The Hokage in Naruto are responsible for everything that happens in their village. The daily comings and goings, the tragedies and successes can all be attributed to the Hokage. As the leader of the Hidden Leaf Village, the Hokage is constantly plagued with tough decisions. These decisions can mean death for a lot of people if the wrong call is made and sometimes the outcome of that decision is completely out of their hands. The true job of the Hokage is not to always make the right choices but to properly handle the consequences of the bad ones.
Whenever there is a debate about the worst Hokage, Hiruzen Sarutobi is usually the first pick for most fans. They can't be blamed for having a poor opinion of him either. Some of the worst events in Konoha's history took place during his time as Hokage. The Uchiha Massacre, Orochimaru's defection, Danzo's meddling, and the attack by the Sound and Sand villages all occurred while he was in charge. Even Naruto's mistreatment by the village took place under Sarutobi's watch. But how many of these events were truly his fault and could have been prevented if he acted differently? Is Sarutobi truly the worst Hokage or is he simply very unlucky?
The Uchiha Massacre
The Uchiha Massacre, carried out by Itachi Uchiha, is one of the most important events to happen in Naruto. The massacre set Sasuke on his path for revenge and turned Itachi into a "villain" that acted as a double agent for Konoha. Itachi sacrificed his life to keep the true reason behind the massacre secret and to not disgrace the village or his clan. If the massacre had never occurred or had turned out different, many different characters would still be alive and probably would have been much happier.
The mistrust and suspicion between the Uchiha clan and Konoha did not begin during Sarutobi's reign though. That tension had been a part of the village since the time of the First Hokage. It only naturally came to a boiling point while Hiruzen was in office. In fact, Sarutobi did all he could to mediate and broker peace between the clan and village. The actual order to destroy the Uchiha clan came from Danzo without Sarutobi's knowledge. Sarutobi could not have prevented the massacre from happening without the knowledge of Danzo's plot. The stubbornness of the Uchiha clan and Danzo prevented that from happening.
Although the tragedy took place, Sarutobi did manage to create some positives from the situation. Itachi was able to infiltrate the Akatsuki, giving Konoha a spy against their enemies. Sarutobi also kept his promise to protect Sasuke from Danzo. For the rest of Sarutobi's life, Sasuke never knew the truth about the Uchiha clan and didn't grow to hate the village, as Itachi requested. Given the circumstances and everything that was out of his control, Sarutobi handled the situation as best he could.
Sarutobi considers Orochimaru's immoral actions to be his greatest failure. Orochimaru was one of his favorite and most promising students. Sarutobi had originally planned for Orochimaru to replace him as Hokage at some point, but he became corrupted. Orochimaru performed unethical experiments on citizens of Konoha and when he was discovered he fled the village. Orochimaru would later return to the village and attempt to destroy it with the help of the Sound and Sand villages.
Although Sarutobi did blame himself for Orochimaru's defection and evil behavior, he could not have prevented it from happening. Sarutobi attempted to teach all of his students the importance of the Will of Fire and to view the village as a family. Both Jiraiya, Tsunade, and their own students learned this lesson but Orochimaru never did. Sarutobi's only real failure was when he hesitated to kill Orochimaru when he discovered his experiments.
As he did during the Uchiha Massacre, Sarutobi attempted to make the best out of a terrible situation. Yamato was one of the citizens that Orochimaru experimented on that survived. Sarutobi took in that child and turned him into a loyal ninja for Konoha. Yamato would also become an excellent sensei and friend for Naruto. When Orochimaru returned to destroy the village, Sarutobi sacrificed his life in an attempt to kill him and rectify his mistake.
Danzo has personally caused many issues for Konoha and the broader ninja world. He conspired with Hanzo to get rid of the Akatsuki which turned the pacifist organization violent. He worked with Orochimaru to modify his body with Senju cells and Sharigans. Danzo also formed the Root organization from orphaned children and forced them to undergo unethical training. He was also the one to order Itachi to commit the Uchiha Massacre.
Sarutobi is definitely partly to blame for the actions done by Danzo. The two men were former teammates which caused Sarutobi to be kinder to him than he should have. Sarutobi allowed Danzo to form the Rootorganization because he felt that Danzo's ruthless nature would cover the flaws in his softer rule. But when Danzo ordered the Uchiha Massacre, Sarutobi did do the right thing and disbanded the Root organization and removed Danzo from the Council.
Even though the organization was officially disbanded, Danzo moved the organization underground and continued his immoral actions. Sarutobi was never able to truly remove Danzo from power because he was never able to gather hard evidence against him. The other village elders were also in support of Danzo so Sarutobi couldn't move against him without creating major conflict in the village. Danzo was also active during Minato and Tsunade's terms as Hokage and neither of them was able to get rid of him either. Clearly, Danzo's schemes were outside the reach of the Hokage's power.
When Obito released the Nine-Tails and Minato died sealing it inside of Naruto, Sarutobi returned to his former position as Hokage. Minato's dying words to Sarutobi were that he wanted the village to view Naruto as a hero. Sarutobi was left with an orphaned jinchuriki and a village that needed to be rebuilt.
Once again, Sarutobi attempted to make the best out of a bad situation. He took care of Naruto as best he could. Naruto was given a home, money for food and supplies, and an education. This is far more than most orphans typically received in the world of Naruto. Sarutobi also spent as much time with Naruto as he could and passed down the Will of Fire to him. Hokages are notoriously busy, as has been shown with Naruto's tenure. The Hokage barely has time to spend with their family but Sarutobi did not simply abandon Naruto to his own devices as most fans suggested.
After the Nine-Tails attack, many villagers directed their hate and anger toward Naruto. To help spare him from some of that hate, Sarutobi made it illegal to speak about Naruto's status as a jinchuriki. Sarutobi couldn't force the villagers to be nice toward Naruto but he did try to give Naruto as normal of a childhood as possible. Sarutobi did make clear mistakes as Hokage but most of the failures that occurred were out of his hands. At every tragedy, he tried his hardest to lead his village out of those hardships.