This one features an oft-told Rube Waddell legend:
“Edward ‘Rube’ Waddell, pitcher for the old Philadelphia Athletics, was one of baseball’s zaniest ‘characters.’ It was in an exhibition game in 1902 that he pulled his most famous stunt.
“In the last half of the ninth, ‘Rube’ sent all his players off the field, leaving only the catcher behind the plate. Then with magnificent arrogance, ‘Rube’ struck out the last three batters on nine pitched balls.”
As with all Waddell stories, there was some truth and a good deal of embellishment in Considine’s account. While the contemporary coverage of the game differs on some aspects of the performance, they all agree that Waddell pitched to just one batter after members of the team left the field in the ninth inning.
The game in question was played at Steelton, Pennsylvania against that town’s YMCA team. The Athletics won easily, 10 to 2, and Waddell pitched the eighth and ninth innings for Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Inquirer said:
“Waddell was the entertaining feature of the match, and in the last inning called in all the infielders after two men were out.”
The Harrisburg Daily Independent, which provided more in-depth coverage of the game, said:
“Rube Waddell was in all his glory at Steelton yesterday and his funny antics before and during the game were well worth the price of admission.”
The paper said before the game Waddell entertained the fans chasing “flies in the hills until he was perspiring,” and spent part of the early innings taking a “nap in his private carriage which carried him from (Harrisburg) to Steelton.”
As for his time on the mound, the paper said Waddell struck out the first two batters he faced in the eighth, then after getting two strikes on the third batter, named “Irish” McManigal:
“(W)hen he pitched the third ball (he) remarked, ‘Take your seat.’ ‘Irish,’ however, surprised the Rube and rapped out a pretty single to center field.”
Waddell gave up another hit in the eighth and the YMCA scored a run.
“The next inning Rutherford hit to Waddell and the Rube did a cake walk to first base to catch Rutherford. Berry then hit to Monte Cross, but he threw wild to first and Berry reached third base. Then the Reuben settled down and struck Lawlor out.”
The Daily Independent said Waddell did not call in the fielders, but instead, on their own:
“The Athletic players behind Waddell left the field and with a man on third base he and (Ossee) Schreck (Schrecongost) were left to put out the side.
“The Rube did not know his teammates had deserted him and when told to look around by Schreck he discovered the fact. Then to make more complete the comedy Schreckengost [sic] sat down and the Rube struck out Albright while the crowd howled with merriment.”
The Harrisburg Telegraph provided a third set of contemporaneous “facts:”
“In the last inning when two men were out all the Athletics left the field except Waddell, Powers and L. Cross.”
The paper likely misidentified Schrecongost as Michael “Doc” Powers–Schrecongost had replaced him behind the plate in the eighth, and Lave Cross had already left the game–so the player who stayed on the field might have been shortstop Monte Cross. The Telegraph also added another detail missing in the other reports:
“(Waddell) gave the batter three balls and the crowd was wild, but their last hope faded rapidly away as Rube put three fine ones over the plate and the striker was out.”
Considine likely cribbed his version from Harry Grayson, the sports editor of The Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate. Grayson told the three-batters-nine-pitches story several times throughout the forties, and that legend stuck.