Old Ross Radbourn Gets His 60th Win Back

I was scanning the baseball content on Twitter today when I came across an unexpected announcement about a change in one of Major League Baseball’s most unbreakable records: Old Ross Radbourn is getting back a victory that had been taken away from him years ago.

Well, that caught my eye. They were giving Radbourn back his 60th pitching win for the 1884 Providence Greys? Giving him back his original record, a record that won’t be broken since the most starts any pitcher had last year was 35?

I love the work the Society for American Baseball Research members conduct on the history of the game. This revision is yet another example of how SABR members give back to the game through their passion for its history.

The change comes from the fact that Major League Baseball did not have a standard rule for awarding pitching wins until 1950. It was only then did a starting pitcher have to pitch at least five innings in order to become eligible for earn a victory. Prior to that, official scorers had more latitude. And now we are going back to the how the rules were written at the time, as Sports Reference’s Alex Bonilla explains:

Miller was indeed the correct winner if you applied the 1950 rule, since he pitched 5 innings and left with a lead. However, Radbourn pitched 4 shutout innings and was more effective. Practice in the 1880s allowed for the more effective pitcher to be deemed the winning pitcher, per Pete Palmer. While Williams originally concluded that Miller was the correct winner of this game (giving him 59 wins on the season), he has recently concluded that using practices of the time Radbourn is the correct winner, and therefore has 60 wins in 1884.

It’s an important change, and not only because of how one of Twitter’s great parody accounts reacted:

But seriously, I believe there is great value in knowing the often indirect path institutions take to make their determinations. The why behind a rule or decision is often lost to history, even though I feel it’s often at least as important as the result.

Knowing that history tells us a great deal about what was valued at the time the rules were made. We also can learn about how institutions change, and it is often valuable to re-examine the evidence and not just rely upon assumptions that we can bake into our thinking as time passes.

So here’s to Old Ross Radbourn getting back a victory. It took decades for him to get that 60th win back.

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