Baseball’s epic droughts

The Indians have gone 72 years without a world title; here are seven of their fellow sufferers

Cleveland’s 2020 season was decent enough. The Indians finished their 60-game schedule a respectable 10 games above .500, then were quickly swept out of the playoffs by the Yankees.

Certainly not great, though not terrible either.

The 14 teams that missed the postseason would have gladly swapped places with the Indians. But Cleveland fans had reason for disappointment. The Indians had won more than 90 games in each of the previous four seasons, establishing themselves as solid contenders for a world championship, yet they had fallen short once again.

This latest swing-and-a-miss was the 72nd in a row, constituting what is currently the longest drought in the big leagues. Cleveland hasn’t known the ecstasy of a World Series triumph since 1948.

The Indians, in fact, are one of only eight clubs that have failed to win a world title since 1980. The list includes six expansion franchises that are still pursuing their first championships, as well as the Pitsburgh Pirates, who picked up their fifth (and final) World Series trophy in 1979.

Three runners-up on the drought list have been chasing a title for more than half a century, just like the Indians. The Texas Rangers (born in 1961 as the Washington Senators) have been in the hunt for 60 years without success, while the Milwaukee Brewers (originally the Seattle Pilots) and San Diego Padres have each endured 52 years of futility.

But it’s the Indians who carry the greatest burden. The likelihood of Cleveland winning at least one world title between 1949 and 2020 was 95.6%, according to the laws of probability, which means that the team’s chances of a 72-year drought were just 4.4%. Any self-respecting gambler would have played those odds.

The Indians came close to a breakthrough, of course. They qualified for four World Series during the span, extending the Marlins and Cubs to Game Seven in 1997 and 2016, respectively, only to fall short by a single run both times.

But there’s always next year, right? The statistical profiles below tell the stories of all eight clubs that dream of ending their epic droughts with a World Series victory in 2021. They’re ranked by the lengths of their unhappy streaks.

Each profile includes the year the franchise was created, its world titles thoughout its history, the initial year and length of its current drought, its win-loss record and winning percentage during that span, its best and worst seasons, its number of playoff and World Series appearances over the drought, and its odds of missing a world title for such an extremely long period.

Cleveland Indians

  • Franchise founded: 1901

  • World titles won: 2 (1920, 1948)

  • Start of current title drought: 1949

  • Length of drought: 72 years

  • Drought regular-season record: 5,752-5,560, .508

  • Best season: 1954 (111-43, .721)

  • Worst season: 1991 (57-105, .352)

  • Drought playoff appearances: 13

  • Drought World Series appearances: 4

  • Odds of missing title for 72 straight years: 4.4%

Texas Rangers

  • Franchise founded: 1961

  • World titles won: 0

  • Start of current title drought: 1961

  • Length of drought: 60 years

  • Drought regular-season record: 4,522-4,950, .477

  • Best season: 2011 (96-66, .593)

  • Worst season: 1963 (56-106, .346)

  • Drought playoff appearances: 8

  • Drought World Series appearances: 2

  • Odds of missing title for 60 straight years: 9.6%

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Franchise founded: 1969

  • World titles won: 0

  • Start of current title drought: 1969

  • Length of drought: 52 years

  • Drought regular-season record: 3,942-4,248, .481

  • Best season: 2011 (96-66, .593)

  • Worst season: 2002 (56-106, .346)

  • Drought playoff appearances: 7

  • Drought World Series appearances: 1

  • Odds of missing title for 52 straight years: 14.5%

San Diego Padres

  • Franchise founded: 1969

  • World titles won: 0

  • Start of current title drought: 1969

  • Length of drought: 52 years

  • Drought regular-season record: 3,784-4,412, .462

  • Best season: 2020 (37-23, .617)

  • Worst season: 1969 (52-110, .321)

  • Drought playoff appearances: 6

  • Drought World Series appearances: 2

  • Odds of missing title for 52 straight years: 14.5%

Seattle Mariners

  • Franchise founded: 1977

  • World titles won: 0

  • Start of current title drought: 1977

  • Length of drought: 44 years

  • Drought regular-season record: 3,246-3,655, .470

  • Best season: 2001 (116-46, .716)

  • Worst season: 1978 (56-104, .350)

  • Drought playoff appearances: 4

  • Drought World Series appearances: 0

  • Odds of missing title for 44 straight years: 20.4%

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Franchise founded: 1882

  • World titles won: 5 (1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, 1979)

  • Start of current title drought: 1980

  • Length of drought: 41 years

  • Drought regular-season record: 2,998-3,407, .468

  • Best seasons: 1991 and 2015 (98-64, .605)

  • Worst season: 2020 (19-41, .317)

  • Drought playoff appearances: 6

  • Drought World Series appearances: 0

  • Odds of missing title for 41 straight years: 23.0%

Colorado Rockies

  • Franchise founded: 1993

  • World titles won: 0

  • Start of current title drought: 1993

  • Length of drought: 28 years

  • Drought regular-season record: 2,059-2,314, .471

  • Best season: 2009 (92-70, .568)

  • Worst season: 2012 (64-98, .395)

  • Drought playoff appearances: 5

  • Drought World Series appearances: 1

  • Odds of missing title for 28 straight years: 38.2%

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Franchise founded: 1998

  • World titles won: 0

  • Start of current title drought: 1998

  • Length of drought: 23 years

  • Drought regular-season record: 1,726-1,896, .477

  • Best season: 2020 (40-20, .667)

  • Worst season: 2002 (55-106, .342)

  • Drought playoff appearances: 6

  • Drought World Series appearances: 2

  • Odds of missing title for 23 straight years: 45.9%