When Rube Waddell died on April 1, 1914, he was eulogized by sportswriters across the country. Perhaps no one captured the essence of baseball’s most eccentric personality than William George “Billy” Murphy, sports editor of The St. Louis Star, who called the departed pitcher “The Peter Pan of the National Game.”
“A boy he lived and a boy he died. He knew naught of the great problems of sociology or philosophy, but lived in the realm of love, adventure, romance, gallantry, and grace.
“The tales that are told of him, if written, would be classics in the folklore of childhood. He was but a little child himself.
“A man of baseball genius, of an ardent temperament, reckless of physical laws and self-indulgent, he paid the penalty.”
The story of Waddell’s catching pneumonia while helping to stack sandbags to save the town of Hickman, Kentucky, which contributed to his contracting tuberculosis, the cause of his death, has been told often. But Murphy told another story about Waddell’s stay in Hickman—at the home of Joe Cantillon, his manager with the Minneapolis Millers.
“Memory of Rube Waddell will live forever in the heart of Joe Cantillon…’Rube’s big heartedness has never been exaggerated,’ said Joe. ‘In fact, his generosity never has been fully told. Year before last down at Hickman the Rube was with me at Christmas time. A storekeeper called me up Christmas Eve and told me the Rube was inviting everybody who passed the store to step in and get fitted for a pair of gloves. The merchant thought the Rube had gone daffy and wanted to know if he should stop him. I told him ‘no,’ to let Rube have his fun, and if he couldn’t pay for it I would. He gave away forty pair.
“Rube was lonesome and the Christmas spirit was upon him and he couldn’t do anything else that would have brought him more pleasure.”
Murphy said Waddell, for “all his buffoonery, was brave and would go the limit to help a woman or child.”
“Waddell was the greatest of all the southpaws and his name will live forever in the history of America’s national game.
“There was not a selfish bone in his body and he did much good. He was indeed a little boy who never grew up. He made many happy and lived his life as he saw it.
“May his rest be as sweet as was his life.”