The Legend of Pitching Great: Rube Waddell (1897-1910)
George Edward Waddell was born on October 13, 1876. He was nicknamed Rube because he was a big young fresh kid. The term was used back then to decribe farmboys ir hayseeds. Waddell was a fascinating personality. His off the field antics ade it hard for him to land a steady job in baseball. When the National League was set to eight teams in 1900 the Pittsburgh Pirates took over the players from the Louisville club, including Waddell.
When he hit the big leagues he was one of the best pitchers of his era, maybe all time. The crowds always came out to see him pitch. He always made grand entrances, earning applause & cheers. The kids idolized him & the older fans got a kick out of him.
He led the NL in ERA that season, but his crazy behavior got him suspended & he moved on to pitching in small towns. Connie Mack heard of Waddell & with the Pirates approval had him pitch for him in the newly former American League at Milwaukee for a brief period. After the season he pitched in California with a barnstorming team & when Connie Mack learned where he was, sent two Pinkerton agents to escort him back to Philadelphia. Mack was now managing the Philadelphia A's & Waddell became his star pitcher.
He had one of the games best fast balls & an awesome screwball & curve. Mack later said " Waddell was the atom bomb of baseball long before the atom bomb was discovered. He had the fastest and deepest curve I've ever seen".
Waddell would pitch six years for Mack, leading the league in strikeouts every year. He won 20 games or more four straight years, & 19 games twice. He never posted an ERA higher than 2.44 in Philadelphia, and posted ERA's under two three times in his career. In 1905 he won the triple crown of pitching as he led the league in wins (27) ERA (1.48) strike outs (287) games (46) & winning % (.730). He was the first pitcher to post back to back 300 strikeout seasons, & it wasn't done again until Sandy Koufax did it 60 years later. His 349 K's are still an AL record for left handers.
Off the field he was an alcoholic most of his adult life, nicknamed "the Souse Paw". He once reportedly spent all his signing bonus on a drinking binge. Obsessed with firefighting he was famous for leaving the dugout and chasing passing fire trucks to fires. In Spring Training he would disappear for days & was once found leading a parade in Jacksonville, Florida. He loved the ladies, saying said he couldn't remember how many times he got married,. Outside the ballpark on his way in he would stop to play marbles with kids. During the off season he was known to even wrestle alligators.
Opposing teams fans would distract Waddell by holding up puppies and shiny objects which would often put him in a trance on the mound. He spent money like water and was paid in dollar bills in the hope that it would take him longer to spend it. Half of his salary was paid directly to one of his wives or it would never have gotten to her. His roommates insisted his contract stated he would not be allowed to eat crackers in bed.
In 1903 he began the year sleeping in a fire house in Camden, NJ, so he was near the fire fighting action. He finished the year tending bar in Wheeling, West Virginia. In between, he won 22 games for the A's, played left end for a Michigan Rugby club, toured the country in a stage play, saved a woman from drowning, accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and topped it off by getting married & divorced to a woman in Massachusetts.
Team mates began to complain about his special treatment & eventually all his issues got his contact sold to the St. Louis Brows. After one successful 19 win season he began to decline by age 34 & was released. Today it is suggested that Waddell may have suffered from autism, mental disorders or attention deficit disorder which were not known of or properly diagnosed at the time. He may have been eccentric and childlike, but Waddell was not illiterate nor dumb.
In his 13 year career he was 193-143, with 2316 strikeouts posting a 2.16 ERA, with 50 shutouts, & 261 complete games. He was considered one of the best of the dead ball era by such legends as Walter Johnson, Connie Mack, & Casey Stengel.
In 1912 he helped save people from freezing waters at a Kentucky flood. He caught pneumonia from the flood incident & eventually developed tuberculosis. He went to live with his sister then was sent to asanitarium where he passed away on April Fools Day 1914 in San Antonio Texas. He was only 37 years old. In 1946 he was elected to the Baseball Hall ofFame.