This is the story of two major league baseball records that will never be broken, and a notable image in American journalistic history.
Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn was 1 when his family moved to Bloomington Illinois. At the age of 24, “Hoss” joined the Peoria Reds, an early barnstorming team and he later pitched in the Major Leagues between 1881 and 1891. His career featured two seasons, and two records, that will stand forever.
In order to appreciate Hoss’ exploits, compare these facts:
Contemporary pitchers never start as many as 40 games. Starting pitchers, today, seldom complete those games. For example, in 2017, pitching for Cleveland, Cory Kluber led the majors with 5 complete games. In 1884 Old Hoss Radbourn completed 73 of the 75 games he started.
Since 1900, no pitcher has won more than 41 games in a season. The Indians' Carlos Carrasco led the Major Leagues with 18 wins in 2017. In 1883, Old Hoss, pitching for the Providence Grays, recorded the win in 48 of the Grays’ 58 wins that year.
The next season, 1884, was the first year that baseball legalized overhand pitching. Hoss won 59 games in that 1884 season.
And the historic journalistic image? In 1886, Old Hoss became the first public figure to be photographed——extending his middle finger to the camera.
After retiring from baseball, Radbourn returned to Bloomington, where he owned a billiard parlor and saloon and died in 1897.
Most baseball records were made to be broken. Even records that seem out of reach may be threatened someday. But no pitcher will ever again win 59 or complete 73 games in a season.
Middle finger down; index finger up: Old Hoss Radbourn’s records are forever.
Until next time, for Stories Beyond the Scores, I’m Chris Reynolds.