and the Giants in upper Manhattan.

            But on Aug. 22, 1965 the rivalry took a violent and vicious turn.

            Here is a telling of the accounts of that day, as described in the San Francisco Chronicle at the time.

            The bat-swinging melee followed after the Dodgers had scored single runs in the first and second inning and Marichal had flattened Dodger shortstop Maury Wills when Marichal came to the plate. Koufax, now 21-5, whipped a called strike past him and then came high and inside on his next pitch. On Roseboro’s return throw to Koufax the ball ticked Marichal’s ear and Juan turned and appeared to say something to the catcher.

            Manager Herman Franks said Juan told him he asked Roseboro, “Why did you do that?” and nothing more. In any event, the bad blood between these ancient rivals erupted and Johnny took a step toward Marichal, who hit the enraged Roseboro with his bat.

            Koufax came down off the mound and Giant third base coach Charlie Fox dashed into the vortex of this violent cyclone, each trying to restrain his man as the crowd went out of its mind and the entire rosters of both teams spewed onto the field.

            Plate umpire Shag Crawford, the bravest man on the field and caught in the middle of this violence, grabbed the now-berserk Marichal and hauled him to the ground as Dodgers furiously tried to get to Juan and Giants just as furiously tried to pull him away.

            But before the Dominican righthander went down he lashed out at Roseboro with his bat and crashed it against the side of Johnny’s head, opening a wound from which poured a flow of blood...

            The one Giant who was not with his group was captain Willie Mays. He rushed over to the stricken Roseboro, perhaps his best friend in baseball, and tried to push him away. At one point Willie, now with his uniform spattered with the blood of his friend, placed his head gently on Roseboro’s chest and cried, “Johnny, Johnny, I’m so sorry.”

            Marichal eventually was hauled to the lip of the Giant dugout, Mays still restraining the enraged Roseboro, and police came down out of the stands. Juan was thrown out of the game and Roseboro had to leave, a blood-soaked towel pressed against his bleeding head...

          Seattle Mariners: Trades of Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek and David Ortiz

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            On Aug. 29, 1996, the Seattle Mariners entered into a trade with the Minnesota Twins, acquiring infielder Dave Hollins for a player to be named later. Two weeks, the player the Mariners sent to the Twins was 21-year-old prospect David Ortiz.

            Eleven months later, the Mariners again went into trade mode, this time trading young pitcher Derek Lowe and prospect catcher Jason Varitek to the Boston Red Sox for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb.

            Slocumb was positively awful for Mariners, posting a 2-9 record and 4.97 ERA with 13 saves in parts of two seasons.

            Lowe would go on to win 70 games and save another 85 for the Red Sox. In fact, Lowe was the winning pitcher in the ALDS, ALCS and the deciding Game 4 of the 2004 World Series.

            Oh, and he threw a no-hitter, too.

            Varitek would become the captain of the Red Sox, playing a major role in both of the team's World Series championships in 2004 and 2007.

            Ortiz would become one of the most feared hitters in the league, teaming with Manny Ramirez to form a potent 3-4 combination and also winning two World Series rings.

            The Mariners' sorry trades indirectly led to the Red Sox ending their 86-year curse.

          St. Louis Cardinals: The Death of Darryl Kile

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            Tampa Bay Rays: The First Decade

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              Much like the San Diego Padres, the Tampa Bay Rays were a struggling franchise in their early years, but in the Rays' case, it was a decade of complete misery.

              The Rays finished last in the AL East Division in each year except 2004, losing at least 91 games each season.

              The original owner, Vincent Naimoli, and general manager, Chuck Lamar had a pattern of acquiring players in the early years way past their prime, including Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Vinny Castilla and Jose Canseco.

              Finally, in October 2005, Stuart Sternberg took over as managing general manager, immediately firing Lamar and replacing him with vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.

              Soon after, the decade of misery would be a thing of the past.

            Texas Rangers: Rangers Trade Popular Catcher Jim Sundberg

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              For the first 23 years of the Texas Rangers' existence, both in Washington and Arlington, they were not a very good ball club, posting only six winning seasons during that span and never making the playoffs.

              In 1973, the Rangers selected catcher Jim Sundberg with the second overall pick in the MLB Draft, and he made his debut with the Rangers the following year.

              For 10 seasons, Sundberg was the everyday catcher, garnering six consecutive Gold Glove awards between 1976 and 1981.

              In 1983, following another losing season in which the Rangers went 77-85, the Rangers traded Sundberg to the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Ned Yost and a minor leaguer.

              The trade was perplexing on many levels. Sunberg's popularity in Texas was sky-high, and he was traded for a catcher who was a backup in Milwaukee.

              The results of that ill-advised trade speak for themselves—Yost would hit a measly .182 in just 80 games for the Rangers, even going on the disabled list for what was called at the time "excessive eyelid tension."


              Meanwhile, Sundberg would only spend one year in Milwaukee before moving on to the Kansas City Royals, where he backstopped a stellar pitching staff and won his first World Series championship.

              Without question, one of the worst trades in Rangers' history. They would go on to lose 92 games in 1984 and another 99 games the following year as well.

            Toronto Blue Jays: The Roy Hartsfield Era

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              Roy Hartsfield had been a successful minor league manager in the Pacific Coast League when he was tabbed to become the first skipper in Toronto Blue Jays history.

              Hartsfield's time with the Blue Jays wasn't nearly as rosy.

              Hartsfield was universally disliked by his players, and the Blue Jays posted a 166-318 record in their first three years under Hartsfield's guidance.

              He constantly drew the ire of his players, once getting into a shouting match with pitcher Mark Lemongello that almost ended in blows.

              Finally, Hartsfield was dismissed following the 1979 season.

              Also, he has the worst winning percentage (.343) of any manager since 1970 with a minimum of 320 games.

            Washington Nationals: The Trade of Gary Carter

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              For 11 seasons, catcher Gary Carter made the Montreal Expos his home, turning into one of the best backstops in all of baseball.

              Earning Gold Glove awards, Silver Slugger awards and All-Star selections along the way, Carter was also a fan favorite with his unabashed enthusiasm for the game and the ever-present smile on his face.

              In 1984, Carter was on top of his game, hitting .294 with 27 HR and 106 RBI. However, the Expos finished a disappointing fifth in the NL East division with a 78-83 record.

              Attempting to rebuild, the Expos traded the popular Carter to the New York Mets for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans.

              Carter would go on to win his first World Series championship just two years later in 1986, and the Expos are still looking for a playoff berth, now in a new city.


              Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.

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