I have always been a baseball “nut”, but I have never been exposed to the early history of the game with its crude beginning when few, if any, rules were used. The principles of the rules were in place, but were rarely used in the right way. Baseball players today, from the street game to the professional ranks, probably wouldn’t have done well in the early days. Edward Achorn takes us back to the days when no one used a glove to catch the baseball; no pitcher pitched from what we know today as the rubber, instead he had a box of approximately 6 x 4 feet that they could roam and pitch from any area within that box; there was a referee, if you could find one, and that referee was very often biased against one of the teams or some players on a team and used that bias to influence the outcome of a game; there was no decent way to travel from one city to another other than slow trains without decent accommodation; no base awarded due to a hitter and most pitchers targeted the batters and were not penalized even if a batter was seriously injured; during the night, the sleeping accommodations were not in very good hotels; the food was take-what-you-can-get; there were brothels in every city and in the middle and most of the players used them very frequently; Syphilis and other sexual diseases have proliferated since so many women of all classes and characters were available; unless a player could not walk, he had to play because there were no substitutes, not even with fingers, hands or other limbs open; the crowds were small and very brutal with the players, even with the team from their own city; Pitchers on many teams pitched every day regardless of their tired arms and were usually given a day off only when they couldn’t move their arms, but still had to play in another position in case they had to pitch, they were like it or not. I think I have given you a good background to the game in the 19th century.
Charlie Radbourn isn’t well known, but he should be to any baseball fan. Charlie played primarily for the Providence Grays of the National League at a time when that league was the only “major” league. There were several other leagues that came and mostly left after a short season without being able to last financially or without being able to get and keep good players. The time was primarily the 1880s when Charlie Radbourn did his phenomenal work for Providence. It seems impossible that he would survive 1883 with an arm that hurt badly, but Charlie suffered by receiving a meager salary for almost every day of hard work. But he loved it and the management knew they had a real gem of a pitcher in Charlie. In fact, he left 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 who quit, but the team owners rejected that request. They eventually relented and paid Charlie both salaries. This rejuvenated him to set a record of fifty-nine wins in 1884, the most wins by a pitcher in professional baseball.
This excellent book not only says a lot about baseball, but also a lot of history of the time. I would recommend this book to any baseball fan of any age, as well as any amateur or professional player. Thinking about the conditions and salaries these men played for opens their eyes wide and makes the reader happy to be living in today’s baseball era. We have modern stadiums with the best possible playing fields instead of a field of stone and uneven earth; equipment that 1800s players couldn’t dream of wearing; unlimited supply of baseballs in lieu of one ball per game; medical assistance was a bandage or a wrap and forget about anything like massages of sore muscles and joints; and umpires whose decisions we don’t always agree with, but they cover all the bases much better than the umpire in those days. A review of this book cannot say enough in words what the reader will get out of it.