No announcement yet.

Old Hoss Radbourn

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Old Hoss Radbourn

    I just finished reading "Old Hoss" by James Bennett and Donald Raycraft. It is a fictional biography of Old Hoss Radbourn. Interesting, since I know almost nothing about Radbourn aside from his winning 59 games in a season, but as a "fictional biography" I have no idea how much is factual. He was described at one point as "being as good as Lefty Grove and Cy Young" but didn't throw as hard as them. He was described as a master of changing speeds, throwing a variety of breaking balls, including both a curve and a screwball.

    So I'm wondering - how good was Radbourn in your view? And any modern pitchers that you would compare him to in terms of greatness and type? I decided to post this in the History section instead of 19th century since I'd like to get some sense as to how he compares to other great pitchers throughout history and not just among other 19th century pitchers.

  • #2
    Radbourn never changed to an overhanded delivery, pitching underhanded for his whole career. Don't really know who you'd compare him to in that sense, Carl Mays maybe, but in terms of durability, I guess Wilbur Wood is more like him (but a far different pitching style). People forget that Radbourn nearly pitched as many games in 1883 as he did in 1884, actually earning more decisions. Going 107-37 over two seasons ain't bad, but if they had Cy Young awards (Tommy Bond awards?) in those years would Rad have been eligible during his finest season since he was suspended for a week for intentionally losing a ballgame? That sort of behavior doesn't fly so well any more.

    He had that monster year and was never the same again. I don't feel that he was even in the top five best pitchers of the 19th century, let alone one of the greatest of all time, but you can't take away his 1884. His career sort of reminds me of Smoky Joe Wood's- good build up, one truly fabulous year, and then flashes of greatness off and on for the next few years. Hoss' career wasn't quite as abrupt as Joe's, but after 1884 he never led the league in anything other than earned runs allowed and only once had an ERA+ over 120 (and that was during diluted expansion year 1890). His numbers are more impressive than Wood's because even as a mere mortal with constant arm pain he was getting 35 decisions a season, but after '84 he was not in the same league as Keefe, Clarkson, Caruthers, King, or even Mickey Welch most of the time.

    I guess I'll go with Wood as his closest parallel.
    "Here's a crazy thought I've always had: if they cut three fingers off each hand, I'd really be a great hitter because then I could level off better." Paul Waner (lifetime .333 hitter, 3,152 lifetime hits.


    • #3
      Thanks Buzz. While Wood was a knuckler, I can see similarities in terms of a short peak, with a high workload in that peak.

      I was wondering if Mike Cuellar is a fair comp to Old Hoss. Cuellar was also an expert at using a variety of breaking balls. While Cuellar had a career 4 years longer, he only had two seasons with an ERA+ over 150, same as Radbourn. Granted, niether Cuellar nor most anyone else had a monster year comparable to Hoss's 1884, but outside of that there seems to be some similarity.

      Of course, neither Cuellar nor Wood can get into Hall of Fame without buying an admission ticket. So if Radbourn wasn't even as good as Mickey Welch (a very borderline pick IMO), should Old Hoss be in the Hall? His plaque calls him the "greatest of all 19th century pitchers", which I'm sure is a reflection of 1884. I'm sure his election was based on that big year, but then again, folks like Roger Maris and Denny McLain aren't in. Separately, would McClain be inducted if not for his post-career troubles? Could he be similar (1968 similar to 1884 - one big year and another very good year) but very short careers?


      • #4
        You really have to put yourself in late 30s mind set to look at Radbourn's HOF credentials. The big stat for pitchers then was wins- Radbourn won more games in a season than anyone and over 300 in a career. That season not only put him in the Hall, it did it before Nichols, Keefe, and Clarkson, who were clearly better pitchers over time and in Clarkson's case better even peak (check out Clarkson's top Warp and warp3's compared to Radbourn's). Cy Young was not elected to the HOF on the first ballot because people couldn't decide if he was a modern player or an old timer and so his vote was split, but 511 wins made him in many many eyes the greatest pitcher ever- it's not called the Walter Johnson award.

        Looking through historical eyes, it's easy to see why Radbourn made it in so quickly. Jack Chesbro made the Hall in 1945. Take away his 1904 and would he have made it at all otherwise?

        Radbourn WAS better than Mickey Welch, though, IMO, and is, I believe, a legitimate HOFer, but if he had started maybe ten games fewer in 83 and 84 and saved his arm, he would look a lot better today to the statistician (although not to the man on the street).
        "Here's a crazy thought I've always had: if they cut three fingers off each hand, I'd really be a great hitter because then I could level off better." Paul Waner (lifetime .333 hitter, 3,152 lifetime hits.


        • #5
          There is no question that Radbourn belongs in the HOF, and not just for his pitching. He has served as the inspiration for thousands of junior high schoolers by being the first to:

          Give the old 1-finger salute in a group photo (at least according to finger historians).

          Also one of several pitchers to be seriously injured (before, during or after career) in a hunting accident: Rip Sewell, Catfish Hunter, Monty Stratton.


          Ad Widget