Chicago Cubs

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.

The Streak ends as Cubs watch Wade Davis finally blow a save: ‘It’s definitely on me’

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USA TODAY

The Streak ends as Cubs watch Wade Davis finally blow a save: ‘It’s definitely on me’

MILWAUKEE – The efficient, emotionless way Wade Davis did his job helped the Cubs stay afloat during the disappointing first half of this season, a time when late-inning losses could have really damaged the clubhouse and the defending World Series champs might have collapsed.  

Standing at his locker, Davis had the same stone-faced expression on his bearded face after Saturday afternoon’s 4-3 walk-off loss, the third straight 10-inning game the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers have played at Miller Park. Because Davis had been 32-for-32 in save chances this year, the Cubs could appreciate all the heart-pounding action and how this compared to October.  

“We 100 percent won that game today, it seemed like,” Davis said in his monotone voice. “The offense and everything was incredible, coming back twice. It’s definitely on me.”

It was jarring to watch Travis Shaw drive a hanging curveball over the fence in left-center field and into the Milwaukee bullpen. Teammates waited for Shaw at home plate with Gatorade buckets after that game-winning two-run homer, showering him and tearing his jersey apart amid the mosh pit, the Brewers still clinging to their hopes in the National League wild-card race.

The perfect season already ended for Davis in the ninth inning, when Orlando Arcia hammered a misplaced 92-mph fastball that stayed just inside the left-field foul pole and landed in the second deck.

The crowd of 44,067 watched Davis blow his first save since Sept. 2, 2016, which also happened to be his first game back in the Kansas City Royals bullpen after spending more than a month on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right elbow.

“There’s nothing to lament right there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Another intensely good baseball game. And they got us at the end. But there’s no way, shape or form to point a finger at Wade.”

Davis wasn’t pointing a finger at Maddon and doing an Aroldis Chapman impression, but the All-Star closer did admit: “My arm was dragging a little bit.”

The Cubs had used Davis five times within the last eight days, including a back-to-back-to-back last weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals and then asking him to get five outs in Thursday night’s 10-inning comeback win over Milwaukee. Until Saturday’s comeback, the Brewers had been 0-54 when trailing after eight innings.  

“I just made a lot of bad pitches,” Davis said, who had converted his last 38 save chances and set a new franchise record to begin his Cubs career/set him up for a big contract this winter as a free agent.

Maddon, who will face another round of bullpen-management questions when the playoffs begin, had Hector Rondon warming up in the 10th inning, but the right-hander threw a scoreless inning on Friday night, his first appearance since Sept. 8 after getting treated for a sore elbow.

“If we did not score when we scored, I would have brought Rondon into the game,” Maddon said. “But once we scored, I put him back out there. It was a pretty easy equation.

“He’s your best guy. There’s no second-guessing whatsoever. He was fine to go back out there.”

What did The Streak mean to you?

“Not much,” Davis said. “I obviously wanted to win today’s game and put us in a better position than we were yesterday. So it kind of stinks, but, you know, move on from it.”

That summed up the entire mood inside the visiting clubhouse, the Cubs pointing to a dominant Kyle Hendricks start (one run in six innings), Justin Wilson auditioning for a trusted role out of the playoff bullpen (four outs) and a resourceful lineup that manufactured offense without hitting home runs.  

“It’s been a hell of a series so far,” Hendricks said.

The magic number to eliminate the Brewers from the division race remains four, while the Cardinals were at five heading into their Saturday night game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs can’t wait to unleash Davis in October.

“There’s no difference between these three games and the games that are going to occur the next month,” Maddon said. “They were absolutely that intense.”

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

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USA TODAY

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

It’s been more than two weeks since Carlos Rodon was shut down for the season, one day after he was scratched from a start with shoulder inflammation.

And while we know Rodon won’t pitch again in 2017 — a season with just a little more than a week remaining for the rebuilding White Sox — the team still doesn’t know, or still isn’t ready to say, exactly what’s wrong with the former first-round draft pick.

“We’re just trying to get it right,” Rodon said before Saturday night’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals. “Still trying to figure everything out and take everything we can and put it all together to get the most information and do what’s best for me and for this team.”

That kind of non-update might raise some red flags in the minds of White Sox fans, curious as to what is the latest ailment for a pitcher who missed three months this season while recovering from biceps bursitis.

Rodon was slated to get reevaluated shortly after that early September injury. He was, but no news came of it, at least not yet.

“Pretty similar to what our doc said,” Rodon said of that follow-up evaluation. “Like I said, we’re trying to still gather all the information and figure out what we’re going to do from there.”

Rodon ended his third season in the bigs with a 4.15 ERA in 69.1 innings of work. And while the White Sox still believe he’ll be a huge part of their starting staff moving forward, it’s plenty acceptable to wonder what kind of effects this season of injuries will have on Rodon as the franchise’s rebuild chugs along.

“He continues to be a big part of what we believe is the future of the organization,” manager Rick Renteria said after explaining several times that the team is still trying to figure out what’s wrong with Rodon. “Unfortunately, this year he's been down quite a bit. So assuming he comes back in a good situation and is healthy and is capable of going out and performing, he fits into one of the five guys that are going to be out there for us next season.”

For his part, Rodon is 100-percent confident he’ll be good to go for next year’s campaign.

“I just know that I’ll be ready for next season,” Rodon said. “The goal is to be ready for next year and be healthy through all of next season.”

That, though, will be the million-dollar question as the White Sox starting rotation of the future begins to take shape. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are already penciled in for 2018, and Michael Kopech’s 2017 campaign in the minors was so sensational, he could potentially pitch himself into that starting five, too. With younger names like Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning also doing work in the minors, someone’s going to be the odd man out.

Rodon still has the confidence of his organization. But will he have the health to make that confidence pay off?