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Just Because: Looking back at the career of Old Hoss Radbourn

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer

More Hall of Fame: Happy Birthday, Sandy Koufax

Charles Gardner "Old Hoss" Radbourn was a pitcher back in the late 19th century. He's a Hall of Famer now, as he was inducted by the Old Times Committee in 1939.

Since there's an awesome Twitter account run by Radbourn from the grave with over 60,000 followers and it's painfully slow in terms of baseball news right now, let's talk about his outstanding career.

Old Hoss threw back in the days when star pitchers were expected to take the ball in what would nowadays be considered an abusive number of times per season. For example, Radbourn appeared on the hill in 76 of his team's 98 games in 1883. He started 68 times, completing 66 games and ending the year with 632 1/3 innings pitched.

In his 11-year career, Radbourn racked up 488 complete games in 502 games started. He worked 4,527 1/3 innings. He threw at least 200 innings all 11 seasons. He threw at least 300 innings eight times. He went at least 400 innings six times. Over 500 innnings? Thrice. The 632 1/3 innings in 1883 were only the second-highest total for Old Hoss, as he threw a staggering 678 2/3 innings with 73 starts (all complete games) in 1884.

That marks the second-highest number of innings pitched in a season in baseball history, behind Will White's 680 in 1879.

Radbourn's 1884 season does, however, go down as one of the most prolific in baseball history. He still holds the (unbreakable) record with 59 wins in a single season.

Here's the complete line: 59-12, 1.38 ERA (205 ERA+), 0.92 WHIP, 441 strikeouts (fifth-best single-season total ever), 73 complete games (second-most single-season CG in history), 11 shutouts, 678 2/3 IP. Oh, and he also appeared in relief twice, picking up the save each time.

Not only that, but Old Hoss threw three shutouts in what was essentially the 1884 World Series, leading his Providence Grays to a 3-0 series victory over the New York Metropolitans.

On his career, Radbourn went 309-194 with a 2.68 ERA (119 ERA+), 1.15 WHIP and 1,830 strikeouts in 4,527 1/3 innings. He ranks 19th in career wins, 26th in innings, eighth in complete games and 29th in WAR among pitchers.

As for his pitching style, this is from his bio on SABR.org:

Charles Radbourn, at 5'9” and 168 pounds, entered baseball during the underhand pitching era. There is some evidence that he threw overhand at least occasionally, as noted later. He was what was then known as a ‘strategic pitcher.' In short, he used whatever assets he had to get batters out, not predominantly relying on speed. This is not to say that he wasn't a hard thrower; he was indeed. He threw a rising fastball, screwball, sinker, slow curve and something Ted Sullivan described as a dry spitter. He tossed the ball from varying arm angles, possessed great control and changed speeds constantly. He was perhaps the most resourceful of all nineteenth century pitchers, something he passed on to fellow Bloomington resident Clark Griffith. Per Ted Sullivan, who considered Radbourn the greatest of all pitchers, “From the time I met Rad, he was continually inventing a new delivery and trying to get it under control. He had a jump to a high fastball, an in-shoot to a lefthanded batter, a drop ball that he did not have to spit on, and a perplexing slow ball that has never since been duplicated on the ball field. When he let fly with the high fastball, he threw it so hard he actually leaped off the ground.”

For more on Radbourn, the entire SABR biography is recommended. It is very well written and researched.

Here is his Hall of Fame plaque, from the official Baseball Hall of Fame website:

Of note: Everywhere you look except on his plaque, the last name is spelled Radbourn and not Radbourne.

Anyway, here's to you, Hoss, on this slow news day.

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