6 of History's Greatest Losers

Getty Images
Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are currently 0-12, and with a tough remaining schedule, it's hard to see how the team will avoid the ignominious distinction of completing the season without a win. In the interest of giving the Lions and their fans some much-needed company in their misery, we've found a few more of history's spectacularly consistent or notable losers.

1. The Washington Generals

The Harlem Globetrotters can boast that they have the highest winning percentage of any franchise in professional sports; the team alleges it has won 98.4% of its contests. Of course, all of this success has come at the expense of the Globetrotters' futile opponents, the Washington Generals. The nail-versus-hammer dynamic has been going strong since 1953, when former Villanova star and NBA champion Red Klotz got the opportunity to put together a team to tour the world playing the Globetrotters. Klotz's team, the Generals, got off to a rocky start as the straight men for the Globetrotters' gags. Not only were they being teased, the Generals were also taking thumping after thumping on the court. It's hard to tell just how many games the Generals lost in a row to the Globetrotters, but the teams agree that when Klotz's team finally got the upper hand in a 100-99 game in 1971 Harlem was riding a 2,495-game winning streak. (Who hit the winning shot in that game? None other than Red Klotz, at the time a 50-year-old player/coach/owner.) Klotz retired the Generals name in 1995, but in 2007 the team reformed for more years of futility.

2. Norman Thomas

Any old Dukakis or Mondale can lose a presidential election. It takes someone special, though, to be soundly rejected by the electorate, shrug it off, and run again four years later. In this realm, Norman Thomas had no peer. When the Socialist Party of America's perennial presidential candidate Eugene Debs died in 1926, Thomas picked up the Sisyphean job of heading the Socialist ticket in presidential races. He actually picked up over 250,000 votes in the 1928 election and grabbed almost 900,000 votes in 1932. However, after those two races his vote totals declined precipitously, although he continued running every four years until 1948, for a total of six unsuccessful presidential bids.

But Thomas can't match Canada's John C. Turmel, who holds the Guinness record for most unsuccessful runs. Turmel has lost in 66 separate elections while running as an independent and for a variety of minor parties, some of which he founded himself.

3. Newhart

It's hard not to pull for Bob Newhart and his mild-mannered brand of comedy "“ unless you're an Emmy voter. Newhart's sitcom Newhart ran for eight seasons between 1982 and 1990 and received generally positive reviews. The tales of an author acting as an innkeeper in rural Vermont even received 25 Emmy nominations. Here's hoping that if Newhart ever used the old cliché that "it's an honor just to be nominated," he said it sincerely. Despite the 25 nominations, Newhart never took home a single statuette, a record for Emmy futility.

Bob Newhart, for his part, seemed to take it all in stride without holding an anti-Emmy grudge. For the 2006 Emmys, he agreed to be locked in a box with exactly three hours of breathable air to keep the proceedings moving; if award winners went too long in their acceptance speeches, they would be responsible for the beloved comedian suffocating. The notoriously long award show actually ended three minutes early that year.

4. Cy Young

The very mention of Cy Young's name evokes pitching greatness for baseball fans. After all, you have to be pretty snazzy on the mound to have the annual award for each league's best hurler named after you. Young, though, holds another distinction in baseball history: he's the game's most accomplished loser. Over the course of his 22-year career, Young piled up 316 losses, a Major League record. Of course, Young also has the MLB career lead for wins with 511. His high loss total is less a function of any deficiency on Young's part than it is a reflection of how pitchers were used in his era. Young took the mound much more frequently than his modern counterparts do, and with few relief pitchers available, he pretty much always pitched a complete game and got a decision when he started. (He had a now-unthinkable 749 career complete games.)

5. The Arizona Cardinals

It must be doubly galling for the Lions to be so bad while having to watch the Cardinals, the team that's usually their fellow NFL punchline, make a playoff push. Even if the Lions can't squeak out a win this season, though, they can console themselves that they're not close to taking the Cardinals' title as the NFL's all-time losingest franchise. Since the team's inception in 1920, the Cardinals have bounced from Chicago to St. Louis to Arizona, but losing has followed no matter where the franchise tried to hide. The Cardinals have lost 672 games in their storied history, 107 more than the next-closest contender (the Lions). Granted, the Lions' franchise is ten years younger, but 107 extra losses is quite the cushion. (Of course, if Matt Millen still had personnel control in Detroit, another seven straight winless seasons wouldn't seem so far-fetched.)

6. 1962 New York Mets

Few teams are quite as synonymous with "failure" as the 1962 New York Mets. The Mets were in their first year as an expansion franchise, and despite getting some solid players like Richie Ashburn through the expansion draft, they were bad. Really, truly, hilariously bad. The rest of the roster was largely populated with aging former members of the Dodgers and Giants who were meant to attract fans of these departed franchises. Legendary Yankees manager Casey Stengel came out of retirement to lead the ill-constructed team to victory, but the task was beyond even his talents. Although the Mets had two of baseball's finest names that season, Choo Choo Coleman and Vinegar Bend Mizell, they couldn't string together any wins. The team staggered to a 40-120 record, which put them a mere 60.5 games out of first place. Since 1900, no team lost more games in a season, though the 2003 Detroit Tigers came close, finishing 43-119.

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This Gorgeous Vintage Edition of Clue Sets the Perfect Mood for a Murder Mystery

WS Game Company
WS Game Company

Everyone should have a few good board games lying around the house for official game nights with family and friends and to kill some time on the occasional rainy day. But if your collection leaves a lot to be desired, you can class-up your selection with this great deal on the Vintage Bookshelf Edition of Clue for $40.

A brief history of Clue

'Clue' Vintage Bookshelf Edition.
WS Game Company.

Originally titled Murder!, Clue was created by a musician named Anthony Pratt in Birmingham, England, in 1943, and he filed a patent for it in 1944. He sold the game to Waddington's in the UK a few years later, and they changed the name to Cluedo in 1949 (that name was a mix between the words clue and Ludo, which was a 19th-century game.) That same year, the game was licensed to Parker Brothers in the United States, where it was published as Clue. Since then, there have been numerous special editions and spinoffs of the original game, not to mention books and a television series based on it. Most notably, though, was the cult classic 1985 film Clue, which featured Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren.

As you probably know, every game of Clue begins with the revelation of a murder. The object of the game is to be the first person to deduce who did it, with what weapon, and where. To achieve that end, each player assumes the role of one of the suspects and moves strategically around the board collecting clues.

With its emphasis on logic and critical thinking—in addition to some old-fashioned luck—Clue is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time and evolved with each decade, with special versions of the game hitting shelves recently based on The Office, Rick and Morty, and Star Wars.

Clue Vintage Bookshelf Edition

'Clue' Vintage Library Edition.
WS Game Company

The Vintage Bookshelf Edition of Clue is the work of the WS Game Company, a licensee of Hasbro, and all the design elements are inspired by the aesthetic of the 1949 original. The game features a vintage-looking game board, cards, wood movers, die-cast weapons, six pencils, an ivory-colored die, an envelope, and a pad of “detective notes.” And, of course, everything folds up and stores inside a beautiful cloth-bound book box that you can store right on the shelf in your living room.

Clue Vintage Bookshelf Edition is a limited-release item, and right now you can get it for $40.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Double Play: The Curious Life and Career of Ozzie Canseco

Otto Gruele, Allsport/Getty Images
Otto Gruele, Allsport/Getty Images

“Jose, we love you! Jose, you suck!” It’s 1992 in Louisville, Kentucky, and a man who bears a striking resemblance to major league home run king Jose Canseco is smashing baseballs out of Triple-A ballparks for the Louisville Redbirds, the minor league sibling of the St. Louis Cardinals.

A screen erected specifically for home runs at Pilot Field in Buffalo, New York, fails to contain one 550-foot drive. The ball goes over the screen and past the highway.

“Good job, Jose!”

Before and after games, the six-foot-two, 220-pound slugger will be asked about dating Madonna (he didn’t), antagonized into fights (he avoids them, mostly), and begged for autographs. When he signs his name, fans appear confused. They tell him to stop joking around. Doesn’t he know he’s Jose Canseco, perpetual All-Star and prolific masher of baseballs? Who ever heard of Ozzie Canseco, Jose’s identical twin, born two minutes earlier to Jose Canseco Sr. and his wife, Barbara? And if they are identical, why is it that Jose was earning millions as a member of the Oakland Athletics while Ozzie only made sporadic appearances in the majors?

Ozzie tried to explain all of these things over and over again. Every time he thought people got the message, he would head back out into the world, hearing his brother’s name. Once, a car veered and tried to run him off the road. When Ozzie hit the shoulder, the other driver laughed, as if it were a joke, and then referred to him as Jose.

 

There are relatively few examples of twins who excelled equally in sports. Ronde and Tiki Barber were both selected in the 1997 NFL Draft and had successful careers; Karyne and Sarah Steben, both accomplished gymnasts, toured with Cirque du Soleil and credited their psychological connection with helping them perform difficult aerial feats.

More often, siblings of star athletes idle in the shadows cast by their high-achieving counterparts.

Hank Aaron’s brother Tommie joined him in professional baseball. Hank hit 755 home runs during his career; Tommie connected with 13. There were three DiMaggio brothers, though it was Joe—the onetime husband of Marilyn Monroe—who stood out both on and off the field. Had any of these men looked identical to their famous brother, it would have compounded the comparisons. It’s unlikely anyone ever tried to run Tommie Aaron off the road.

Ozzie Canseco plays for the Oakland Athletics in a Major League Baseball game
Otto Gruele Jr, Getty Images

Born on July 2, 1964, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Capas Canseco and Jose Canseco would soon be another sports sibling story.

The two were barely a year old when their parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba. Both grew up learning to play "the great American pastime." Jose, an outfielder who could wallop a ball out of sight, was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 1982 straight out of high school. After polishing his skills in the minor leagues for three years, he briefly debuted as a late-season call-up for the Athletics in 1985. His official rookie season came in 1986, when he went on to hit 33 home runs and knock in 117 RBIs, resulting in Rookie of the Year honors.

Ozzie, who had played as much baseball as his brother, decided to take a year for college. Instead of being a power hitter, Ozzie had gravitated toward pitching. The New York Yankees drafted him in 1983. After four largely unimpressive years on the mound in the minor leagues, he was released by the Yankees and picked up by the Oakland Athletics organization in 1986 to further develop his skills.

It amounted to a genetic experiment in sports: Two men, nearly identical in build—Jose was an inch taller and perhaps 10 pounds heavier—who played the same game for the same amount of time. In 1989, the two even suffered the exact same injury to the hamate bone in the hand. Yet it was Jose who became a sensation, earning exponentially increasing millions and stats for the Athletics and the Texas Rangers, while Ozzie struggled to get called up.

The problem, according to Ozzie, was that he had pitched for too long, refining a skill that wouldn’t pay the same dividends as an outfielder and star hitter. All those years pitching put him behind Jose and behind the game. When he was finally called up to the Athletics as an outfielder in 1990, the difference in ability when compared to Jose was obvious. After 20 homers and 67 RBIs with the Huntsville Stars farm team, he managed only a .105 batting average in nine MLB games during his first season, striking out in 10 of his 19 at-bats. Meanwhile, in 1988, Jose became the first MLB player in history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a single season—a feat only three players have replicated since. When Ozzie struck out in his first Athletics game, Jose hit two home runs.

 

Pundits tried to break down Ozzie’s deficiencies. Superficially, he had everything Jose had, including a powerful build that was likely bolstered by steroids. (Jose admitted to using performance-enhancing substances in his 2005 tell-all book, Juiced; Ozzie was arrested for driving in a car that contained vials of steroids during a traffic stop in 2003. Jose later told VICE that Ozzie "used the same type of steroids I used and in equal amounts.") But experts pointed out that Jose was more flexible, with a better range of motion in his swing and a faster sprint. He seemed to be more aggressive during play, too. These were subtle differences, but enough for Jose to make three World Series appearances while Ozzie toiled in the minors.

Ozzie Canseco bats for the Oakland Athletics during a Major League Baseball game
Otto Gruele Jr, Getty Images

Dejected, Ozzie headed for Japan to play for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes to sharpen his game against different kinds of pitches. Playing for the Japanese equivalent of a farm team in Osaka, he quit midway through the season to return to the U.S. minors, joining the Louisville Redbirds, the Cardinals Triple-A team. In 1993, he got a chance to jump on the Cardinals for six uneventful games. When Bernard Gilkey came off the disabled list, Ozzie was bumped back down. In frustration, he briefly quit baseball before signing a contract with the Triple-A arm of the Milwaukee Brewers and, later, the Florida Marlins.

After being released by the Marlins in 1996, he remarked it was the first summer he had not played baseball since he was a kid. While other people may have confused him for Jose, baseball’s management did not.

 

If Ozzie was never quite his brother’s equal on the field, he found parity in other ways. For years, rumors circulated that Ozzie would show up in place of Jose for autograph signings. The two also got in nearly equivalent legal trouble for a 2001 nightclub brawl in Miami Beach that ended in probation and a civil lawsuit against both.

In what was probably their most audacious attempt to fool people, Ozzie reportedly showed up for a 2011 celebrity boxing match claiming he was Jose, who had performed in prizefights against the likes of Danny Bonaduce. Promoter Damon Feldman claimed he had paid Jose $5000 and that he was confused when Ozzie finally removed his shirt. (He lacks the bicep tattoo sported by his brother). Feldman had him escorted out and filed a complaint for breach of contract, winning a default judgment against Jose for the $5000 advance and travel expenses. Feldman later expressed doubt he had ever actually met Jose. (On Twitter, Jose Canseco denied Feldman’s claim that he had sent Ozzie in his place.)

In 2015, Ozzie was named the hitting coach for the Sioux Falls Canaries, a Double-A team in South Dakota. Not long after, he and his brother once again confused onlookers when Ozzie fooled his on-air correspondents into thinking “Jose” had arrived to film a segment for his role as an analyst for an NBC broadcast. It was a bit of levity that may have indicated that the years removed from the field had allowed Ozzie to feel more comfortable—both in his own skin and his brother’s.

It was a long time coming. Speaking to Sports Illustrated in 1994, Ozzie lamented the peculiar reality of resembling his brother in every aspect but the one that mattered to him most. “It’s difficult to explain my existence as Ozzie Canseco on a daily basis,” he said.