The A’s were eliminated from the playoffs last week, which means baseball season is essentially over for me. The disappointment burns even deeper as I have absolutely zero interest in the Redsox/Tigers series; I’ve watched maybe one inning of the 4 games played in the series so far.
Usually during the off-season, in order to get a fix, I’ll read up and polish my knowledge of baseball history. I’ve always had a keen interest in the history of the game, with a pretty healthy interest and focus on eccentrics…or weirdos. Rube Waddell is one of the more interesting characters I’ve come across during my readings. Never mind Rube’s induction into the Hall of Fame in 1946 or 193 career wins. It’s Mr. Waddell’s off the field habits that I found to be of the most interest…
Despite Rube’s drinking problems with the National League’s Louisville Colonels, in 1902 Owner/manager Connie Mack took a risk on the oddball and signed him to the Philadelphia Athletics. Waddell’s turnaround was a direct result of Connie Mack’s managing. According to Mack, Waddell “had more stuff than any pitcher I ever saw. He had everything but a sense of responsibility.” Because of this, Mack paid Waddell on an as-needed basis in singles so he wouldn’t blow his earnings on alcohol. While Mack could control Waddell’s paychecks, he couldn’t control all of the idiosyncrasies. Waddell’s fascination with fire departments continued throughout his time with the A’s and he routinely wore red under his clothing just in case a fire bell would ring. He missed starts because he was fishing, or was late to games because he was playing marbles in the streets of Philadelphia with children. He was married three times and was often put in jail for missing alimony payments.
Other examples of the bizarre with Waddell include:
- He wrestled alligators during the off-season.
- He played for two Philadelphia Athletics clubs in 1902: the baseball club and the Philadelphia Athletics of the first National Football League (at 6’2″ and 200 lbs. he was a fullback).
- He almost shot Connie Mack in the head when a pistol fell out of his pocket and fired at the team hotel.
- His contract included a clause, at his catcher’s insistence, that prohibited Waddell from eating crackers in bed. During the early years, players would share beds on road trips and Ossee Schreckengost couldn’t sleep because of the crumbs.
- In 1903, he climbed into the stands to beat up a spectator who was heckling him and was suspended for 5 games.
- In one game, Waddell was at bat in the 8th inning with 2 outs and a man on second. After a pitch, the catcher threw to second in a pick-off attempt, but the ball sailed into the outfield. The A’s runner took off and was rounding home to score when the center fielder fired home. Waddell, with bat still in hand, swung and hit the ball back into play. He was called out for interference. His explanation for the gaffe, “They’d been feeding me curves all afternoon, and this was the first straight ball I’d looked at!”
At the end of the 1907 season, Waddell was slumping badly and was then sold to St. Louis “in the interests of team unity.” He pitched out the final three years of his major league career before drinking his way back to the minors in 1911.
The events surrounding Waddell’s death were just as memorable as those surrounding his life. In the fall of 1912, he was living in Kentucky with friends when a nearby dam collapsed and caused devastating flooding in the region. Waddell immediately went to help out in whatever way he could, by pulling people out of homes and by working for hours on end in cold water piling up sandbags. Although his actions were heroic, they also proved costly as he developed pneumonia. As a result, his body was severely weakened and he battled bouts of pneumonia and tuberculosis from which he never fully recovered. He died in 1914 at the age of 37…on April Fool’s day