Rube Waddell

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George Edward Waddell

  • Bats Right, Throws Left
  • Height 6' 1½", Weight 196 lb.

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1946

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Biographical Information[edit]

Rube Waddell.jpg

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

Rube Waddell, famous as an eccentric, was a terrific pitcher during the early years of the 20th Century, and was named to the Hall of Fame in 1946.

Waddell led the league eight times in strikeouts-per-nine-innings in the period 1900-08 and the only time he missed, in 1901, he was in second place. In 1903, when he had 8.39 strikeouts-per-nine-innings, the next best in the league was Wild Bill Donovan, distantly behind at 5.48. In 1904, when Waddell had 349 strikeouts in 383 innings, the next highest strikeout total in the league was Jack Chesbro at 239.

Waddell led the National League in ERA in 1900 and the American League in ERA in 1905, when he won the pitching Triple Crown (leading the league in wins, winning percentage, ERA, strikeouts and strikeouts-per-nine-innings).

Waddell came up originally with the 1897 Louisville Colonels, the same year that a rookie named Honus Wagner came up with the Colonels. Both of them moved to Pittsburgh in 1900. While Waddell pitched well in his early years, his greatest seasons came with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902, 1904, and 1905, winning at least 24 games each year. He finished out the last three years of his major league career with the St. Louis Browns.

His lifetime major league ERA of 2.16, achieved mostly in the dead-ball era, ranks # 10 on the all-time list.

The similarity scores method, for some reason, picks as the most similar pitcher Hippo Vaughn, whose ERA is not nearly as good as Waddell's, and whose win-loss percentage is also not as good. There are five Hall of Fame pitchers on Waddell's list of most similar pitchers, with the most similar Hall of Famer being Ed Walsh, whose stats are even better than Waddell's. Of course, Walsh played the entirety of his career in the dead-ball era, while Waddell pitched a few years before the ball died.

Born during the Pennsylvania Oil Boom, George Edward Waddell was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania on Friday the 13th (October 13, 1876), the sixth of eight children born to John and Mary Waddell. Because his father worked for an oil transportation company, the Waddell family frequently moved around western Pennsylvania, depending on where his father was needed. Eddie, as he was known by family and friends, grew up playing baseball as his father was a former player in New York and lifelong fan. Eddie's successes in semi-professional baseball and playing for at least two academy teams led to two failed professional tryouts (one for Fort Wayne, Indiana - he never made it to the tryout - and one for the Pittsburgh Pirates) before landing a tryout with the Louisville Colonels and Fred Clarke. (Source: Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell)

His days in the minors were challenging because Rube's maturation was about one third that of his actual age - so as a 21-year-old, he had the maturity of a seven-year-old. He couldn't pay rent, which may have contributed to his leaving the Detroit Wolverines of the Western League in 1898 to play semi-pro ball in Canada where he was paid room and board and a few bucks on the side. While extremely successful with Columbus/Grand Rapids a year later, he eventually ditched the team and ran back to Louisville. Even his first years in Pittsburgh were challenging for Fred Clarke, who sent him packing twice. The first time he kicked him off the team, where Rube next played semi-pro ball in Punxsutawny and then pitched for Connie Mack in Milwaukee in the Western League. Mack's success at reeling in Rube's talents got Pittsburgh's attention, where Rube was called back to pitch again. However, a difficult start in 1901 led to his sale to the Chicago Orphans (Cubs). (Source: Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell)

Waddell pitched well for Chicago, but still struggled with maturity issues - leaving the team to join a traveling western show, getting into odd trouble when he would go out drinking, and missing practices. When Chicago management tightened the rules, Rube left to pitch semi-pro baseball in what is now the northwest suburbs before joining a traveling team and heading west. While on a west coast baseball tour, he signed with the Los Angeles Loo Loos for the 1902 season, where he would pitch and play right field. Connie Mack, desperate for pitching, heard Rube was having some success in Los Angeles and convinced Rube to leave that team and head to Philadelphia. It took Pinkerton Agents to sneak him out of California and on a train heading east. (Source: Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell)

Rube's stardom peaked with Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, where he contributed to winning the 1902 and 1905 American League pennants. When the AL adopted the foul-strike rule, Rube's strikeout records - he was already the leading strikeout artist of the game - went to new levels. And, in both cases, his odd behaviors left more potential strikeouts on the field. In 1903, when he first fanned 300 batters, he was injured and had been suspended at least two occasions. Otherwise, he might have struck out 375 to 400 batters. In 1904, when he reached nearly 350 strikeouts, he missed parts of that season as well. (Source: Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell)

Rube's pitching skills - he threw as hard as anyone, threw fast and slow curves, and possibly a change up or screwball if dared - were only half of his fame. The other half of his fame rested on his various odd behaviors tied to his lack of maturity and zest for life. Since fires were a large part of his childhood life in Pennsylvania, Waddell had a fascination with fire departments. There are several documented examples of his working for fire departments and dropping what he was doing to chase fire engines or join crews working fires.

He was a vibrant baserunning coach, shooing runners along, and mocking opposing pitchers. He would try anything - he proved that he could wrestle alligators (just once, earning the ire of a showman as well as his manager), would lead marching bands, he acted in a traveling play, was a master rifleshot, could play golf with skill and power, played soccer and football - even playing professionally for a football team Mack owned in 1902. He would play marbles with kids before and during games; fans loved him for his willingness to talk to and play with anyone at any time.

Rube tended bar and tossed back plenty of beverages, getting him in trouble with his wives and his managers. He married two fame chasers (he was married three times in all), and then got involved in nationally famous divorces owing to the spectacular nature of the fights between spouses. Rube was easily distracted and could be convinced to play semi-pro baseball or go fishing (with or without manager approval), and he frequently forgot promises made to players and managers. He was a big kid in a man's body.

At the same time, he had a heroic nature - diving into freezing water to help with rescue missions, or fighting fires, or working to save towns from floods. There were stories about Rube's odd escapades dating back to his second game with Louisville and during offseasons papers would frequently carry some small slice of life story about Rube. It's extremely likely that Rube was the most famous player in the major leagues in the days prior to Babe Ruth.

Because of that, more stories about Rube have been passed down than most any other player; many being retold in the 1940s, especially in 1946 when Bob Feller made a run at Rube's single-season strikeout record. By then, however, the memories of those telling the stories failed and people starting mixing fact and fiction. Jimmy Austin tells a story about hitting a grand slam off a drunk Rube while playing with the Yankees in Lawrence Ritter's The Glory of Their Times. It didn't happen - Austin merged memories of three different games into one vivid memory - and didn't get many of the details right. Rube's life was an exaggeration, and those retelling his life for many years took liberties with the details. (Source: Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell)

Eventually, problems with his behavior - and the fact that Mack had to treat Rube differently than other players for similar offenses, like drinking - eventually made it difficult to maintain team unity. Prior to the 1908 season, Mack reluctantly sold Waddell to the St. Louis Browns. Waddell helped pitch the Browns into the thick of the famous 1908 AL pennant race, but issues with bad marriages, drinking, and his inability to adapt to his slowing fastball led to a quick demise there. By 1910, he was released and sent to Newark in the Eastern League. Rube pitched reasonably well for the 1911 Minneapolis Millers in the American Association, but during spring training the following season, he got sick while helping the city of Hickman, KY deal with severe flooding. His selfless acts earned him the deserved reputation as a hero, but his inability to keep himself from getting even more sick destroyed what had been a near super-human physical presence. He pitched through illnesses with the Millers in 1912 and briefly in 1913 before being sold to a low level Virginia, MN squad in the old Northern League. By the end of the year, Rube's health left him completely, contracting tuberculosis and dying in a sanitarium in San Antonio, TX on April Fool's Day, 1914. He was just 37. (Source: Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell)

Age at debut: 20 years, 10 months, 26 days

Age at last game: 33 years, 9 months, 19 days

Age at death: 37 years, 5 months, 19 days

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL Pitcher's Triple Crown (1905)
  • 2-time League ERA Leader (1900/NL & 1905/AL)
  • AL Wins Leader (1905)
  • AL Games Pitched Leader (1905)
  • 6-time AL Strikeouts Leader (1902-1907)
  • AL Complete Games Leader (1903)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 7 (1902-1908)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 4 (1902-1905)
  • 25 Wins Seasons: 2 (1904 & 1905)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 10 (1900-1909)
  • 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 3 (1903-1905)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 6 (1902-1905, 1907 & 1908)
  • 300 Strikeouts Seasons: 2 (1903 & 1904)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1946

Records Held[edit]

  • Lowest ERA, left-hander, career, 2.16

Further Reading[edit]

  • Chuck Kimberly: The Days of Rube, Matty, Honus and Ty: Scenes from the Early Deadball Era, 1904–1907, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2019. ISBN 978-1-4766-7610-4
  • Steven A. King: "The Strangest Month in the Strange Career of Rube Waddell", in Morris Levin, ed.: From Swampoodle to South Philly: Baseball in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, The National Pastime, SABR, 2013, pp. 45-52.
  • Alan H. Levy: Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2001. ISBN 978-0786407866
  • Joe Niese: "The Long Way to Philadelphia: The Strange Route Leading Rube Waddell To Join The Philadelphia Athletics", in Morris Levin, ed.: From Swampoodle to South Philly: Baseball in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, The National Pastime, SABR, 2013, pp. 39-44.
  • Dan O'Brien: "Marathon Men: Rube and Cy Go the Distance", in The National Pastime - A Review of Baseball History, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, number 26 (May, 2006), pp. 95-96.
  • Paul Proia: Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell, PublishAmerica, Frederick, MD, 2007.

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