“He was a Rube Waddell, a Cy Young”

22 Sep

In 1905, Napoleon Lajoie told a story to a reporter for The Cleveland News about “a wizard in the person of a pitcher who applied for a job in Philadelphia<’ when Lajoie played for the Phillies in 1899:

Napoleon Lajoie

“We were out for morning practice one day when a tall, angular, awkward man, who looked more like a sailor than an athlete, gained admittance to the park and asked permission to work with us.”

Lajoie said the man was sent to the outfield and “did fairly well catching fungoes;” he then asked to pitch.

“Big (Ed) Delahanty made two or three swings at the twisters y=the stranger served up to him, and then he turned around to me: ‘Nap, that fellow’s a ringer,’ he said. We all laughed at Del’s remark, but the laugh didn’t last. I was as helpless before him that day as I am nowadays before Jack Chesbro’s spitball, when it is worked right. Duff Cooley was mad all over because he couldn’t hit the new-fangled curves.”

Delahanty

Lajoie said when he stood behind the man as he pitched, he:

“(W)atched in open-mouthed wonder the zigzag, round-the-corner, hide-and-seek curves he pitched against the grandstand. It was hard to tell whether you were on a ballfield or in the delirium tremens ward of an inebriate hospital.”

He said he asked the man what he did for work:

“’Oh, most anything,’ he said ‘Anything that will earn me bread and butter and a place to sleep. Help load ships, sweep crossings—anything.’”

Lajoie said the man was told he could “earn $500 or $600 a month.”

He said he invited the man out the next day to meet manager Bill Shettsline.

“He was there at the appointed time and showed Shetts his paces. (Bill) Bernhard, (Red) Donahiue and the other pitchers looked on him with voiceless astonishment. He was a Rube Waddell, a Cy Young, a John Clarkson, a Charles Radbourn and Eddie Beaton [sic, Beatin], and a Clark Griffith combined in one.

“Shettsline told him to come to the office the next day and signa contract. That night we all had dreams of the pennant and of the consternation the new pitcher’s debut would create in the ranks of the other clubs.”

But it was not to be.

“He disappeared as suddenly as he appeared and as completely as if he had jumped into the muddy waters of the Schuylkill. Detectives hired by the club hunted high and low for him, and we even advertised in the papers, but we got no trace of him whatever.

“And never before and never since have I seen such a marvelous exhibition of masterful pitching as that unknown man in shirtsleeves and overalls gave that day in the presence of the most famous hitting team ever organized.”

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