Cubs Manager Joe McCarthy and A’s Manager Connie Mack

October 4, 1929–(CHICAGO) We start with Cubs skipper Joe McCarthy. McCarthy was born in Philadelphia, and grew up idolizing Mr. Mack. He played baseball and took on a variety of odd jobs in Germantown as a young man. He had a 15 year career in the minors but never played in the majors. He managed Louisville from 1919-1925, when he was called up by the Cubs.

The 1925 Cubs had been managed by three different men and had finished last in the NL with a 66-86 record. McCarthy instantly turned the team around, and they went from 82 wins in 1926 to 85 wins to 91 wins to the 98 wins they accumulated in 1929. McCarthy stands by his players, but give him any lip and he’ll send you right out the door. He summed up his managing philosophy earlier this week in the Inquirer:

My philosophy in running a ball club, or in building it up, is that as long as a man is paid to run the club, he might as well RUN it. 

When veteran pitchers Grover Alexander, Wilbur Cooper, and Tony Kaufmann decided to get lippy with McCarthy in his first year, he gave ’em the old bum’s rush outta town. And don’t think that Chicago’s Big Cheese has forgotten it for a minute either!

You’ll find (current Cubs pitchers) Root, Blake, and Bush taking an active part in the Cubs’ preparations for the forthcoming World Series with the Athletics. You don’t hear much of those other three pitchers any more. 

There’s not much I can say that you don’t already know about the Tall Tactician, Cornelius McGillicuddy, aka Connie Mack. A former catcher with the Pirates, he took on the A’s head job in 1901, when they were founded, and has been there ever since. He managed the first A’s dynasty from 1910-1914, but then tore the team apart, and spent plenty of time at the bottom looking up at the top teams in the AL. In fact, they finished in last place every year from 1915-1921, then slowly started to build their way back to respectability.

You won’t find Connie spending any time in any juice joints, and he tries to recruit players who abstain from booze as well. He goes by the name Mr. Mack to his players, and is regarded as a living legend by nearly everyone, except for perhaps the sportswriters, who give him a hard time about his miserly ways (If you go to the Series next week, don’t expect to find any water fountains. You’ll pay for water if you want it.) But he is a beloved figure to most fans of the Philadelphia team, especially now that he has a team back in the World Series.

 


Athletics Story

by S.O. Grauley, staff writer, Philadelphia Inquirer. The following are excerpts from a wonderful piece on Connie Mack by S.O. Grauley in today’s Inquirer.

Connie Mack has regained his peak. After fifteen long, nerve-racking years, crammed with worries, brimful of disaster and invariably discouraging, the “Lean Leader” of the Athletics has again that honor which was his so many times when the famous White Elephants ruled the baseball kingdom.

Year after year, since the utter rout of his champions of 1914, Mack could never build a winner…He faced long bleak seasons of untold bitter disappointments and most discouraging endings. Seven times he finished the AMerican League season in last place.

Such a showing would have driven most baseball men to despair. Many would have tossed up their arms and and said, “What’s the use? Fate is against me.”

But Mack, like Ben Hur, who in the climax of the chariot race, was grateful for the grueling years at the oars of the galley, became hardened to those sneers. The elongated leader of the club had fait in his own convictions, own judgement and was firm in his determination to again prove to Philadelphians…that he could come back. Year after year, during those lean seasons when the Athletics were the door mat of the American League Connie often was assailed with the sneering remark, “Get another manager, youre too old to stay in modern baseball.”

But those who sneered and jeered at the silent man of the team, the man who has become famous again through his persistency to come back and win games by signaling his players’ movements in the field, via his famous scorecard, are now the first to acclaim this man, who is now nearly three score and ten, as the greatest manager in baseball.

That he and his wonderful team will go into the 1929 World Series bearing the good wishes of every local fan is quite evident. Timely hitting, good pitching, and a strong defense has carried the A’s to the American championship. Well managed, well balanced, and well executed plays enabled the Macks to sweep aside the Yankee menace and bring to Philadelphia a pennant so greatly desired.

Philadelphians always made much of the Athletics. Ever since 1901 when the American League swept east, planted a team here and there on the Atlantic coast, fans took to the new invasion. Here in Philadelphia the Athletics went over big…The fight between the new league and the National over players and the showing of the Athletics in the race brought Philadelphia fandom flocking to the gates of the new park out 29th street. So popular became the Mackmen that the expression of “Follow the crowd”, which the Inquirer had so timely suggested as a slogan, became famous throughout the land of baseball.

Twenty nine years of baseball. Seven pennant winners, six second places. Surely Mack has just cause to feel proud of this achievment. The Inquirer extends hearty congratulations to the Man Who Came Back.


Frank “Home Run” Baker, Terrell Owens, and the Greatest Collapse in MLB History

The 2012 Phillies aren’t in the midst of the most spectacular collapse of a dynasty in Philly baseball history. That happened in 1915. The A’s were coming off four World Series appearances in five years, with victories in 3 of them. But success has it’s own price, and for Connie Mack, that was trying to keep his players paid. With so much success, the stars of the team were wanting major pay raises. Adding pressure to the problem were a couple of major developments. For one, the Federal League, baseball’s USFL more or less, was offering huge wads of money to MLB stars, many of whom played on the A’s. And Mack, coming off a season in which fans had become spoiled by success (The A’s were 5th in the AL in attendance in 1914 despite winning the pennant), became convinced that fans enjoyed watching a team try to get to the top more than seeing a team already there. He was also losing money to technology. The giant scoreboard the Philadelphia Record had erected across from City Hall was hurting him too (similar to this one at the New York Herald’s offices). Fans were showing up for free to “watch” the game on the board instead of paying to get into the ballpark. Finally, he believed his own hype, and thought that if he built this dynasty, why couldn’t he start from scratch and build another?

The dismantling began with Mack selling AL MVP Eddie Collins to the White Sox in December of 1914, reportedly for $50,000. (It was with Chicago that Collins is perhaps today best remembered for being the “clean” superstar on the 1919 Black Sox.) Collins was floored by the move, loved playing in Philly and for Mack, but the money Comiskey was offering was just too great to turn down.

The move was not met with derision in Philly or nationally, as most people considered it a smart move. As WA Phelon wrote in Baseball Magazine:

“It reduces the Athletics payroll, brings the needed cash, yet will not hurt the gate. Hence it’s a great thing for the Mackmen.”

He released the aging Jack Coombs, another hero of the 1911 World Series. Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, though both toward the end of their careers, jumped to the Federal League and the big paydays. Still, the team seemed to be pretty much intact. An aging but capable Nap Lajoie was brought back to town from the Indians to take over for Collins at second base. The three of the four members of the famous $100,000 Infield were still in place and the 4th piece had been replaced by a legend. The team would be fine. Except for one thing.


Third baseman and city legend Home Run Baker (above, left) was torn between returning to the A’s or retiring to his farm in Maryland.

At the team’s annual banquet in February of 1915, Mack dropped a bombshell, “I can’t say that I’ve had as good a time tonight I’ve had in years gone by at this banquet. I have given you a lot of surprises lately, but tonight I have a real surprise for you. Frank Baker wrote me a letter that he would not play for the Athletics the coming year. Frank has decided to quit the game for good.” The air went out of the banquet hall, and the annual jovial affair took on the air of a funeral reception. Mack continued on.

“He’s just sick of traveling and he wants to settle down for good on his Maryland farm. His wife has been at him for years to quit and it has been a tussle to make him sign each season…The boy isn’t dissastisfied. He doesn’t want more money, and he isn’t flighty.”

That was partly true. Collins was a country boy who loved his farm. But as he told a reporter that winter, “Every man has his price at which he is willing to work. I have mine. I am not stating what it is, but I will take it if it is offered. I will work for Connie Mack cheaper than I will work for anyone else. But I will not work for Mack or anyone else under the conditions as they are at present.”

Baker, a bonified superstar, could not be happy with the fact that he had signed a $6,666 per year contract a year before Collins had signed a $15,000 a year contract. And he certainly wasn’t pleased when Mack brought in the 40-year old Lajoie for $9,000. “I wish them all the luck in the world, but I have to look out for my own interests also.” At a time where the economy in the US wasn’t so hot, Baker’s holdout didn’t go over real well. Almost all of Philadelphia sided with Mack. Baker had signed a 3-year, $20,000 contract the year before, and now he was breaking it.

When the team reported to Jacksonville that March, Baker was nowhere in sight. Players wrote him. He wrote none of them back. Rumors began to swirl that he would be dealt to the Yankees. He said that he would play in New York, but he would play in Philadelphia for cheaper. It was beginning to look like exactly what TO would want from the Eagles 90 years later; a modest bump to the salary he had already signed, just to show respect for what he had given the team and the city. It’s worth noting that in both cases, fans in the city tended to side with management, since both players were so egregiously overpaid to begin with. And in both cases, the loss of the star player resulted in a team going from the championship game to an epic disaster. (Of course, TO would play a few games with the Eagles, while Baker didn’t play a single one.)

Baker met with Mack on Opening Day. He wasn’t reporting to the team, though you get the feeling that when he talked to Mack, he had to be hoping that the A’s leader was going to offer him a token raise and the problem would be solved. It wasn’t. Baker asked permission to opt out of his contract and play for a semi-pro team in Delco. The obstinate Mack granted him permission, so long as he didn’t play any games in Philadelphia. They had only months previous been the two undisputed kings of the city. Now they went their separate ways.

The A’s, without stars Collins and Baker, and with a young pitching staff that Mack had greatly overrated**, made a nosedive into the cellar of the AL. A year after winning 99-games and winning the AL by 8.5 games, they went 43-109, 58.5 games out of first place. The drop of 56-games is still a major league record. (The Phillies would have to go 8-66 for the rest of the season to break it.) Many fans of the A’s drifted 6 blocks west and started watching the exciting 1915 Phillies team, who would make their first ever World Series appearance that October.

Baker would play a year of summer league ball in Maryland, then Mack would sell his contract to the Yankees. He would play four years for them, though he never again duplicated his numbers from his Philadelphia days. The A’s meanwhile, wouldn’t recover from the Collins deal and the Baker fallout until the mid-1920s, when Mack would put together his second dynasty.

A lot of this info comes courtesy of the excellent books, “Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball” and “Connie Mack, The Turbulent and Triumphant Years“, both by Norman Macht.

**Hmm, losing two best players and overrating young pitchers. Sound familiar?


When Connie Mack Had a Heckler Arrested

I did a lot of talking about fan behavior last week. First in my column for the Philly Post. Then on WIP Thursday night with Spike Eskin. Then Friday on the podcast. And there was one thing I learned that I couldn’t put in the column but thought was really remarkable and thought you guys might dig. 

In the 1920s, the Philadelphia A’s had a solid outfielder named “Good Time” Bill Lamar (left). He was a solid hitter, batting .310 over his 4 seasons in Philadelphia. But the hecklers at Shibe Park would simply not let him off the hook. Fans like the Kessler Brothers and their cousins, the Ziegler Brothers, worked as food vendors during the mornings, then let off work to go to games in the afternoon. And, since they had paid for their tickets, they believed they had carte blanche to mentally destroy the home players. They were the 700 Level before the 700 Level existed. But what made it strange is that unlike the Vet, Shibe was a nice place for a ballgame, and unlike the Phillies, the A’s were usually pretty damn good.

Anyways, Lamar started tanking at home in 1927. Seeing that they were getting to him, the fans laid into him even more, and the results were obvious: Lamar batted .272 at home with a .369 slugging %, while he batted .312 on the road with a .452% slugging percentage. The heckling so got to Lamar that Mack sat him for home games…he played in 28 home games that year and 56 away games. Finally, Lamar told Mack he could no longer play in Philadelphia and asked for his release. Despite the fact that he was a .310 career hitter, he never played in the Majors again. (The Washington Senators picked him up off waivers, but when he demanded a $1000 bonus to join Washington, they blanched and no-one else signed him.)

Mack was furious, at one fan in particular. His name was Harry Donnelly, and the 26-year old had ridden Lamar harder than anyone else at the park. Finally, after Lamar was granted his release, Mack decided to get his revenge. A month after Lamar’s exit, Donnelly started jockeying another A’s player. Mack had had enough. He had Donnelly arrested and taken out of the Park. After the game, Mack walked down the street to the police station and swore out a warrant against Donnelly for disturbing the peace.

“This man’s rooting has damaged the morale of my team,” Mack told the magistrate. “He has been razzing us all year with a voice that carries like a three-mile loudspeaker. Because of him I have had to dispose of Bill Lamar, a competent outfielder. He has assailed other players until they are of little use to the club at home…He has done more to ruin the morale of the Athletics than any other factor, including the bats of Ruth and Gehrig.” The magistrate held Donnelly on $500 bail and threatened to fine him if he were again “handing out raspberries.” I have to assume that Donnelly learned to shut his fat mouth. There is no more historical record of him after his arrest.

A lot of info for this piece came from Connie Mack: the Turbulent and Triumphant Years. Photo of Bill Lamar comes from his SABR Bio


How Connie Mack Beat a Hall of Famer With Horsesh*t

Big Ed Walsh was a baseball superstar. The Chicago White Sox pitcher dominated American League hitters early in the 20th century. In 1908, as he mastered the spitball, he went from solid to spectacular. His final numbers for the year: 40-15 with 1.42 ERA (He’s the last pitcher to win 40 games in a season). He pitched an amazing 464 innings. His workload decreased the next year, but he bounced back with an insane 0.82 WHIP in 1910 and 27 win seasons in 1911 and 1912.

The secret to his success was his incredible spitball. As Tiger Hall of Famer “Wahoo” Sam Crawford would note years later, “I think that ball would disintegrated on the way to the plate, and the catcher put it back together again. I swear, when it went past the plate, it was just the spit that went by.” Big Ed was plenty confident about his best pitch too. “”When I’ve got the spitter breaking right, I can beat any ball club in the world. No use trying to bat against it. It’s simply unhittable.”

But Ed pitched an average of 375 innings from 1907-1912, and the innings started to take their toll. After the 1912 season, he asked Charles Comiskey if he could take a year off to rest the arm. I don’t need to tell you what one of the most despicable owners in the history of sports had to say about that. And so Big Ed was back on the mound to start the 1913 season.

The Philadelphia A’s were at their peak then, in the midst of winning 3 pennants in 4 years. But Connie Mack was sick of losing 1-0 games to Big Ed, and he looked for a way to beat the spitball. He found it in a strange intricacy of Walsh’s spitball. Ed cut out the middle man, and just licked the ball.

Back in those days, the home team supplied the game balls. So Mack had his ball boy run to a nearby stable and grab a bucket of horsesh*t. Mack then had all of the game balls rubbed in horse manure.

The game started, and Walsh began his normal routine. It didn’t take long for Walsh to realize that something was wrong. “I vomited all over the place,” Walsh would say later about that game. Walsh was infuriated, and lost his cool. He began beaning A’s. The Athletics crushed the White Sox.

Big Ed  was struggling with a dead arm at the time, and the game didn’t do him any favors. After the A’s blasted him again that July, he took the rest of the season off. He was done. He had won 189 games by age 32. He would win 6 more over the rest of his career. One book claimed that the manure game was the turning point of his career, that other teams began using manure and he couldn’t get over it, but that seems highly unlikely. Walsh was in extreme arm pain by 1913, and had considered taking the year off before the manure game even occurred. Nonetheless, the only pitcher to get beaten by horsesh*t was so dominant for those 6 seasons that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

Anyone who has any further info on this story, please let me know. There is very little information on it. I don’t even have a final score on the game (baseball reference doesn’t have winning and losing pitchers for the 1913 season). I first read it in the Incomplete Book of Baseball Superstitions, Rituals, and Oddities, by Mike Blake. I also found some backup in another book called How Baseball Works, and there is a quote from Walsh about it in Baseball’s Most Wanted. But incredibly, there is really no info on this online, and no mention of it in Walsh’s biography. Of course, part of the beauty of old baseball legends is that they are just that: legends. Did the Babe really call his shot? We’ll never know. Which makes it all the more compelling. Same goes for this story, though I would like to learn a bit more about this actual game. -ed.


Welcome to the 1911 World Series!

The Phillies are out of it, but I’ve still got World Series fever. Therefore, I thought we’d relive the World Series of 100 years ago. I’ll be writing everyday as Hap Jackson, sports reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin. I got the idea from this site, which started with a bang but shut down a few months ago. I thought it was a noble pursuit and thought I’d keep it going here for the Series. So expect plenty of photos, facts and bios of the 1911 A’s here in the next couple of weeks, written as if the Series were taking place now.

(October 14th, 1911) NEW YORK– Hello, sports fans and welcome to the 1911 World Series, which begins at 2 p.m. today between the Philadelphia A’s and the New York Giants. This is a highly anticipated matchup, as the two teams took their pennants with little drama. The Giants won by 7 1/2 games, and the A’s looked like a Model T among horse and buggies on the junior circuit, winning by 13 games. There is no question that we are witnessing the two finest battalions in baseball. Let’s look at their starting lineups and see if we can find who has the upper hand. We’ll start with managers.

MANAGER: Very different styles in manager here, the quiet gentleman Connie Mack of the Athletics (in suit) and the tempestuous firebrand John McGraw (in jersey), aka “The Little Napoleon”. Both are effective in their own styles, and quite popular with their men. Mack takes a laid back approach, while McGraw is known for tripping baserunners when the umpire isn’t looking and barking at opposing players to throw off their concentration. Each man will surely send their troops into battle well-prepared.

ADVANTAGE: None. These are two of the finest managers in the game. Despite contrasting styles, they have the full and complete respect of their players and are both expert tacticians.

For A’s and Giants pitching matchups, click here.

For Infield comparisons between the two teams, click here.

For Outfield comparisons, click here.

 


Mack and McGraw Speak With Reporters After Game One

(October 15th, 1911) NEW YORK– Connie Mack spoke briefly with reporters after yesterday’s game*. The game one loss doesn’t seem to have dampened his spirits one bit. “One swallow does not make a summer, you know. While we lost the opening game, it does not mean that we will lose the Series. My boys played fine ball, and a team that plays up to its season’s standards is in it until the finish. Mathewson has no terrors for is like he had in 1905. The lucky breaks of the game were against us today, but wait until next week: the Giants can’t get them all. McGraw has a fine ball team, and so have we. If we hadn’t we would not be playing for a world’s championship for the second time in two years.” 

McGraw had little to say. On his way to a waiting taxi after leaving the clubhouse, he merely uttered, “We captured one game, and we expect to get the others.” 

*actual quotes taken from 1911 NY Times article on game.


A’s Win the World Series! Philadelphia Once Again Center of Baseball Universe!

(October 27th, 1911) PHILADELPHIA– After 5 games filled with nonstop suspense, the A’s decided to treat their fans to little more than a 2 hour coronation celebration yesterday. After giving up a double and a run to their ongoing nemesis Larry Doyle in the first, Chief Bender settled down and shut the door on the Giant hitters the rest of the way. The A’s meanwhile, started their assault in the 3rd inning, added some battery in the 4th, and in the 7th they flat out murdered Giants pitcher Hooks Wiltse. It was a complete and utter annihilation, and when the dust had settled, the A’s had a 13-2 victory. The following prose comes courtesy of today’s Inquirer:

For the second consecutive time the Athletics captured a world’s championship, last fall trampling underfoot the Chicago Cubs. It was a great victory, appropriate because won on the Athletics home field and before a home crowd, and spectacular because of the concentrated attack upon the National Leaguers…Even Gotham fans, awakened by their favorites’ gallant victory in New York, assembling legions strong at Shibe Park, sat back in their seats and smiled sickly. From a Giants standpoint, the defeat and windup of the Series was ludicrous. They were pigmies when facing the speedy curves of the redskin, while no Giant twirler could stay the onrushing Athletics. 

Indeed, Chief Bender added to his legend. It was believed that Eddie Plank was going to pitch this game, since the Chief had just thrown Game 4 two days prior. But while playing catch, Bender walked over to Mack and said, simply, “I’m going to pitch and win the World Series for you.” As Bender would say after the game, “It’s only once in a century a chap gets a chance to clinch a world championship.” (Of course, if Coombs had shut the door on the Giants in the 9th inning of Game 5, it would have been twice in two years for him, as he won Game 5 in 1910). Mack knew that the Indian was ready, and made him the starter. He responded by throwing a complete game 4 hitter against this vaunted Giants lineup after only one day of rest.

The Giants continued the defensive ineptness that had haunted them all series, making 3 more errors. In their four losses of this Series, they committed an astounding 14 errors.

Jack Coombs was not at the game. His groin was so badly injured he had to go to the hospital. Connie Mack arranged for play-by-play bulletins to be transmitted as he laid in his hospital bed. He no doubt enjoyed what he heard.

Home Run Baker continued his sterling Series with 2 runs scored and an RBI. Right Fielder Danny Murphy more than made up for his poor throw to end Game 5, going 4 for 4 and scoring 3 runs. It was, fittingly, a complete team effort from the best all-around team in baseball. And there was a nice moment at the conclusion that showed just what a close-knit team this was. Stuffy McInnis had injured his wrist late in the regular season and had not gotten a chance to play in this Series. But with 2 outs in the 9th, Mack called time and inserted him into the game so that he would feel a part of the team. Bender threw to Art Wilson, who tapped it to third. Baker picked it up, fired to Mcinnis, and the Series was over. The Philadelphia Athletics were, for the 2nd straight year, World Champions.

Boxscore of Game 6.


Jim Nasium Says It All

Needless to day, Jim Nasium, cartoonist and sportswriter for the Inky jumped into the fray after Game 6 with his colorful style. There is little to add. A great column. He sums it all up beautifully:

Well, you can get back to work this morning, fellows; brush the two weeks accumulation of cobwebs off the old desk now and forget it. This morning the old White Elephant stands alone among the great throbbing world of baseball, and the Giants scalp is hanging in the tepee of Connie Mack. Our vengeance for that 1905 stuff has been glutted, and as a little extra glutting on the side we jumped in yesterday and made the finishing blow an awful carnage. 13 to 2; Wow!

Last evening there were about 20,485 persons around these parts who were grateful to the athletes of Connie Mack for dropping that game to the Giants in New York on Wednesday, and thus providing an afternoon of unalloyed pleasure for the home folks as a grand windup to the national frolic for 1911. What we have been pining for over here is just the gory sort of massacre that occurred yesterday, and we wanted it pulled off in our own backyard, where we could all sit around and pipe the stuff and get a full three dollars worth of gloating.

We were pining for a chance to sit and cheer while the enemy’s vital organs were being splattered all over the surrounding scenery, and these hair-splitting duels were beginning to give rise to a widespread but altogether mistaken view that the two teams were evenly matched. We busted that theory yesterday.

In addition to this, we rushed the whole Giant defense off its feet and made the whole crew look like a bunch of trolley leaguers on a barnstorming tour through the moustache-cup belt*. Now our bloodthirsty craving has been satiated, whatever that means. We are satisfied now to go into hibernation for the winter with the supreme honors of baseball tucked away in the bottom burea drawer. 

*perhaps the greatest trash-talking sentence I’ve ever heard in my life. The above article was written in the October 27th, 1911 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer.


An Athletic You Should Know: Eccentric Madman Rube Waddell

There’s one position in each team sport that requires more mental toughness than all of the rest.  In football it’s the quarterback, in basketball it’s the point guard, in hockey it’s the goalie, and in baseball it’s the pitcher.  With pitching comes the relentless pressure of knowing that you are one mistake away from single-handedly losing the game for your team.  Whether it’s a defense mechanism to cope with this stress, or simply a job requirement, major league pitchers, especially lefties, are generally the weirdest players on the field.  And the oddest of the bunch was Philadelphia Athletics’ pitcher, Rube Waddell.

A harbinger of things to come, George Edward Waddell was born on Friday the 13th in October of 1876 in  northeastern Pennsylvania.  He learned his craft on nearby farmland by throwing rocks at crows trying to poach seeds as they were being planted.  Waddell developed farm boy size and was soon dominating the local youth baseball league.

When he was 19, he earned a spot on Butler’s local semi-pro team anddisplayed an overpowering fastball.  He also displayed a childlike rawness that reflected his provincial background.  When he started playing, he would bean any runner who hit a groundball back to the mound instead of forcing the player out at first, explaining “hit the batter and he’s out where I come from.”  Discovered by a traveling salesman in 1896, Waddell was offered a job on the Franklin Braves in the newly-formed Iron and Oil League.

When Waddell arrived in Franklin, catcher Jack Nelson gave him the nickname “Rube,” which was reserved for hicks and it stuck immediately.  Although there was no questioning his talent, Waddell’s head was often somewhere other than in the game.  He would leave in the middle of games to go fishing, or, if a firetruck passed the field he would run off and chase it.  He would also go on drinking benders and disappear for days on end.

After Franklin folded, Waddell’s next opportunity came with Volant, a local college.  Volant made Rube an offer he couldn’t refuse: free tuition and room and board, in addition to $1 per game and free tobacco.    At Volant, both his skill and his eccentricities were on full display.  He was absolutely dominant as the lefty had developed a sharp curve ball and great control.  He averaged 15 strikeouts per 7-inning game.  More than once, Rube called for all of his players to the leave the field and pitched with no defense behind him.  Waddell would celebrate three-strikeout innings by cartwheeling, or walking on his hands, or somersaulting off the field back to the dugout.

With these antics, he soon caught the attention of major league baseball teams and signed with the National League’s Louisville Colonels in 1897.  However, he lasted just two games and left after being fined $50 for drinking, which had by this time become a major problem.  Over the course of the next few years, he split time between the majors and the minors.  In 1902, Connie Mack took a risk on the oddball and signed him to the Philadelphia Athletics.

As an Athletic, Waddell immediately turned things around and put up unreal numbers in 1902 en route to clinching the franchise’s first pennant.  His first start came on June 26th, 51 games into the season.  Appearing in only 33 games that year, he compiled a 24-7 record, a 2.05 ERA, led the American League with 210 strikeouts (50 more than runner-up Cy Young who appeared in 100 more innings than did Waddell).  He also pitched baseball’s first immaculate inning on July 1st.  Over the course of Waddell’s career in Philadelphia, from ’03-’07, he won 21, 25, 27, 15 and 19 games respectively.  His ERA with the A’s was a paltry 1.97 with a low of 1.48 in 1905.  During that season, Waddell was motoring along until he got into a fight with a teammate over a straw hat and injured his throwing shoulder.  This injury cost him the last month of the season, including the World Series. (Phillies owner Horace Fogel said Waddell was absent because he was paid off.)  From ’04-’07 he pitched at least 7 shutouts per season.  He also led the majors in strikeouts over 5 consecutive seasons.  His record of 349 ks in 1904 stood for 60 seasons until Sandy Koufax struck out 382 in 1965.

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.

Cooperstown historian Lee Allen succinctly described 1903 in the life of Rube Waddell:

He began that year 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.

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 herioc, 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.

In 1946, he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  By all accounts, Waddell was known much more for his eccentricities than for his talent.  But there is no doubt that the former rivaled the latter as Waddell was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.