Who are the worst teams to win a title?

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
11:39
AM ET
Jorge Posada of the New York YankeesEzra Shaw/ALLSPORT Jorge Posada and the 2000 New York Yankees had a little extra reason to celebrate.
If the Los Angeles Lakers do the improbable -- the very, very improbable -- they would join quite the exclusive club.

Ditto the Boston Celtics (or the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks or Milwaukee Bucks).

And over in hockey, there's still a host of teams -- the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers among them -- capable of pulling off this feat: winning a championship with a regular-season winning percentage of .550 or worse.

In the history of the four major pro sports, only 14 teams have done so -- most of them in the NHL (the only two sub-.500 champs also came from hockey). Thrice have MLB teams taken titles despite mediocre seasons. And then there's a lone NBA team, the 1977-78 Washington Bullets, meaning no one from the NFL has pulled the big turnaround; after all, a 9-7 record makes for .563.

So, who are these surprising champions, the ones who bucked the percentages to lift their respective trophies? Let's take a look -- by percentage.

1937-38 Chicago Blackhawks
.385 (14-25-9, 37 points out of possible 96)
• The "worst"-ever champion, these Hawks had the sixth-best record of the NHL's eight teams and boasted a winning percentage .125 points lower than No. 5. They beat the Toronto Maple Leafs (.594) 3-1 in the Stanley Cup finals.

1948-49 Toronto Maple Leafs
.475 (22-25-13, 57 out of 120)
• The fourth (and final) playoff squad in a six-team league, these Leafs went 8-1 in the postseason.

2006 St. Louis Cardinals
.516 (83-78)
• Five non-playoff teams posted better records than these NL Central champions, who sneaked by the New York Mets in the NLCS before cruising to a 4-1 World Series win over the Detroit Tigers.

1944-45 Toronto Maple Leafs
.520 (24-22-4, 52 out of 100)
• Beat the Montreal Canadiens (.800) in the semis before taking down the Detroit Red Wings (.670) for the title.

1987 Minnesota Twins
.525 (85-77)
• The Twins won the AL West despite faring worse than four East teams; they eased past Detroit before beating the Cardinals in seven.

1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs
.536 (32-27-11, 75 out of 140)
• Experts at making much out of little, these Leafs ousted the two teams in front of them (Chicago and Montreal) 4-2 apiece.

1960-61 Chicago Blackhawks
.536 (29-24-17, 75 out of 140)
• Could have been worse; they beat Detroit (.471) for the title.

1952-53 Montreal Canadiens .536 (28-23-19, 75 out of 140)
• Could have been worse; they beat the Boston Bruins (.493) for the title.

1977-78 Washington Bullets
.537 (44-38)
• Surprisingly a 3-seed, Washington survived the Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers before facing the fourth-seeded Seattle SuperSonics (.573) in the Finals -- the first of two straight meetings between Seattle and Washington.

2000 New York Yankees
.540 (87-74)
• The Yankees' third straight title came with the worst record of any pinstriped champion; they also went to five games against the Oakland A's before beating the Seattle Mariners 4-2 and the Mets 4-1.

1994-95 New Jersey Devils
.542 (22-18-8, 52 out of 96)
• The "worst" modern NHL winner came from a 48-game season, and it was seeded three slots higher than last year's Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings. The Devils beat No. 1 overall team Detroit 4-0 for the title.

1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins
.544 (39-32-9, 87 out of 160)
• The 1990s Penguins never made it too easy on themselves (see below).

1985-86 Montreal Canadiens
.544 (40-33-7, 87 out of 160)
• And yet, Montreal beat only one team in the playoffs with a better record (fellow finalist Calgary, at .556).

1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins
.550 (41-33-6, 88 out of 160)
• Yes, Pittsburgh's first two titles came from merely "OK" regular-season teams -- but this one beat a Minnesota North Stars group that was two wins from shooting near the top of this list (.425).

Bonus -- NFL's "worst": 2011 New York Giants
.563 (9-7)
• They were 6-6 with four games left, then surged. They trailed the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game's fourth quarter, then won. And do we even need to recap their Super Bowl XLVI comeback against the New England Patriots?

Additional info from baseball-reference.com, basketball-reference.com, hockey-reference.com and pro-football-reference.com

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