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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Fifty-Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had » User review

Recalling the most incredible season a pitcher ever had....or ever will!!

  • Feb 24, 2010
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Being a avid baseball fan I jumped at the chance to read Edward Achorn's new book "Fifty Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball and the Greatest Season A Pitcher Ever Had".  For one thing Edward Achorn is the deputy editorial page editor for my hometown newspaper The Providence Journal.  As such I have some familiarity with his work. But of even more interest to me was the fact that a good many of the events depicted in "Fifty Nine in '84" took place only about a mile as the crow flies from where I grew up.  You see once upon a time Providence, Rhode Island boasted a Major League baseball franchise.  They were known as the Grays, were a member of the National League and they played their games at a place called the Messer Street Grounds. And in 1884 a pitcher for the Providence Grays by the name of Charles Radbourne fashioned what is arguably the greatest season a baseball pitcher ever had.  "Fifty Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourne, Barehanded Baseball and the Greatest Season A Pitcher Ever Had" offer readers more than a century later the opportunity to relive that remarkable season.  In an era where pitch counts are the rule of the day what one Charles Radbourne was able to acomplish back in 1884 is nothing short of remarkable.  It is a truly riveting story!

For those who have read little about the early history of professional baseball, "Fifty Nine in '84" paints a pretty accurate picture of what conditions were like for the players in those days.  Imagine playing the game of baseball without any gloves!  Consider what that was like for the catcher! Likewise, instead of 4 or 5 man pitching rotations most clubs relied on just two starting pitchers and the pitcher was expected to complete each and every game he started!  The 1884 Providence Grays played a 128 game National League schedule supplemented by a number of exhibition games. There was little time off for these players. The Grays boasted what most observers considered to be the finest 2 man rotation in the league led by the veteran Charles Radbourne followed by a hot-shot youngster named Charlie Sweeney Providence had been a contender throughout the 1883 National League campaign only to fade at the very end.  Charles Radbourne vowed that 1884 would be different.  He would do whatever it took to bring a pennant to Providence.

Now in spite of the fact that Radbourne had thrown a ridiculous number of innings during the previous season and was in constant pain throughout that summer of '84 he proved true to his word.  When the youngster Sweeney self-imploded at mid-season and was ultimately dismissed from the team manager Frank Bancroft was left with precious few options.  The team tried out a few pitchers here and there but the results were usually less than satisfactory.  Meanwhile, Charles Radbourne vowed to shoulder the bulk of the load himself.  As a result, Radbourne would wind up starting an amazing 73 of the teams 128 National League regular season games.  As far as Radbourne was concerned it was now or never.  The Grays management had surrounded their star pitcher with a very talented supporting cast.  If the Grays were ever going to capture the flag it was going to be in 1884.  What Ed Achorn has given us in "Fifty Nine in '84" is a spendid day-by-day recap of the Grays phenomenal 1884 season.  You will be introduced to the players and come to understand what it was like to have to embark on a grueling three week road trip to such National League outposts as Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago.  Playing pro ball in those days was certainly an exhausting way to earn a living!  Achorn also touches upon the personal lives of some of the players.  You will be introduced to Carrie Stanhope, a young lady who ran a boardinghouse in downtown Providence that was frequented by many of the players.  Charles Radbourne was quite taken by this attractive young woman and Achorn speculates that winning her heart was one of Radbourne's major motivators during that memorable '84 campaign.

As the title of the book suggests, Charles Radbourne would win an amazing total of 59 games during his unforgettable season.  It is one of those handful of baseball records that surely can never be broken.  Despite pitching in constant pain Radbourne accomplished the impossible and led the Grays to the National League pennant.  I will not enumerate his final season numbers here but trust me when you see them you will be positively amazed by them. The number of innings this man pitched was astronomical while his ERA was minescule.  In 1939 Charles Radbourne finally received the recognition he so richly deserved when he was inducted into  the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY

Simply stated, "Fifty Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourne, Barehanded Baseball and the Greatest Season A Pitcher Ever Had" is the best baseball book I have ever read.  Edward Achorn grabbed my attention at the outset and simply never let go. This is a well-written and meticulously documented book that is equally suitable for baseball fans, history buffs and general audiences.  Very highly recommended!
Recalling the best season a pitcher ever had....or ever will!! Recalling the best season a pitcher ever had....or ever will!!

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review by . April 10, 2010
While Springsteen's can't-let-go friend "could throw that speedball by you, make you look like a fool boy", 19th-century Major League baseball's best pitcher set his amazing record with a mixture of speed, guile, and strategy. That record--winning 59 games in 1884--is so far beyond today's numbers that fans today can barely relate.    But baseball, as Edward Achorn does a good job documenting for us, was a different game, starting with the barely--bare-handed fielders, mound-less …
review by . March 14, 2010
I am fascinated by professional sports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.   While the players may not have been as big, fast, or strong and modern athletes, they seem a thousand times more rugged and tough.  This book focuses on a pitcher who played in the barehanded  era who holds the professional baseball record for most wins in a season at an unbelievable 59.  Charles Radbourn, or “Old Hoss,” played from 1880 to 1991, mostly with the Providence Grays.  …
review by . February 25, 2010
Fifty Nine in 84 takes you back to before the "modern" era of baseball, where teams consisted of maybe 13 players. Players didn't use gloves and hard drinking, hard fighting and short careers were the norm in baseball.    Edward Achorn brings to life the era that even the most ardent fans know little about, painting a picture of the rough and unforgiving world of the 19th century where crippling injury, disease and sudden death were norms to be dealt with rather than unexpected …
review by . February 10, 2010
These days, when overpaid pitchers are pampered like prima donnas, only pitching with several days rest, and hardly ever pitching a complete game, this book is a welcome look into a time in baseball when pitchers were real "workhorses".    Most teams only carried two pitchers on their rosters, and these two were supposed to alternate in pitching games. Of course, when one was injured, or couldn't pitch for one reason or another, all of the pitching duties fell on the other fellow, …
review by . February 01, 2010
Some people tend to discount the baseball records that were set before the twentieth century, finding one excuse or another to diminish the achievements of the men on the field. While it is true that some of the rules were different, especially concerning the actions of the pitcher, the game still required the same skills to succeed. For decades, two of the records that were considered unattainable were Ty Cobb's record for total hits and Lou Gehrig's string of consecutive games. Both of these records …
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In his first book, Achorn, an editor at theProvidence Journal, takes an in-depth look into the game of baseball when it was still in its infancy, especially the hard-nosed players rarely seen in today's incarnation of the national pastime, including one of the greatest pitchers that most of today's fans know nothing about. In the 1884 season, pitching for Providence, R.I., Radbourn—the son of English immigrants—endured one of the most grueling summers imaginable in willing his team to the pennant. The stress on his right arm, which caused such deterioration that he couldn't comb his own hair, also gave him a baseball record of 59 wins that will never be broken, in a year of unparalleled brilliance. Achorn wonderfully captures this era of the sport—when pitchers threw balls at batters' heads, and catchers, playing barehanded, endured such abuse that some would need fingers amputated. It's no wonder that, in some circles, as Achorn writes, baseball was thought to be one degree above grand larceny, arson, and mayhem, and those who engaged in it were beneath the notice of decent society. From the early stars of the game to archaic rules that seem silly by today's standards, there's plenty to devour (and learn) for even the biggest of baseball savants.(Mar.)
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Books, Baseball, Sports Books, Baseball Books, Baseball History, Sports Biographies, Baseball Player Biographies, Charles Radbourn, Edward Achorn


ISBN-10: 0061825867
ISBN-13: 978-0061825866
Author: Edward Achorn
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs, Sports
Publisher: Smithsonian
Date Published: March 16, 2010
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