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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

More than just the baseball, Achorn explains the entire context of the times

  • Feb 1, 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 have fallen, making it appear that all records will eventually be reset.
However, two that clearly are unachievable are Cy Young's record for the number of lifetime wins as a pitcher and Charles Radbourn's for wins in a season. Radbourn won 59 games in the 1884 season as well as three in the subsequent World Series, the first ever played. At a time when 30 wins in a season is an extraordinary achievement, getting nearly twice that seems beyond even the most chemically enhanced star.
Professional baseball in the 1880's was a brutal business, the men played barehanded, there were few provisions for substitution and the men were only a few short rungs on a ladder above slaves. The reserve clause bound a man to an organization for life; his only way out was to retire or to somehow get the team to trade him. Nevertheless, men fought hard for their position on a team, for if they couldn't make a living in baseball, it would have been back to the steel mills, farms, factories or mines, where a man could be crippled or killed with no compensation.
Achorn does an excellent job of setting the complete historical context for Radbourn's incredible season. His detail in describing the state of baseball, the economic and social situations in the United States, ethnic tensions, the plight of the workers and the filth in the cities is exemplary. He pulls no punches in talking about the love many players had for heavy drink and fast women and how it shortened careers and helped determine the champions. Achorn is even very explicit about Radbourn suffering from syphilis and what a scourge it was in the late nineteenth century.
In many ways, this book is a description of life in the United States in the late nineteenth century, how dirty and unforgiving life was and how tough the general and baseball workingman had to be to survive. Modern players will be surprised to hear the stories of batters getting hit in the head by a pitch in a time of no batting helmets and then getting up and continuing the at-bat as there was no awarding of first when you were hit by a pitch. Men were knocked unconscious, had their fingers split and suffered other serious injuries on the field but kept on playing. Radbourn was in near constant pain over the course of the season and was "forced" to consume large amounts of whiskey to keep it at a manageable level. While the emphasis is on the 1884 season, this is a story about life first and baseball second.

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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 . February 24, 2010
Recalling the best season a pitcher ever had....or ever will!!
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 …
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, …
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Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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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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