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Rube Waddell: The First American League Ace

Rube Waddell

“He (Rube Waddell) was the atom bomb of baseball long before the atom bomb was discovered. . .” — Connie Mack

In the early part of the 20th century, baseball fans came out in droves to watch “Rube strike ’em out!” Yes, Rube Waddell was the new American League’s star pitcher. He was a flame-throwing strikeout ace–and he was really something to see. Before some games, he would paint, on the sidewalks and streets, “Come watch Rube strike ’em out!” And he did exactly that. He had established his reputation as a youngster in exhibition games by calling his outfielders in to sit on the edge of the outfield grass (around the infield) for the 9th inning–and then proceed to strike out the side! It is estimated that Waddell threw his fastball (he threw left-handed) in the mid- to high-90s, with movement, and possessed a very quick release.

George Edward “Rube” Waddell was born on October 13th, 1876, in Bradford, Pennsylvania (northwestern Pennsylvania) to John and Mary Waddell, folks of humble origins. The boys all learned baseball, and Rube stood out because of his “lightning” left arm. He was called “Rube”–a popular nickname of the time, denoting a rural, or less-than-sophisticated view of the world. In addition to his social naivete, Rube was also described as “unusual” or “eccentric”. We now know that he also suffered from developmental challenges such as schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorders. Throughout his life Waddell was easily distracted by “shiny things, puppies, and balloons, etc.” He certainly had what we now know as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). In his early semi-pro and minor league games, he was known to leave the field suddenly to go chasing after firetrucks on their way to a fire. He would also take off to go fishing, forgetting that he was scheduled to pitch that day.

Rube Waddell

“[Rube Waddell] hurt no one; his follies harmed nobody but himself-and judging by the many, many years that he lasted, it took a long time for his comedy to harm him. There was but one Waddell-perhaps there will never be another.” – Baseball Magazine

We know that by 1894 Waddell was pitching semi-pro ball all over the Midwest, plus Canada. Finally, his talent proved to almost eclipse his eccentricities, and he was signed in 1897 to the National League’s Louisville Colonels. But, his erratic behavior once again caused the front office to ship him back to the minors, including stints in the Western League’s Detroit and Columbus franchises. But, once again, his amazing talent forced him back into the big leagues. During the final month of the 1899 season, Waddell was brought back up to Louisville where he won 7 of 9 decisions. Louisville then purchased the Pittsburgh franchise, called them the “Pirates”, and together with Waddell, and future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke, became an instant force in the National League. At about this same time, the legendary Connie Mack bought into the new American League franchise in Philadelphia, the Athletics, and was looking for a star pitcher. He found one in the talented Waddell, and engineered a trade. From 1902 to 1907, with a few absences to go fishing, Waddell was a star for the Athletics, and a top drawing card for the new American League.

Of course, the fabled Cy Young was the ALs best hurler, but Waddell got most of the press due to his attention-getting strikeout totals. In his time with the Athletics, Waddell was joined by such stars as Nap Lajoie, Lave Cross, Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, Jack Coombs and Chief Bender. They were a contender every time they stepped on the field.

1901 All Americans

The 1901 All Americans with Nap Lajoie (Top, far L); Rube Waddell (top, middle). “Batters great and small, mighty and weak, fell victims to Waddell’s blinding speed and dazzling curves, for they all looked alike to him when feeling good and at his best.” – Milwaukee Free Press

One of the great stories told about Waddell concerns his discovery of future Hall of Fame pitcher Addie Joss. During one of his “gone fishing” absences from the Athletics (reportedly, Mr. Mack had refused to give Waddell permission to skip his Sunday pitching start in order to go fishing), Waddell found himself in Kenosha, Wisconsin, fishing the area and pitching for the local team. Kenosha played its way into the State championship, where Waddell faced off against Racine. Racine, behind this unknown pitcher (a kid named “Joss”), won the game and the trophy. Waddell was so impressed with Joss that he immediately cabled Mr. Mack, begging him to sign Joss for the Athletics. But, Mack already had Plank and Bender (2 future Hall of Famers), and he was sure that Waddell would be back. Mr. Mack may also have considered Waddell’s assessment of Joss to be slightly unreliable due to his left-hander’s “loose cannon” reputation. So, Mr. Mack passed on signing Joss, and the Wisconsin native signed with Cleveland…and, the rest as they say, is history. A note: later, in 1905, Waddell outdueled Joss, 2-0, in a complete game sffort by both pitchers.

1903 Philadelphia Athletics Team

1903 Philadelphia Athletics — Top, L-R: Ossee Schreckengost (C), Chief Bender (P); Rube Waddell (P), Welden Henley (P), Tad Quinn (P), Harry Davis (1B). Bottom: L-R: Danny Murphy (2B), Danny Hoffman (OF), Doc Powers (C), Lave Cross (3B), Connie Mack (Mgr.), Topsy Hartsel (LF), Monte Cross (SS), Socks Seybold (RF). Player identifications provided courtesy of Gary Livacari and Mark Fimoff.

Considering Waddell’s mental/emotional instability, exacerbated by his debilitating alcoholism, the body of his work on the mound is amazing. His 13-year Won-Lost record is 193-143, and his ERA of 2.16 is 10th all time. His WHIP of 1.10 is also remarkable. He led the American League in strikeouts for 6 straight years, from 1902 to 1907. He also recorded 50 shutouts. From 1902-1905, he won 24, 21, 25 and 27 games.

In 1903, Waddell struck out 302 batters, and in 1904, he set a record for left-handers (349 Ks) that is still the American League record. His consecutive years of 300+ Ks was unmatched until the great Sandy Koufax matched it in 1966. Waddell also set a record in 1902 with a ratio of 3.28:1 Ks to BBs. His Ks per 9 innings is still one of the top averages of all time. His career strikeout total of 2,316 still ranks near the top. In 1905, Waddell won pitching’s Triple Crown with 27 Wins, 287 Ks, and an ERA of 1.48.

In 1900, he pitched a complete game 17-inning win (his triple won the game, 1-0), then promptly left the team to go fishing. Waddell and the incomparable Cy Young hooked up in 2 great classics. In 1907, Waddell outdueled Young in a 20-inning, 1-0, complete game effort by both hurlers. Also, in 1907, the two superstars dueled to a 13-inning tie.

By age 34, Waddell’s health had started to decline, and his great fastball had lost some of its zip. He had been dealt to the St. Louis Browns, where he pitched for 3 seasons. He still had a few magic moments, including one game in which he struck out 16 Athletics in a complete game victory. By 1911, he was pitching in the minor leagues in Minneapolis, and still managed to win 20 games. He was still a fan favorite and top drawing card at the gate.

Rube Waddell on his deathbed.

Rube Waddell on his deathbed. “Waddell loved pitching, fishing and drinking. When he died, the found him in a gin-filled bathtub with three drunken trout.” – Mike Royko in the Chicago Sun-Times (1981).

In 1913, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and at age 37, retired from the game. He also contracted pneumonia (he became ill while helping to rescue people from rising flood waters in Kentucky). He then travelled to Elmendorf, Texas, to live with his sister, in order to recuperate. But, his health was too far gone. It was there, on April 1st, 1914, that Waddell passed away. He was only 38 years of age.

Many said that Waddell was the most “unaffected” person they knew. He could never remember how many times he had been married (3 times), but always remembered to look up old friends. He was a very frustrating person to deal with, yet many liked him a great deal. He was generally friendly and very charitable, but he was always governed by his totally unpredictable moods.

Whatever he was, he was indeed one of the most dominant pitchers in the early 20th century of baseball history. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.

Rube Waddell: The First American League Ace!
 

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  • Dan O’Brien

    “We
    now know that he also suffered from developmental challenges such as
    schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorders.”

    Exactly
    how do we KNOW that? Are you a time-traveling psychologist or
    psychiatrist?


    In his early semi-pro and minor league games, he was known to leave
    the field suddenly to go chasing after firetrucks on their way to a
    fire.”

    This is a popular tale, often
    re-told. Although his affinity for fires is well-documented, I’ve
    found no proof that he actually left a game to chase a fire truck or
    fire wagon.

    “We
    know that by 1894 Waddell was pitching semi-pro ball all over the
    Midwest, plus Canada. “

    By 1894??? I don’t think so.
    Certainly not Canada. After his suspension from Detroit’s Western
    League team, Rube pitched for a team in Chatham, Ontario, in 1898.

    “Louisville
    purchased the Pittsburgh franchise, called them the “Pirates”,
    and together with Waddell, and future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and
    Fred Clarke, became an instant force in the National League. “

    The wording is a little shaky. When
    the National League contracted following the 1899 season, Louisville
    was left without a franchise. Barney Dreyfuss, owner of the
    Colonels, purchased controlling interest in the Pittsburg club,
    already known as the Pirates.

    “At
    about this same time, the legendary Connie Mack bought into the new
    American League franchise in Philadelphia, the Athletics, and was
    looking for a star pitcher. He found one in the talented Waddell, and
    engineered a trade. “

    Connie
    Mack lured Waddell from the California League. His Major League
    contract was held by the Chicago National League team. The AL and NL
    were “at war” at the time. No trade was involved.

    “In
    his time with the Athletics, Waddell was joined by such stars as Nap
    Lajoie, Lave Cross, Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, Jack Coombs and Chief
    Bender. “

    Lajoie
    was no longer a member of the Athletics when Rube joined the team in
    late June of 1902.

    [PHOTO
    CAPTION]: “The 1901 Los Angeles Looloos with Nap Lajoie (Top, far
    L);
    Rube Waddell (top, middle). “

    This is not a photo of the Los
    Angeles Looloos. It is Lajoie’s “All Americans,” a barnstorming
    team of major league players – of which Rube was a member –
    which toured California in late 1901. Rube later signed with Jim
    Morley’s Los Angeles Looloos Lajoie did not play for the Looloos.

    “One
    of the great stories told about Waddell concerns his discovery of
    future Hall of Fame pitcher Addie Joss. During one of his “gone
    fishing” absences from the Athletics (reportedly, Mr. Mack had
    refused to give Waddell permission to skip his Sunday pitching start
    in order to go fishing), Waddell found himself in Kenosha, Wisconsin,
    fishing the area and pitching for the local team. Kenosha played its
    way into the State championship, where Waddell faced off against
    Racine. Racine, behind this unknown pitcher (a kid named “Joss”),
    won the game and the trophy.

    Waddell
    was so impressed with Joss that he immediately cabled Mr. Mack,
    begging him to sign Joss for the Athletics. But, Mack already had
    Plank and Bender (2 future Hall of Famers), and he was sure that
    Waddell would be back. Mr. Mack may also have considered Waddell’s
    assessment of Joss to be slightly unreliable due to his left-hander’s
    “loose cannon” reputation. So, Mr. Mack passed on signing Joss,
    and the Wisconsin native signed with Cleveland…and, the rest as
    they say, is history. A note: later, in 1905, Waddell outdueled Joss,
    2-0, in a complete game sffort by both pitchers.”

    This passage contains several
    errors. don’t think it’s accurate to say Rube “discovered” Addie
    Joss, who was already well-known among Wisconsin baseball fans when
    they faced each other. The game to which you refer took place on
    October 20, 1901. Rube had finished the 1901 season on suspension
    from Chicago’s National League team. Waddell didn’t join the
    Athletics until June 1902. Chief Bender pitched his first game for
    the Philadelphia Athletics in 1903.

    “In
    1900, he pitched a complete game 17-inning win (his triple won the
    game, 1-0), then promptly left the team to go fishing. “

    On August 19, 1900, Rube pitched a
    complete game, 17-inning win at Chicago for Connie Mack’s Milwaukee
    Brewers. Milwaukee first baseman John Anderson drove in the winning
    run with a “scratch triple” in the 17th inning,
    scoring rightfielder Irv Waldron, who had reached on an error.

    Mack and Charlie Comiskey agreed
    the second scheduled game of the doubleheader would be cut to five
    innings. Rube shut out the Sox in the shortened second game, 1-0.
    Rather than accompany the team to his next road series, Connie Mack
    gave Rube permission to return to the Milwaukee area and go fishing.

    “Waddell
    and the incomparable Cy Young hooked up in 2 great classics. In 1907,
    Waddell outdueled Young in a 20-inning, 1-0, complete game effort by
    both hurlers. Also, in 1907, the two superstars dueled to a 13-inning
    tie.”

    Yes, but at least two other Rube
    Waddell-Cy Young match-up received greater notoriety. Cy Young
    pitched his perfect game against Rube in 1904. And, on July 4, 1905,
    both Young and Waddell went the distance in a 20-inning marathon at
    Boston, with Rube and the A’s finally prevailing, 4-2.

    “He
    then travelled to Elmendorf, Texas, to live with his sister, in order
    to recuperate.”

    Rube’s younger sister and her
    husband, Fred Austin, lived in Boerne, Texas, which is also near San
    Antonio. Boerne is located about 30 miles northwest of downtown San
    Antonio. Elmendorf is southeast of the city. Rube’s parents also
    lived with the Austins in in BOERNE.

    • http://fromdeeprightfield.com/ Paul Gillespie

      Dan, thanks for your response. I just returned from a trip and today I was able to read your comments.

      I understand that you won an award for your play on Rube Waddell, called “Rube”. That is awesome! Congratulations!

      I also learned that you live in, or near, Greenwood, Indiana. I am involved in business enterprises in Indiana, and travel to that State 3 or 4 times a year. Maybe we could meet for lunch or a cup of coffee. I can tell that you are a knowledgeable baseball fan. You can e-mail me anytime at: fromdeeprightfield@gmail.com.

      I decided that I would respond to your comments in approximately the order that you wrote them, so here goes…

      No, I am not a psychiatrist nor a healthcare professional in that genre. My view of Waddell’s emotional state is nothing more than the common sense evaluation of the many descriptions of his behaviour. That is all that was intended.

      As regards Waddell’s affinity for chasing after fires–and firetrucks–it is fairly well known that he joined a few fire departments in some of the towns in which he pitched, for example, in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. As a semi-pro player, it was reputed that he had, on rare occasions, left the field/dugout/bench in order to join his firefighter mates–maybe even heading to the fire if he wasn’t a member of the local firefighters. Even Connie Mack expressed concern that Waddell might do so as a member of the Athletics–though there is no evidence that such an event ever occurred while he was with the team during the season. Now, are all the reports about Waddell leaving semi-pro games–and chasing after fires–exaggerated? Perhaps, but I have learned over the years that most such tales tend to be based, at least partially, on the truth. The truth in Waddell’s case? I don’t know with absolute certainty.

      As regards Waddell’s reported playing in Canada in 1894, Alan Johns told us about a story on Waddell playing in Canada prior to the time of his being briefly on a team based in Chatham, Ontario. Johns, former Headmaster of my alma mater, Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan, was a well-known amateur athlete, starring as a 400 meter runner and as a boxer (lightweight class). Johns had also attended Canadian Academy prior to WWII. I believe his family was from Alberta, but he had a great uncle who had lived in London (Ontario) and Toronto. According to Johns, his relative claimed to have seen Waddell, as a teenager, play in both London and a town called Bancroft (also in Ontario). Johns recalled being told of Waddell’s great velocity on his pitches–and also, at that stage of his baseball evolution, his wildness. The year, according to Johns, was 1894. How many games did Waddell play in these locations? I do not know. Is the story true? I believe Alan Johns faithfully repeated what he was told. Was his great uncle’ s recollection unassailable? I do not know. I have always believed the account, and have no substantive reason to dispute it.

      I am aware that the Pirates were already so-named when Barney Dreyfuss purchased controlling interest in them. But, I understand that even then he had to advise the National League that they would (still) be called the Pirates. My phraseology could have reflected more clarity, to be sure.

      Dan, you stated that there was “no trade” involving Waddell’s move to the Athletics. You are, I believe, correct. I have some sources that use the word “trade” regarding Waddell’s acquisition by the Athletics, but they are probably inaccurate (based on an “assumption”). And, George Saito, of the Los Angeles area, correctly cutlined the picture of the “All Americans”. Apparently, I confused this picture as being one of the Los Angeles Looloos. I should have caught this oversight. Thanks!

      And, while the plan to acquire Waddell for the Athletics may have been hatched earlier than June 1902, you are certainly correct in pointing out that Nap Lajoie was long gone to the Cleveland franchise (he only played 1 game for the Athletics that year, when the season started). Interestingly, Russ Fischer (who lived for years in Sunbury, Pennsylvania), claimed his grandfather to be the one who collected the “bird dog fee” from Connie Mack for arranging the signing of Waddell. Fischer’s version of the story is that the deal was struck in April of that year, even though the signing didn’t take place until June.

      Of course, you are certainly correct in pointing out that Chief Bender did not join the Athletics until 1903. I had never questioned the numerous sources who claimed that “Plank and Bender” were already in “Mr. Mack’s employ” when Waddell tried to persuade Connie Mack to sign Addie Joss. This mystery was first pointed out to me by Larry Stanton from Mullica Hill, New Jersey, in 1972, when we had supper the night before we attended the Phillies game the next day (it was Steve Carlton’s first home outing against his former team, the Cardinals–Carlton got the victory). Now, Stanton was a long-time friend of Connie Mack, and had heard Mr. Mack’s version of the Joss story many times. Stanton pointed out that Bender’s name was a later addition to the story, apparently “redacted” by Mr. Mack himself. Stanton believed that the story was originally told by Mack using the names of Eddie Plank and a pitcher called “Strawberry Bill” Bernhard, who at that time would have been the #2-hole twirler in the rotation. Of course, Bernhard, as I later found out, ended up in Cleveland with Lajoie. As the years passed, Mr. Mack started using Bender’s name in the story. At least, that was Stanton’s opinion. He also stated that Mr. Mack knew Pop Warner and a “Mr. Pratt” from the Carlisle Indian School. Stanton told me that Warner was (in addition to being the football coach–he later coached the legendary Jim Thorpe) the School’s baseball coach, and that both he (Warner) and this “Mr. Pratt” had turned Mr. Mack on to signing Bender (these discussions had apparently initiated while Bender was in his final year at the School).

      It was Stanton who introduced me to Cy Williams in 1970. We were staying at a resort up north of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, when Charlie Kane (who had played semi-pro ball with some of the Phillies’ players (just prior to Williams’ tenure with the team) suggested we contact Williams who lived near the resort (the lodge was in Three Lakes). Cy Williams was driven to the resort, and Charlie Kane, Larry Stanton and Cy Williams burned the midnight oil swapping stories about early 20th century ballplayers. It was a magical evening for me.

      As for your comments regarding Joss, it is true that he was well known in that general regional area of Wisconsin, but the first evidence of his pointed exposure to a Major League team was, so far as I know, through Waddell. If I am wrong, I will happily gain new knowledge.

      I definitely agree that the Perfect Game matchup between Young and Waddell in 1904 was one of the best.

      I certainly concur that John Anderson (not Waddell) knocked in the winning run in the 1900 game.

      Now, in regard to the place of Waddell’s passing, I do have multiple sources who have confirmed that Waddell did live with his sister (and her husband) in Boerne, and later, Elmendorf, Texas. I have been to both towns, in the course of my Texas travels in the oil business (I’ve been retired since around 1982). One of my old friends, now deceased, was Tex Carleton, a pretty good pitcher with both the Cards and Cubs. Tex was from Comanche, and had retired to Fort Worth, where he lived for years. We used to cut up a lot of baseball lore together. Tex said his uncle knew Waddell, recalling through retelling that the uncle had attended Waddell’s funeral. Tex was clear that Waddell had moved from Boerne to Elmendorf (with his sister) and that Elmendorf is where Waddell passed away. Do I know for a fact that Tex’s account is without flaws? No. But I have never been presented with contrary evidence. If my understanding of these events is in error, I will again be happy to be educated.

      Well, that’s about it for now. I was just wondering–what drew you to do a story on Waddell? Of course, he is certainly an interesting subject. Again, thanks for your insight on my comments. I very much appreciate your taking the time to respond to my “narrative” on Waddell. Your communication was particularly informative. I hope we can share that cup of coffee–I will look forward to it.

      All the best.

  • William Anderson

    Hello, Paul,

    I enjoyed your article. I have spent the better part of the past twenty years researching in depth the early life of Rube Waddell, up to his joining the Philadelphia A’s, which at that point, his baseball career is well documented. Rube did not play in Canada, or pitch semi-pro ball all over the Midwest, in 1894. Fact is, in 1894, his baseball career was only blossoming in Butler County, western Pennsylvania. His first stint in semi-pro ball was with Franklin and Oil City in 1896. There, and only there, did he pick up his nickname “Rube.” Rube did not venture to Chatham, Ontario, until late May, 1898, four years after your date. It was in the summer of 1897 that Rube first painted the words on fences and sidewalks in Evans City, PA, “Come see Rube strike ’em out.”

    I agree, many times history is based on stories, but those stories, exaggerated or not, are more-often than not based on facts. While pitching for Connie Mack’s Milwaukee Brewers in June, 1900, Rube reportedly jumped the outfield fence to chase down a fire. No one, including Dan O’Brien, can dispute that claim as fact or fiction. It is a Rube story that should be recorded in history as part of his baseball record.

    Additionally, Kenosha did not “play its way” into the state championship against Racine. It was more like the Kenosha manager talking his way into the state championship.

    The first two of nine innings of Rube’s early in-depth history are published. The upcoming third inning will detail perhaps the greatest pitching and story of Rube’s career, when he was a member of the Homestead team for three months.

    Fun reading,

    Wm. Anderson

    Punxsutawney, Ebensburg, Pittsburgh PA

  • William Anderson

    Disregard every printed word as to “assumed” stories as to how George E. Waddell obtained his nickname “Rube.” The exact date of Waddell being referred to as “Reube” Waddell in a newspaper story was Tuesday, June 2, 1896.

    “‘Reube’ Waddell, the dude pitcher of the Franklin Club, made two home runs, a two-bagger and a single in five trips at the bat in Saturday’s game. Pretty work ‘Reube.'”

    Stories from Rube’s Early Years in Baseball
    When Rube Waddell Came to Town
    First Inning: Prospect, Eau Claire, Franklin, Oil City, Titusville, Butler, Bradford, Pleasantville
    By Wm. C. Anderson