“Rube was a Jester, Baseball’s First and Only”

16 Apr

In 1914, Roy J. Dunlap was a reporter for The St. Paul Pioneer Press.  He had come to the paper the previous year from The Duluth News-Tribune where he covered baseball and served as official scorer for the Duluth White Sox in the Northern League.

Shortly after Rude Waddell’s death on April 1, 1914, Dunlap told readers about the final game Waddell appeared in as a pro July 3, 1913 (In his original version, Dunlap said the game was played on June 28, but The Virginia Enterprise and other papers confirm the game was played on the 28th).  Waddell was pitching the Virginia (MN) Ore Diggers against the White Sox.

“Waddell made millions of dollars—for the club owners.  His big, jolly nature never permitted him to turn his jesting to his own pecuniary benefit.  For Rube was a jester, baseball’s first and only.  Beside him Germany Schaefer and Nick Altrock are only superclowns.”

rube

Rube

Dunlap said of Waddell’s final game:

“Those 2,000 or more fans who sat on the bleachers or in the grand stand and doubled up with laughter at the jester’s antics probably never will forget that eventful day.  Perhaps Rube knew it would be his last fling.  The more one thinks of his work in the twelve grueling innings the more he is impressed that Rube felt the intuition of an invisible fate.  Rube ever has been fate’s plaything. Fate molded him into a jester, and has criss-crossed his eventful life since.

“Rube admitted it.  He never could explain why he went fishing the day he was scheduled to pitch while fans called for him and irate managers scoured his old haunts, gnashing their teeth; he never could explain why he went to a fire in the midst of an exciting game or why he rescued drowning men from the bottom of a lake.

“Rube’s last year in baseball was filled with misfortune.  He was stricken with a fever in the training camp at Minneapolis American Association team at Hickman (Kentucky, where Waddle came down with pneumonia after helping to the save the city from a devastating flood) and was not in shape to pitch at the opening of the season.”

Waddell began the 1913 season with the “Little Millers,” the Minneapolis club in the Northern League, and as Dunlap put it:

“The old listless, wandering spirit nature seemed to grip him and he became careless.”

rube

Rube Waddell

Waddell was released by Minneapolis, then:

Spike Shannon…manager for the Virginia team, which was in last place, put in a bid for Rube.  Probably Shannon figured him from a gate standpoint.  His team was a poor attraction because of its cellar position almost from the start.  If that were his motive he made a shrewd move.  Rube Waddell was a drawing card and this power he held until the last.

“Waddell joined the Virginians at Duluth one rainy day early in June.  He was still suffering from a ‘game’ leg, although it was on the mend, and he was able to be in a game once in awhile.”

Then, said Dunlap, Waddell disappeared:

“Shannon knew where he was, but beyond an evasive answer he would shed no light on Rube’s whereabouts.

“The team traveled about the circuit and the fans called for Rube, but Rube was not there.  Then one day, press dispatches carried a thrilling story, and the secret was no more.”

Dunlap here claimed while Waddell was away from the team “camping” he saved two men from drowning—the story likely a conflation of the oft told story of Rube saving a woman from drowning, and his role in recovering the body of a drown man in Tower, Minnesota on July 9, 1913, The Associated Press said Waddell recovered the body, “after several good swimmers had failed.”

At some point in late June, Waddell rejoined the team, pitched and played outfield, and was scheduled to pitch June 28:

“Waddell was advertised to pitch the first game.  The curious fans filled the grand stands and bleachers.  When the big fellow stepped out to warm up he was cheered to an echo.  But underneath it all there was a note of sadness.  None could help recalling his career.  They saw, in their imagination, Rube Waddell standing in the pitcher’s box at Shibe Park, Philadelphia.  They saw him in the height of glory striking out man after man, and heard again the plaudits of the fans.  Then in reality they saw him in a minor league, one of the newest and greenest in organized baseball and Waddell was pitching for the tail enders.

“Waddell had the art of jesting down to a fine point.  He never displayed it to a better advantage than that day.  He knew when to pull the funny stuff and when to tighten.  He did his best to win that game because he knew the crowd expected it.  But he was pitching against a youngster (Harry “Pecky” Rhoades) who was hitting his best stride, and it was youth against ill health and stiffened joints.  Duluth won the game 2 to 1.  Rube fanned 12, but his team did not give him the slugging support.  His opponent struck out 17 Virginians.”

peckyrhoades

Pecky Rhoades

Dunlap continued his story, telling the story of how Rube began the game:

“Rube walked to the plate, keeping step to the hand clapping of the crowd.  He surveyed carefully the pitcher’s box, gave his outfield a careful glance, turned, bowed to the crowd, motioned to the batter to get closer to the plate and put over the first pitched ball-a strike.  The catcher returned the ball, but Rube’s back was turned.  He was looking at something out in centerfield.  The fans shouted but he never looked around.  Suddenly he made a quick step, his face still turned away, put his hand behind his back and caught the ball.

“He retired the batter in short order on strikes.  Rube smiled.”

Both The Duluth News-Tribune and The Virginia Enterprise reported the same score and strike out totals the day after the game, The News-Tribune called the game “One of the great pitching duels seen here.”

Said Dunlap of Waddell’s death:

“Before the end he sent out a little message.  He said in it a few words, but it was a sermon.  Had this commandment been followed by the author the name of Rube Waddell might have been with that of Mathewson today, and fans would be speculating on when he would be too old to pitch.

“This is the sermon-message:

“Tell the boys to cut out the booze and cigarettes.”

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