It's been a truly historic year in baseball in 2008.
No, we don't mean the Tampa Bay Rays climbing from last to first and overcoming the deep-pocketed behemoths up the coast.
That's a nice story. But we've also seen three of the most miserable seasons in recent history: the New York Yankees, with a $209 million payroll that is $72 million more than any other team, won't make the playoffs; the Seattle Mariners became the first team with a $100 million payroll to lose 100 games; the Detroit Tigers spent more than the Rays, Minnesota Twins and Florida Marlins combined and were eliminated a week into the season.
Yes, it's been a glorious year for big payrolls and bad seasons. We went back to 1990 and found 10 teams that topped our list of bloated badness, those franchises with the best combo of a high payroll and poor record.
10. 2001 BOSTON RED SOX
|82-79||$109.7 million||2nd||Jimy Williams/Joe Kerrigan||Dan Duquette|
Season in one paragraph: This is the only team on our list that actually finished over .500, but the season proved such a disaster it led to Dan Duquette's firing when new ownership purchased the team in March 2002. After making the playoffs in '98 and '99 but dropping to 85 wins in 2000 while the hated Yankees won the World Series all three years, the Red Sox increased their payroll $28 million for '01. The big signing was Manny Ramirez, but Hideo Nomo and David Cone were also brought in. The team held first place throughout June despite missing Nomar Garciaparra to injury, but went just 31-43 in the second half, some of that attributable to Pedro Martinez making just three starts after June 26.
Major culprits of despair: Yes, injuries were a main reason for the team's mediocrity, as Garciaparra didn't play until July 29, but the team paid $7.3 million to Carl Everett (.323 on-base percentage), $7 million to Dante Bichette (.325 OBP), $6.75 million to Jose Offerman (.342 OBP), more than $6 million each to Mike Lansing (.294 OBP) and John Valentin (.200 average in 20 games), plus gave 468 at-bats to the execrable Shea Hillenbrand (.291 OBP).
Major miscalculation: Way too money much was poured into an offense that wouldn't have been that productive even if Garciaparra had been healthy. Let's just say Theo Epstein couldn't trade Hillenbrand fast enough after becoming GM in '03.
Bright, shining star in the dark pit of misery: Ramirez justified his big salary, hitting .306 with 41 home runs and 125 RBIs.
9. 2006 CHICAGO CUBS
|66-96||$94.4 million||7th||Dusty Baker||Jim Hendry|
Season in one paragraph: The Cubs pounded out 18 hits and slaughtered the Reds 16-7 on Opening Day. They were 13-10 at the end of April, three games out of first place. Then came one of the worst months in Cubs history (wait, this is the Cubs; that's probably an exaggeration). They lost eight straight in early May, scoring just 11 runs total, and went 7-22 in the month.
Major culprits of despair: Thanks to a league-worst .316 OBP, the Cubs finished 15th in the NL in runs scored. Of course, the pitching was just as bad, ranking 15th in runs allowed. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior combined for more than $15 million in salary, but went 2-8 in 13 combined starts. Closer Ryan Dempster went 1-9. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno posted a .271 OBP in 151 games. Neifi Perez played. Derrek Lee, injured, did not play enough (50 games).
Major miscalculation: Relying on the health of Wood and Prior with no backup plan (only Carlos Zambrano made at least 25 starts) besides untested youngsters like Angel Guzman, who went 0-6 in 10 starts.
Bright, shining star in the dark pit of misery: Aramis Ramirez hit .291 with 38 HRs and 119 RBI.
8. 2008 DETROIT TIGERS
|71-86||$137.7 million||3rd||Jim Leyland||Dave Dombrowski|
Season in one paragraph: After adding Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria to a lineup that had scored 887 runs in 2007, prognosticators predicted big things. One thousand runs! Twenty-five wins for Justin Verlander! Todd Jones will save 39 games again! Print playoff tickets in April! Oops. Oops. Oops. And, yeah, well, maybe they can hold off the Royals for fourth place. The team started 0-7, and the factoid that no team that started 0-7 had ever made the playoffs held up yet again.
Major culprits of despair: Dontrelle Willis ($7 million) was winless, walked 32 men in 18 2/3 innings and was banished to the Florida State League. Verlander didn't win 25 games; he lost 17, with a below-average ERA. Gary Sheffield ($13.3 million) got old and is hitting .223. Jeremy Bonderman ($8.5 million) got hurt. Nate Robertson ($4.25 million) stayed healthy but has a 6.35 ERA. Kenny Rogers ($8 million) well, he's 43 years old and his fingers weren't spotted with any special stains this year. Cabrera ($11.3 million), while still effective, found AL pitching a little tougher (.353 OBP compared to .401 with the Marlins in '07). Renteria ($10 million), likewise, dropped from a .332 average in the NL to .270. Jacque Jones ($6.3 million) was so bad he was cut after 79 at-bats.
Major miscalculation: Consider: Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco were unlikely to repeat their career-best 2007 seasons; Sheffield's age; a team of plodders (last in the AL in steals, 140 double plays grounded into); and the predictable decline of Renteria, and 1,000 runs were never a realistic probability. But everyone did worry about the bullpen, and paying $7 million to Todd Jones and expecting him to close again was a fool's fancy.
Bright, shining star in the dark pit of misery: The rotation would have been an even bigger disaster if not for the unexpected contribution of 26-year-old rookie Armando Galarraga (12-6, 3.58 ERA).
7. 2007 CHICAGO WHITE SOX
|72-90||$108.7 million||5th||Ozzie Guillen||Kenny Williams|
Season in one paragraph: Live by the home run, die by the home run. This strategy worked for the White Sox in 2005 and perhaps in 2008, but it was disastrous in '07. Despite ranking second among AL teams in home runs, the White Sox finished last in runs scored, thanks to finishing last in batting average and on-base percentage. The Sox were 24-20 in late May, but then came a 5-22 stretch and Ozzie Guillen starting swearing a lot.
Major culprits of despair: Jim Thome was the only regular to hit above .270, so take your of pick of nonproducers like Juan Uribe (.284 OBP) or outfielders Jerry Owens and Scott Podsednik (combined three home runs in more than 500 at-bats). Even Darin Erstad, who once had a good year, was allowed to bat over 300 times. Jose Contreras went 10-17 with a 5.57 ERA. Outside of Bobby Jenks, the bullpen lit more fires than Vince Coleman (see below).
Major miscalculation: OBP is life. To his credit, Kenny Williams realized the team's problem and for 2008 brought in Nick Swisher and Carlos Quentin, two guys with power who also know how to take a walk, and replaced Uribe with Orlando Cabrera.
Bright, shining star in the dark pit of misery: At least Ozzie was entertaining.
6. 1998 BALTIMORE ORIOLES
|79-83||$70.4 million||1st||Ray Miller||Pat Gillick|
Season in one paragraph: Remember when fans used to attend games at Camden Yards? The Orioles had made the playoffs in '96 and '97 and actually led the AL in attendance in 1998 (yes, outdrawing the Yankees, who won 35 more games). Little did they know that this would become the first of 11 consecutive losing seasons -- or become the answer to the trivia question: Which was the last team to lead the majors in payroll other than the New York Yankees?
Major culprits of despair: Retread Doug Drabek was allowed to make 21 starts despite a 7.29 ERA. Sidney Ponson debuted and went 8-9, 5.27 (10 years later, we're still waiting for him to reach his potential). Cal Ripken finally sat a game, but slugged just .389 in the 161 he did play.
Major miscalculation: This was one of the oldest teams in history. Roberto Alomar, at 30, was the youngest player in the starting nine. Remarkably, the hitters actually stayed healthy but were collectively mediocre.
Bright, shining star in the dark pit of misery: Rafael Palmeiro hit .296 with 43 home runs and 121 RBIs. Whatever happened to him?
5. 1995 TORONTO BLUE JAYS
|56-88||$49.8 million||1st||Cito Gaston||Gord Ash|
Season in one paragraph: The Jays won back-to-back World Series titles in '92 and '93 but had slipped under .500 in the '94 strike season. Perhaps sensing impending disaster, GM Pat Gillick retired (see also: Baltimore, Seattle), leaving Gord Ash with a huge payroll but a flawed team. Despite featuring big names like Roberto Alomar, John Olerud, Joe Carter, Shawn Green, Paul Molitor, Devon White, David Cone, Pat Hentgen, Al Leiter and Juan Guzman, the Jays finished 13th in runs in the AL and 12th in runs allowed. A 7-21 September cemented their fall from AL East power.
Major culprits of despair: Carter, at $7.5 million the fourth-highest paid player in the AL, posted a lousy .300 OBP, a sign of the team's on-base problems. Guzman went 4-14, 6.32. Hentgen, who would win the Cy Young Award in 1996, was 10-14, 5.11. Cone was effective, but was traded to the Yankees in midseason.
Major miscalculation: Age wasn't actually the problem, as the team's entire infield was 27 or younger, and Green had a solid rookie season. Essentially, the front office didn't realize that players like Carter, White and Molitor were no longer stars. Closer Duane Ward, one of baseball's most dominant relievers in 1992 and '93 and making $4.5 million, was also unable to come back from arm problems and pitched just four games.
Bright, shining star in the dark pit of misery: Well, the team did draft Roy Halladay in the first round of the June draft.
4. 2008 SEATTLE MARINERS
|58-100||$117.7 million||9th||John McLaren/Jim Riggleman||Bill Bavasi|
Season in one paragraph: Did you know nine of 19 ESPN.com contributors picked the Mariners to win the AL West? Seattle was 11-10 on April 22, one game out of first place, when this team's true talent level finally asserted itself. The M's went 8-20 in May, 10-16 in June, 10-16 in July, 12-16 in August and 5-17 in September, including a 12-game losing streak (apparently, the team's Triple-A talent doesn't bode much hope for the future). General manager Bill Bavasi was canned, finally ending his reign of terror. The manager was booted, replaced by Jim Riggleman, who when hired admitted he didn't even know Ichiro used to play right field. Folks, your 2008 Seattle Mariners!
Major culprits of despair: Miguel Batista, Erik Bedard, Carlos Silva and Jarrod Washburn earned a combined $34.6 million and are 19-47 with an ERA you don't want to calculate. Silva, he of the $48 million offseason contract even Hank Steinbrenner snickered at, won three of his first four starts -- and one of his next 24. Richie Sexson, at $15.5 million the 20th-highest paid player in the majors, was mercifully released after hitting .218 the first half. And, it must be said: Ichiro is a $17.5 million singles hitter.
Major miscalculation: Pitching, hitting and defense.
Bright, shining star in the dark pit of misery: Raul Ibanez continues to put up solid numbers for a fair wage ($5.5 million).
3. 2002 TEXAS RANGERS
|72-90||$105.7 million||3rd||Jerry Narron||John Hart|
Season in one paragraph: New GM Hart inherited a team from Doug Melvin with a bloated payroll ($88.6 million in 2001) and a poor record (73-89, despite the addition of Alex Rodriguez). Among the first moves was to sign former Rangers star Juan Gonzalez as a free agent. Gonzalez would make $11 million, but he hit just eight home runs. The team also traded for Carl Everett and John Rocker. Raffy Palmeiro was hanging around. Ruben Rivera (the guy who once stole a glove from Derek Jeter's locker) was on the team for a spell. Umm, somehow, despite leading the league with 230 home runs, this eclectic mix didn't work out.
Major culprits of despair: Chan Ho Park, Ismael Valdez and Hideki Irabu were signed as free agents to bolster the pitching staff. Park went 9-8 with a 5.75 ERA, Valdez went 6-9, 3.93 and Irabu went 3-8, 5.74 (but did lead the team with 16 saves!).
Major miscalculation: Maybe giving $22 million to one player wasn't such a brilliant scheme. And to this day, Dallas remains Cowboys country.
Bright, shining star in the dark pit of misery: At least A-Rod did hit 57 home runs and drive in 142 runs.
2. 2003 NEW YORK METS
|66-95||$117.1 million||2nd||Art Howe||Steve Phillips|
Season in one paragraph: How about one sentence? Ty Wigginton -- Ty Wigginton! -- led the team with 71 RBIs.
Major culprits of despair: The team's highest-paid player was Mo Vaughn, with a $17 million salary that was fatter than his waistline (thank you, thank you, leave the tips at the door). Unfortunately, his knees were bad and his bat slow; he hit .190 in 27 games before hanging it up for good. Mike Piazza, the team's second-highest paid player, played just 68 games. Roberto Alomar was suddenly washed up (two home runs before he was traded in late July). A bunch of other guys stunk. (Odd note of the day: That's three teams on this list Alomar played for.)
Major miscalculation: Does this sound like a strategy or an economic policy designed by Lehman Brothers? Free-agent signings included Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel, Mike Stanton, Rey Sanchez, Cliff Floyd, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Tony Clark, Graeme Lloyd, Dan Wheeler, David Cone and Jay Bell.
Bright, shining star in the dark pit of misery: Umm well Trachsel went 16-10 and even matched Vaughn's .190 batting average. Yep, when Steve Trachsel is your shining light, you know it was a bad year (or, at least, a very slow year).
1. 1993 NEW YORK METS
|59-103||$38.4 million||5th||Jeff Torborg/Dallas Green||Al Harazin|
Season in one paragraph: The Mets of this era were so laughably inept, there was even a book written about it, "The Worst Team Money Could Buy." (The 1992 Mets had the highest payroll in the majors and finished 72-90.) The '93 version, after Al Harazin had taken over the mess Gerry Hunsicker had built, was more notorious for its off-the-field calamities than its on-field ineptness. Vince Coleman injured Dwight Gooden's shoulder while swinging a golf club in the clubhouse. He threw a lit firecracker into a crowd of autograph seekers outside Dodger Stadium. This came after Anthony Young had dropped to 0-13, his record 27th consecutive loss over two seasons. Bret Saberhagen also threw a firecracker, near a bunch of reporters. Saberhagen also sprayed bleach on reporters. Good times.
Major culprits of despair: Young finished 1-16, but his ERA was actually better than league average. The Mets were last in the NL in on-base percentage. Overall, the pitching was decent, but Young pitched in terrible luck and Pete Schourek (5-12, 5.96) and Frank Tanana (7-15, 4.48) were just terrible.
Major miscalculation: The team was paying guys like Eddie Murray, Howard Johnson, Coleman, Saberhagen and Gooden more for what they had done in the '80s than what they were capable of in '93. And, clearly, that spring training lecture on the dangers of firecrackers didn't take.
Bright, shining star in the dark pit of misery: None.
David Schoenfield is an editor for Page 2.