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Fifty-nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had Paperback – February 22, 2011
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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)
About the Author
Edward Achorn, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for distinguished commentary, is the deputy editorial pages editor of the Providence Journal.
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Top Customer Reviews
1884 was a time when Irish and Englishmen reigned in baseball. Professional sports was a means to vent their cultural and political differences out on the ball field toward each other. Sabotage, corruption and off-field assaults and attempted murders were commonfold, and the paying American public seems to have wanted more of that. These hard-drinking, tobacco-spitting gloveless players were a cacophony of characters, all which make this read all the more entertaining. 1884 was the time when city teams still had names that related to their town: the Buffalo Bisons, the Boston Beaneaters, the Chicago White Stockings, and they played for the National League, the American Association, or the short-lived Union Association.
Achorn weaves the history of corporate Baseball with the life story of Radbourn. Baseball players of the 1880s were non-union players who were owned by the team. They were luckily to earn a few hundred dollars a month. If they were injured they didn't play, and if they didn't play, they either didn't earn their keep or they made a few dollars taking tickets from the entering crowd. All this affected Radbourn's career decisions. "Traveling hooligans," as many baseball players were referred to by non-fans, were not much admired by the general public, but for the team owners and the paying fans, they were the beginning of corporate sports. They were also a part of the growth of American Industry, and with it its corruption.Read more ›
This enjoyable, delightfully-written, and well-structured book deals with his career, but concentrates on Radbourn's 1884 campaign when he set a MLB record of 59 wins (although some accounts say he won 60), 441 strikeouts, and a 1.38 ERA. I am reasonably certain that his win and strikeout totals will last indefinitely. Edward Achorn, an editor of the "Providence Journal," has written this account as a labor of love for a hometown hero of the nineteenth century.
This is quite excellent baseball history, comparable to "Crazy `08" by Cait Murphy that was also published by HarperCollins. It does a fine job of setting a time and place, drawing a portrait of an experience in nineteenth century America, and offering a compelling narrative. That is its strength and its reason for reading. One will not find sophisticated scholarly explication or sabermetric statistical analysis.
Even for those not fan of nineteenth century baseball history, including me, "Fifty-nine in `84" is a good starting point to help understand the formation of the professional baseball establishment.
Normally I wouldn't worry about "spoilers" in a non-fiction work, but be warned that this summary contains some: As I said in the title of this review, "Fifty-nine in '84" would make a great movie, but the real-life plot is so preposterous, most viewers would be unable to suspend disbelief if they didn't know it was a true story. The action begins at the start of the 1884 baseball season, when the Providence Grays -- who led the pennant race for most of 1883 but faltered at the end -- have brought on hot-shot rookie pitcher Charles Sweeney. This does not make the jealous Radbourn -- who set a record for most pitching wins the previous season -- happy in the least, especially when Sweeney is depicted as the team's ace and given the opening-day starting assignment. In these days, teams normally used only two starting pitchers, and once a game was started, it was expected that the pitcher finish it, so Sweeney and Radbourn took turns pitching for the Grays.Read more ›
For instance shopgirls, like Radbourn's paramour Carrie Standhope, made only five or six dollars a week, while being required to wear expensive stylish clothes. Some of them were forced into prostitution.
Author Edward Achorn also goes into elaborate detail about how the game was different. Not only did the athletes play the game barehanded, but there was only one umpire, which resulted in cheating: taking a shortcut from first the third on a base hit, tripping the runner on his way by second base etc.
The pitcher also threw from a box instead of the mound. He could run up toward the batter before throwing and he was only fifty feet away from home plate.
Radbourn was able to win fifty-nine games (some say sixty) because he was virtually the only pitcher the Providence had during the last half of the season. At the beginning of the season, Charles Sweeney was considered the ace, but Radbourn was terribly jealous and when Sweeney went down with a sore arm, he demanded more money and was suspended for a week. When Sweeney was kicked off the team for public drunkenness, Rad had to go it alone. The directors of the club briefly considered disbanding the team as they eventually did after the next season. According to Achorn, Radbourn was a "junk ball" pitcher, mixing speeds, throwing from different places in the box, and sometimes throwing overhand, which had recently been legalized.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It's a great book about a by-gone-era (1884) in baseball history and the hardships many players endured back than to paved the way for what baseball is today (2016) that offers so... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Marvin P. Ferguson
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... Read morePublished 4 months ago by OJimmyMackStormBoogie
An excellent book on 19th century baseball. From the grittiness of the players to the crude business practices of the owners.Published 8 months ago by Alfred H. Harris
I enjoyed reading this book about a long ago baseball figure. My only complaint was that it seemed very dry. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Richard A. Root
Interesting historical piece and how baseball was back then. Today's pitchers are wimps. Lucky to win 20 games and pitch 200 innings. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Ronn Berg
Loved this book. I've read a bunch of baseball history books and after reading 'Crazy 08' the kindle recommended this one. This book was excellent. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Gary Rubinstein
Fantastic account of barehanded baseball AND the 1880's in America.Published 13 months ago by bronncohowie