Print and Go Back Page 2 [Print without images]

Tuesday, September 2, 2003
Updated: September 4, 12:59 PM ET
The List: Worst group efforts

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

The Tigers are still in the running to break the Mets' modern record for most losses in a season, and it's remarkable how, as a group, they have pulled off such a stunningly bad season. The hitters can't hit, sporting a .238 average, the worst in the majors. The runners can't run, having been caught stealing 57 times, failing a terrible 44 percent of their attempts. Their pitchers can't pitch, sporting a collective 5.17 ERA, the second-worst in baseball, despite playing half their games in a pitcher's park. And the fielders can't play the field, leading the league in errors.

Now that's teamwork, and the crack team of P2 editors have already decided that the Tigers' season is one of the worst group efforts, in any endeavor, in history. But do they belong on the list below? September will make all the difference.

1. The engineers who designed the Edsel
With the rollout of the Edsel in 1957, Ford's business groups managed to consolidate their worst efforts to create the biggest flop in modern auto history. It all began with the car itself. The design included an O ring on the front grill that some said resembled a certain part of the female anatomy, and a hood ornament that flew off at speeds exceeding 70 mph. The mechanics of the car were also disaster -- some said Edsel stood for "Every day something else leaks."

The Edsel
The Edsel was a complete disaster -- especially in pink.

Ford's marketing department revved up its hype machine long before the car's launch, then started selling the car in September, when buyers were taking advantage of year-end 1957 model discounts.

And the sales force failed to compensate for the challenges inherent in selling an expensive gas-guzzler during a recession.

The Edsel eventually succeeded, wrote Kathleen A. Erin in Failure magazine, as a cautionary tale for Saturn. "The Edsel Affair is what made Saturn a success," said that company's CEO, who distributed copies of the book to Saturn execs with a mandate to underline everything Ford screwed up.

2. 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Even if you cut them some slack for being a first-year expansion team, the Bucs were horrible across the board. They had the worst offense in the NFL, led by Steve Spurrier, one of the worst starting QBs in the league. The Bucs scored a grand total of five TDs on the ground, and they passed for only nine more. They had the second-worst defense. Kicker Dave Green only had 14 PAT opportunities, and missed three of them. And who led this awful group into a historic 0-14 season? John McKay, a great college coach, but one of the worst coaches in NFL history.

3. All the President's Men
Richard Nixon thought he had assembled a top-notch team of sinister henchmen, led by Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and G. Gordon Liddy. And for a while, it looked that way. He managed to smear Edmund Muskie so bad that the 1972 Democratic candidate cried on the campaign trail. A shoo-in to beat McGovern that same year, Nixon and CREEP (Committee to Re-Elect the President, his aptly named campaign machine), nevertheless devised an ongoing series of dirty tricks designed to crush his opposition.

Richard Nixon
Nixon and his cronies screwed up royally with Watergate.

The tricks didn't get him elected -- he would have won anyway. But they did bring Nixon down. It all started with five bumbling burglars at the Watergate Hotel, who were caught trying to steal documents from the Democratic National Committee HQ. Within a few years, 58 people were charged with crimes related to Watergate, and 22 were imprisoned.

It all ended with the tapes, the so-called "smoking gun" evidence that proved, beyond a doubt, that Nixon knew about or was involved in planning much of his crummy, criminal campaign. When Nixon resigned, in Aug. 1974, he left the nation's political system in a shambles, after having pretty much destroyed the Republican Party.

4. The builders of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge
In July 1940, a suspension bridge between the Olympic Peninsula and the Washington state mainland opened, and it initially enjoyed an unexpected kind of success -- it was so long and narrow that it undulated like a big belly-dancing babushka, providing an amusement-park ride sensation. Sometimes the waves got so big that cars ahead were obscured from view.

The bridge quickly earned the nickname "Galloping Gertie." Good thing it acquired that nickname right away, because it collapsed on Nov. 7, 1940, when it swayed too much and fell apart in 40-mph winds. The 600-foot span that plunged into Puget Sound was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, because it was being dismantled by souvenir seekers.

5. MLB umpires' strike
In 1999, baseball umpires resigned en masse, with 57 saying so long to the majors on Bastille Day. This plan, the brainchild of union chief Richie Phillips, was designed to force a renegotiation of the umps' collective bargaining agreement, during a time of year when the arbiters had some leverage -- in the middle of the season.

The plan backfired. MLB accepted the resignations, but 12 umpires had jumped ship, undermining the union's solidarity. Baseball quickly hired 25 replacements, and by the time the umps who resigned realized that the plan had gone awry, only 22 were able to get their jobs back. Tom Hallion, an NL ump with 14 years experience, was one of the unlucky ones, wistfully recalling, as he pondered a new career, that "everybody was in this together."

Not so. "In the greedy, spoiled-rotten world of Major League Baseball," wrote Newsweek's David A. Kaplan, "the 68 men in blue have managed to make the players and owners actually look like the good guys." The mass resignation might rank as one of the worst collective moves in labor history.

Bonfire of the Vanities
Bonfire of the Vanities, despite its star power, was a box office flop.

6. Bonfire of the Vanities
Take one great bestseller. Add $50 million, three of Hollywood's biggest young stars, and can't-miss director Brian De Palma. Stir in a poorly-written script (a preview audience in New York hissed the terrible dialogue), a mid-filming boob job by the female star, Melanie Griffith, and an ending that turned Sherman McCoy (Tom Hanks) into a hero (in the book, he wasn't), and you've got a disaster that netted just $15 million at the box office in its first 45 days. That Tom Wolfe could write such a terrific, meticulously reported, epic novel that captured 1980s New York so well was almost a miracle. That hundreds of Hollywood types could spin gold into garbage ... as David Ansen of Newsweek wrote in his 1990 review, "No one cast in this movie ever stood a chance: they all go down with the ship."

7. The BCS committee
Take a committee, mix it with lots of computers running complicated, flawed formulas, tweak the system every year, confuse the heck out of fans, and what have you got? A big, fat mess. ESPN the Mag's Gene Wojciechowski got so fed up with the system that he wrote last year, "Blow up the BCS. I'll supply the fuse and match."

8. The brains behind Premier smokeless cigarettes
Way back in 1989, R.J. Reynolds could see the writing on the wall: the anti-smoking bandwagon had reached a critical mass, and threats of litigation were piling up. In the early '80s, Reynolds began a five-year, megamillion dollar research program that resulted in what Neil Steinberg, in Complete and Utter Failure, dubbed "a device of Frankensteinian complexity."

Among the problems with Premier was that they didn't light -- at least not without effort. The company had to include a four-page instruction booklet providing instructions for firing up. Once lit, you couldn't draw smoke without also drawing a hernia, and the ensuing taste and smell was akin to burning plastic, according to consumers. Four months after being introduced, the product was pulled. RJR had burned through $325 million on an ill-conceived, poorly-designed, badly marketed, and high-priced "alternative" that didn't give smokers enough of what they really craved -- nicotine.

Jermaine O'Neal
Jermaine O'Neal helped the U.S. qualify for the Olympics this summer, but wasn't able to carry the U.S. squad in 2002.
9. 2002 U.S. men's basketball team
Three losses and sixth place for the U.S. hoopsters in the World Championships? What is this, bizarro world? Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Jermaine O'Neal, Ben Wallace, Reggie Miller, and Elton Brand, coached by George Karl, should have been able to win going away, but they flopped big time. The problem, besides Karl and a very short practice schedule? "Bad team chemistry and a roster with too many holes," wrote ESPN the Mag's Ric Bucher. A total embarrassment.

10. IBM's PCjr team
IBM's first foray into the home PC market was an epic failure. Big Blue had almost immediately dominated the business personal computer world with its introduction of the imaginatively named IBM PC in 1981, but jr lasted only 14 months. How did Big Blue manage such a big dud? Disk problems. A "chicklet" keyboard that consumers hated. And, of course, way too much hype. "All the fanfare and rumors that preceded the jr doomed it not to meet expectations," opined one user, who had bought five juniors. Another businessman said, "I don't think it ever recovered from the Mickey Mouse keyboard. The initially high cost was also a mistake. The keyboard, the original price and the cost of expansion were killers." Let's see ... bad marketing ... bad design ... bad price ... bad technology ... that's teamwork!

Also receiving votes:

The Coca-Cola Company and New Coke: For 99 years, the secret Coca-Cola formula remained unchanged (except, of course, for the cocaine, completely removed in 1929, when consumers needed it most). Deciding that success wasn't enough, the top tasteologists, technocrats, beancounters, and execs at The Coca-Cola Company decided that a new taste was needed. Out went the old Coke, in came the new, on April 23, 1985. Less than three months later, after dismal reviews of the new formula and urgent cries for the old, "Classic Coke," the old formula was brought back to the shelves, alongside the new product. Gradually, the "new" faded away; according to Coke's Web site, it's now called "Coke II" and "available in very select metro areas." Coke also has retold the "New Coke" story as one that "stands today as testimony to the power of taking intelligent risks."

The Soviet Union: As we know, the former superpower could have annihilated the U.S. many times over. But its military might was vastly overestimated, and overall, it was an extremely violent economic failure that, once its weaknesses were exposed, fell like a house of cards.

Baseball owners' collusion