Rube Waddell Essentials
Bats: R Throws: L
Born: October 13, 1876 in Bradford, PA USA
Died: Aoril 1, 1914 in San Antonio, TX USA
Debut: September 8, 1897
Last Game: August 1, 1910
Hall of Fame: Inducted as a Player in 1946 by Old Timers
Full Name: George Edward Waddell
Notable Events and Chronology for Rube Waddell Career
Playing his first game for Connie Mack’s A’s, Rube Waddell faces only 27 batters, blanking the Orioles, 2 – 0. The 25-year old southpaw strikes out the side three times by whiffing Billy Gilbert, Harry Howell and Jack Cronin in the 3rd (on just nine pitches) 6th, and 9th innings. C Ossee Schreckengost throws out the two baserunners.
En route to a 2-0 victory over Baltimore, left-handed hurler Rube Wadell, playing in his first game for Connie Mack’s A’s, faces the minimum 27 batters, striking out 13 in the Oriole Park contest. In the sixth frame, the 25 year-old Philadelphia southpaw becomes the first American League pitcher to toss an immaculate inning when he fans Billy Gilbert, Harry Howell, and Jack Cronin on nine consecutive pitches.
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The colorful, eccentric, and talented Waddell was “one of the best lefthanders I ever saw,” according to Connie Mack, for whom Waddell had his best seasons. His great fastball was compared to that of Walter Johnson, and he threw a sharp-breaking curve. He collected 50 career shutouts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was almost 3-to-1.
Waddell grew up on the farmlands around Bradford, PA. “He often missed school,” said his sister, “but I could always find him playing ball, fishing or following a fire engine.” He pitched for a college team for one year, and for town teams at $25 a game, before signing his first contract with Louisville (NL) in 1897. He was playing for Pittsburgh when, unhappy with the stern discipline of manager Fred Clarke, he jumped the club. Clarke, preferring not to have to deal with the flaky hurler, let him go.
Connie Mack “borrowed” Waddell from the Pirates’ Barney Dreyfuss for his Milwaukee team in the newly christened American League, which was still a minor league in 1900. On August 19, Milwaukee played a doubleheader against the White Sox. Waddell went all the way in the 17-inning opener, winning it 3-2 on his own triple. The two managers agreed the second game would be five innings. Mack, knowing Waddell was an avid fisherman, asked him, “…how would you like to go fishing at Pewaukee for three days instead of going with us to Kansas City? All you have to do is pitch the second game.” Waddell threw a five-inning shutout.
Waddell joined Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in 1902 and went 24-7, leading the AL in strikeouts for the first of six straight seasons. In 1904 he struck out 349 – an AL record that stood for over 70 years until surpassed by Nolan Ryan. (He had been credited with 343 until after Bob Feller fanned 348 in 1946; further digging later increased Waddell’s total to 349.) In 1905 he led the league with 26 wins, 8 relief wins, 46 appearances, 287 strikeouts, and a 1.48 ERA.
It was rumored that gamblers paid Waddell to fake an arm injury and sit out the 1905 World Series against the Giants. “That’s ridiculous,” maintained Mack. “Money meant nothing to him.” In truth, Waddell had fallen on his left arm while horsing around with teammate Andy Coakley. It stiffened up overnight, and he didn’t pitch again that season. Though he pitched four more ML seasons, he never again threw with the same snap.
It is believed Waddell never made more than $2,800 a year, and he spent money as fast as he got it. For a time the A’s paid him in dollar bills, hoping to make his money last longer. He was forever borrowing or conning extra money out of Mack.
Waddell enjoyed waving his teammates off the field and then striking out the side. He actually did so only in exhibition games, since the rules prohibit playing with fewer than nine men on the field in regulation play. But, in a league game in Detroit, Waddell had his outfielders come in close and sit down on the grass. He struck out the side. Once the stunt almost backfired. Pitching an exhibition in Memphis, he took the field alone with his catcher, Doc Powers, for the last three innings. With two out in the ninth, Powers dropped a third strike, allowing the batter to reach first. The next two hitters patted flies that fell behind the mound. Waddell ran himself ragged but finally fanned the last man.
Waddell wrestled alligators in Florida, hung around in firehouses, married two women who then left him, and tended bar when he wasn’t the saloon’s best customer. He held up the start of games he was scheduled to pitch while he played marbles with children outside the park. There was a provision in Waddell’s contract barring him from eating Animal Crackers in bed. In those days, two players had to share a double bed on the road, and Ossie Schreckengost was Waddell’s catcher and roommate. “Schreck wouldn’t sign unless he saw that clause in Waddell’s contract,” said Mack, “so I wrote it in there, and the Rube stuck to it.”
Though Waddell was always a fan favorite, his erratic behavior and declining effectiveness strained the tolerance of his teammates. Some threatened not to report in the spring of 1908 unless Mack got rid of him. Waddell was shipped to the Browns. That July 29, he tied what was then the AL single-game strikeout record by fanning 16 of his former A’s teammates.
By 1910 Waddell was back in the minors. He won 20 games for Joe Cantillon’s Minneapolis (American Association) club in 1911. In the spring of 1912, he was staying at Cantillon’s house in Hickman, Kentucky, when a nearby river flooded. Standing in icy water, Waddell helped pile sandbags on the embankments. The incident affected his health; though he went 12-6 that year, he collapsed while with Virginia (Northern League) in 1913 and landed in a sanatorium in San Antonio, Texas. He died there in 1914 on April Fool’s Day.
For several years there was no monument on Waddell’s grave. The president of the San Antonio ballclub told Connie Mack and John McGraw, whose Giants trained there. They raised enough money to put up a six-foot granite marker. Waddell was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1946.
Quotes About Rube Waddell
“He was the atom bomb of baseball long before the atom bomb was discovered…” — Connie Mack, in his biography My 66 Years in the Big Leagues
Rube Waddell Teammates
Best Season: 1904
Used in 46 games, Waddell threw eight shutouts, posting a 1.62 ERA. He went just 25-19 (talk about lack of support), pitching 383 innings, allowing 307 hits and 91 walks. Just five homers were hit off the big lefty – and he struck out a then league record 349 batters. Not until Sandy Koufax would a southpaw throw some many K’s in one season.
Rube Waddell and Eddie Plank together won 267 games for the A’s from 1902 through 1907, accounting for 56 percent of the team’s victories.
The Odd Couple
Waddell roomed for some time with catcher Ossee Schreckengost, but the two ended up in many crazy quarrels. Schreckengost hated Waddell’s habit of eating in bed. One of Rube’s favorite snacks was limburger cheese sandwiches, which left a less than desirable odor in their room. Waddell also enjoyed munching on crunchy animal crackers. Schreckengost refused to sign his 1903 contract until it included a clause forbidding Waddell from eating crackers in bed.
Mack: Lefty Better than Rube
Connie Mack managed some of baseball’s greatest left-handed pitchers. He saw the best come and go, but in 1931, he compared his top three southpaws for an article in The Sporting News.
“Waddell was a remarkable pitcher. We all know that. But he wasn’t dependable. He didn’t take care of himself. Grove isn’t that way. Lefty’s always in condition. He’s as dependable as the tides… He’s faster than Waddell, too.”
“Don’t think now that I’m taking anything away from Rube. He had the most perfect overhand delivery I have ever seen on a lefthander. When he delivered the ball he brought his hand down right alongside his head. he threw his curve that way as well as his fast one.”
Mack didn’t forget about one of his favorite big-game pitchers, either.
“Eddie Plank was a side-arm pitcher.Occasionally, he’d throw a fastball overhand. Grove, I’d say, has a delivery sort of in netween Waddell’s and Plank’s – half overhand, half side-arm.
“I put Lefty above Plank not becaue he is more dependable, for Eddie was a mighty careful-living fellow, but because Lefty is stronger. he can stand more work than Eddie, who was frail and light.”
Where He Played
Waddell also appeared as a reliever as needed between his starts. Connie Mack often used Waddell out of the bullpen in big games.
Waddell earned the nickname “Rube” because he was a big, fresh kid. The term was commonly used to refer to hayseeds or farmboys.
Hall of Fame Voting
Year Election Votes Pct
1937 BBWAA 67 33.3%
1938 BBWAA 148 56.5%
1939 BBWAA 179 65.3%
1942 BBWAA 136 58.4%
1945 BBWAA 154 62.3%
1946 BBWAA 87 33.1%
1946 Nominating Vote 122 60.4%
1946 Old Timers %
The A’s lost the World Series in 1905 to the Giants, as Waddell was sidelined with an arm injury he suffered while wrestling a teammate. Rumors also circulated that Waddell didn’t pitch because he accepted a $17,000 bribe from gamblers to sit out. Connie Mack refuted that charge to his dying day, but the rumor followed Waddell until his death.
Awards and Honors
1905 AL Triple Crown
Waddell failed to pitch a no-hitter, but he did defeat Cy Young, 4-2, in a 20-inning game on July 4, 1905. In a remarkable 1900 doubleheader, he won both the 17-inning first game and the second game, 1-0.
* September 20, 1908: … Waddell fanned 17 batters in 14 innings, defeating Walter Johnson of the Senators, 2-1.
May, 1901: Purchased by the Chicago Orphans from the Pittsburgh Pirates; Before 1902 Season: Jumped from the Chicago Orphans to the Philadelphia Athletics; February 7, 1908: Purchased by the St. Louis Browns from the Philadelphia Athletics.
Best Strength as a Player
His fastball, which was the fastest of his era, until his arm injury in 1905.
Largest Weakness as a Player
His focus. It has been speculated that Waddell may have been retarded, or have a learning disability. Whatever it was, it kept him from staying focused on his career. He was constantly disappearing. Connie Mack once hired a private detective to keep tabs on the lefty.
Waddell was unpredictable, and had a habit of leaving the dugout in the middle of games to follow passing fire trucks to fires. He performed as an alligator wrestler in the offseason. He was easily distracted by opposing team fans who used to hold up puppies and shiny objects, which seemed to put Waddell in a trance on the mound. An alcoholic for much of his adult life, Waddell reportedly spent the entirety of his first signing bonus on a drinking binge (Sporting News called him “the sousepaw”). Waddell’s eccentric behavior led to constant battles with his managers and scuffles with bad-tempered teammates, and complaints from his teammates forced his trade from Philadelphia to St. Louis in early 1908 despite his importance to the team and his continued success. Recent commentators (such as Bill James) have suggested that Waddell may have suffered from a developmental disability, mental retardation, autism, or attention deficit disorder (ADD). Essentially, none of these mental issues was either known of or properly diagnosed at the time. Though eccentric and childlike, Rube Waddell was not illiterate (as some sources have claimed). Ken Burns’ baseball documentary claims Waddell lost track of how many women he’d married.
James wrote that Waddell would not be allowed to be himself today, but would be analyzed, compartmentalized and would not be allowed to compete anywhere save for “heaving a rubber-tipped javelin in the Special Olympics.”
Walter Johnson said of Waddell:
* “In my opinion, and I suppose if there is any subject that I am qualified to discuss it is pitching, Rube Waddell had more sheer pitching ability than any man I ever saw. That doesn’t say he was the greatest pitcher, by a good deal. Rube had defects of character that prevented him from using his talents to the best effect. He is dead and gone, so there is no need for me to enlarge on his weaknesses. They were well enough known. I would prefer to dwell on his strong points. And he had plenty.”
Alan Howard Levy, in his book Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist, wrote:
* “He was among the game’s first real drawing cards, among its first honest-to-goodness celebrities, and the first player to have teams of newspaper reporters following him, and the first to have a mass following of idol-worshiping kids yelling out his nickname like he was their buddy.”
Cooperstown historian Lee Allen encapsulated Waddell’s erratic behavior:
* “He began that year (1903) 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.”
* Won Triple Crown for pitchers (1905: 27–10, 287, 1.48)
* 4-time 20-game winner (24, 21, 25, 27: 1902–05)
* Two ERA titles (1900, 1905), along with two second-place finishes in the category
* Six consecutive AL strikeout titles (1902–07), and five consecutive strikeout titles (1903–07) in the entire Major Leagues.
* Led his league eight times in strikeouts per nine innings (1900, 1902–1908; he finished second in 1901)
* Set league record for strikeouts in a game up to that time (16, 1908)
* Set record for strikeouts in a season for an AL lefty (349, 1904)
* On July 1, 1902, Waddell became the second pitcher to strike out three batters on nine pitches, in the third inning of a 2–0 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
* Collected 50 shutouts.
* Waddell was the opposing pitcher for Cy Young’s perfect game on May 5, 1904, and hit a flyball for the final out. In 1905, Waddell beat Young in a 20-inning game. In 1907, the two men pitched a scoreless 13-inning tie. What is lost to many is that Rube and Young could have been teammates. According to “Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell”, Rube was signed to pitch for Fort Wayne, a minor league team with ties to the Cleveland Spiders. For whatever reason, Rube never pitched there – perhaps his parents would not let him. Had he succeeded, though, he likely would have joined the Spiders and been a teammate of Young at the beginning of his career.
* Rube Marquard, according to his own story, acquired his nickname when a writer compared him favorably to Waddell.
* On August 19, 1900, Waddell pitched the first game of a doubleheader for Milwaukee, winning in the 17th inning on his own triple. His manager, Connie Mack, offered Waddell a three-day fishing vacation if he agreed to pitch the second game (which had been shortened to 5 innings). Waddell threw 5 scoreless innings for the victory, and headed to Pewaukee Lake for fishing. Waddell also won both halves of a 1902 doubleheader (relieving in the second game).
* Waddell was so bad at holding onto money that the A’s once paid him in dollar bills, in the hopes that he would spend it more slowly. Half of his contract was given directly to his wife, while the rest was doled out as Rube needed it. According to Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell (Paul Proia, PublishAmerica 2007), the practice of paying Rube in small amounts dated to his time in Pittsburgh where Barney Dreyfuss paid Rube in smaller amounts and Rube would “touch” his owners for cash as he needed it.
* A provision in Waddell’s contract—inserted at his catcher’s insistence—prohibited Waddell from eating crackers in bed. (Players shared beds on road trips.)
* On July 29, 1908, Waddell set the AL strikeout record with 16 in a game. This took place against his former Philadelphia A’s team, which had traded him away five months earlier as a disruptive influence.
* Jimmy Austin has claimed that, in 1909, he hit a home run off of a tipsy Waddell who then glared angrily at him during his entire trot around the bases. However, maintaining the 360-degree pivot made Waddell dizzy, and he passed out on the mound. Evidence indicates, however, that this story could not have happened as Jimmy Austin described it. Austin likely merged three different games against Waddell into one memory. In their first meeting, Austin banged out a triple to the deepest part of center field in the first inning, but was stranded by Waddell, who retired the rest of the batters in order. In their second meeting, Waddell was removed from a game after being hit by a batted ball. In their third meeting, Austin likely faced a Waddell who had been bored by playing for a poor Browns club. In that game, Austin batted with runners on first and second and bunted. Rube twisted as he threw to third—and got the force out. However, he feigned injury and appeared less than cooperative to manager Jimmy McAleer, so McAleer pulled Waddell from the game. Oddly, Austin was removed from the bases when he tried to advance an extra base on a single to left field.
* Waddell led his league in strikeouts in every season from 1902 through 1907. During this six-year stretch, he had 1,576 strikeouts, while the aggregate total of all six runners-up was 1,180.
While a member of the Athletics, Waddell also played professional football in the first National Football League in 1902. He played as a fullback for the Philadelphia Athletics. Newspapers of the time charitably referred to Waddell as “eccentric” while others ranked him between “screwball” and “nutsy.” When football began, Connie saw a chance to keep his star in line for a few months more. He signed the lefty on as an extra lineman, against Waddell’s recommendation that he be placed at halfback. While there is no mention of Waddell’s name in any lineups or game accounts, Wallace may have let the lefty into a few games when the score was safe. Regardless, it was no secret to anyone that the Rube was there to be watched. Mack was still more committed to baseball than football and worried more about losing Rube Waddell than any football game. In Elmira, Waddell was tempted to remain in a town that was home to one of the biggest manufacturers of fire engines, which he loved. Mack had to convince Rube to stay with the team.
The night before the first championship game with Pittsburgh, Connie caught Rube sneaking into the hotel long after curfew. After being delivered a lecture by Mack, Waddell turned return to his hotel room. However, a loaded pistol dropped out of his pocket and fired. The bullet missed Mack’s head by inches.