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Fifty-Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had Hardcover – March 16, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
In his first book, Achorn, an editor at the Providence 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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"This is a beautifully written, meticulously researched story about a bygone baseball era that even die-hard fans will find foreign, and about a pitcher who might have been the greatest of all time." (Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer prize-winning historian and devoted Red Sox fan )
Beautifully written and impeccably researched, Fifty-Nine in '84 is the best book out there on 19th-century baseball. Old Hoss Radbourn would be pleased that he is finally getting his due-and angry that it took so long. (Cait Murphy, author of CRAZY '08 )
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The view of 1884 Providence should make the green movement re-think the good old days of a clean America. Despite our increasing carbon footprint, I'll take today's air pollution anytime. Achorn describes cities with a powerful smell of unbathed men, feces from horses, smoke from mills, and open sewage and garbage from residents. The ballpark was one form of reasonably priced entertainment and an escape from the grind of daily life.
Now the main subject Hoss Radbourne deserves admiration from today's six inning pitchers throwing about 32 times a year. Radbourne was a workhorse starting over 70 games, pitching over 650 innings and winning 59 times. Most pitchers had very short careers due to the obvious strain on the arm. Radbourne actually lasted a normal length career and that is amazing. He was Nolan Ryan like in having a rubber arm.
The players of the 1880's were generally of Irish or English lineage. They were sons of working men as few upper class families wanted their sons to become ball players. The players of the 1880s, although well known and revered, were seen as working class lads and not a profession for the well-educated.
Achorn has done a masteful job mixing descriptions of games with colorful historical anectodes about life in the rough times of the 1880's. Most players were drinkers, frequent users of prostitutes and not above throwing games for a bit of the gamblers share. The good old days were certainly rough ones. One of the most interesting things was that players were frequenltly ill from tainted water, malaria, TB and other common ailments before sanitation was the norm and anti-biotics were invented. Given a roster of only 13 players, there were few rest days allowed.