'Old Hoss' Radbourn and the Rise of Fake Sports Tweeters

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From left: Mark Rucker / Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images; 81A Productions / Corbis

"Old Hoss" Radbourn, left, star pitcher for the Providence Grays

Charles Gardner Radbourn is a Hall of Fame pitcher who had his best season back in '84 — 1884, that is. That year, Radbourn, known as "Old Hoss" because his club, the Providence Grays, worked him like a horse, won 59 games in 73 starts. Old Hoss knew nothing of pitch counts, as he completed each of these games and made two relief appearances, covering a comical 678.2 innings (by comparison, last year Detroit's Justin Verlander led the majors with 240 innings pitched). His 1.38 earned-run average was the best in baseball, and he also dabbled as the team's right fielder, hitting .230 in 361 at bats, earning every penny of his $3,000 salary.

Sure, obsessive baseball historians have always held Old Hoss in the highest regard. He's even the subject of a new book, entitled Fifty-Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had. But only the bizarre contraption known as Twitter could make Old Hoss a modern-day star. About a year ago, an anonymous Twitter user, under the handle @OldHossRadbourn, started blasting 140-character missives from a vain (like the real Hoss), hard-throwing (see the 59 wins), hard-drinking (after baseball, Radbourn opened a saloon) pitcher who, sometimes crudely, scoffs at the softness of today's baseballs players (he's right — they're pretty wimpy). Radbourn offers his unique take on the news events of the day, and even better, tweets in a late–19th century diction, spells baseball base ball, puts quote marks over terms that didn't exists in 1884, such as Eiffel Tower and MRI, and insists on abbreviating the first names of the people who he is riffing on, which for some reason makes the whole conceit even more amusing.

Some recent samples: Upon hearing that Seattle Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. took a nap during a game, Old Hoss wrote, "A 'mate of mine once fell asleep in the club house during a game. This was quite good, as at the time I was rogering his wife in my locker." On Mother's Day Old Hoss tweeted, "A dying woman once asked me to "hit a home run for her." I told her she was crazy. It was really hard to hit home runs! Sorry, mom. RIP." Old Hoss now has nearly 5,000 followers; if he can manage to keep milking ridiculous references to using laudanum as a performance enhancer and requesting the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as his at-bat music, he should keep attracting many more. "Hoss was a bit of a lark," writes Old Hoss' creator, who declined to reveal his identity, in an e-mail. "I know baseball pretty well, and choosing someone from the rough-and-tumble era of the game's past seemed like a fun way to throw out jokes and critiques."

Whether you see Twitter as a vital information source and communications platform or a totally played-out waste of time, it's undeniable that the app has added a dose of much needed fun to sports consumption. Fans now have carte blanche to comment, in real time, on both live events and breaking sports news, creating a stadium-size — many times over — virtual community that is boosting television ratings. It's no coincidence that the Super Bowl, Winter Olympics, NCAA men's basketball championship game and the NFL Draft, among other events, have scored impressive viewership numbers this year. And the craze has spawned an array of phony sports-related accounts that have just added to the entertainment.

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