Fifty-nine in ’84 by Edward Achorn

Reviewed by Cy Hilterman

fiftyI have always been a baseball “nut” but I have never been exposed to the early history of the game with its raw beginning when there were few, if any, rules used. The beginnings of rules were in place but seldom used in the correct way. Today’s baseball players from the street game through to the professional ranks probably would not have fared well in the early days. Edward Achorn takes us to the days when no one wore a glove with which to catch the baseball; no pitcher threw from what we know today as the rubber but rather had a box approximately 6 X 4 foot that they could roam and pitch from any area within that box; there was one umpire-if one could be found-and that umpire was very often biased against one of the teams or some players on a team and used that bias to sway the outcome of a game; there was no decent way to travel from city to city other than slow trains with no decent accommodations; no base was awarded because of a hit batsman and most pitchers did aim at batters and were not punished even if a batter was badly hurt; over night sleeping accommodations were not in very good hotels; food was take-what-you-could-get; brothels were in every city and in between and were used very frequently by most players; Syphilis and other sexual diseases were rampant since there were so many women available of every class and character; unless a player was unable to walk, he had to play because there were no substitutes, even with split open fingers, hands, or other extremities; crowds were small and very brutal towards players, even their own cities team; pitchers on many teams pitched every day regardless of their tired arms and were generally given a day off only when they could not move their arms but they still usually had to play another position in case they would have to pitch—like it or not. I think I have given you a good background of the game in the 1800’s.

Charlie Radbourn is not well known but he should be to any baseball fan. Charlie played mostly for the Providence Grays of the National League in an era when that league was the only “major” league. There were several other leagues that came and mostly went after a short season not being able to last financially or able to obtain and keep good players. The era was mostly the 1880’s when Charlie Radbourn did his phenomenal work for Providence. It seems impossible that he made it through 1883 with an arm that became very sore but Charlie suffered through getting paid meager wages for almost every day hard work. But he loved it and management knew they had a real gem of a pitcher in Charlie. He actually quit the team in 1884 when the other good pitcher had left the team because he wanted more money. Charlie wanted his salary plus the salary of the man that quit but the team owners refused that request. Eventually they gave in and paid Charlie both salaries. This rejuvenated him to go on to set a record of fifty-nine wins in 1884, the most wins ever by a pitcher in professional baseball.

This excellent book not only tells so much about baseball but also a lot of history of the time. I would recommend this book to any age baseball fan as well as any amateur or professional player. To think of the conditions and salaries these men played for opens ones eyes so wide and makes the reader happy to be living in today’s baseball era. We have modern stadiums with the best playing fields possible instead of a rock and uneven dirt field; equipment that players from the 1800’s could not dream of using; unlimited supply of baseballs instead of one ball per game; medical assistance was a bandage or a wrap and forget anything like massages of aching muscles and joints; and umpires with whose calls we might not always agree with but they cover every base much better than the one umpire did in those days. A review of this book can’t say enough in words what the reader will get from it.

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