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Monday, April 29, 2002
Worst championship teams

Page 2 staff

With the Stanley Cup playoffs and NBA postseason in full swing, Page 2 decided to look back at some of the worst team champions.

Florida Marlins
The 1997 Marlins were the best teal team money could buy ... and then dismantle when government officials wouldn't build you a ballpark.
Take a look at our list of the 10 worst championship teams, then see how Page 2 readers ranked their worst champions. Then be sure to vote in the poll to crown the all-time worst championship team in sports.

1. 1997 Florida Marlins
One of the great flukes -- a wild card that outperformed its Pythagorean numbers (that is, they won far more games than they statistically would have been expected to considering their overall run differential), then upset the Braves and beat the Indians in a wild World Series (including a comeback in the ninth inning of Game 7). Some might consider them a strong team, because they had a lot of famous "veteran" players, but they didn't show that during the regular season. The Marlins basically got "hot" for a few weeks, caught some breaks (the Braves made some mistakes and also were plumb unlucky), and will go down as perhaps the most notorious champs since the 1985 Royals or 1919 Reds.

2. 1995 Houston Rockets
The Rockets entered the playoffs seeded sixth in the Western Conference with a 47-35 record. But they became the lowest-seeded team to win an NBA title, beating four 50-game winners in the process -- Utah, Phoenix, San Antonio and the Magic, who they swept in the finals.

3. 1906 Chicago White Sox
The World Series looked like a total mismatch -- the 116-36 Cubs (their .763 remains the best regular-season winning percentage in MLB history) vs. the White Sox, whose seven home runs on the year and anemic team batting average of .230 had rightly earned them the dismissive nickname of "The Hitless Wonders." Somehow, the Sox won the title in six games.

4. 1987 Minnesota Twins
The Twins finished the regular season with an 85-77 record, and they were lucky to do so -- during the season, opponents outscored the Twins by 20 runs, and statheads will tell you that without luck, the Twins would have been 79-83. Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola were good starting pitchers, but after that came Les Straker and Mike Smithson and pray for something. Still, they managed to beat the heavily favored Tigers in five games for the AL pennant, then rode Viola's arm and a monstrous home-field advantage (all four wins came in the Metrodome) to a seven-game victory over the Cards in the World Series.

Adam Vinatieri
We're not begrudging Adam Vinatieri and the Pats their victory, but would you rank them with the all-time greats?
5. 1980 Oakland Raiders (Super Bowl XV)
The Raiders, led by Jim Plunkett, tied for the best record in the AFC -- they were one of five AFC teams to go 11-5. But the Raiders were the wild-card team, and hadn't exactly overwhelmed opponents during the regular season. Still, in one of the great Cinderella stories, Plunkett led the Raiders to a 27-10 win over the Eagles in the Super Bowl, completing 13 of 21 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. The Raiders were the first wild-card team to win the Super Bowl. In 1981, they fell to 7-9, fourth in the AFC West.

6. 2001 New England Patriots
The Pats may (or may not) have been the best team in the AFC, but they were arguably only the fifth or sixth best team in the NFL. How they beat the Rams -- who during their 14-2 season outscored opponents by almost a 2-1 margin -- remains a mystery. Is anyone betting on a repeat?

7. 1985 Kansas City Royals
Kansas City finished first in the AL West with a 91-71 record. The Royals were a truly multidimensional team at the plate -- they had the worst on-base percentage in the AL, the second-worst team batting average (George Brett's .335 was 57 points higher than the team's second-best batter, Willie Wilson), and were a mediocre power team. Fortunately, they had a good pitching staff, which led the league in shutouts with 11, and were second in the AL with a 3.49 ERA. The Royals beat the Blue Jays in a seven-game ALCS, then beat the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series. Pitching was the key for the Royals -- they held the Cards to only 13 runs (and a .185 batting average) in seven games.

8. 1945 Detroit Tigers
When asked whether the Cubs or the Tigers would win the 1945 World Series, Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown said, "I don't think either one of them can win it."

Mario Lemieux
Mario Lemieux and the Pens won their second straight Stanley Cup in 1991 because they turned it up at the right time.
9. 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs finished third in the six-team NHL, compiling a 32-27-11 record while being outscored 211-204 by opponents (by comparison, the first-place Blackhawks outscored opponents 264-170). But the Leafs managed to beat Chicago in the semifinals and the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals.

10. 1991 and 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins followed up two mediocre regular seasons in a row with two championships in a row. The Pens were 41-33-6 in 1990-91, finishing only third in the weak Prince of Wales Conference. In 1991-92, they could only manage a tie for third in their division, with a 39-32-9 record, but swept Chicago in four straight games in the Stanley Cup finals.