April 13, 1863|
San Francisco, California
|Died: April 4, 1902
San Francisco, California
|May 11, 1882, for the Providence Grays|
|Last MLB appearance|
|July 9, 1887, for the Cleveland Blues (AA)|
|Earned run average||2.87|
Charles J. Sweeney (April 13, 1863 – April 4, 1902) was an American Major League Baseball pitcher from 1882 through 1887. He played with moderate success for several teams, but he is best known to historians for the inadvertent career boost that he gave to future Hall of Famer Old Hoss Radbourn.
Sweeney began his major league career with the Providence Grays of the National League in 1882. By the 1884 season, Sweeney and Radbourn were the Grays' two main pitchers. The 1884 season had 50 fewer scheduled games than today, and most teams got by with two-man starting rotations. Through much of April and May, Sweeney outshone the veteran and ace of the Grays, Radbourn. This, of course, created a lot of tension between the two as Sweeney was seemingly stealing the limelight from the hobbled but proud "Old Hoss." On June 7, 1884, these tensions reached a zenith, when Sweeney took the box and struck out 19 Boston batters to set a major league record that would be tied a few times but not broken for 102 years, until Roger Clemens struck out 20 in a game in 1986. Sweeney was feted upon his return to Providence for days following his accomplishment, much to the bitter jealousy of Radbourn.
Not long after his amazing accomplishment, he suffered arm problems, not uncommon in the day, which sidelined him. This meant Radbourn would suffer the workload of two men, further driving a wedge between the veteran and the upstart. After a meltdown by Radbourn, Sweeney was forced to return to his regular pitching duties, which he did effectively for a time. (The arm trouble may have been a result of his reliance on the "fadeaway", or screwball, which involves turning the wrist outward as the pitch is delivered.)
Following an exhibition game on July 21 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Sweeney, who had allegedly been drinking throughout the game, refused to return with the team to Providence, choosing to stay in Woonsocket with a lady he had escorted to the park that day. Waking the next morning, he realized he missed morning practice and raced to make it back to Providence for his start that afternoon. Though most players in the day were held to temperance clauses during the season, the Grays manager was left with little choice but to pitch his drunkard ace. After five effective innings, Grays manager Frank Bancroft signaled for the team captain Joe Start to make a pitching change. Sweeney refused to budge and continued to pitch for another two innings. Before the start of the eighth inning, Bancroft insisted that Sweeney vacate the pitcher's box and move to right field. Possibly still drunk, as well as the prevailing sentiment of 1880s baseball finishing a game a pitcher started was a question of manhood, Sweeney flatly refused. When Bancroft threatened the pitcher with a $50 fine, Sweeney told him to take his fine and the rest of his salary, promptly quitting. Sweeney spent the rest of the game watching from the field in street clothes and left with two women, presumably prostitutes. The Grays, frustrated by not only Sweeney, but Radbourn's insubordination, expelled Sweeney from the National League. Left with no other alternative, he signed with the St. Louis Maroons of the newly formed Union Association.
Radbourn, who had spent the last several weeks demanding he be paid for doing the work of two men, finally received his wish of being paid both his salary and Sweeney's salary, along with the promise of a full release from the Grays following the season, as long as he pitched out the season and tried to earn the Grays the pennant. He did just that, eventually winning an astonishing 59 games for himself and for the pennant-winning Grays.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Maroons roared through the "Onion League" and easily won the Union's only championship. The 21-year-old Sweeney already had 17 wins for Providence, and he won 24 more for the Maroons to guide them to the pennant. For the season, he went 41–15 with a 1.70 earned run average in 492 innings.
It is possible that Sweeney's arm could not handle the strain of all those innings, because he never pitched as well again. The Maroons joined the National League for a brief time (1885–1886) and Sweeney continued to pitch for them. However, he pitched poorly. On 12 June 1886, Sweeney gave up seven home runs in one game, which still stands as the MLB record. After the Maroons moved to Indianapolis, he played a few games for Cleveland of the American Association before being released. He then moved on to play for various teams in the California League.
As with his old teammate Radbourn, Sweeney's life was meteoric. In 1894, he killed a man in a saloon and was convicted of manslaughter. In 1898, he was pardoned by the Governor of California, James Budd. Shortly after being released from prison, he died from tuberculosis in his hometown San Francisco, California, nine days short of his 39th birthday. He is interred at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.
- Fifty-nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had, pg 125.
- James, Bill; Neyer, Rob (2004-06-15). The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers: An Historical Compendium of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches. Simon and Schuster. p. 52. ISBN 9780743261586. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
- "Home Runs Allowed in a Game Records". baseball-almanac.com. Retrieved 5 April 2012.