History of the Minors: Was This the Worst Team Ever?

The 1926 baseball season in Reading, Pa., started like this:

“Well, your Reading Keystones, 1926 edition, stepped out into Lauer’s Park yesterday afternoon to open the International League season against the Toronto Leafs.

“It was an occasion! It was the inaugurating of the eighth International League season for Reading! 

“Just then the game started. All the rooting after that was done by visiting rooters, for blime if those Cannucks (sic) didn’t sock the Keys right on the nose for an 8 to 2 verdict.”

Those were the words of Shandy Hill of the Reading Times, who had the misfortune of being the beat writer for the Reading Keystones 1926 season. Six months after that opening day, and three managers later, the Keystones would finish 75 games behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, an organized baseball record. They won 31 games, They lost 129.

Reading Keystones logo

The Reading Keystones played in the International League, at the time a AA league, but still in existence as a AAA league. The Keystones got their start in 1923 as the new name for the Reading Aces. In that first year they finished third. It was the best they would ever do. They only had one other winning season, in 1928 (84-83). But none of the other losing campaigns were quite as bad as 1926.

In 1927 the team was purchased by William Wrigley and became an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

The Keystones best player was Frank Sigafoos. He started the season as the second baseman but was moved around the infield. He didn’t create a very good first impression, at least not with Shandy Hill:

““Master Frank Sigafoos, who was given the second base assignment, fielded and batted with the enthusiasm of an oyster meeting a squirt of lemon juice, and possessed about as much color as a quart of dishwater.”

What Hill apparently did not anticipate was that Sigafoos was a pretty good hitter. He led the team in batting with a .321 average. That led to a September call-up with the Philadelphia Athletics where he hit .256 in 13 games. Not enough to get an invite for the following season.

Sigafoos ended as a career minor league and a good one at that. He had a lifetime batting average of .313, playing is some 1,700 games over 13 seasons. Some of his best years were with the Indianapolis Indians and he was inducted into that team’s Hall of Fame.

The ace of the pitching staff was Charles “Moose” Sweeney. He lost an astounding 29 games, finishing with a record of 10-29 and a 4.75 ERA, the best on the team. Sweeney led the league in complete games with 28, possibly because none of the Keystones three managers wanted to put the ball in the hands of the other pitchers: Jim Marquis, 8-23, 5.83; John Beard, 4-15, 7.25; and Red Shea, 2-12, 5.50.

Sweeney also was a career minor leaguer who bounced around Hartford, Newark, Scranton, Buffalo and Binghamton among others. He had 120 career wins and if you take the 1926 season out of his stats, his career record was a more than respectable 110-83.

By the time September rolled around it has been a long season and Shandy Hill’s Sept. 7 game report in the Reading Times reflected that:

“The business of losing ball games is taken quite seriously by those Reading Keystones. Yesterday they returned from a very encouraging road tour, when 13 games were lost in a row, and took up the losing streak right where they left it.

“Those Keys dropped the first game of a scheduled double-header to the Baltimore Orioles, 6 to 1. A shower prevented them from losing the second game, as the nightcap tilt never did get under way.”

One suspects Hill was happy to get out of there after one game. He was not alone. The Keystones drew a total of 32,000 fans for their entire 80 game home season, an average of a paltry 400 fans per game. By 1932, they packed their bats and balls and moved to Albany.

ballpark

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See also:

History of the Minors: Ty Cobb’s Side Hustle

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8 Responses to History of the Minors: Was This the Worst Team Ever?

  1. Bumba says:

    Interesting story. Did you ever read Phillip Roth’s the Great American Novel? Naturally it’s about baseball. It’s hilarious. As a Clippers fan, I thought we held the record for failure, but the Reading Tycoons provide new perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A.P. says:

    Too bad, because Shandy Hill had a way with words. I hope they at least gave him a decent raise for all the suffering he had to do that season.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ken Dowell says:

      There was a guy named Shandy Hill who became the founding editor of a paper in Pottstown, Pa., a little later. But I was unable to find any evidence that he was the same guy as the Reading sportswriter so I couldn’t put it in the story.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A.P. says:

        It would seem odd that two journalists with an unusual name like that would have lived at the same time in the same State and not be the same person. But I guess if you couldn’t find any conclusive evidence . . .

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Paradoxically, competition for the worst team is stiffer than for the winner.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pam Lazos says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, Ken! Grateful for blogging friends like you. Enjoy.

    Like

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