Boston: Keeping It Classy Since 1886

Behold, dear readers, what some website is calling the first capture of the middle finger gesture in a photograph:

Note the gentleman in the upper left corner, waggling his most offensive digit for the world to gaze upon in horror (this may be difficult, as the excellently-haberdashered fellow in the middle surely drew your immediate attention).

Why did this olde-tymey ballplayer feel so compelled to flick off the sea of bowler-boasting spectators on that day? Perhaps we can unravel the mystery.

If the website's report is correct, this is an 1886 picture of the Boston Beaneaters, and the owner of the rudest indicator is none other than pitcher Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn. I'm compelled to think it is, in fact, an accurate account, as legitimate literature seems to corroborate the claim.

Old Hoss was apparently well-known for his propensity for bird flipping. For instance:

Sweet. But we've seen old pictures mis-attributed before; let's check up on the 1886 Boston Beaneaters. The source of all truth identifies them as the team in the photo, if that helps. They were 56-61 that year, finishing over 30 games out of first place. Ouch. Well, it's still an improvement on their previous season, when they were 46-66.

What about Radbourn himself? What an awesome dude. He shares a birthday with yours truly, I am proud to report (although these pictures were taken over a century before my birth), and more importantly he's a great example of the 1800s pitcher.

He threw 488 complete games (the 8th-most all-time, and a manifestly unattainable number for any modern pitcher), and despite that had only 309 wins. I say only as if a spot among the 20 winningest pitchers of all time isn't noteworthy, but you'd think with 488 complete games... But it's like I said: This dude was totally 1800s.

He threw a no-hitter in 1883, and a man who does that is entitled to flick off anybody he wishes, in my book. His career line: 309-194 (amazingly, he had almost as many complete games as decisions), a 2.68 ERA, and 1,830 Ks. Now here's a sentence I've cribbed straight from the Wikipedia page, because a just homage demands it:
In 1884 [Radbourn] won the National League's pitching Triple Crown with a 1.38 earned run average, 59 wins and 441 strikeouts. His 59 wins in a season is a record which is expected never to be broken. Also, his 678 23 innings pitched in 1884 stands at second all-time, behind only Will White (680), for a single-season. It, too, is a record that will most likely never be touched. It was made possible by the mid-season expulsion of the Grays' other main pitcher, Charlie Sweeney.
Nuts. Nuts! A proper stats page (courtesy of FanGraphs, best site on the Internet) reveals that Radbourn posted a carer 43.6 WAR over only 11 seasons, including dominant 7.0+ WAR campaigns in 1883, 1884, and 1890.

In 1886, he might have known he was past his prime. He might have known another 59-win season was out of reach to anybody ever again, ever. He might have known the Beaneaters wouldn't be good. He might have just been a saucy devil. Regardless, he was awesome. Thanks, Old Hoss.

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