First Year Success in the Big Leagues
Late 19th-century baseball very clearly valued function over fashion, as deduced by the professional baseball monikers of the era. For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers of today were born from the: Brooklyn Atlantics (1884), Brooklyn Bridegrooms (1888), and Brooklyn Superbas (1899). After a stint as the Brooklyn Robins (1914) and Brooklyn Dodgers (1932), the franchise relocated to Los Angeles in 1958.
The beginnings of professional baseball are choppy with leagues forming and dissolving, but some original clubs are among the most heralded. Today’s Chicago Cubs were sculpted from an upstart 1876 inaugural season by the Chicago White Stockings as they went 52-14 in their first year, with a win/loss percentage of .788. This is the best win/loss percentage of any team – historical or current – during their inaugural season. The White Stockings carried this early success into the still-green National League, leading the league for six of their first 11 seasons.
In 1883, the Boston Beaneaters formed from the Boston Red Stockings. They had an outstanding inaugural season, going 63-35 with a win/loss percentage of .643 (sixth best in the history of baseball), which carried into a decent 24-year run for the team. They then became the: Boston Doves (1907), Boston Rustlers (1911), Boston Braves (1912), Boston Bees (1936), Boston Braves (1941), Milwaukee Braves (1953), and finally your present-day Atlanta Braves (since 1966). Yes, your storied Atlanta Braves were once the Beaneaters.
Today’s Cubs had an excellent first season of their own in 1903, with a 59.4 win/loss percentage and an 82-56 record. They were World Series champions in back-to-back years (1907 and 1908), and have appeared in 11 championship series. Before becoming the reigning champions of MLB with their 2016 title, the Cubs didn’t appear in a World Series for 71 years (1945 World Series vs. the Detroit Tigers).
This was when the Cubbies’ curse was put in motion, as a local bar owner of The Billy Goat Tavern apparently attempted to bring his goat through the turnstiles with him. The 1940s were a simpler time, yes, but you still couldn’t bring goats into ballparks. As the gentleman and his goat were sensibly turned away, he bellowed a curse on the Cubs into the Wrigley Field gates, and the longest drought in sports then commenced.
Getting a Good Leadoff
Additional noteworthy historical MLB teams include the 1885 New York Giants (win/loss percentage of .759); the 1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings (win/loss percentage of 68.8); the 1899 Brooklyn Superbas (win/loss percentage of .682), and the 1883 St. Louis Browns (win/loss percentage of .663).
The Red Stockings were a charter member of the first National League before being excommunicated by the baseball saints in 1880 for refusing to stop selling beer during games and for refusing to stop renting out the stadium on Sundays. They went on to help establish the American Association (who had no quarrel with hoppy refreshments) in 1881 and shined throughout the third finest inaugural baseball season in history.
Superbas – because you’re wondering – is a reference to a successful Broadway act of the late 19th century. As was popular during this era, team names sprung from newspaper print into game day programs. The Dodgers, rumor has it, ultimately received their name as a derivation of the nickname, Trolley Dodgers – a reference to the winding mass of trolley tracks within the borough.
In 1901, MLB added the American League into the fold, introducing eight teams into play: the Chicago White Stockings, Boston Somersets, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, Cleveland Blues, and the Milwaukee Brewers. More than just an expansion experiment, this laid the groundwork for the next century of baseball in America.
Of the best win/loss percentages for MLB inaugural seasons, three of the teams still exist today: the White Sox, Tigers, and Athletics.
The Chicago White Sox played the first official game of the American League in 1901. They won their first game and 82 more en route to a current MLB best of .61. 1901 was a strong year for inaugural season records, but Chicago claims top honors. The Motor City owns the sixth best current win/loss percentage (.548) for the Tigers’ 1901 debut season, going 74-61. Being ever so slightly edged out, the 1901 Athletics (74-62 with a .544 win/loss percentage) take seventh for active teams.
Of these three American League strongholds, Detroit has appeared in 11 World Series. They’ve won four championships; however, the last was in 1984. The White Sox have appeared in less than half as many World Series, but claimed victory in 2005 against the Houston Astros.
Two late-model teams to crack the top five active teams with the best inaugural seasons are the Tampa Bay Rays (2008) and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2005). The Rays went 97-68 in their debut season, finishing with a 59.9 win/loss percentage – the second highest among active teams. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have the fifth best active win/loss percentage (.586). While somewhat successful, neither team has managed to find success in the postseason.
In the nonstop thrill ride of MLB, there’s no telling the success a future expansion team or relocated ballclub may find. Will anyone ever top the White Stockings’ debut? Well, it’s been over 140 years, and no team has managed to top them. We’ll have to tune in and see.
So if your Beaneaters jersey is now just a sash of cascading threads, and your Bridegrooms cap has become a tattered woolen sweatband, maybe it’s time to head to Fanatics to upgrade your MLB apparel.