Rube Waddell

I’ve been listening to an audio book that Hanspostcard recommended and it’s bringing back a lot of memories of my childhood. The book is The Glory of their Times.  When I was a kid I bought any book on baseball or the Beatles I could find…I had a keen interest in old baseball players like Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, and more. My first baseball book was on Christy Mathewson.

Rube could bring it. His career record was 193-143 with a 2.16 ERA. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946. He pitched from 1897 to 1910 with the Louisville Colonels, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Orphans, Philadelphia Athletics, and the St. Louis Browns. Waddell still holds the AL single-season strikeout record by a left-handed pitcher. Not as easy to strike out batters at that time because of all of the slap hitters…way before the homerun was popular.

Rube Waddell held a special place in my heart for being so…uh different. He was a childlike man who opposing teams would often buy toys or shiny objects to distract him while he was pitching…he wouldn’t bear down on them if he was happy.

The hardest part was getting him to the park. He would miss starts while playing marbles with kids, fishing, hunting, drinking,  or chasing fire engines. It’s been said that he had to be restrained when he heard a fire bell.  After a win he sometimes would do cartwheels on the mound.

In the off season he took to wrestling alligators. It’s also said he would lose track of how many times he was married and of punching a lion in the face at a show and it bit his left hand.

He was one of baseball’s first gate attractions because you never knew what he would do.

What I didn’t understand as a kid was there was sadness behind the wacky things Waddell did. His was  nicknamed Waddell the sousepaw, a reference to his drinking habit and him being left handed.  Many have speculated that Waddell was clinically disabled or at the very least affected by a personality disorder.

In Kentucky 1912 he was helping people in a flood and caught pneumonia. He then helped in a second flood in the same location and caught pneumonia again.  That same year, while in Minneapolis, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He died in 1914.

He didn’t have 300 wins for a milestone but he did have 4 seasons of over 20 wins and two more with 19. He also topped 300 strikeouts twice and 200 strikeouts 5 times.