White Sox

Garfien: Greatest pitcher you've never heard of

179598.jpg

Garfien: Greatest pitcher you've never heard of

Thursday, May 27, 20101:40 PM

By Chuck GarfienCSNChicago.com

I think I have found my all-time favorite baseball player. Actually, let me rephrase that: My all-time favorite athlete. Period.

I have never seen him play, in person or on tape. In fact, no one currently on the planet has ever seen him either.

He died 113 years ago.

His name was Charles Radbourn. They called him Old Hoss.

And in 1884, he defied the laws of baseball, not to mention anatomy, physics and most areas of science, when he put together the greatest single season this sport or any sport has ever seen.

(Paul Konerko disagrees with me. Well get to that later.)

Old Hoss pitched in the National League for the Providence Grays, a team Babe Ruth would later play for in 1914. Radbourn was a moody, ornery chap. Give him a ball, a pitchers mound and a few swigs of a bourbon, and this 5-foot-9, 168-pounder suddenly became a ferocious wildebeest -- baseballs version of Attila the Hun.

In 1883, the 28-year-old right-hander led the league in victories. Nowadays, its considered a major achievement when a pitcher wins 20 games.

Old Hoss?

He won 48.

He also had 315 strikeouts that season, to go along with 56 walks, a 2.05 ERA and 66 complete games. Thats not a misprint. Sixty-six complete games!

Last year Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum led the National League with four. Lincecum went onto win the Cy Young.

You hear that sound? Thats Old Hoss up in heaven snickering.

Oh, and did I mention that Radbourn pitched 632 innings that year? Mark Buehrle, the White Sox annual innings eater, has thrown 694... since 2007.

Asked one day if he ever got tired from pitching so often, Old Hoss replied (and this is an actual quote), Tired of tossing a little five-ounce baseball for two hours? I used to be a butcher. From four in the morning until eight at night, I knocked down steers with a 25-pound sledge. Tired from playing two hours a day for 10 times the money I used to get for 16 hours a day?

Old Hoss clearly didnt have time to be bothered with such absurd questions.

And I dont want to bore you with the details of Radbourns pedestrian season of 1883, because its what happened the following year, in 1884, that created this legend and how fiction became fact.

But first some backstory.

Back in the 1880s, there was no such thing as a five-man rotation. Teams consisted of just two brave, rubbery arm men who didnt care if one day their trusty limb just fell off. For the Grays, these two valiant souls were Radbourn and his teammate Charlie Sweeney.

Tired of tossing a little five-ounce baseball for two hours? I used to be a butcher. From four in the morning until eight at night, I knocked down steers with a 25-pound sledge.-- "Old Hoss" Radbourne, on whether he got tired of pitching so many innings
But pretty soon this two-man rotation would be whittled down to one. And then zero.

On July 16, 1884, Radbourn and Sweeney had a vicious fight in the clubhouse after Old Hoss lost a game on purpose by lobbing soft pitches over the plate.

Well, nobodys perfect. Radbourn was suspended without pay.

But the next week, Sweeney, the only starting pitcher left on the roster, apparently couldnt take the pressure. He started drinking heavily before a game, and kept the libations going during it as well, tending to his flask in between innings.

By the seventh, Sweeney was officially plastered.

And yet, the Grays somehow led the game, 6-2. When the manager went to the mound to relieve his sauced pitcher, Sweeney erupted, leaving the ballpark in a fit of rage and quit the team.

Left without a starting pitcher on their roster, consensus was that the Grays, who were in first place at the time, should disband immediately.

But out of the darkness came Old Hoss, still suspended, but who had a preposterous idea that could possibly save the Grays season.

In exchange for a small raise and an exemption from the reserve clause the following year, Old Hoss offered to start every single game for the rest of the season.

Hoss might not have been old. But he sure was crazy.

The Grays gladly welcomed him back.

As it turned out, from July 23 until Sept. 24, Radbourn started only 40 of the Grays next 43 games, winning 36 of them. And in the three games he didnt pitch, he played right field and shortstop.

How in the world did he do it?

Well first, according to a relative, he drank a quart of whiskey every day. This was apparently part of the training regiment back then. Booze helped ease the pain. Old Hoss also demanded that a hot stove be installed in the locker room, so he could steam his aching arm for relief. At times, the throbbing would become so great that he could barely lift his arm to comb his hair.

But Radbourn almost didnt survive any of this, and not because of something that happened on the field. One night earlier in that 1884 season, a fire erupted in the hotel where he and many of his teammates lived. The cowardly Sweeney ran for the hills, immediately fleeing for safety. As for Old Hoss, he went door-to-door waking up his teammates, who almost suffocated from the smoke.

Radbourn saved their lives. And a few hours later, he continued to save the Grays' season, throwing a three-hitter against the Detroit Wolverines.

But thats just Old Hoss being Old Hoss.

When the regular season ended, the Grays won the National League by 10 12 games. And Radbourns numbers were simply unfathomable.

Where to begin...

He started 73 games. And completed all 73 of them.

Ill give you a second to digest that.

And it wasnt like the Grays sent Radbourn to the mound with a one-way ticket, keeping him out there even if he was getting thrashed by the opposition. It never happened. Radbourn had a 1.38 ERA.

He pitched 11 shutouts, had 441 strikeouts and just 98 walks.

He also came on in relief and recorded what is now referred to as a save.

Radbourns Gumby-like arm would throw 678 23 innings, four outs shy of the most ever. And his record?

59-12.

Some accounts have him winning 60. No pitcher has topped 30 wins in Major League Baseball since Denny McLain won 31 in 1968. Either way, its a record that will never, ever be broken.

And Im not the only one in awe of Radbourns incredible feat.

Years later, John McGraw and Connie Mack, two of baseballs preeminent managers, named Radbourns gritty performance in 1884 as the greatest achievement in the history of the game.

But not everyone is as impressed with Radbourn as McGraw, Mack and me.

Inside the White Sox clubhouse sits Paul Konerko, resident skeptic, who scoffs at Radbourns numbers, calling it pure folly.

I promise you this, this guy right here could not pitch A-ball today, Konerko said, reading over Radbourns stats at his locker.

Noting that he threw 791 innings in his first two years in the majors (1881-1882), Konerko doesnt see how my new favorite athlete could have thrown much more after that.

Lets just assume for a second that the guy was born with a physical gift to throw well," he said. "Im just saying that after the first 800 innings over the first two years, whatever stuff he had was gone!

Maybe it was the whiskey.

When I showed Radbourns statistics to Sox flamethrower Matt Thornton, his jaw dropped.

I get into 75 games in a year, but I throw around 75 innings, Thornton said. He got into 75 games and threw 600 more innings than I do!

As for Jake Peavy, he just uttered one word:

Animal.

Eventually Konerko relented.

I believe that it happened, but Im just saying, lets just call it for what it was," he said. "You cant compare anything else from anybody who throws today, lets just put it that way.

If only we had a time machine...

Radbourn remained with the Grays until 1886, when he joined the Boston Beaneaters. It was there that he made history of a different kind when, according to a new book called "Fifty-Nine in 84," he became the first public figure to be photographed extending his middle finger to a camera.

You gotta love Old Hoss.

But by 1888, Radbourn wasnt the same pitcher anymore. He won only seven games in 24 starts. Maybe his arm was finally breaking down, or as Konerko jokingly suggested, Wasnt there some war in 1888, like the French-Indian War?

Actually that came in the mid-1700s. And no, Radbourn didnt have to go fight in it.

He died in 1897 at the age of 43. Hes actually buried in Bloomington, Ill.

In 1939, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So Paulie, take that.

And while its been over a century since his passing, Old Hoss still exists in the universe. He has magically come back to life, and is communicating to the masses... on Twitter, @OldHossRadbourn.

Hes there rambling on about the soft, multi-million-dollar gents playing the game today, and how things used to be.

Bah! Rain in Minnesota, he said in a recent post. No excuse. In Buffalo in 1884 we were attacked on the field by starving bears. I shot six. And threw a CG shutout.

His thoughts on technology?

I love this inter net. I have now voted for myself as an All-Star. My attempt to do so in 1889 led to a rather unhappy prison stay.

But now, Radbourn is free, carrying with him a baseball resume that pops off the screen and should be remembered forever.

Wherever he is, I do hope that his arm feels better. Not to mention his hands. Thats another thing about Old Hoss.

He never wore a glove. Nobody did.

Muhammad Ali called himself the Greatest. Im not sure how anyone can top this.

You can read more about Old Hoss Radbourn in a new book entitled Fifty-Nine in 84 by Edward Achorn.
Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Robinson Cano sees superstar potential in Yoan Moncada

Robinson Cano sees superstar potential in Yoan Moncada

The greats know greatness.

Looking across the field this week at Yoan Moncada, 8-time All-Star Robinson Cano not only saw a lot of himself in the White Sox second baseman, he believes he was witnessing a future baseball star. 

“I can see a guy who’s going to be a superstar in this game,” Cano said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “He can field, he can throw, he can hit. In the first game against us, he was a hit away from the cycle. He can hit right now. Imagine when he’s in the league two or three years and is facing the same guys for the last couple years. Then you have a different approach. The guy that I see, you just got to give it time and keep working hard because I think he’ll be a superstar.”

Cano had heard the comparisons between himself and Moncada, but until this week, he had never seen his protege play baseball in person.

The two of them hadn’t even met until Monday when they encountered each other at of all places—second base. Moncada had just doubled for his second hit of the night. That gave Cano a close look at the swing that happens to be identical to his.

“I was watching that the other day on second base and I was like, ‘Wow, it’s the same swing,’” Cano said.

Growing up in Cuba, Moncada idolized Cano. He didn’t just play the same position and copy his swing, he wore Cano’s jersey number and even named his son after him.

“It’s something you can’t describe because as a player it’s the first time that’s happened where you see a player name their kid after you,” Cano said.

Despite their similarities, Cano admits there are some differences that favor the young Moncada.

Who hits the ball harder?

“I would say him. He’s stronger.”

And speed?

“He’s got something I never have. He can run. I was slow, always.”

Moncada’s biggest problem right now is strikeouts. He has 38 this season, second most in baseball. Cano, who has only 14, provided some advice for Moncada.

“The only thing I can give him for that is making the game simple and try not to swing so hard,” Cano explained. "The thing is when we swing too hard and try to hit a homer, we chase pitches. When you try to stay simple, try to make contact and use the whole field that’s when you can minimize the strikeout.”

Cano was 22 in his rookie season. Moncada is currently 23. A player’s first few seasons in the majors is mainly about learning and maturing, which Moncada is essentially doing every time he comes to the plate. Often times his talent just takes over like it did on Wednesday when he homered in the first pitch he saw against Felix Hernandez. After that, he struck out three times.

Moncada’s offensive game has so far been quite boom or bust. Over time that should level out. When it does, look out. 

In the meantime, more wisdom from Cano:

“Sometimes as a kid, you want to go out and all you think is about putting out numbers compared to playing the game that you know how to play. You need to let the numbers come to themselves, not try to get a hit every time, or I’ve got to hit a homer or want to swing hard. Just go out and try to win a game.”

Cano didn’t learn this on his own. It helped having former Yankees teammates like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield show him not just how to play, but how to win.

“When you have someone who can help you in this game, that’s the best thing to happen to a player,” Cano said. “When someone can be there for you and say, “In this situation I think you’re wrong.’ Someone who can tell you something you don’t want to hear.”

For Moncada, one of those players right now is Jose Abreu.

“Having a guy like (Abreu) who can help is good especially since they’re from the same country.”

At one point during Wednesday’s game, Moncada and Cano crossed paths between innings. They smiled at each other before going their separate ways. Cano to second base where the 35 year-old is in the twilight of his career. Moncada to the White Sox dugout where most of his career awaits.

“He’s going to be great in this game,” Cano said about Moncada. “He just needs to stay healthy and keep working hard. People don’t realize that this game is more about time.”

That was Cano's way of saying: be patient White Sox fans. A "superstar" is here. His time will come.

White Sox record isn't pretty, but Yoan Moncada has provided a shiny silver lining of late

0425-yoan-moncada.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox record isn't pretty, but Yoan Moncada has provided a shiny silver lining of late

The silver linings aren’t always a joy to find during this rebuilding season. “Well, at least …” can become a somewhat tired refrain as the White Sox sit at 5-16.

But that’s the reality for the rebuilding White Sox, for whom brighter days surely lie ahead. The stocked farm system keeps delivering news of prospect achievements, and the young players at the major league level are providing their own positive signs for the years that are coming.

The South Siders wrapped a 1-5 homestand Wednesday afternoon with their second straight one-run defeat to the visiting Seattle Mariners. They only had one hit after the third and saw the last 13 hitters go down in order. James Shields walked four more guys to bring his season total to 17 in six appearances. The White Sox starting staff leads the majors with 65 free passes issued.

Well, at least … 

Wednesday, it was Yoan Moncada’s leadoff homer in the bottom of the first, a ball that was absolutely crushed into the right-field seats. The distance and power were strong signs for a player expected to be at the center of all that future success. But perhaps of greater note to those who have watched his still-nascent big league career was the fact that the homer came on the first pitch Felix Hernandez threw, a departure from the long at-bats Moncada has been famous for working in his first two seasons on the South Side.

But perhaps it’s just as strong a showing of his hitter’s eye that he was able to do what he did with that first pitch.

“I was trying to be aggressive in that at-bat, swing at the first pitch,” Moncada said. “It was a good pitch for me, and I put the barrel on the ball and made good contact. That was it.”

Moncada, to add luster to this silver lining, has been mashing of late. In the last nine games, Moncada is slashing .333/.421/.848 with eight extra-base hits, four home runs, eight RBIs and eight runs scored. His five home runs rank second on the team, behind only Jose Abreu. And he's just two days removed from coming a single short of the cycle in Monday's win. Yes, he’s also struck out 14 times in the nine-game span, a constant concern for a guy who’s right around the major league lead in punch outs. But he’s also drawn five walks and stolen four bases.

Yes, the White Sox went 1-8 in those contests. But if the 2018 campaign is about developing the players who will power future contenders, then this recent surge by Moncada, one of the rebuild’s biggest stars, ought to please the front office and fans alike who have bought in to the rebuild but remain eager for the strategy to translate into big league success.

“As experience and time give him more opportunity to gain more knowledge of himself and the opponent, and what he’s capable of doing, he’s barely scratching the surface of who he is,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There’s no way that any of us believe in any way, shape or form that he’s a finished product. He continues to develop his skill set, continues to learn, make adjustments as do most players, but one as young as he is, with the skill set he brings to the table, you hope that it ultimately winds up playing really big dividends, which I believe we expect that in the near future.”

“I agree with Ricky,” Moncada said. “I also think that I’m just in the learning process. It’s step by step. I think that I have a lot of talent and I can be a much better player overall. I agree with him. It’s just a process. I try to improve and get better every day.”

An interesting question might be how many leadoff home runs Moncada will have a chance to hit when the oft-projected 2020 lineup takes full shape. Moncada was seemingly entrenched in the leadoff spot when this season began, though Renteria has already moved him out of that spot against left-handers, opting instead to put Tim Anderson at the top of the lineup. Moncada’s got just one hit in only four at-bats outside the leadoff spot, more an indication of his struggles against lefties, against whom he’s batting .130 with 12 strikeouts in 23 at-bats.

Though with his increased power display in the last week and a half, it sparks curiosities of Moncada being more of a middle-of-the-order bat than one that is parked at the top for the remainder of his career.

“He has an extremely good eye,” Renteria said. “Right now, as you see, we’ve mixed and matched him with Timmy now the last two or three days maybe to give him the best chance to have the most positive outcomes possible. We know that right now against righties, he’s very, very good. And right now he’s working on improving his approaches against left-handed pitchers. Seems to me the last couple of days he’s shown some pretty good signs against lefties in his at-bats, contact, swings, approach, and so we’re going to try to continue to develop whatever we need to do in order to maximize the confidence he can gain and the opportunities he gets in any situation.

“And then at some point, I’m sure it will be defined as to what he is ultimately from both sides of the plate and if he’s going to be ultimately a leadoff hitter from both sides of the plate against anybody. His eye says to me that he’s capable of doing that. But sometimes you want to give him the best matchup and you also want to, within the construct of the lineup that you have and the guys that you have, maximize what those guys are capable of doing.”

Moncada and the White Sox both have a long way to go until they transform from 5-16 to the planned contender this rebuilding effort is supposed to yield. But if this season is about anything at the big league level, it’s about Moncada’s development. It’s a small sample size, yes, but of late, Moncada has shown some signs of a guy who could be one of the reasons the South Siders are contending one day.