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Fifty-Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had

4.01  ·  Rating Details ·  420 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews

In 1884, Providence Grays pitcher Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn won an astounding fifty-nine games—more than anyone in major-league history ever had before, or has since. He then went on to win all three games of baseball's first World Series.

Fifty-nine in '84 tells the dramatic story not only of that amazing feat of grit but also of big-league baseball two decades after

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Smithsonian (first published March 13th 2010)
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Steven Peterson
Mar 12, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it liked it
In 1884, Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn won 59 games for the Providence Grays. This is the story of that almost unbelievable season. It is also the story of a hard-nosed man in a rough and ready sport.

The story begins with a brief biographical sketch of Radbourn, who grew up in Bloomington, Illinois. He enjoyed life in the Midwest, hunting being a favorite pastime. He also enjoyed baseball. We see the start of his career and his eventual signing a contract with the major league team from Buffalo. A
Brian Eshleman
Jun 18, 2013 Brian Eshleman rated it liked it
Shelves: audible
Same game, different era, VERY different era. 59 is the number, and a number without mystery as it begins the title of the book. But after accompanying the last pitcher to get 59 wins in a season on his grueling odyssey to that total, the final tally manages to be surprising anyway.

George Will's comment in Ken Burns' Baseball series that the early game was one played by tough, hard men who knew how much worse their other choices in life were seems appropriate to describe the book's hero as well
Jun 26, 2013 Joel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: baseball
In 1884-the early days of professional baseball- a pitcher named Charles Radbourn won 59 games; a major-league record which is highly unlikely ever to be broken. He did this by pitching nearly every one of his team's games down the stretch, as they pursued (and eventually won) the National League championship; an insane workload, even for the time period (when pitchers were expected to work many more innings than they do today). He would get up in the morning with his arm so sore he couldn't lif ...more
Dec 20, 2013 Richard rated it really liked it
I enjoyed Achorn's "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey" about the baseball season of 1883, so I went back and read this earlier book of his, "Fifty-Nine in '84", that tells the remarkable story of one Charles Radbourn who now holds the major league pitching record of 59 wins (in a 114 game season). Actually, the book covers more than just Radbourn. It covers his entire team, Providence Greys, and all of the National League leading up to and continuing through the 1884 season. Achorn also spends a lo ...more
May 07, 2012 Darrel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For all baseball fans who have dared to argue the unanswerable question - who was the best pitcher in MLB history? - I submit the name of Charles Radbourn. Written by Edward Alchorn, this book would have to be considered a landmark achievement in recorded baseball history. Such a season has 'Old Hoss' Radbourn had needed to be told and Alchorn had done a remarkable - even incredible - job of researching and telling that story here. He also vividly recreates the era of bare-handed baseball, the m ...more
Bruce Niedt
Jun 26, 2010 Bruce Niedt rated it it was amazing
One of the best baseball books I've ever read, this is a fascinating and thoroughly researched history of the early days of baseball, and the year 1884 in particular, when one "Old Hoss" Radbourn won 59 games as a pitcher, a record that will never be broken. The author describes in detail how the game was in some ways the same, yet in many ways different, from the game we know today. He follows Radbourn and his teammates through that amazing season when his Providence Grays won the National penn ...more
May 26, 2011 P.J. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Friends, baseball fans, baseball history fans
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 s
Mar 23, 2012 James rated it it was amazing
Old-time ballplayers are often critical of today's pitchers, who are protected by pitch counts, bullpens, and the five-man rotation. Starters of prior generations worked on only three days rest and were expected to finish what they began. It wasn't uncommon in the 1960s for pitchers to log 20 or more complete games and upwards of 300 innings a season.

What a bunch of wimps.

Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn started 73 games in 1884—and he finished them all. Radbourn established the big league record for
Bruce Hesselbach
Oct 10, 2012 Bruce Hesselbach rated it really liked it
One of the greatest feats in sports history was the 60-12 season posted in 1884 by Old Hoss Radbourn. Although he is in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and was celebrated in his day, modern baseball fans know little about him. This book changes all that.
Achorn does a wonderful job of bringing Radbourn to life. Radbourn was feisty, rebellious, and crafty, a hard drinker and a hard worker. He had a great fastball and a good curve ball. He was an early pioneer of the screwball. Above all, he had
Donald Crane
Sep 16, 2011 Donald Crane rated it really liked it
Really interesting story primarily about Hoss Radbourn, a pitcher for the Providence Grays (a National League team at the time) in the mid-1880s, and how he won 59 games during the 112-game regular season. He started 75 games and completed them all, including 16-, 15-, and 14-inning games. He pitched 679 innings during that season, and had a 1.38 earned run average. For anyone who follows baseball and knows that starting pitchers now start 30-32 games a year and might throw as many as 240 inning ...more
Paul Pessolano
Dec 09, 2014 Paul Pessolano rated it really liked it
“Fifty-nine in ‘84” by Edward Achorn, published by Smithsonian Books.

Category – Sports/Baseball Publication Date – February 22, 2011

Okay sports and baseball fans, if I told you a pitcher won Fifty-nine games in one season would you believe me? Yes, it is true in 1884 a pitcher by the name of Charlie Radbourn did it for the Providence Grays. This was a time when baseball was played barehanded, yes, no gloves, barehanded.

This book tells the story of baseball at its rawest. It was a sport that was
Jun 23, 2010 Jack rated it it was amazing
I lived in Detroit in 1968 when Denny McClain won 31 games for the Tigers. That was a big deal. While pitchers will break the 20 game mark, no one has reached 30 games since then.

But go back 126 years ....

This is a wonderful book with a ton of information about baseball in the mid 1880's and what American was like back then..

Charles Old Hoss Radbourn pitched for the Providence Grays -they were a professional ball club who along with the Boston Beaneaters, Detroit Wolverines, New York Gothams, C
Dec 02, 2012 jersey9000 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Allow me to preface this by saying I know nothing about baseball- either it's modern incarnation or this, early "bare knuckle" style. I do, however, love history books, especially ones that use a topic to branch out into deeper historical narrative. This book does exactly that; in the tradition of Salt and Cod (two awesome books, by the way), it uses the early growing pains of baseball to work through the growing pains of post Civil War America.

Coming away from this book, I have a new respect f
Jason Walker
Sep 28, 2011 Jason Walker rated it really liked it
While on the outside this appears to be a baseball book it really isn't. This is a 19th century Americana chronicle with sections devoted to temperance, tobacco, prostitution, politics, travel, the meat industry and life in general. Everything is framed around the pitcher Old Hoss Radbourn, his team, rivalries, the woman he loved and the team he threw for, the Providence Grays. He won 59 games in a single baseball season, something that will never be bettered. It's rare to have a 20 game winner ...more
Tim Nordstrom
Aug 08, 2011 Tim Nordstrom rated it really liked it
Fifty-Nine in '84 is a great biography of the man who holds the likely unbreakable single-season wins record for professional baseball. More interestingly, this book gives a great overview of the early days of professional ball, a gritty, blue-collar period when players used their bare hands, did anything to win (up to and including cheating, thanks to having just one umpire on the field), and often flamed out before they reached 30, their bodies battered from the abuse of the game. This is a gr ...more
Paul Brandel
Jul 11, 2010 Paul Brandel rated it it was amazing
Edward Achorn does a great job of writing about Charles Radbourn.He chronicles the rough and tumble era of baseball in the 1880s.Back then there was a 2-man rotation,not 4 or 5 man rotation!Ball players had to be
real rugged and durable,especially the pitchers. Also enjoyed the author
writing about what was going in the New England area and the rest of
America during that time period.

One of the best sports books I've ever read!
Jun 25, 2010 Al rated it liked it
If you like baseball history, this book is definitely recommended as it recounts the 1884 season when the game was in its infancy and played very much differently than today. Old Hoss Radbourn's season with the Providence Grays is chronicled as he set the single-season record for pitching victories which has never been surpassed. The author also provides an excellent look into life in America during the 1880's which makes the book even more interesting.
Dec 08, 2013 Jarvis rated it it was amazing
Shelves: baseball-books
This is probably one of my favorite baseball books. We always here about the great baseball heroes of early 20th century: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, etc. But we never here about the amazing players of the 19th century who endured so much more physically and economically. Its a telling story of how much baseball has changed in its hundred plus year history. The grittiness, passion, and athleticism of these forerunners of the great American pastime can't be forgotten.
Mar 10, 2015 San rated it it was amazing
I love this book so much! It had baseball, which I love, but it also gave me an insight into late 19th century America and the drama of that time. Thoroughly recommended.
Todd Stockslager
Jun 05, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: sports
Glory Days

While Springsteen's can't-let-go friend "could throw that speedball by you, make you look like a fool boy", 19th-century Major League baseball's best pitcher set his amazing record with a mixture of speed, guile, and strategy. That record--winning 59 games in 1884--is so far beyond today's numbers that fans today can barely relate.

But baseball, as Edward Achorn does a good job documenting for us, was a different game, starting with the barely--bare-handed fielders, mound-less pitchers,
Brian Meehl
Mar 07, 2017 Brian Meehl rated it it was amazing
This is a great peek into the story of a phenomenal pitcher, an eccentric team, a wild season, and an era of baseball that is barely imaginable and so entertaining compared to the sanitized era of baseball today.
Jan 22, 2011 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
Sometimes you read a book and it blows your mind.

In the 1880's people played baseball barehanded. Pitchers routinely threw more innings in a year than modern pitchers throw in three. And they didn't throw significantly slower or with less trauma to their arms and they didn't have talented orthopedists, whirlpools, or even the concept of icing down after a start. Twenty wins in a season was considered mediocre. Now twenty wins is phenomenal. Careers were brutally short.

It's in this context that C
Brian Sauer
Sep 22, 2016 Brian Sauer rated it really liked it
Shelves: sports
What a great read. This was a really good look into baseball in the 19th century. My first taste of it and I loved it. I'd recommend this book to anyone that loves baseball and/or wants to know more about life in the late 19th century. It was really well written and shows how folks were not that much different then than they are today.
Bob Andelman
Jun 12, 2016 Bob Andelman rated it really liked it
I love baseball. I grew up a New York Mets fan and stayed with them until St. Petersburg landed the Rays a dozen years ago.

When I was a kid, I read dozens of baseball histories, from biographies of individual players such as Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth to overall histories of the game. I was never a great baseball player in the sandlots, but I loved it nonetheless.

I even wrote a book, Stadium For Rent, about the Tampa Bay area’s 20-year effort to land the team that eventually became the Rays, so
C Baker
Oct 25, 2014 C Baker rated it liked it
I am fascinated by professional sports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While the players may not have been as big, fast, or strong and modern athletes, they seem a thousand times more rugged and tough.

This book focuses on a pitcher who played in the barehanded era who holds the professional baseball record for most wins in a season at an unbelievable 59. Charles Radbourn, or “Old Hoss,” played from 1880 to 1991, mostly with the Providence Grays. In 1884, pitching nearly every day, wh
Nov 29, 2010 Bob rated it liked it
The story of a pitcher who won 59 games in one season, would flip off photographers, and even inspire one of the funnier fake Twitter feeds around now (@oldhossradbourn) had never been adequately told. Achorn gives it a good shot, but the book seems padded with information about life in Providence in the 19th Century that doesn't seem to add a lot of insight. Radbourn was not a well-educated man, so there isn't a lot of primary source material.

Achorn relies heavily on the newspaper accounts of t
Jul 07, 2011 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book! I learned about the development of baseball, about Charles Radbourn, the famous pitcher who is buried in the town I now live in, and about the history of the U.S. in the 1880s, and even how baseball sort of brought us together after the Civil War!

What I found amazing was the fine handling of historical fact and the not-actually-confirmed but often likely stories connected to baseball and Radbourn. Nice handling of "legend" and suppositions. Nice handling of a central
Oliver Bateman
Jul 19, 2010 Oliver Bateman rated it liked it
Achorn's a competent scrivener and there's lots of easy-to-access info about 19th century baseball. However, he handicapped himself by choosing a terrible topic: There's not much to write about a taciturn fellow like Radbourn, and his efforts to reconstruct the Old Hoss' love life (using no sources whatsoever!) are unconvincing. His more general discussions of 1880s baseball are interesting, as is his chapter about life in Providence during this period. Perhaps if Achorn had broadened his scope ...more
May 14, 2011 Jeremy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nicely written, especially in the way it evokes this era of baseball. Most of my baseball reading has been on the post-1900s "modern" era game, and it was shocking to realize how much changed in the 20+ years from the game described here to the one catalogued in "Crazy 08," "Cobb" and others. I would give it 3.5 stars because he gets bogged down for awhile in the middle of the book and some people will get bored, put it down and never come back, but the description of the stretch drive in 1884 m ...more
Brian Taylor
Dec 15, 2014 Brian Taylor rated it it was amazing
I found this book interesting for a number of reasons. First, this is the third historical non-fiction book that I've read recently focusing on the last two decades of the 19th century and it provided me with additional detail of life during those times from another perspective. Second, it's my favorite-est subject, baseball. And third, though I've read literally hundreds of books over the years about 20th century baseball, I've read very little about the sport before then. I now have a working ...more
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Edward Achorn, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Distinguished Commentary, is an editorial page editor with The Providence Journal. He is also author of Fifty-Nine in ’84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had. His reviews of books on American history appear frequently in the Weekly Standard. He lives in an 1840 farmhouse outside of Providence, Rhode Island ...more
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“Baseball was mighty glamorous and exciting to me,” he remembered, “but there is no use in blinking at the fact that at that time the game was thought, by solid, respectable people, to be only one degree above grand larceny, arson and mayhem, and those who engaged in it were beneath the notice of decent society.” 1 likes
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