Remembering 'Old Hoss' Radbourn


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, 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.

Morning Update: Cubs tie up World Series with Game 2 win; Bulls begin season against Celtics

Morning Update: Cubs tie up World Series with Game 2 win; Bulls begin season against Celtics

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Cubs offense settling into World Series groove

Cubs offense settling into World Series groove

CLEVELAND - It doesn't take long for the 2016 Cubs to rebound.

Their American League-style lineup is just simply too talented to keep down for an extended period of time, especially with Kyle Schwarber now added back into the fold.

They Cubs hitters are so confident, they even left Progressive Field feeling good about themselves despite being shut out in Game 1 of the World Series.

The Cubs got on the board early Wednesday night, plating a run on the third batter of the game as Anthony Rizzo doubled home Kris Bryant.

"Take the momentum away. Take the crowd out of it," Bryant said. "It's nice to score first. Especially when you're the visiting team, to get out there and score within the first three batters is huge."

The early lead helped the lineup settle in and keep their foot on the gas for a 5-1 victory to take the series back to Wrigley Field tied one game apiece.

"Especially with a young lineup, I think when you see a few guys go up there and take some good quality at-bats, one happens after the other and the other guys seem to do the same thing," Ben Zobrist said. "It takes a lot of pressure off. When you see other guys having good, quality at-bats, you don't feel like you have to take pitches and you can be aggressive early on. 

"Oftentimes when you're aggressive in the zone is when you take the tough ones. We did a good job tonight laying off some good pitches. When they made mistakes in the zone, we really hit the ball hard. Even though we scored five runs, obviously we had a lot of baserunners on and we could've scored a lot more."

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Zobrist has a point.

The night after leaving nine runners on base and going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, the Cubs left 13 runners on base and tallied just three hits in 12 tries with runners in scoring position.

Between nine hits and eight walks, there were Cubs on base all game. Indians pitchers didn't retire Cubs hitters in order in an inning until the seventh.

The Cubs also forced the Indians to throw 196 pitches in nine innings and worked starter Trevor Bauer to 51 pitches through the first two frames.

"That was good for us," Bryant said. "We saw a lot of their bullpen, so we have a lot of information to learn from and hopefully use in the next game."

Anthony Rizzo summed up the lineup's mentality simply:

"Grind out at-bats, work the pitcher's pitch count up and get the next guy up," he said.

That "pass the baton" mentality is what drives this offense and after a brief lull in that regard in Los Angeles when they were shut out in back-to-back games in the NLCS, the Cubs leave Cleveland feeling pretty good.

"When we're able to [get pitch counts up], you can kinda feel it - our offense really feeds off of that," Zobrist said. "We believe that we're going to break through eventually."