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Showing 1-10 of 50 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 98 reviews
on March 14, 2016
Wow. This has to be my all-time, favorite baseball book now. I love the stories. National League 1884 had teams that would become the Phillies, Cubs, Braves and Giants plus the Buffalo Bisons, Providence Grays, Cleveland Blues and Detroit Wolverines. Going out West was three day train ride to Chicago. All the players were iron men. No player substitutions unless a severe injury. Rules were changing. Begin pitching overhand. Pitch from the box instead of a mound. At 50 feet. Batters still call for high or low strike zones. No free base for hit by pitch. No strikes for foul balls. No gloves to speak of. Catchers try to back up to catch pitches on the bounce. Brutal. Baseball greats Dan Brouthers, Ned Williamson, King Kelly, Cap Anson, Montgomery Ward, Ned Hanlon, etc. Before automobiles. Not long after Billy the Kid. Telephones have been around just a few years. Cities were polluted and dangerous. It was hard to earn a living. But baseball reporters around the league were rabidly enthusiastic in documenting all the fun!
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on May 1, 2017
Pretty good read that also gives a feel for not only how the game was played in the 1880's but also how it was enjoyed by the "cranks" in the team's cities. It's an honest account seldom but sometimes taking liberties with how Ol' Hoss or some other histrionic character finds their motivation placing what the author believes their motivation is (but he takes care to note when he does so). While a historical look I think the subject of the book would have made a great novel.
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on April 10, 2010
I have read most of the books on 19th century Baseball. Achorn has done a wonderful job re-creating what it was like to play in an era where baseball games were arduous and perilous pursuits. These athletes played with no protection other than rudimentary thin gloves. Pitchers were closer than they are to home plate and frequently threw at players with the intent of hitting them. Since players wore no helmets, I can imagine the fear of facing the hard throwers.

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.
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on March 1, 2015
Achorn writes about teams, fans and their families. Showing the fans' enjoyment of a brief escape from the routine struggles of life. Vivid descriptions of the people on and off the field give a sense of life in the last part of the 19th century. From farming to jobs in dirty factories, even women and children laboring in shops and mills, the country was evolving. Baseball was a way for people to relax and wind down (or get pretty wound up!) Following crowds to the park and anticipation as the team took the field you feel the player's excitement and competitive drive, their resolve to play hard in a rough bare-handed version of today's game. The almost hero-like worship of the town when they won, and the chase for the glory of taking the pennant that drove them to play through injury and pain. No relief pitchers, no pinch hitting or runners, substitution was only rarely allowed and then when a player almost had to be carried off the field. The player that gives all he has to impress the girl he admires and the interaction between the players and public, as well as the coaches, managers and owners. A fast read, one of the best books on the early days of the game!
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on May 20, 2013
I have always wanted to read this book and I finally purchased it recently . I share the same hometown (Bloomington,Il) and much of my family (as well as myself eventually) is buried within shouting distance of Hoss himself at Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington, Illinois. I have also heard the legend of the player and so my interest was high. This book is one of the not too many that covers a long forgotten era of baseball history that seems to be completely overlooked as many assume that the modern game much have started at the first official AL NL World Series in about 1903. It gets about the same treatment as the NFL before the Super Bowl, which makes no sense to me but that's a whole nother debate. I have read many baseball books that were quite boring despite the subject matter because the author writes the book as some kind of narrative, never deviating from the main subject . They read like newspaper accounts and not good reads. This author brilliantly blended together a picture of life after the Civil War, before automobiles, and during the industrial pollution days before 1900. It paints a picture of the hard times for many and shows why the players were the way they were for the most part, tough. The players were under the unjust reserve clause in these days and at the whims of their team owners at the risk of being blackballed from future employment . Even in those days, the ballplayers made a much better living than a lot of the working stiffs that toiled long hours in the factories or fields. The book shows the constant toil and boredom of being a player before 4 star hotels and air travel made the world a much smaller place. In this era Chicago was like going to the other end of the earth from Boston by train. The book also details Hoss love affair with a local "house" operator and the role that played in his career decisions and life. But above all, this was a story about a team of players that can be seen as the ultimate underdogs, coming from a city much smaller than their league counterparts in NY and Boston, Providence RI., but still triumphing over them on the field in one magic season. Providence, R.I. was king of the baseball world for this glorious season in which Radbourne did something historic that will never be done again. He won 58 games, plus three postseason against a rival league, and singlehandedly pitched day after day , despite excruciating arm pain, and won game after game after game to secure the pennant . This feat, in my opinion, trumps all the other more hyped modern feats of DiMaggio's Hitting streak , Williams .400 average , etc. So, in short, for both baseball lovers and history lovers , this is a great read , about a subject and an era of baseball history that seems to have been long forgotten by most. One of the better baseball books I have read, couldn't recommend it highly enough, and really am looking forward to reading Edward Achorn other book on this era, that deals with another baseball character named Chris Von Der Ahe , a team owner.
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on August 2, 2017
Great read, as much for those interested in life in the late stages of the 19th century as for the baseball history buffs.
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on June 17, 2011
If you are a baseball fan -- especially of the history of the game -- this book is for you.

This is the tale of Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn(e), who pitched the Providence Grays to the National League pennant in 1884. That he did that wasn't just the story, however. It's of how he took the Grays upon his back and carried them to the championship by winning 59 games (or 60, pending on sources) during the regular season. Despite pain and without the courtesy of modern training regimens, Old Hoss did something likely never to be duplicated in the game of baseball. (Or, base ball, as it was known back then).

Edward Achorn takes us through a bit of Radbourn's career, but specifically the 1884 season. His writing style is interesting, especially as he shows a bit of the 1884 "sportswriter" way of doing things. His research is deep and it shows that some things will never be uncovered as at times he has to presume or assume certain things, but makes sure to point out things like that. It was, after all, 1884 and I'm quite sure certain things were not recorded as they are today.

Achorn takes us through Radbourn's battled with fellow star pitcher Charlie Sweeney and manager Frank Bancroft. He gives us glimpses of some of Radbourn's colorful teammates, such as catcher Barney Gilligan and first baseman Joe Start. In fact, Achorn gives us a solid glance for most of the 1884 Grays, showing some interesting folks along the way. He also does a good job in showing some great battles Radbourn and the Grays had with heated rivals the Boston Beaneaters and Chicago White Stockings (who would, eventually, become the Cubs).

Old Hoss Radbourn was quite a character. Quiet and trying to stay out of the limelight, he was something else and he's portrayed well in this book. The reader really gets a chance to dig into this person and get to know him as well as possible, considering he died before the turn of the century into the 1900s.

If you love baseball history, this book is probably something you could delve into. It's filled with interesting things from the game's early years.

Now for my thoughts...

THE GOOD

I had been looking forward to reading this book for a while. I finally ponied up and got it for my Kindle (though I think a hard copy might be better, considering some of the items Achorn has picked out to have as images. Some of the things were hard to read on the Kindle, such as scorecards and such, but that's not Achorn's fault by any means).

The research in this book is quite good. It really paints a good picture not only of what baseball was like in 1884, but what life was like in those times. Things weren't easy. Baseball wasn't easy. With no gloves, it was quite tough to play the game. Especially being as the National League, at that point, had switched to the new pitching rule to allow overhand delivery. Catchers took a beating. Players took a beating.

This book shows all of that.

The descriptions of the players, rivals and game was excellent. I could easily picture the stadiums, the players, the uniforms, the pitches and outs by the way it was written. It took me back to 1884, which is something I would want in a book like this.

The best part of this book is the history, without a doubt. The game as it is today is nothing compared to 1884. It really shows one what the game has done over time to blossom and grow. If I could hop into a time machine and morph back to 1884 to watch a game between Boston and Providence at Messer Street Grounds, I feel I would be aptly prepared because of this book. I would gladly pay 50 cents to watch that game.

THE BAD

The book tends to get jumpy at times. With quite long chapters, Achorn bounces around a bit in each one. He'll start on something, which will then lead to a side story or two. Then, he'll pop back to the original story. At times, it got confusing and frustrating to read this style. It might have been good to have some sub-titles and such inside the chapters, just to break it up a little. I liked the side stories, don't get me wrong, I just didn't like that it seemed at times that they just showed up etc.

And this might be the journalist/English teacher in me, but sometimes the writer would use a quote and say something like "Bancroft recalled..." I understand that the quote came from the research and from a newspaper or something along those lines, but I would have liked to have seen a little more attribution with it. To be fair, the back of the book has so much attribution, it's not funny. Still, it's something that was pounded in my head during college and during my years of working at a newspaper, so sometimes I cringe when I see things like that!

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Again, I would highly encourage baseball history fans to read this book. It's an excellent read. However, it's not what I would call a "page turner." It's not one of those books that I couldn't wait to get back to or would sit reading for several hours each night. With the long chapters, I often found myself reading one chapter in a night and calling it good. There were a few times I would go a couple of days without reading. But I was always interested in the next chapter and in watching how the season unfolded. I never wanted to stop reading the book, which is a good thing, and I did really enjoy it. It's a slower-paced book that really gave a history lesson. For that, I was happy.

RATING

Originally, I wanted to give this something in the 3.5 range, but after thinking about it, I think it's a solid 4 stars. It's a strong read. Though the style, at times, is maddening, overall it's a very good book and worth reading. Especially if you are a baseball or baseball history fan.

On a side note, you can see Old Hoss in modern times on Twitter (@OldHossRadbourn).
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on July 18, 2010
Even those whose interest in baseball is modest will love this book. Although the author tells a spell-binding story of a man who some still regard as the best pitcher that ever played the game, "Fifty-Nine in `84" is more than just a sports story - it's a fascinating picture of life in America in 1884 in Providence, Rhode Island, and of one man's determination to excel in his chosen field.

Baseball (or, as they called it then, base ball) was then in its infancy. Although the rules were similar to what they are today, there were many differences. Pitchers rarely left a game they had started, and there were usually only two pitchers on a roster; overhand pitching had just begun in 1884. There was one umpire to a game, and he was often biased. There were no gloves, even for catchers (nor did they have face or chest protectors). It was a rough game, played by rough men. A typical salary was below $3,000 per season (about $70,300 in today's dollars, based upon the author's calculations).

The legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, in1924, called Charley "Old Hoss" Radbourne "the greatest pitcher I ever saw." Rice had good reason; Radbourne pitched for the Provident Grays, a leading team in the young National League in the 1880s, and his season in 1884, when he won 59 games (with an ERA of 1.38) and pitched 73 complete games of 75 started, was perhaps the best season ever recorded by a major league pitcher. This story, alone, in which Radbourne almost always began each game with a horribly painful arm, is worth the price of the book.

But there is much more in "Fifty-Nine in '84." We learn what life was like, both inside baseball and in society in general, 20 years following the end of the Civil War. This is the story of wealth and poverty, shady business practices, houses of ill-repute, and hard-drinking and wide-ranging citizen behavior - both loathsome and highly honorable. It was a time of great confusion, of getting ahead, and of old-fashioned values. Those who love American history will particularly like this book, even if only marginal sports fans.

More importantly, however, this is the story of one man's grit and determination to prove himself the very best in the face of great pain, frequent scorn and excessively demanding fans and owners. Radbourne had an amazing inner drive to succeed at any cost to his perpetually-aching body. He was taciturn and brooding, but, as the author concludes, he "always preferred to let his pitching - that supreme expression of his grit, talent, and brains - do the talking for him."
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on June 7, 2010
Fifty-Nine in '84 is an excellent telling of the story of a man who would become one of baseball's first 300-game winners as well as one of its first superstars. Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn became one of the greatest pitchers as well one of the most eccentric personalities during an era largely forgotten by the avergae base ball (to use the 19th century wording) fan. "Old Hoss" became the toast of the town due both to his pitching prowess as well as his fondness for the bottle. He put together, quite possibly, the most extraordinary single-season pitching EVER - 59 wins, 73 Complete Games, 678.2 Innings Pitched, 441 Strikeouts, 11 Shutouts, 98 Walks, and a 1.38 ERA - during an era when you, generally, pitched until your arm fell off, which is pretty much what "Old Hoss" did. In fact, the pain in his arm was so great that he often had to drown it in whiskey. Radbourn won 309 games over the course of a relatively short 11 year career.

Two little known facts have emerged about Charlie. In 1886, members of the Boston Braves and New York Giants posed for a photograph on Opening Day. In it, Radbourn is seen giving the cameraman the finger, making him, according to popular belief, the first celebrity athlete to do so. Another little known fact emerged from one of the rivalry games between Boston and Providence. Radbourn was rounding Third and heading for Home when he suddenly developed a cramp. Hispanic Third Baseman, Sandy Nova, who spoke broken English, noticed what was happening and said, "Hey! What'sa malla you, Charley Hoss?" This incident supposedly gave rise to the term, "Charley Horse".

I would recommend this book to any baseball fan so that might get a better understanding of what The Game was like before there were such things as pitch counts, starting rotations, bullpens, setup men, or closers.
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on June 10, 2011
This is a fascinating look into the life and times of Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourne, who won more games in the major leagues than any other pitcher, ever, during the 1880s, when baseball was young. The amount of research that's woven into the narrative of Radbourne is amazing: we learn what Providence, R.I., was like, what the ballpark looked like, how people dressed, what they ate and drank at the ballpark (water was offered in a bucket and the ladle was passed from person to person), what train travel was like, and how the lives of umpires were threatened. We learn all of these things naturally, in context, as the story of Radbourne's season moves forward. This is a major accomplishment.

The story disappoints when the author speculates about Carrie Stanhope, presumably a prostitute, who ran a boarding house and later became Radbourne's wife. Set against the facts mentioned above, the speculation just doesn't work -- it takes the story out of the real and into the fictional, and the reader is left wondering what the attraction of speculation is, set against the fascinating facts.

The Radbourne story itself, as told here, is a must-read. Highly recommended to all.
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