Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Get Somebody Warming Up Edition

As I've said before, the early days of a professional sports league always seems to have the most fascinating stories, due to the low-budget, start-up, we-don't-really-know-what-we're-doing-yet nature of things. And yet, they rarely get brought up much when talking about established leagues, due to a tendency to trend towards recent happenings and to limit lists, records and tracked statistics to the "modern era".

Which brings us to today's entry, Fifty-nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball & the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had by Edward Achorn. In 1884, Radbourn had 59 wins and 12 losses, though due to imperfections in stat-keeping back then, other places put him at 60 (the Hall of Fame) or 62 (Radbourn's tombstone). No matter how you count it, it's the all-time record. He pitched 678 2/3 innings, second all-time and four outs shy of the record set by Will White of the Cincinnati Reds five years prior. The record of Radbourne's team, the Providence Grays, was 84-28.

This was, to say the least, in the days before five-man pitching rotations. Or four-man rotations. Or three-man rotations. From July to the end of the 1884 season, Providence didn't even have a two-man rotation. Radbourne didn't pitch every day, but as he started 40 of the Gray's final 43 games, he essentially was their rotation. That's how he wound up becoming the pitcher of record in 63% of the team's games.

This is back when the win-loss record really meant something.

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