Commentary

Best of sports' most dubious streaks

Updated: October 29, 2010, 11:22 AM ET
By Patrick Hruby | Page 2

Anna KournikovaBen Rose/Getty ImagesAnna Kournikova never won a singles tournament, but she's still a champion to us at Page 2.

Cal Ripken versus Brett Favre? Baseball ironman against football perma-starter? ¿Quien es mas macho?

Please.

Here at Page 2, we value endurance. (You're still reading, right?) But we adore enduring ineptitude -- consistent athletic failures that take on a life of their own. Sorry, no-account streaks that stack like Russian nesting dolls and boggle the mind in the manner of M.C. Escher drawings, assuming Escher ever developed an artistic interest in the Detroit Lions.

It's great to be good. Better to be bad. With that in mind, we present the most impressive least impressive streaks in sports history:


Pittsburgh Pirates

Sport: Major League Baseball.

Streak: Eighteen consecutive losing seasons, 1993-present.

Degree of difficulty: High. It's one thing to stink for a few years -- remember the Stump Merrill-era New York Yankees? -- but quite another to be uncompetitive for nearly two decades. After all, even the most rag-tag bunch of misfits and n'er-do-wells enjoy a magical, pennant-winning season once in a while. ("Major League" was based on a true story, right?)

Non-shining moment: In 2004, Pirates player Randall Simon earned overnight notoriety by whacking a racing sausage mascot with his bat -- the first (and last) time since the early Clinton administration that a hit by a Pittsburgh player has garnered national interest.

In fairness: The Pirates probably would dominate be favored in Class AAA ball.

Page 2 verdict: The bad baseball equivalent of Lance Armstrong winning seven consecutive Tour de France titles. In fact, Pittsburgh's Steroid Era ineptitude makes us wonder if they were the only major league club not juicin' like crazy.


Anna Kournikova

Sport: Professional tennis.

Streak: Played in 130 WTA singles tournaments without winning a title.

Degree of difficulty: High. Pop quiz: Which of the following women did not win a singles title during Kournikova's streak?

  • (a) Magdalena Maleeva
  • (b) Nathalie Tauziat
  • (c) Tamarine Tanasugarn
  • (d) Gala Leon Garcia
  • (e) Somebody named Barbara Paulus, no relation to Greg

The answer, of course, is none of the above.

Non-shining moment: In 1999, Kournikova defeated Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport and Patty Schnyder to reach the semifinals of the Bausch & Lomb Championships . . . where she promptly lost to Ruxandra Dragomir. Who? Exactly.

In fairness: Kournikova was a gifted athlete and won 16 doubles titles, including the Australian Open. Then again, that only made her singles flameouts all the more baffling.

Page 2 verdict: Who cares? Like Google, Page 2 was built on Kournikova searches. As such, we'll never utter a discouraging word. You'll always be a champion in our eyes, Anna!


Bill Bergen

Sport: Major League Baseball.

Streak: Went hitless in 46 straight at-bats in 1909.

Degree of difficulty: Moderate. On one hand, hitting a baseball may be the single hardest task in sports. On the other, hard is not the same thing as impossible. More to the point: Even Chris Gaines Garth Brooks managed to go 1 for 39 in a series of charity/vanity spring training appearances.

Non-shining moment: Actually, Bergen had a bunch of 'em, as his .139 batting average in 1909 is the lowest post-1900 mark for any player to qualify -- and we use the term loosely -- for the batting title.

In fairness: Bergen was consistently inept at the plate, hitting .170 over 3,028 career at-bats. And yet, he tallied 3,000-plus at-bats, which means he must have been doing something right. Even New York Knicks savior-cum-pariah Isiah Thomas wasn't given as much rope.

Page 2 verdict: Given that no other major league player with at least 2,500 at-bats has a career average below .210, the real wonder is that Bergen's streak wasn't longer.


[+] EnlargeChris Dudley
Getty ImagesChris Dudley's best bet was placing the ball directly into the cylinder.

Chris Dudley

Sport: Professional basketball.

Streak: Former NBA center who set a league record in 1990 by missing 13 consecutive free throws.

Degree of difficulty: Astronomical. Free throws are the closest thing in basketball to hitting off a tee-ball stand.

Non-shining moment: During the streak, Dudley airballed one of his attempts.

In fairness: Like Bergen, Dudley was consistent. His streak came during a 1-for-18 foul shot stretch, he shot .458 from the line for his career and he holds the record for the most missed free throws in a single trip to the stripe, missing five straight shots as opponents committed three straight lane violations. Hard to blame them for being jumpy.

Page 2 verdict: Atrocious. Even Shaq never missed 13 in a row.


California Institute of Technology

Sport: Men's college basketball.

Streak: Lost 207 straight Division III games from 1996 to 2007.

Degree of difficulty: High. We didn't go to Caltech, but we're sure 207 consecutive losses defies mathematical probability.

Non-shining moment: During the streak, seven people associated with Caltech won Nobel Prizes & and not one figured out a way to clone LeBron James.

In fairness: Caltech finally snapped the streak by beating down Bard College 81-52.

Page 2 verdict: Bard College has a basketball team?


Los Angeles Clippers

Sport: Professional basketball.

Streak: Twenty consecutive first-round draft picks failed to make an NBA All-Star team while playing for the Clippers.

Degree of difficulty: High. The lottery draft system is supposed to alleviate ineptitude, not compound it.

Non-shining moment: Taking Danny Ferry over Glen Rice, Lamond Murray over Eddie Jones and taking Michael Olowokandi over Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce. Oy.

In fairness: Well, they are the Clippers.

Page 2 verdict: Even when the Clips get it right, they find a way to make it wrong -- witness the 1995 draft, when Los Angeles drafted future All-Star Antonio McDyess with the No. 2 overall pick, then promptly traded him to Denver for Brent Barry and Rodney Rogers.


Anthony Young

Sport: Major League Baseball.

Streak: Pitcher lost 27 consecutive decisions in 1992 and 1993.

Degree of difficulty: Very high, if only because Young went 0-14 as a starter and 0-13 as a reliever. What else is left? Tossing batting practice... over two different seasons?

Non-shining moment: When psychics reportedly contacted the New York Mets to offer Young assistance, a technique that only works for The Los Angeles Dodgers.

In fairness: Pitchers aren't wholly responsible for wins and losses, and Young's 4.36 ERA during the streak was far from awful.

Page 2 verdict: Give Young a break, stuff like this only happens to the Mets. And maybe the Pirates.


Detroit Lions

Sport: Professional football.

Streak: Twenty-four straight road losses, a NFL record.

Degree of difficulty: Somewhere beyond the rings of Saturn. The reason? The Lions have done this twice, once between 2001-2003 and again between 2007 and present.

Non-shining moment: Every time the Lions lost but beat the spread, crushing the hopes and dreams of trend-minded gamblers everywhere. Also, this.

In fairness: Detroit beat Chicago to open the 2010 season, no matter what the NFL rule book says.

Page 2 verdict: One 24-game road losing streak is chance, two are coincidence and three & is pretty much what we expect from the Lions about four years from now.


Prairie View A&M

Sport: College football.

Streak: Eighty -- note: not a misprint -- losses in a row between 1989 and 1998.

Degree of difficulty: Harder than it seems, given that the next longest Division I-AA losing streak -- 44 games -- belongs to Columbia, a books-first, no-scholarship, Ivy League outfit whose own band played the "Mickey Mouse Club" theme song when the team took the field.

Non-shining moment: The 1991 season, in which Prairie View scored 48 total points while surrendering an average of 56 per game.

In fairness: Prairie View won five national black college championships between 1953 and 1964. Circle of life! (Or maybe the team's 1990s iteration simply stunk.)

Page 2 verdict: A record that will never be broken -- unless, perhaps, the Detroit Lions are relegated to Division I-AA.


Bill Holbert

Sport: Major League Baseball.

Streak: Over the course of his entire career -- 2,335 at-bats -- failed to hit a single home run, which happens to be a major league record.

Degree of difficulty: Very high. If Bo Jackson could hit a home run by accident, Holbert ought to have been able to hit at least one, single, lousy dinger on purpose.

Non-shining moment: In 1889, Holbert enjoyed a career season, batting .278. Of course, 46 of his 49 hits were singles.

In fairness: Holbert died in 1935. Jose Canseco wasn't born until 1964.

Page 2 verdict: Worst company softball prospect ever.


Atlanta Falcons

Sport: Professional football.

Streak: Went 44 straight years (1966-2010) without posting consecutive winning seasons.

Degree of difficulty: Harder than landing a quadruple axel.

Non-shining moment: In 2009, only two other NFL teams failed to manage back-to-back winning seasons . . . and the two clubs in question were Carolina (established 1995) and the Houston Texans (est. 2002).

In fairness: The Falcons were incredibly predictable in their unpredictability, giving frugal fans an opportunity to save money by purchasing season tickets every other year.

Page 2 verdict: Annual NFL parity articles seldom mention Atlanta's streak, which seems quintessentially illustrative. Where's the love?


New Jersey Nets

Sport: Professional basketball.

Streak: A NBA record 0-18 start to the 2009-10 season.

Degree of difficulty: Moderate. Nets were awful, but so were a half dozen of the teams -- Minnesota, Charlotte, Washington, Philadelphia, Indiana and Sacramento -- that they lost to.

Non-shining moment: Actually came after the streak, when the then-4-40 Nets brought in a motivational speaker, who stuck a needle in his face to demonstrate that pain is mind over matter. What, looking at the conference standings, wouldn't do the trick?

In fairness: During the 1972-73 season, the Philadelphia 76ers -- a nine-win outfit considered to be the worst NBA team of all time -- endured a 20-game losing streak and would have suffered a 35-game losing streak if not for a single victory over Seattle.

Page 2 verdict: Not impressed. After all, the Baltimore Orioles opened the 1988 season 0-21. The Nets should have tried harder tried less hard.


Antoine Walker

Sport: Professional basketball.

Streak: Missed 11 consecutive 3-point attempts in a single game, a NBA record.

Degree of difficulty: Harder than making a full-court shot. Not because clanking triples is inconceivable but because Walker had the chutzpah to keep shooting.

Non-shining moment: When Walker decided not to pass the ball and instead hoisted his 11th 3-point attempt of the game, because that was clearly the best way he could help his team win. Of course, maybe that's just us.

In fairness: A skilled power forward, Walker shot 32.5 percent from beyond the arc during his NBA career, so at least 2 or 3 of those shots should have gone in!

Page 2 verdict: Honestly, we're sort of stunned that John Starks doesn't hold this record.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sport: Professional football.

Streak: Lost 26 straight games between 1976 and 1977.

Degree of difficulty: Moderate. The Bucs were a talent-poor expansion team that failed to score a touchdown until their fourth game.

Non-shining moment: When Tampa Bay lost 13-10 to fellow expansion club Seattle. So close, yet so far.

In fairness: Win or lose, Bucco Bruce always had a wink for the ladies.

Page 2 verdict: The streak was a minor godsend, producing one of the greatest sports quotes of all time. When asked about his offense's execution, Bucs coach John McKay replied, "I'm all for it."


Vitas Gerulaitis and Jimmy Connors
Getty ImagesJimmy Connors (left) was probably confident going into this match against Vitas Gerulaitis.

Vitas Gerulaitis

Sport: Professional tennis.

Streak: Lost 16 consecutive matches to Jimmy Connors.

Degree of difficulty: Low. Connors was an all-time great.

Non-shining moment: None. A model-dating, Studio 54-partying, sports rock star during tennis' golden age, Gerulaitis was an engaging, flashy, popular player who always seemed to be having too much fun to brood over a losing streak.

In fairness: Gerulaitis lost to Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe a lot, too.

Page 2 verdict: The streak was a major godsend, producing probably the greatest sports quote of all time. After Gerulaitis finally defeated Connors in 1980 to break the streak, he quipped, "Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row."


Harlem Globetrotters

Sport: Exhibition basketball.

Streak: One-game losing streak to the Washington Generals (wearing New Jersey Reds uniforms) in 1971.

Degree of difficulty: Unfathomable. The sun does not rise in the West, dolphins do not nest in trees and the 'Trotters do not lose to the Generals.

Non-shining moment: After the game, child spectators cried, while Generals owner/coach/player Red Klotz said that fans "looked at us like we killed Santa Claus."

In fairness: The Generals entered the game having lost 2,495 straight games to the Globetrotters, so perhaps the Santa-killers were simply due.

Page 2 verdict: David over Goliath (-47.5) was less of an upset. In the annals of ignominious sports streaks, the Globetrotters reign supreme.

Patrick Hruby is a freelance writer and ESPN.com contributor. Contact him at PatrickHruby.net.

Back to Page 2


• Philbrick: Page 2's Greatest Hits, 2000-2012
• Caple: Fond memories of a road warrior
• Snibbe: An illustrated history of Page 2
Philbrick, Gallo: Farewell podcast Listen