Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Old Hoss Radbourne

A brief aside.  Not everyone is a serious baseball fan.  Yes, in particular I am thinking of my small but devoted following from Serbia who visit the site hoping for more pictures of dogs in silly outfits.  So a brief explanation is in order.

In the modern age if a pitcher wins 20 games in a season, or even if he just pitches over 200 innings, well, he is an anchor of the team, a guy who can demand and receive a salary of millions of dollars per year.  The very best of the bunch, winners of the annual Cy Young award sometimes win a few more than that.  The last player to win over 30 games was back in the 1960s, and that was considered a fluke.

Here are comments on this state of affairs, straight from Charles Radbourne:

##%%**!!!! PANSIES! What bunch of %%##!!! CREAMPUFFS!

I am of course acting as spiritual interlocutor, and censor,  for the long departed Mr. Radbourne, a rough hewn fellow who holds baseball records that are not merely unchallengeable, but inconceivable.

Charles Radbourne, nicknamed "Old Hoss" was born in 1854.  A remarkably strong young man he for a time worked at a slaughterhouse where it was his job to dispatch cattle by smacking them between the eyes with a 25 pound sledgehammer. 

His 11 year career as a Major League pitcher started in 1880, and is mostly remembered for his astounding 1884 season with the Providence Grays.  Providence was a troubled club, and actually came close to disbanding mid season.  One of their two pitchers, a disagreeable fellow named Sweeny, showed up drunk for his start in the July 22nd game.  Even drunk he threw well, but continued to drink in the dugout during the game and eventually was asked to leave, still leading 6-2.  He left all right, storming off the field and quitting the team.

With no other real options, Radbourne volunteered to pitch the rest of the season.  Think about it, in the modern era teams generally carry a five man starting rotation Providence had......Old Hoss.

Radbourne ended the 1884 season with some outrageous stats.

20 game winner?  How about a 59 game winner!  (60 games by some counts).

200 innings pitched?  Oh, lets try 678.  For that matter he was over 600 the previous year too with a two man staff.

Radbourne threw 73 complete games-out of necessity.  Some entire modern day teams go a season without one being thrown.

As to that magical 20 games won, why, Old Hoss at one point had an 18 game winning streak going.

At season's end Radbourne was 59-12, and Providence had captured the pennant.

Of course he paid a price, by season's end his arm was so sore that he could not raise it to comb his hair, and it took him hours to warm up to pitch, his first few efforts being pathetic lobs with no strength to them. 

But he went on to a fine career, ending up with a 309-194 record and an enviable 2.68 earned run average.

His post baseball career was short and unhappy.  The reigning Cy Young award winner for 2010 in the National League is a gent named Roy Halladay.  If he does as well this year he will be paid roughly one million dollars per win.  Charles Radbourne seems to have never been paid more than $7,500 a season.

In retirement he ran a pool hall, but was seriously disfigured in a hunting accident.  He died in 1897 at age 42, possibly of syphilis.

Burleigh Grimes and Charles Radbourne make an interesting pair.  Both determined, gritty pitchers of considerable skill, although that of Radbourne has to be regarded as being of near supernatural quality.  Grimes lived on into a long, slightly mellower retirement, but Radbourne died young.

Nobody will ever come close to his impossible 1884 season.  If, and I rather doubt it, there walks among us some heroic demi-god with an arm like Old Hoss he would never be given the chance to pursue these records.  His manager would be fired-or perhaps committed to a lunatic asylum-for even considering throwing a pitcher at this brutal pace.

Obviously Old Hoss has been recognized by election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As to whether he also was the origin of the term "Charley Horse", tune in next time.....

Wikipedia on Old Hoss
Someone ought to write a book about him!
A lengthy discussion of his career

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