Strange But True: Old Hoss Radbourn

Back in the 1870s and 1880s baseball rules were quite different from what they are today. For instance, a pitch could be delivered to the plate on one bounce. If it crossed the plate after bouncing, it could still be called a strike. Pitchers stood 50 feet from the plate instead of the modern 60 feet, 6 inches. It took seven balls to walk a batter, and some pitchers even threw underhand. In the early 1880s, if a batter hit a foul and it was caught on the first bounce, he was out.

But regardless of the rules, one pitcher of that era stood head and shoulders above the rest. His name was Charles G. Radbourn, but everyone called him Old Hoss. His achievements during the 1884 season were spectacular. On August 7 of that year, playing for Providence, Rhode Island, Radbourn pitched against New York and won, 4-2. Two days later he pitched against Boston and won 1-0, in 11 innings. After resting a day, Old Hoss beat Boston again, 3-1. The very next day Radbourn beat Boston again, 4-0.

Radbourn wanted to take a day off after that, but a friend came to him and begged him to pitch again. He had bet $6,000 on the game coming up.

“Guess I might as well,” Radbourn sighed. “I pitched ’em all so far, might as well do the job right.”

Old Hoss did pitch, and he beat Boston, 1-0.

The record book shows that Old Hoss Radbourn won 60 games and lost only 12 in 1884. He pitched a total of 678 2/3 innings, striking out 441 batters.

It is fairly safe to say that no other pitcher will even approach that record.

From The Giant Book of More Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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  1. Rathbourn’s record of 60 wins in a season will likely never be broken.  Most MLB pitchers don’t even play in that many games in a season anymore.
    He played for the Providence Grays, and it seems there was some drama in that clubhouse, involving a fight with another pitcher on the team, who subsequently showed up to one of the games drunk as a skunk, which got him fired and put Rathbourn on the path to that marathon streak of games because they didn’t have enough pitchers to go around.

    • If I remember it right, teams usually only carried two pitchers.  After the team got rid of the drunk, Radbourne talked them into being the only pitcher, with a significant increase in salary that still saved the team money over carrying two.

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