Old Hoss Radbourn is back to 60 wins

This one is only for my fellow baseball fanatics …

When I was a kid, all the record books and all the keepers of baseball lore reported that Old Hoss Radbourn won 60 games in 1884. This was later revised to 59, but that decision has now been reversed and he’s back up to 60. This article explains why this keeps changing.

A bit of background is provided in the “continue reading” section:


How could a pitcher win 60 games in a year when his team had only 112 decisions? Two good reasons:

First, 1884 was a bad year to be a hitter.

Up until 1882, pitchers threw underhand. In 1883, they were allowed a sidearm motion up to the shoulder. In 1884, all restrictions were removed. As a result, batters were suddenly faced with the task of facing all new pitches from new angles in addition to all the old ones they had always faced – and they were still standing at the old softball distance away from the pitchers. In addition, pitchers could and did throw spitballs and got away with all sorts of other things that are illegal today. Pitchers totally ruled the roost.

Radbourn’s 60 that year doesn’t seem so crazy in context. He was followed by these others:

Hecker 52
Buffinton 48
Galvin 46
Taylor 43
C. Sweeney 41
B. Sweeney 40
McCormick 40
and 12 other guys who won 30 or more.

The following year, John Clarkson won 53 games.

This pitching domination continued through 1892, although batters gradually got better at adjusting to the new game.

Better, but not good.

Finally, in 1893, baseball’s high sheriffs decided to get offense back in the game. They instituted the modern pitching distance of 60’6″, moving the pitchers back ten feet or more, and the pendulum swung dramatically. In 1892, the year before that change in distance, major league teams had scored 5.1 runs per game. By 1894 this stat had climbed to an outrageous 7.4, and the league was full of .350 hitters. All three of Philadelphia’s outfielders batted in the .400s. Boston’s Hugh Duffy hit an astounding .440.

The pitchers of that day gradually adapted to the new distance, and eventually young guys came up who had always thrown at that distance, so order was eventually restored, and pitchers took back the game until Babe Ruth showed up, but nobody ever won more than 41 games at the modern pitching distance, so Old Hoss seems to possess a safe record.

Second, Old Hoss had to perform under unusual circumstances

Radbourn began the season with a mound mate, Charlie Sweeney, who just about matched him win-for-win, but Sweeney was a prickly guy who ended up jumping ship in mid-season, so management was up the creek. Old Hoss basically negotiated a deal that said he would pitch every day if the club would adjust his pay accordingly. They did, and he did. Old Hoss finished the season with 678 innings pitched – although his team only played 114 games. From July 23rd until the end of the season, he pitched all but three of his team’s games, and in two of those he played another position!

His overwhelming performance single-handedly won the pennant, but Old Hoss did not rest there. In a post-season “world’s series” against the American Association champs, Radbourn started all three games, and won them all by never allowing a single earned run.

One thought on “Old Hoss Radbourn is back to 60 wins

  1. Old Hoss was alive and yapping on the WAPO board last week that he had no respect for either Tito Francona or Trevor Bauer after Tito pulled TB while pitching a no-hitter for my Tribe. And throwing 117 pitches by the way, in the first week of April, and on a nasty evening by the Lake (the lead tv guy at one point says “Looks like we’re getting rain” to which his side replies. “Are you sure that’s rain?”
    Cleveland in April.

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