Remembering 'Old Hoss' Radbourn

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Remembering 'Old Hoss' Radbourn

I've been in the journalism profession for more than 50 years so I wasn't surprised when a couple of readerscritics called me to task for presumably overlooking Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn in my survey of the greatest high school baseball players ever produced in Illinois.I didn't overlook Radbourn. Neither did I overlook players such as Rickey Henderson, Fred Lynn, Lonnie Smith and Bret Saberhagen, who were born in Illinois but left before they enrolled in high school.In hindsight, I should have listed Radbourn, a Hall of Famer, with Joe McGinnity, another Hall of Famer, as my second-tier pitching choices behind two other Hall of Famers of more modern vintage who established bigger reputations, Red Ruffing and Robin Roberts.But Radbourn was a product of the underhand pitching era. It is reported that he threw overhand only occasionally. The 5-foot-9, 168-pounder threw a fastball, screwball, sinker, slow curve and dry spitter. His career was over in 1891. He died in 1897 at age 42 of paresis or perhaps brain damage caused by syphilis.He was a fascinating and tragic story. Born in New York, his family moved to Bloomington, Illinois, where he played semipro and minor league baseball before making his major league debut with the Buffalo Bisons in 1880. A butcher by trade, there is no evidence that he ever played high school baseball.In his 12-year career with Buffalo, the Providence Grays, Boston Beaneaters, Boston Reds and Cincinnati Reds, he posted a 309-194 record with a 2.68 earned run average and 1,830 strikeouts.In 1894, he recorded a season for the ages, an achievement that hasn't been approached since and likely never will. He won 59 games, most ever in a single season, and lost 12, finished all 73 of his starts, had 11 shutouts, pitched 678 23 innings, struck out 441 and had an ERA of 1.38.In 1939, he was among 10 players who were inducted in major league baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Also included in the fourth class of inductees in baseball's shrine were Lou Gehrig, Eddie Collins, Wee Willie Keeler, George Sisler, Cap Anson, Charles Comiskey, Albert Spalding, Buck Ewing and Candy Cummings.That should tell you all you need to know about "Old Hoss" and his credentials for baseball immortality.Edward Achorn wrote an entertaining and no-holds-barred book about Radbourn and, according to Amazon.com, you can still purchase it. "Fifty-Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had" provides wonderful insights into Radbourn's career and his once-in-a-lifetime season."It is the tale, too, of the woman Radbourn loved, Carrie Stanhope, thealluring proprietress of a boarding house with shady overtones, a marriedlady who was said to have personally known every man in the NationalLeague," relates the book description. It was published in 2010 by Smithsonian BooksHarper Collins.Achorn, the deputy editorial pages editor for the Providence (R.I.) Journal and a Pulitzer Prize finalist for distinguished commentary, is a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan and a life-long fan of 19th century baseball. As a child in Westborough, Mass., he was astonished to learn that the nearby city of Worcester once had a major league baseball team. It led to his research on Radbourn and the 1884 Providence Grays."I was consciously trying to write a baseball 'Seabiscuit,' a story about a special time in America and some compelling characters who caught the public's imagination as much as about the sport I love madly," Achorn told book reviewer James Bailey, a former associate editor of Baseball America, in an interview in 2010. "Some pretty successful screenwriters in Hollywood have already expressed strong interest."It was a different game in those days. Talk about the "dead ball" era. In 1884, Radbourn's 59-victory season, baseball took a big step toward the product we know today by legalizing the overhand pitch. Until then, pitchers were allowed a running start within the pitcher's box and released the ball from no farther than 50 feet from home plate.There still is some discrepancy over Radbourn's victory total in 1884. At least two creditable sources, MacMillan's "Baseball Encyclopedia" and the current "Sporting News Baseball Record Book," claim he won 60 games. So does his Hall of Fame biography. Other sources credit him with 59. Older sources, including the plaque on his tombstone, claim he won 62.Radbourn would make for a very interesting character if portrayed accurately and realistically on the big screen. In 1886, he became the first public figure to be photographed extending his middle finger to the camera. When he retired and returned to Bloomington, he opened up a successful billiard parlor and saloon. He made some investments but lost most of his wealth in an economic panic.He always had a reputation for being a bit vain. He was seriously injured in a hunting accident, lost an eye, and spent most of the remaining years of his life shut in a backroom of the saloon, too ashamed to be seen after the injury. The name on his tombstone is misspelled.In the 1884 World Series, Radbourn pitched three complete-game victories in three successive days, allowing only 11 hits and no earned runs. Once asked if he ever tired of pitching so often, he replied:"Tired out tossing a little five-ounce baseball for two hours? I used to be a butcher. From 4 in the morning until 8 at night I knocked down steers with a 25-pound sledge. Tired from playing two hours a day for 10 times the money I used to get for 16 hours a day?"I wonder if Jack Nicholson is available for the role.

White Sox: For John Danks, shoulder surgery was a mixed bag

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White Sox: For John Danks, shoulder surgery was a mixed bag

The success rate for baseball players returning from shoulder surgery is awfully low, no matter what your definition of success is. 

Some never make it back to the major leagues. Others do, but for abbreviated stints before they’re forced out of the game. Some, like John Danks, return, but aren’t as effective as they were before going under the knife. 

Last year, FiveThirtyEight.com ran the numbers and found that only 67 percent of players who underwent a shoulder procedure returned to the major leagues (the rate for Tommy John surgery is 80 percent). For those pitchers who did return, they averaged 134 fewer innings per season than they did pre-surgery. 

With that in mind, Danks is somewhat of an outlier. From his return to the mound in 2013 until being designated for assignment by the White Sox this week, Danks threw 532 innings in 88 starts, and actually threw more innings in 2014 and 2015 than he did in 2011, his last full year in the majors before his August 2012 surgery. 

“The mere fact he got back on that mound and contributed to us over the last couple of years is a testament to his makeup, his strength and his character,” general manager Rick Hahn said. 

But no matter how hard Danks worked, and no matter how many adjustments he implemented, the results never returned to their pre-surgery levels. From 2008-2011, Danks looked like one of baseball’s more promising up-and-coming starters, posting a 3.77 ERA over 778 2/3 innings. It’s why the White Sox rewarded him with a five-year, $65 million extension in December of 2011. 

In those 532 innings since his surgery, though, Danks had a 4.84 ERA and allowed more home runs (88) than he did from 2008-2011 (80). 

“He never pointed fingers, he never blamed anyone other than himself,” ace left-hander Chris Sale said. “He was a man about it, he was a professional about it. A lot of people get stuck on the stats and the stuff. Some people don’t come back from the surgery he had.

“Not only did he come back from it, but he pitched with it at the highest level of baseball you can possibly be at.”

Danks’ average fastball velocity dropped from 91.6 mph in 2011 to the upper 80’s from 2013-2015, then plummeted to 87.1 mph in his four starts this season. That’s the most direct effect of Danks’ Aug. 6, 2012 surgery to repair a capsular tear and minor debridements of the rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder. 

Consider this: In Game 163 against the Minnesota Twins in 2008 — arguably the highlight of Danks’ career — the fastest pitch he threw was 95.5 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.net. In his final start with the White Sox April 28 against the Baltimore Orioles, the hardest fastball he threw was 90.5 mph. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind that after the shoulder surgery, he was a different guy,” Hahn said, “and that’s certainly zero fault of John Danks. He did everything in his power to fight back. And really, given the extent of the surgery, I sincerely mean it is impressive how much he was able to contribute after the surgery. 

“The fact that he even got back to the big-league level and the fact that he was able from time to time to put us in position to win ballgames, that’s a huge testament to his work ethic and his competitive spirit. There’s zero doubt in my mind the shoulder surgery changed who he was as a pitcher.”

Danks was able to push through over three years with the White Sox post-surgery, but he never could figure out how to reverse those consistently sub-optimal results. 

But as everyone within the White Sox organization will remind you, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. 

“As far as work ethic and just guts, he had all of that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “That was never a question. He’s always been able to do that and there’s a lot of respect for him in the clubhouse for all the things that he did and one of them’s coming back from an injury and trying to gut through it.” 

Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston rips 'arrogant' Aaron Rodgers in ESPN interview

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Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston rips 'arrogant' Aaron Rodgers in ESPN interview

Three days after the conclusion of the NFL Draft, Lamarr Houston already fired the first shot in the new chapter of the Bears-Packers rivalry.

After the Bears beat the Packers on Thanksgiving night last season, Houston spouted off on Aaron Rodgers, saying, "I give two flying you know what about him. I really don't like that guy."

The Bears linebacker made an appearance on ESPN's SportsNation Monday and further explained his issue with the Green Bay quarterback, including Rodgers' championship belt celebration:

"He's a little arrogant for me," Houston said. "He's a little too arrogant. He's a cheesehead. I'm a Bear; he's a cheesehead. I have a lot of respect for his game, I will say that. He's a great quarterback and as a player, I have a lot of respect for his game. That whole championship belt thing kinda gets on my nerves."

When asked if Rodgers has ever displayed this arrogance on the field besides the celebration, Houston said:

"He's chimed a few words to me before. And I'll keep that to myself."

It's particularly interesting that Houston takes issue with Rodgers' celebrations considering the linebacker tore his ACL celebrating a sack in the Bears' blowout loss to the New England Patriots in 2014.

Houston recorded seven tackles and a sack of Rodgers in that Thanksgiving matchup last season.

The Bears meet the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 7 and host Rodgers and Co. at Soldier Field Week 15 in 2016.

Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov undergoes wrist surgery

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Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov undergoes wrist surgery

Artem Anisimov said last week that he and the Blackhawks had to make the most of this offseason to be prepared for 2016-17. On Tuesday, he took care of something that was apparently ailing him.

Anisimov underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair an injury to his right wrist. Blackhawks team physician Dr. Michael Terry said in a statement that, “the surgery went well. We anticipate his return to full hockey activities in approximately six to eight weeks.”

The 27-year-old center played in 77 regular-season and all seven postseason games for the Blackhawks. He was tied for second on the team with three postseason goals (with Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith).

During last week’s closing meetings, Anisimov said he was going to stay in the Chicago area “for a while” before returning to Russia. He also talked about finding the silver lining in the Blackhawks’ early playoff exit.

“We just need to spend our summer wisely, get prepared for the next season and move forward,” he said.