Rube Waddell

George Edward "Rube" Waddell
Born: October 13, 1876 - Bradford, PA
Died: April 1, 1914 - San Antonio, TX

He entered this world on Friday the 13th and exited on April Fools Day. In the 37 intervening years, George Edward "Rube" Waddell struck out more batters, frustrated more managers and attracted more fans than any pitcher of his era.

It may only be coincidence that J.M. Barrie introduced his fictional character Peter Pan in 1902, the same year Waddell rose to true superstar status in the major leagues. If Barrie's Pan was the "boy who wouldn't grow up" Waddell was the "boy who couldn't grow up."

An imposing physical specimen for his day, Waddell possessed the intellectual and emotional maturity of a child - a very precocious and engaging youngster.

"There was delicious humor in many of his vagaries, a vagabond impudence and ingenuousness that made them attractive to the public," wrote the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.

Waddell's on and off-field exploits became instant legends.

Fastballs, fishing, fire fighting, females and firewater - all were favorite pasttimes of Rube Waddell. And, not necessarily in that order - as long as it added up to fun.

Waddell was known to occasionally miss a scheduled start, off fishing or playing marbles with street urchins. At spring training, he might disappear for days only to be found leading a parade down the main street of Jacksonville, Florida or wrestling an alligator in a nearby lagoon.

Despite these and other curious distractions, Waddell's immense physical ability was undeniable. He complemented up a blazing fastball with a wicked curve and demonstrated excellent control with both. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio was nearly 3-to-1 for his career (almost 4-to-1 in his record-setting season of 1904).

Connie Mack, who managed Waddell for six seasons in Philadelphia, believed that Waddell had "the best combination of speed and curves" of any pitcher who played the game.

Without Mack's patience and guidance, though, Rube Waddell might be nothing more than a humorous footnote in baseball history. Mack was the only manager able to tolerate Rube for any extended period, and that was only six seasons. But he always remained a Connie Mack favorite.

"Dad always had a gleam in his eye when he told stories about Rube Waddell," said Connie's daughter, Ruth Mack Clark. "Dad really loved the Rube."

Like Mack, Athletics' first baseman Harry Davis saw the better qualities in Rube Waddell.

"Too much was made of his eccentricities," Davis said, "and too little of the other side of his nature. Waddell had a kind and lovable disposition, which showed itself in many ways. If a friend in need applied to him for assistance, he was never turned away."

Over the long haul Waddell wasn't nearly as productive as contemporaries Cy Young and Christy Mathewson - not even close. But, Rube still ranks among the most dominant pitchers of the Deadball Era.

Waddell topped the American League in strikeouts six consecutive years (1902-07). He was well ahead of his time in strikeout rate. His best single season total - 349 in 1904 - is still the best one-year mark for an American League lefthander. Six pitchers in major league history have recorded back-to-back seasons of 300 or more strikeouts. Only Waddell accomplished that feat before 1965.

Waddell won 96 games in his first four seasons with Philadelphia and averaged nearly 22 wins in six seasons with the A's. His career earned run average, 2.16, is the best by any lefthander in major league history. And, despite a relatively short career (10 full seasons) Waddell threw 50 career shutouts.

In terms of his overall impact on the game, though, Rube's most impressive numbers are represented in scores of fans he attracted to the ballpark. He combined pitching prowess with unpredictable antics and a natural showmanship to become baseball's single greatest drawing card in the first decade of the 20th Century.

"Rube's activity with Connie Mack's band virtually saved the American League from bankruptcy," wrote the Pittsburgh Press shortly after Waddell's death in 1914.

The Milwaukee Sentinel echoed the same sentiment: "Let it be said now that Waddell saved the American league from the rocks of bankruptcy."

Exaggerations? Probably. But the very suggestion from different sources indicates Waddell's enormous box office clout.

When writing or talking about Rube Waddell it is impossible to completely separate the fact from fiction, the actual from the apocryphal. Any oddball incident attributed to "the eccentric giant" was easy to believe. As a result. several sportswriters often embellished, even fabricated, tales of Waddell.

However, sufficient evidence exists to substantiate much of the legend. And, if Rube didn't commit all of the outrageous stunts as printed or told, it's probably cause he didn't think of it first.

No, Waddell didn't regularly bolt from the mound to chase a passing fire wagon. But his fascination with fires was genuine. However, he regularly assisted firefighters, from a bucket brigade in Pewaukee, Wisconsin to large metropolitan departments in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit or Washington.

Yes, on occasion Waddell did direct his infielders to the sidelines and strike out the side in the final inning - but only in exhibitions, never in a regular season game.

One of the great myths concerns Waddell's background which help perpetuate the "rube" or hayseed image. His father was not a farmer. John Waddell, a native Scotsman - labored in the Pennsylvania oil fields as an employee of the National Transit Company, a division of Standard Oil.

While living in Bradford, Pennsylvania - at one time the center of world oil production - John's wife, Mary Forbes Waddell, gave birth to their sixth child on October 13, 1876.

Christened "George Edward," the future "Rube" Waddell was also known as "Ed" or "Eddie" in family circles. Even as a youngster, he was renowned for his iron constitution.

"When Uncle Ed was a frying size lad," recalled niece Florence Hartline, "Grandmother (Rube's mother) thought he was upstairs in bed with measles when he entered the kitchen with a wet head.

"'Where on earth have you been, Ed?' she asked.

"He replied, 'Swimming.'

"Grandmother was frantic and called their doctor. 'Ah, don't worry, Mrs. Waddell,' said the doctor. 'If it was anybody else, it would kill him, but it won't hurt Ed.'"

In the early 1890s the Waddells relocated to Butler County, Pennsylvania and settled in the town of Prospect.

In Butler County and the surrounding area, the reputation of a burgeoning pitching talent began to grow. Teenager Ed Waddell swiftly advanced from the sandlots to play for a number regional school and semi-pro baseball teams.

In August 1896, newspapers in Titusville and Oil City made passing mentions of an Oil City pitcher named "Rube" Waddell, the first known references to his famous nickname.

Waddell later relayed several versions of exactly how and when he acquired the cognogem, one which he never really cared for.

In August of 1897, without so much as an inning in minor league baseball, Waddell's reputation earned him a tryout with the National League's Pittsburgh Pirates. His seating assignment at a team meal earned him a release.

"Rube sat beside Manager (Patsy) Donovan," the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. "Patsy heard him talk and released him as soon as breakfast was over."

The visiting Louisville Colonels saw promise in the young lefthander and signed him. Rube made his major league debut on September 8, 1897, a 5-1 loss to Baltimore, the defending league champion. A week later, he relieved in a lost cause against Pittsburgh.

Officially, Waddell was 0-1 in his first big league season but impressed observers with his pitching potential and natural showmanship.

"He made a hit - a decided hit - with the crowd," reported the Courier-Journal. "They yelled for him, roared for him and would have no other coacher on the lines, despite the fact that he was doing things to Pittsburgh batsmen as soon as they came to bat."

The Louisville management believed Waddell needed more seasoning before testing the major for a full season. He began the 1898 season with Detroit in the Western League. The relationship didn't last long. Waddell pitched in nine games for Detroit before he left the team after a squabble over a fine. He pitched briefly in Chatham, Ontario and finished the year in Homestead, Pennsylvania.

Waddell returned to the Western League in 1899 with Columbus, Ohio, where he teamed with veteran catcher Dick Buckley to enjoy his first successful season in organized baseball.

Buckley was near the end of his playing days but was still recognized throughout baseball as the greatest developer of young pitching talent. The man who guided the early pitching progress of Amos Rusie and Ted Breitenstein caught almost exclusively for Waddell in Columbus. It proved to be a winning combination, as noted by the following headline in the Indianapolis Sentinel:

The Former's Arm and the Latter's Head Work Out a Shut-out

The franchise moved from Columbus to Grand Rapids at mid-season, but Waddell continued to pile up victories. He won 28 games in the Western League, then rejoined Louisville for the final month of the National League season, winning seven of nine decisions.

Following the 1899 season, Rube made a brief return to Columbus, where he married Florence Dunning, the first of his three wives.

Rube approached marriage the way he approached life - with the emotional and intellectual maturity of a child. To no one's surprise, Florence received a divorce from Rube in 1901 on the grounds of "gross neglect of duty."

Prior to the start of the 1900 season, the National League reduced its number of teams from twelve to eight. Louisville lost its franchise but Colonels' owner Barney Dreyfuss purchased half-interest in the Pirates and arranged for the "trade" of 14 of his players to Pittsburgh, a list that included future Hall of Famers Fred Clarke, Honus Wagner and Rube Waddell.

Pitching for Pittsburgh, Waddell paced National League pitchers in 1900 in strikeouts (130) and ERA (2.37) but also finished with a losing record (8-13) and missed nearly two months of the season.

Clarke, the Pirates' player-manager, was a strict disciplinarian and had little use for Waddell's irresponsible nature. In early July, Clarke suspended Waddell, who then hooked up with a number of semi-pro teams in western Pennsylvania, finally landing in Punxsutawney.

Connie Mack, then manager of Milwaukee's Western League team, was in needed of pitching. He received permission from Pittsburgh to sign Waddell, with the stipulation that Waddell be returned to the Pirates if they so desired..

Mack convinced Waddell to leave "Punxy" and the southpaw became an immediate sensation in Milwaukee. He won 10 games in a little more than a month (July 26-August 31), including a 22-inning doubleheader at Chicago. Impressed by Waddell's work with the Brewers, the Pirates asked for his return.

Clarke and Rube survived the remainder of the 1900 without major eruptions but more problems arose the following season. After two games the Pirates sold Rube to the Chicago Orphans (later Cubs) .

Chicago's Tom Loftus, who had managed Rube in Columbus-Grand Rapids, was more tolerant than Clarke but club owner James Hart wasn't so accommodating. After winning 13 games (in 28 decisions) for the struggling Chicago team, Rube jumped ship again and landed with a number of semi-pro teams in Wisconsin.

In November Rube hooked on with a team barnstorming major league players for a tour of California. Extremely popular with the West Coast fans, Rube signed with the California League's Los Angeles Looloos for the 1902 season.

In 1902, the upstart American League was in its second season as a challenger to the National for equal status as a full-fledged major league. The two leagues were embroiled in an all-out bidding war for players.

Connie Mack, now manager and part-owner of the AL's Philadelphia Athletics, needed players. Court rulings had stripped the A's of second baseman Nap Lajoie and pitchers Bill Bernhard and Chick Fraser.

Although his Athletics were in first place in the American League at the end of May, Connie's team fell into a June swoon and dropped into fourth place by month's end.

Mack enticed Waddell to leave California to bolster his depleted staff and sent a pair of Pinkerton escorts to ensure Waddell's move East.

Only 87 games remained on the A's schedule when Waddell joined the team on June 26, yet he finished the season with a 24-7 record. Rube also led the league with 210 strikeouts, 50 more than runner-up Cy Young, who pitched in 109 more innings.

The Athletics, only two games above .500 when Rube entered the fray, finished 30 games above the break even mark (83-53) and won their first American League championship.

In a little more than half a season Waddell had established himself as one of the game's premiere pitchers and Philadelphia's most bankable star. The Athletics' attendance doubled from the previous year to a league-leading 420,000. Cigars, soap and liquor were among the products named after Waddell.

The 1902 season also saw Ossee Schreckengost emerged as Rube's favorite catcher. Waddell and Schreck (as his name was often shortened) soon became known as baseball's wackiest battery mates, as famous for their off-the-field frolics as their on-field production.

"He [Schreck] was the fizz powder in the pinwheel that was Waddell," wrote Connie Mack.

The 1903 season was the most tumultuous in the erratic career of Rube Waddell. In June he married for the second time, a Massachusetts girl named May Wynne Skinner. This was the beginning of a very stormy relationship. The marriage lasted nearly seven years but their cohabitation time was spotty and Mrs. Waddell frequently had her husband jailed for non-support.

In July, American League president Ban Johnson suspended Waddell for five days after he climbed into the stands to beat up a spectator, a known gambler who had baited the pitcher.

At first glance, his numbers are impressive: 34 complete games, 21 victories and 302 strikeouts, the first 300-plus strikeout season at the modern pitching distance. But, after a 13-3 start Waddell limped home to a 21-16 record in a season which ended - for him - on August 21.

A number unexcused absences by Waddell even exhausted the patience of Mack, who suspended Waddell for the remainder of the season, leaving Waddell to pursue an acting career.

From September to December Waddell toured with a theater company, performing as himself in a melodrama entitled "The Stain of Guilt." Baseball's matinee idol was a big draw at the theaters as well. Critics, though, were largely unimpressed with Waddell's acting skills.

"He is let out only two minutes in each scene," wrote the Chicago Journal, "and the ensuing repair bills are pretty bulky for even those few minutes."

In late November, the theater company played Wheeling, West Virginia. The local newspaper headline might best sum up Rube Waddell:

Throws Up His Job with "Stain of Guilt" Company, Butts in at a Fire, Hires Out as a Beer Slinger, and is Sued by Wife for Non-Support

After numerous disagreements over advance pay, the company jettisoned Rube during its run in Philadelphia, his bags unceremoniously dumped in the alley. He immediately began tending bar in Camden, New Jersey.

Waddell patched up his differences with Mack, signed a contract for the following season and promised to "cut out the booze and funny business." His 1904 campaign progressed without serious incident, even tame by Waddell standards.

Waddell won 25 games in 1904 with 1.62 ERA, the second-best of his career. He also extended his single season strikeout record to 349, a major league total unsurpassed until Sandy Koufax whiffed 382 in 1965.

The Rube also demonstrated his more compassionate side when Athletics' centerfielder Danny Hoffman was knocked unconscious by a fastball to the temple.

"Someone went for an ambulance, and the players crowded around in aimless bewilderment," wrote Connie Mack. "Somebody said that Danny might not live until the doctor got there. Then the man they had called the playboy and clown went into action. Pushing everybody to one side, he gently placed Danny over his shoulder and actually ran across the field."

Rube flagged down a carriage, which carted the pair to the nearest hospital. Rube, still in uniform, sat at Hoffman's bedside for most of the night, and held ice to Hoffman's head.

The 1905 season was even better for Waddell, at least statistically. He led the AL in strikeouts (287) games pitched (46), ERA (1.48) and wins (27).

His most spectacular victory was a 20-inning contest against Boston's Cy Young on July 4, 1905. Both Hall of Famers went the distance and Rube performed cartwheels off the mound once the A's secured the 4-2 victory.

According to another Waddell legend, Rube would barter free drinks with the ball he used to defeat Cy Young in that game. After a period, dozens of bartenders had this "genuine" souvenir in their possession.

But the1905 season ended on a sour note for Waddell. Again, he missed most of the season's final month. After Waddell's victory over Young at Boston on September 8, the A's headed back home to Philadelphia. While changing trains in Providence, Waddell and teammate Andy Coakley engaged in a friendly scuffle over a straw hat. Rube fell and injured his shoulder. His season was over with the exception of two ineffective appearances in the last two days of the regular season.

Waddell did not pitch for Philadelphia in the 1905 World Series against New York, a series the Giants won, 4-1, behind three Christy Mathewson shutouts.

In 1906 Waddell's record sagged to 15-17. Mack believed Waddell was never quite the same after the "straw hat incident. He still had moments of brilliance another season. Despite his losing record, Waddell ranked among the league leaders with eight shutouts. That included a one-hitter against Detroit, Ty Cobb's bunt single the only base hit off Waddell.

Waddell's drinking problem seemed to escalate in 1906. Alcohol may not have the root cause of Waddell's irrational behavior but it aggravated the situation

His teammates became increasingly agitated with Rube's high jinks, including a rift between Waddell and Schreck, who had taken "the pledge."

The Rube improved to 19-13 in 1907 but he was ineffective down stretch as the A's fought tooth-and-nail with Detroit for the AL pennant. The Tigers held a 1-game lead over the Athletics when the two teams squared off in Philadelphia on September 30, 1907.

Waddell, in relief of Jimmy Dygert, failed to hold a six-run run. Crucial errors by the Athletics contributed to the Tigers' comeback but Cobb's three-run homer tied the game, 7-7, and sent Waddell to the showers. Although the game ended in a 17-inning deadlock, the Athletics' collapse was a crushing blow to their pennant hopes and proved to be Waddell's death knell in Philadelphia.

In the "interest of team harmony," Mack sold Waddell to the St. Louis Browns on February 7, 1908.

Waddell responded with 19-win games for St. Louis and help keep the Browns in pennant contention for much of the season, a vast improvement from the previous year.

Not quite the dominant force he once was, Rube was still a box office bonanza.

"He paid for himself in three games after he was bought," wrote St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist John L. Wray. "He had added many thousands to the exchecquer since that time - paid admissions that would never have arrived at the gate but for the fact that Rube was scheduled to work."

The Browns enjoyed a 47 percent boost in home attendance to more than 618,000, second in the American League. The Athletics' home dropped by nearly 30 percent.

On July 29, Rube enjoyed a measure of revenge against his old mates when he struck out 16 Athletics, an American League record single game record.

Waddell's record slipped to 11-14 with only 141 strikeouts in 1909. His physical skills were in obvious decline.

In February 1910, Waddell divorced wife No. 2 but married wife No. 3, 19-year-old Madge Maguire, a few weeks later. Another tempestuous marriage followed.

Rube's major league days were also numbered. He appeared in only 10 games, all but two in relief. The Browns released him in August, leaving him to finish out the year with Newark in the Eastern League.

In 1911, Waddell won 20 games for the Joe Cantillon's Minneapolis Millers, helping the Millers to another American Association championship.

The following winter, Waddell lived with Cantillon at the manager's farm in Hickman, Kentucky, a small on a bend of the Mississippi River.

When flood waters threatened to swallow the town, Rube stood in icy water for hours helping stack sandbags for the levy. He contracted a severe cold and later pneumonia. His system weakened, Waddell soon became a victim of tuberculosis.

He pitched one more season for Minneapolis and a part of another with a team in the northern League but by November of 1913 his health had reached the critical stage.

Cantillon paid his way to a sanitarium in San Antonio to be close to his parents, who had moved in with Rube's younger sister in nearby Boerne, Texas.

Connie Mack and Athletics' partner Ben Shibe paid for Waddell's medical care with orders that "Waddell should have the best of medical attention and nursing, and that no expenses should be spared to either help the once mighty Rube regain his health, or to ease his sufferings if his battle is to be a losing one."

The once powerful Waddell, now down to 130 pounds, passed away on April 1, 1914, a few months shy of his 38th birthday.

"He was the greatest pitcher in the game, and although widely known for his eccentricities, was more sinned against than sinner," said Mack. "He may have failed us at times but to him, I and the other owners of the Athletics ball club, owe much."

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