Rube Waddell

Rube Waddell Legends
Fact or Fiction?

Legend: Rube Waddell sent his infielders and outfielders to the sidelines and then struck out the side with no defensive support except for his catcher.

Fact: Waddell pulled this stunt - or variations of it - several times during exhibition games, often during spring training. But, Waddell NEVER tried this in a regular season game in the major leagues.

Legend: Rube Waddell often left the mound to chase a passing fire wagon.

Fact: Fighting fires was a favorite pastime of Rube's. He assisted in a number of fires, helping everything from "bucket brigades" in places like Pewaukee, Wisconsin and Hickman, Kentucky to major metropolitan fire departments in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Dallas and Washington, DC.

There is no evidence that Waddell actually took off in the middle of a major league game though Waddell's fascination with fires was a concern to Philadelphia Athletics' manager Connie Mack:

"I had to keep an eye on him to keep him from joining up with the fire department in any town we happened to be playing in. He always wore a red undershirt, so that when the fire bell rang he could pull off his coat, thus exposing his crimson credentials, and gallop off to the blaze, where he would gallop off to the blaze, where he would try to direct operations by ringing commands, whether anybody obeyed them or not."
Connie Mack

Saturday Evening Post, 1936

Legend: Rube Waddell saved the American League from bankruptcy.

Fact: Upon his death, newspapers in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee made this claim. While that particular statement is most likely an exaggeration, Rube Waddell was baseball's greatest gate attraction in the first decade of the 20th Century, an assertion that can be substantiated with statistical and anecdotal information.

Legend: George Edward Waddell's nickname of "Rube" was the result his farming background.

Fact: Waddell and his family were not farmers despite references like the one from Ken Burns' baseball documentary and accompanying book, which calls Waddell "A farmer's son from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania."

Rube's father, John B. Waddell Sr., worked as a gauger for the National Transit Company in the oil fields of western Pennsylvania. John Waddell retired from National Transit, a division of Standard Oil, in the early 1900s.

George Edward ("Ed" or "Eddie" to his family and friends) picked up the nickname while pitching for semi-pro teams in western Pennsylvania in the late 1890.

Newspaper reports of his day frequently referred to Rube Waddell as a "farmer" but Rube insisted he'd never been on a farm in his life.

Burns was wrong on two counts. Rube Waddell pitched for a semi-pro team in Punxsutawney for a couple weeks in 1900 while on suspension from the Pittsburgh Pirates. That is his only association with that town.

Legend: Rube Waddell grew up in a poor family.

Fact: By all accounts, the Waddell family enjoyed a modest but comfortable lifestyle. According to a historian at the Bradford Oil Museum a gauger (like Rube Waddell's father) made a very good wage for the day.

Legend: Rube Waddell's eccentricities were inherited, his father admitting that he, too, was "screwy."

Fact: This particular bit of FICTION apparently originated in Fred Lieb's history of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

From: The Pittsburgh Pirates by Frederick G. Lieb:

Oddly enough, it was while Connie was still manager of the Pirates* that he first knew of Rube. Waddell was then twenty and had already piled up a mess of sensational strike-outs around Butler. Rube had written Mack in his large, boyish handwriting that he was just the pitcher to lift the Pirates out of the rut.

Connie recalls mounting the stairs to see Captain Kerr, and in place of his usual taciturn face, the Pirate boss was grinning from ear to ear. "Did you notice a big fellow on your way up?" he asked Mack.

"Yes," replied Connie, "I passed him on the stairs."

"Well, he was Rube Waddell's father," laughed Kerr. "He told me to pay no attention to his boy, because Rube is screwy. The father told me he knew that to be a fact because he was screwy himself."

There are two major problems with this Lieb fabrication.

Connie Mack managed the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1894-96. Rube Waddell did not join the Pirates until 1900.

Florence Hartline, Rube Waddell's niece (in a letter to Dan O'Brien), staunchly disputed the idea that her grandfather (Rube's father) was "screwy." Mrs. Hartline described John Waddell Sr. as a very quiet, dignified man.

Legend: Rube Waddell died on April Fools Day.

Fact: George Edward "Rube" Waddell died on April 1, 1914, the victim of pulmonary tuberculosis.

He was born on Friday the 13th (October 13, 1876)

Legend: Rube Waddell still holds the American League single season strikeout record by a left-handed pitcher.

Fact: Rube Waddell struck out 349 AL batters in 1904. That remained the major league record until 1965 when Los Angeles Dodger lefty Sandy Koufax fanned 382 National League batters. In 1973, California Angel right-hander Nolan Ryan struck out 383 batters, breaking Koufax's major league record and Waddell's overall American League mark. But, no American League LEFTY has topped Waddell.

Legend: Rube Waddell was the first pitcher in major league history to strike out three hitters in one inning on only nine pitches.

Fact: On July 1, 1902, in his first home appearance as a Philadelphia Athletic, Rube Waddell struck out three Baltimore batters in the third inning on only nine pitches, the first documented case of a "perfect inning." The feat is even more amazing when you consider the American League had not yet adopted the "foul strike rule."

Legend: Gamblers convinced Waddell to sit out of the 1905 World Series.

Fact: Waddell injured his shoulder in a playful scuffle over a straw hat with fellow's Athletics' pitcher Andy Coakley. The incident occurred in early September at the train station in Providence, Rhode Island, upon the return from a road trip in Boston. The injury was reported in a number of papers at the time it. Years later, Coakley, who later coached baseball at Columbia University (Lou Gehrig was one of his players), verified the "Straw Hat Incident" in detail.

Waddell essentially missed the rest of the season but still finished as the American League leader in wins (27), strikeouts (287) and ERA (1.48) and the Athletics hung on to win the pennant.

Waddell's status for the World Series was uncertain almost up to the first pitch. Rumors circulated that gamblers had gotten to Waddell but there has never been ANY EVIDENCE to support those rumors. The rumors were apparently started by Horace Fogel,Fogel, sometimes-manager, sometimes-sportswriter. Fogel was banned from baseball in 1912 for making unsubstantiated accusations that National League umpires favored the New York Giants.

Connie Mack staunchly died Waddell's involvement in any gambling scheme.

"To anyone who knew him, that kind of story was silly," Mack wrote. "Money meant nothing, glory everything, to him."

Even The Sporting News, extremely critical of Waddell erratic behavior, didn't buy the gambling rumors.

"I do not believe any of the hints of underhanded work in connection with Waddell's absence from the game. These are largely the result of his general unreliability."-I.E. Sanborn

Legend: Rube Waddell once was so drunk he fell off the mound during a game.

Fact: This myth, which apparently originated with Jimmy Austin yarn in The Glory of Their Times, is a good example of how "eye witnesses" are not always reliable.

JIMMY AUSTIN (From The Glory of Their Times):

When I was with the (New York) Highlanders, Rube was with the St. Louis Browns. He'd left Connie Mack by then and was near the end of his career. This day I'm thinking about we were riding to the ball park in the tally-ho to play the Browns, knowing Rube was going to pitch against us. As we got near the park somebody yelled, 'Hey look, There's Rube.'"

And darned if it wasn't. He was scheduled to pitch that day, but there he was, standing out in front of the swinging doors of a saloon with a mug of beer that big. He's waving and yelling to us, and while we're yelling and laughing back and forth he holds up the beer, like as to say "Skoal," and downs the whole thing, chug-a-lug, right like that. And as the tally-ho continued on, we saw Rube go back into the saloon.

"Doggone it, though, when game time came, darned if Rube wasn't out there ready to pitch. I'll never forget it as long as I live. He went along all right for three innings, but in the fourth we got two men on base and then Rube grooved one to me, which I promptly hit over the fence. As I'm trotting around the bases Rube is watching me all the way, and as he kept turning around on top of the mound he got dizzy, and by golly he fell over right on his rear end. Fell over right flat on his can!

Oh, that started everybody to laughing so hard we could hardly play. Some guys laughed so much they practically had a fit. All except the St. Louis manager, Jack O'Connor. He came running out and yelled, 'Come on out of there. You didn't want to pitch anyhow.' Somehow that made everybody laugh all the more. Good old Rube. In his life he gave a lot of people a lot of enjoyment.

There are a number of inconsistencies with Jimmy Austin's story. Austin played with New York during the 1909 and 1910 seasons. He hit one home run in 1909 and two in 1910. We can eliminate 1910; Rube Waddell started only two games in 1910 and appeared in only ten-NONE against New York.

Rube started four games against New York in 1909 but did NOT give up a home run in any of those contests. Jimmy Austin hit his only off 1909 homerun off Philadelphia's Chief Bender on July 6.

Waddell 1909 starts vs. New York

May 20 - Waddell pitched complete game, 2-1 victory.

June 4 - Waddell was forced to leave the game after the SEVENTH inning when he slipped and fell while chasing down a BUNT by Austin.

July 10 - Rube was hit by a line drive in the third inning and did not return for the fourth.

August 4 - Rube was replaced in the fifth after giving up three runs in the fourth.

Austin also mixed up the managers. Jimmy McAleer was the St. Louis manager in 1909. Jack O'Connor took over for the 1910 season.

Rube's drinking is part of the Waddell legend. Much of it is factual but many stories are exaggerated or fabricated. There is no proof Waddell ever showed up drunk for a game (probably several hung over, though).

In one of Rube's divorce proceedings, Connie Mack testified that Waddell never reported drunk in his six years with the Athletics.

"I had been told he drank like a fish," said Mack, "but I never saw him drunk."

Legend: Rube Waddell married frequently, probably as many as four times.

Fact: Rube was married three times-to Florence Dunning, May Wynne Skinner and Madge Maguire. Contrary to some publications, he was never married to more than one at a time.

Legend: Rube began one year sleeping in a firehouse and ended it tending bar.

Fact: This frequently repeated passage from baseball historian Lee Allen captures the essence of Rube Waddell's tumultuous 1903 but the details are not entirely correct:

"He began that year sleeping in a firehouse in Camden, New Jersey, and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling, West Virginia. In between those events he won 22 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, played left end for the Business Men's Rugby Football Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, toured the nation in a melodrama called 'The Stain of Guilt,' courted, married and became separated from May Wynne Skinner of Lynn, Massachusetts, saved a woman from drowning, accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and was bitten by a lion."

Rube spent most of the winter of 1902-03 in his hometown of Prospect, PA. So, he began the year at home.

He married May Wynne Skinner in June of 1903, the beginning of a stormy marriage. They may not have been legally separated in 1903 but the "happy couple" most definitely did not always live together.

Rube toured with the The Stain of Guilt theater troupe and engaged in some colorful escapades. A few of the stories, though, were creations of Joe Finnigan, a former sportswriter who served as the theater company's road publicist.

There is no evidence that Waddell saved a woman from drowning (according to Finningan, along the Ohio River near Maysville, Kentucky) or that he shot a friend in the hand (supposedly in Dayton).

The Sporting News reported the lion incident but TSN may have duped by Finnigan. The incident supposedly occurred in Chicago but "The Stain" was not playing in "The Windy City" at the time.

Rube did play in a football game during the company's stop in Grand Rapids. But the name of the team was the Grand Rapids Independents (NOT the Businessman's Rugby Club).

In late November, Rube left The Stain of Guilt in Wheeling, West Virginia after a salary dispute. He briefly tended bar but returned shortly after that.

Rube was finally bounced from the company for good before "The Stain" completed its Philadelphia run in December. Rube then headed across the Delaware River to his familiar haunts in Camden.

Legend: The epitaph on Waddell's headstone, provided by his former catcher Osee Schrecongonst, reads: "Rube Waddell had only one priority, to have a good time."

Fact: This is another myth created by an unscrupulous writer who didn't let the facts get in his way. Rube's grave was marked by a simple wooden slab from the time of his death (April 1, 1914) until 1923.

At that time, H.J. Benson, president of the San Antonio baseball team, led a collection drive for a more suitable monument.

A six-foot high granite shaft was placed over Rube's grave in August 1923 with the simple inscription: "George Edward Waddell" (with the dates of his birth and death). Above is a baseball in relief. On one of the bases of the shaft is the family name "Waddell." The name "Rube" does not appear on the granite marker.

Rube's former catcher Osee Schrecongost (Ossie Schreckengost) was seriously ill at the time of Rube's death. Schrecongost died in Philadelphia on July 9, 1914.

For more on the remarkable life and career of Rube Waddell click the links on this website or contact screenwriter Dan O'Brien: