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Baseball’s Greatest Pitcher
It was a hundred years ago, and the game has changed a good deal since then. But there are plenty of people who still hold that cranky old Hoss Radbourn was the finest that ever lived.
April/may 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 3
Real trouble, however, began in mid-July. On the twelfth, after another loss to Boston, it was reported that the Grays “didn’t seem to care much” and that “Radbourn acted careless and indifferent.” On the sixteenth of July Radbourn was actually suspended from the team. The account in the Bulletin the next day was highly colored. “To say that the 1254 patrons of the Boston-Providence game at Messer Park, yesterday afternoon, retired with feelings of utter disgust at the exhibition of puerile peevishness by Charles Radbourn, the heavily salaried pitcher of the Providence nine, in the eighth inning, would but faintly describe the bitter feeling that prevailed.” The report went on to describe the game in detail, leading up to a dispute over alleged balks committed by Buffinton, the Boston pitcher. After “considerable expostulation,” Radbourn had begun to imitate Buffinton’s alleged offense.
When the eighth inning opened Radbourn was cautioned, and finally a baulk was called by Decker, whose umpiring had given little satisfaction to either side. What followed this warning of Decker is apparent from the fact that Radbourn promptly began to throw the ball with reckless haste and wildness, giving Gilligan false signs and seemingly striving to ‘break up’ the little fellow. The result was that called balls and a wicked, wild pitch, with a wild throw and passed ball by Gilligan, Denny’s fumble and Manning’s single, gave three tallies and the victory, and hence the disgust alluded to. The Board of Directors held a consultation after the game, and the result has been a unanimous decision laying off Radbourn for the present, and he has been served with a summons to appear before them to-day and answer certain pungent conundrums touching his ‘peculiar’ conduct for the past three weeks. While there may be some dark insinuations afloat, the management do not intend to act with injudicious haste, but when every inducement, financial and otherwise, has been offered him to play ball to his best ability, and he has been coaxed and petted beyond all reason to seek to carry the nine to victory, it is high time that more compulsory measures were undertaken. … Miller will pitch at Boston today and Sweeney play at right field in case of emergency.”
The Miller referred to was Joe “Cyclone” Miller, another young fastballer recently acquired by Providence as a change pitcher. The “dark insinuations” almost certainly involved the outlaw Union Association’s trying to acquire first-rate players any way it could.
In the midst of the furor over Radbourn, attention once again spectacularly shifted to Sweeney. The New York Times of July 23 carried an account that deserves a place in some anthology:
Reasons which may lead to the disbandment of the Providence club
Providence, R.I., July 22.—The truth has at last come out, and the mysterious trouble which seemed to be undermining the Providence Baseball Club and bringing it to ruin has been unveiled. Some time ago crookedness was suspected, and to-day the cold fact stares the management in the face that they have been “played for sailors.” When this season opened Radbourn and Sweeney become jealous of each other. Sweeney had been kept in the background and Radbourn billed as the star pitcher. Sweeney asked leave to [try] … and proved such a success that he even pitched on days when Radbourn was to toss the sphere, and was paid extra for these games. When Sweeney become lame Radbourn had to do double duty, and “kicked” because he was not also paid extra for Sweeney’s dates. About this time Radbourn began to show an ugly disposition, and finally, in games last week, he is charged with throwing a game because everything did not go to suit him. Since then Sweeney has been owlish, and to-day his disaffection, like Radbourn’s, took a tangible shape. … He began to pitch a “stuffy” game; he was surly and owlish and pitched without speed or any great effort to win. At the close of the seventh inning Providence has 6 to 2 runs and had the game won, and the Philadelphia Club was batting weakly and fielding badly. To ease up on Sweeney’s lame arm, Manager Bancroft told the Californian to go into the field and let Miller pitch out the game. He became very angry and left the field, evincing jealousy of young Miller who is a promising ball-tosser. Philadelphia went to bat in the inning, and it was found that Providence had but eight men in the field. Sweeney was missing. Bancroft went in search of him, and found him in the dressing room with his store clothes on. He requested him to go out and play, but was most villainously abused. Director Allen then threatened to lay Sweeney off without pay, but to this threat Sweeney sarcastically replied that he did not care, as he could make more money if he did not play here. Providence went on and finished the game with eight men. The eighth inning was handsomely played, but in the ninth, fly balls were hit between the regular outfield positions, and the men being unable to cover so much ground, the hits become safe. Then Miller was pounded for five hits, Providence giving him bad support, as bad as could be looked for, and the Philadelphia Club won the game. Convinced from what Sweeney had said, and from his conduct and Radbourn’s peculiar actions that the “Wreckers’ Union” had been at work, the management to-night expelled Sweeney from the league and will cause his name to be put on the black list.