George Edward Waddell (October 13, 1876 - April 1, 1914) was an American left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball. In his thirteen-year career he played for the Louisville Colonels (1897, 1899), Pittsburgh Pirates (1900-01) and Chicago Orphans (1901) in the National League, and the Philadelphia Athletics (1902-07) and St. Louis Browns (1908-10) in the American League. Waddell earned the nickname "Rube" because he was a big, fresh kid. The term was commonly used to refer to hayseeds or farmboys. He was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania.
Waddell was a remarkably dominant strikeout pitcher in an era when batters mostly slapped at the ball to get singles. He had an excellent fastball, a sharp-breaking curve, a screwball and superb control (his strikeout-to-walk ratio was almost 3-to-1). Waddell led the Major Leagues in strikeouts for six consecutive years.
Waddell was odd and unpredictable, including a bad habit of leaving the dugout in the middle of games to follow passing fire trucks to fires, and performed as an alligator wrestler in the offseason. He was also easily distracted by opposing team fans who used to hold up puppies and shiny objects which seem to put Waddell in a trance on the mound. He was an alcoholic for much of his adult life, reportedly spending 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; 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, or autism. 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."
Because of his troubles with alcohol and erratic nature, Waddell's career was checkered. His first pro contract was with Louisville (for $500), though he only pitched two games with the team at the end of the 1897 season. When the season was over, he was loaned to the Detroit Wolverines of the Western League to gain professional seasoning.
Waddell left his next team, Detroit of the Western League, to pitch in Canada before eventually returning to Homestead, Pennsylvania to pitch semi-pro baseball there. He pitched for Columbus of the Western League in 1899, continued with the team when the franchise moved mid-season to Grand Rapids, and finished with a record of 26-8. He rejoined Louisville in the final month of the 1899 season and won seven of nine decisions. When the National League contracted to eight teams for the 1900 season, Louisville ownership bought the Pittsburgh franchise and the Louisville franchise was allowed to be terminated. Louisville's top players, including Waddell, Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, and others, were transferred to Pittsburgh.
Waddell debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900, leading the National League in ERA. But his erratic behavior led manager Fred Clarke to suspend him. After pitching semi-pro ball in small towns such as Punxsutawney, Connie Mack learned of Waddell's availability, and with Pittsburgh's approval, convinced Waddell to pitch for Milwaukee for several weeks in the summer of 1900. Milwaukee was in the newly-named American League (formerly the Western League), which was not yet directly competing with the National League. When Waddell displayed his prowess for Milwaukee, Pittsburgh asked for Rube to be returned to the club. By 1901, Waddell had worn out his welcome and his contract was sold to the Cubs, who ended up suspending him for the last month of the season-- which Waddell promptly spent pitching for a semi-pro team in Wisconsin.
Waddell then joined a barnstorming team that travelled to California. While there, Waddell was convinced to stay and joined the Los Angeles Loo Loos in a league that one year later would become the Pacific Coast League. Connie Mack, now in Philadelphia, was desperate for pitching, and when he learned Rube was pitching in California, he dispatched two Pinkerton agents to sneak Waddell to Philadelphia, where he would lead the Philadelphia Athletics to the 1902 American League crown. Mack later described his star left-hander as, "...the atom bomb of baseball long before the atom bomb was discovered."
Waddell's pitching repertoire consisted mainly of only two pitches: One of the fastest fastballs in the league and a hard curve. Mack once said that Waddell's curve was, "even better than his speed... [He] had the fastest and deepest curve I've ever seen."
In his career, Waddell had a record of 193-143, 2,316 strikeouts, and a 2.16 earned run average, with 50 shutouts and 261 complete games in 2961 innings pitched.
In his prime, Rube Waddell was the game's premiere power pitcher. In 1903, Waddell had 302 strikeouts, 115 more than the runner-up (Bill Donovan), and followed that up with 349 strikeouts in 1904, 110 more than the runner-up (Jack Chesbro). No other pitcher would amass two consecutive 300-strikeout seasons until Sandy Koufax in 1965 & 1966.
Waddell's 349 strikeouts was the modern-era record for more than 60 years, and remains sixth on the modern list. (In 1946, it was initially believed that Bob Feller's 348 strikeouts had broken Waddell's single-season mark. However, research into Waddell's 1904 season revealed uncounted strikeout numbers, lifting him back above Feller.) Waddell still holds the American League single season strikeout record by a left-handed pitcher.
After his major league career was over, Waddell pitched for parts of three more years in the minor leagues, including a 20-win season for Minneapolis in 1911.
Rube Waddell died in 1914 on April 1, "April Fool's Day", in San Antonio, Texas at the age of 37, apparently from the lingering effects of having stood in icy waters doing extensive flood relief work.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
In 1981, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. Under what they called "the Smoky Joe Wood Syndrome," they argued in favor of a player of truly exceptional talent whose career was curtailed by injury (or, in Waddell's case, substance abuse), despite not having had career statistics that would quantitatively rank him with the all-time greats.
- 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 strikeout titles (1902-07)
- 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.
- Rube Marquard, according to his own story, acquired his nickname when a writer compared him favorably to Waddell.
- Waddell was part of a 15-player trade in December 1899 that also included fellow Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Jack Chesbro. In truth, it wasn't so much a trade as it was a realignment of talent following a change of ownership. The owners of Louisville purchased the Pittsburgh club and moved all of their best players to Pittsburgh.
- 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, allowing one single. 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.