Home Book Reviews Published tomorrow: Fifty-nine in ’84 by Edward Achorn

Published tomorrow: Fifty-nine in ’84 by Edward Achorn

by Matt Smith

Anyone interested in nineteenth century baseball will be glad to learn of a new book that comes out tomorrow.  ‘Fifty-nine in ’84’ by Edward Achorn tells the tale of Hall of Fame pitcher Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn.  Quite incredibly, Old Hoss won 59 games in 1884.  He started 73 games and completed them all, pitching more than 678 innings in the process, and he then went out and won all three games of what is considered to be baseball’s first World Series, although pre-1903 Fall Classics are now seen as ‘exhibitions’ in many record books. 

The book, published by HarperCollins, promises to reveal much about that incredible season as well as Radbourn’s career and the life of a ballplayer during the late nineteenth century.  It isn’t just Old Hoss’s pitching exploits that make him a compelling subject for a biography either:

“Radbourn was the first man to be photographed flipping the bird. He was prickly, hungry for money, and jealous of his reputation. A relative said he drank a quart of whiskey a day. But he may have been the most dogged competitor in baseball history. The book is also about his affair with a married woman who ran a dubious boarding house in downtown Providence, and was said to personally know every man in the National League. Radbourn died of syphilis at 43”.

Sounds like an interesting character, to say the least.  And what’s more, there’s a British link to the story as Old Hoss was the son of a butcher from England.  His father Charles Radbourn and mother Caroline lived in Bath, Somerset, and Old Hoss’s grandfather was the gardener at Prior Park overlooking the city. Charles and Caroline left after their first child was born, with the ball-playing Radbourn being the first of their children born in America.

For more details, check out Edward Achorn’s website: http://www.edwardachorn.com/

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Steve Keene March 15, 2010 - 10:26 am

The great man can also be found tweeting from beyond the grave: http://twitter.com/OldHossRadbourn

Sounds like a really interesting book, I like how there seems a real fine line between myth and reality in that period, with some genuinely entertaining and larger-than-life characters. Some of it reads more like a rip-roaring adventure novel than sports history.

Matt Smith March 15, 2010 - 5:55 pm

The magic of Twitter!

You’re right about myth and reality. Even in the early twentieth century you find that some game reports take a strange turn because accuracy didn’t get in the way of writing an enjoyable story. There’s some good examples of this in Rob Neyer’s book about baseball legends:

Megan March 16, 2010 - 5:19 pm

Heh – I was going to mention the Twitter thing, too. Thanks for the heads-up on this, another thing to add to my ever-lengthening list of books about the game. 🙂

Matt Smith March 16, 2010 - 5:57 pm

Hi Megan. Yep, the large number of interesting baseball books that are out there is a great thing, but it’s difficult to keep up!

Megan March 16, 2010 - 10:58 pm

Definitely. I am currently coveting books on the House of David cult in the early 20th century, and another book on Rube Waddell, who sounds like quite a colorful character, if not slightly tragic. So much to read, so little money to buy it! 🙂 Amazon gift list will have to suffice for now. Thanks for the write-up here, though – I’d seen that book before, but didn’t really investigate.


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