30 baseball books in 30 days of ’10: Day 11 — Don’t cross good ol’ Old Hoss

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From today’s “Writing On (and off) The Wall” column (linked here), that’s Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, standing on the left, during a 1886 team photo of the Boston Beaneaters and New York Highlanders at the Polo Grounds in New York. If you can, note what he’s doing with his left hand.

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The book: “Fifth-nine in ’84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball & The Greatest Season A Pitcher Ever Had”

The author: Edward Achorn

The vital stats: Harper, 366 pages with appendix, sources, notes and index, $25.99

Find it: We like Powells.com (linked here)

The pitch: For a guy who couldn’t even get his name spelled right on his headstone at the Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington, Ill. — they added a superfluous “e” on the end — Old Hoss deserves this correction to history.

On his Baseball Hall of Fame bio (linked here), it says Charles Radburn “was the author of the winningest season in big league history: 60 victories in 1884.”

The classic MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia, as well as the current Sporting News Baseball Record Book, both credit Radbourn with 60 wins, too. But the baseball reference and baseball almanac links give Radbourn 59 wins. Some older sources (such as his tombstone plaque) counted as high as 62.

There was a game in July when he came in as a reliever, and his team, the Providence Grays, ended up winning. By today’s official scoring standards, he would not have been awarded the win; back then, he was. So, that total is up to some debate, but it’s why the name of the book is as it is.

And any way you twist it, a 59-12 record by a pitcher — during a 112-game season — is pretty ridiculous. He also led the league with a 1.38 ERA, 441 strike outs, 75 games pitched, 73 games started, 73 complete games and 678 2/3 innings pitched. To top it off, he also won all three games in the first so-called World Series against the American Association’s New York Metropolitans (a best-of-three at the Polo Grounds, so after winning the first two, the third one was just an exhibition of sorts).

But this goes far beyond the stats.


Radbourn endured a season of a sore arm, a feud with another star pitcher on the staff, a week-long suspension, a threat to leave the team at midseason and join the rival Union League so he could be closer to home, a return to the team after it was promised he could break the reserve clause and be free after the season, and a love affair with a local woman, Carrie Stanhope, still married but operating a boarding house.

She’s probably the reason he stayed in Providence after leading them to the world championship, giving himself a raise to $4,000. As the Boston Globe wrote about him: “Radbourn has made a record which will probably never be equaled in the history of base ball. No man in the profession ever deserved (more) what is due him. He has fulfilled his promise and has the satisfaction of knowing that he has done what probably no other man in the world could do.”

It’s a movie in the making, thanks to the research and prose of Achorn, an editor of the New Providence Journal who takes pride in setting the scene of his hometown and how baseball was much different than it is today — no gloves (even the catchers, for the most part), pitchers moving around in a “pitchers’ box,” a new rule that allowed hurlers to throw overhand (which wasn’t all that beneficial to the catcher).

We’re only two decades removed from the Civil War, teams made of hard drinkers, uneducated, profane, violent. Pud Galvin and Cap Anson were the bigger names of the time, but Radburn was the Cy Young Award winner before Cy Young even took the mound.

Radburn, just 5-foot-9 and 168 pounds, played for $3,000 but still felt undervalued considering he was asked to throw nearly every day and the year before won a record 48 games. He was much more of a Greg Maddux-type, relying on pinpoint control and change of speed, going underhand and sidearm, and having to change since he often pitched on back-to-back-to-back days.

The greatest feat of the season was a four-game set against rival Boston. In pushing Providence from a one-game lead in the standings to a five-game lead, Radburn threw every inning (38), won all four games, didn’t give up an earned run and had three shutouts as he “bamboozled the enemy hitters.”

Radbourn, who died at age 42 with a career mark of 309-195 and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in ’39, got his nickname because he was as strong as a horse. He was also credited by some as the one responsible for the phrase “Charlie Horse” as he limped home scoring a run.

Again, the history is a little sketchy there. But that’s just part of the fun of reading this one.

For a guy who couldn’t even get his name spelled right on his headstone at the Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington, Ill. — they added a superfluous “e” on the end — Old Hoss deserves this correction to history.

On his Baseball Hall of Fame bio (linked here), it says Charles Radburn “was the author of the winningest season in big league history: 60 victories in 1884.”

The classic MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia, as well as the current Sporting News Baseball Record Book, both credit Radbourn with 60 wins, too. But the baseball reference and baseball almanac links give Radbourn 59 wins. Some older sources (such as his tombstone plaque) counted as high as 62

There was a game in July when he came in as a reliever, and his team, the Providence Grays, ended up winning. By today’s official scoring standards, he would not have been awarded the win; back then, he was. So, that total is up to some debate, but it’s why the name of the book is as it is.

And any way you twist it, a 59-12 record by a pitcher — during a 112-game season — is pretty ridiculous. He also led the league with a 1.38 ERA, 441 strike outs, 75 games pitched, 73 games started, 73 complete games and 678 2/3 innings pitched. To top it off, he also won all three games in the first so-called World Series against the American Association’s New York Metropolitans (a best-of-three at the Polo Grounds, so after winning the first two, the third one was just an exhibition of sorts).

But this goes far beyond the stats. Radbourn endured a season of a sore arm, a feud with another star pitcher on the staff, a week-long suspension, a threat to leave the team at midseason and join the rival Union League so he could be closer to home, a return to the team after it was promised he could break the reserve clause and be free after the season, and a love affair with a local woman, Carrie Stanhope, still married but operating a boarding house.

She’s probably the reason he stayed in Providence after leading them to the world championship, giving himself a raise to $4,000. As the Boston Globe wrote about him: “Radbourn has made a record which will probalby never be equalled in the history of base ball. No man in the profession ever deserved (more) what is due him. He has fulfilled his promise and has the satisfaction of knowing that he has done what probably no other man in the world could do.”

It’s a movie in the making, thanks to the research and prose of Achorn, an editor of the New Providence Journal who takes pride in setting the scene of his hometown and how baseball was much different than it is today — no gloves (even the catchers, for the most part), pitchers moving around in a “pitchers’ box,” a new rule that allowed hurlers to throw overhand (which wasn’t all that beneficial to the catcher),

We’re only two decades removed from the Civil War, teams made of hard drinkers, uneducated, profane, violent. Pud Galvin and Cap Anson were the bigger names of the time, but Radburn was the Cy Young Award winner before Cy Young even took the mound.

Radburn, just 5-foot-9 and 168 pounds, played for $3,000 but still felt undervalued considering he was asked to throw nearly every day and the year before won a record 48 games. He was much more of a Greg Maddux-type, relying on pinpoint control and change of speed, going underhand and sidearm, and having to change since he often pitched on back-to-back-to-back days.

The greatest feat of the season was a four-game set against rival Boston. In pushing Providence from a one-game lead in the standings to a five-game lead, Radburn threw every inning (38), won all four games, didn’t give up an earned run and had three shutouts as he “bamboozled the enemy hitters.”

Radbourn, who died at age 42 with a career mark of 309-195 and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in ’39, got his nickname because he was as strong as a horse. He was also credited by some as the one responsible for the phrase “Charlie Horse” as he limped home scoring a run.

Again, the history is a little sketchy there. But that’s just part of the fun of reading this one.

How it goes down in the scorebook: A well-deserved W. Maybe the one he was missing by some accounts.

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Also: Did you need a closeup of Radbourn from the photo above?

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  • http://dmbworldseriesreplay.wordpress.com/ Kevin Graham

    Tom,

    I just finished this book, and it really would make a great movie. You didn’t mention it, but Old Hoss gets a little “flippant” on the front cover of the book as well.

    Kevin