It is easier to lose a game than it is to win one. Many athletes and coaches have recognized this throughout history. On the surface, it makes sense. Nit-picking mistakes after a defeat is simple in comparison to breaking down the plays that led to victory. Often, athletes — at least the admirable ones — own their errors rather than boast about prodigious performances. Looking back at a season, pointing out games that slipped away has become a leisurely activity. The best teams get passes for turning near-losses into wins, while the bad teams are said to have stolen any contest that they don’t lose. But is it more difficult to lose remarkably than it is to win remarkably, for an entire season? The best sport to use in exploring this question is Major League Baseball. Teams have 162 opportunities to prove themselves, so winning or losing 100 games is often accompanied by the label, “historic.” The losers stand out, but the truth is there has not been much of a difference throughout the epoch of professional baseball.
In 2021, MLB is on pace to produce four teams with 100 losses (a .382-win percentage), which would tie a record for most 100-plus loss teams in a single season (2019 was the other). Also, two teams have eclipsed the 100-win mark (SF Giants & LA Dodgers) and another is on pace to get there (TB Rays). If the Rays do, it would be the fourth time in the past four full seasons — excluding 2020 — that three or more teams have broken the century mark for wins. While it is easier to fail terrifically than ever before, it is also easier to succeed greatly.
According to www.baseball-reference.com, this has always been the case. Since professional baseball started tracking wins and losses in 1876, there have been 150 teams to lose 100 or more games and 109 that have won 100 or more. Technically, a spectacularly losing season is more common than a winning one. However, of the 423,640 games played (as of September 28, 2021) in MLB history, all franchises put together have won 190,159 games. That win percentage is .448 for the three people without a calculator on their phone. The majority of the teams we root for are losers. So, relative to the combined win-loss record of MLB franchises since William Hulbert formed the National League, historically bad seasons are right on par with great ones.
What does this mean going forward? Tanking has affected the numbers of both amazing and abysmal seasons. The Houston “(L)Astros” popularized it after evolving from laughing stock to dubiously dominant in the short span of five years. Other organizations are on their hands and knees praying for a similar metamorphosis. Extraordinary winning and losing are joined, in the macro, at the hip. For every Baltimore Orioles — which clinched its third 100-plus loss campaign in the past four years — there is also a Los Angeles Dodgers — which has won 100-plus games in two of the past four years. While a lot of focus in 2021 is on the significant flops, the number of historic winners is near equally present. If you are one of those despondent fans dreaming of greener pastures, they are out there. You have plenty to choose from.