“Wrecked the Morale of my Clubs”

23 Aug

In 1925, Frank Menke said in his King Features syndicated column:

“Rube Waddell sleeps his last long sleep, but the memory of him shall last through all the baseball years.”

Menke said Waddell was, “possessed of the mightiest arm the game has ever known,” but was, “handicapped by a brain eccentric to an extreme.”

Rube

Borrowing a phrase from Billy Murphy, the sports editor of The St. Louis Star, Menke called Waddell, “The Peter Pan of the National Game.”

Fred Clarke, Waddell’s first major league manager, told Menke his version of the story of the pitcher’s arrival in Washington D.C. to join the Louisville Colonels in August of 1897:

“’I climbed into bed about midnight, all in,’ related Clarke, ‘I was awakened out of sleep by a heavy pounding on my door. Striking a match, I looked at my watch and found it was 3:30 a.m.’

“’Who is it?’ I growled.’

“’Open up, it’s a friend,’ said a voice outside.

“’I opened the door—and a big, lanky fellow rushed at me, hand extended, and with a wide grin on his face.

‘’Hello, Freddie; hello, Freddie,’ he chuckled, ‘How are you old boy, how are you? Let me have $2 will you?

“’Doesn’t seem as if we’ve ever met before, ‘I said. ‘Would you mind telling me who you are.’”

“’Why, I’m your new pitcher—Rube Waddell; I’m surprised you don’t know me. Just got in town and I need $2.’

Clarke said he told Waddell he didn’t have the money, but “it is customary in the big leagues for a new player to visit all the older players on the team as soon as he arrives,” and sent Waddell to bother his new teammates.

Clarke said he “ducked my players” the next morning at breakfast because:

“(E)veryone had been visited by the Rube during the night and those fellows were intent upon murdering the man who had sicced the Rube onto them.”

Waddell appeared in just two games for Louisville in 1897 but returned to Clarke and the club in 1899 and then spent 1900 and part of the 1901 season playing for Clarke in Pittsburgh. Clarke told Menke that no player had ever caused him, “one tenth the trouble” that Waddell had:

“But some way, somehow, no matter what he did, it wasn’t possible to be mad at him for long.”

Clarke said Waddell, “wrecked the morale of my clubs to such an extent that I finally decided to get rid of him.”

The Pirates sold the pitcher’s contract to Chicago in May of 191, but Clarke said the Orphans were not the first club with which they had a deal for the sale:

“I sold him to Boston. The Boston club asked me to sign up Rube for them. The lefthander had been getting $1200 from us, Boston was willing to pay him more.”

Clarke said he presented Waddell with a $1500 contract:

“’No, I won’t do that,’ said Rube, ‘I’d rather play for you for $1200. I don’t want to go to Boston.”

Clarke said the offer was increased three times, to $1800, $2100, and finally $2400 but Waddell said:

“No, Freddie, I’d rather play for you for $1200.”

Clarke said:

“He flatly refused to go there, so the Boston deal was cancelled and a short time later we shipped Rube along to Chicago, which was a town he liked.”

Waddell was sent to Chicago in the midst of a eight game back to back home and road series between the two clubs—Waddell lost the first game of the game of the series pitching for Chicago and lost the fifth as a member of the Pirates.

Clarke said during that series Chicago manager Tom Loftus threatened Rube with a $25 if he ever fraternized with members of the opposing club on the field, and then told a story—the facts of which don’t square with any game played between the two clubs that season, but fits the pattern of the classic Rube Waddell story:

“When we made our next trip to Chicago we were fighting for a position near the top and every game counted. Chicago sent Rube in against us and he was pitching air-tight baseball. All during the game we tried in one way of another to talk to him, but Rube, remembering about the possible $25 fine, wouldn’t even look at us in a friendly way.

“Coming in from the field after the eighth, with the score 5 to 1 against us, I passed alongside Rube and said in a stage whisper:

“’Say, Honus Wagner, Sam Leever, and myself are going hunting for quail near your old town of Butler in the fall and when we do, we’ll let you know Rube, because we want you to come along with.’

 The distraction worked. Clarke said:

“It is a matter of history we made six runs off Rube in that inning and won the game.”

In fact, Waddell lost three time to the Pirates in 1901—the 4 to 2 loss the day after Chicago acquired him, 6 to 1 on June 2 (Leever got the win), and 5 to 1 on August 11, but none of games match Clarke’s “matter of history.”

Incidentally, Waddell almost didn’t appear in the August 11 game. He was scheduled to pitch the day before—the game was rained out—but right before it was, The Chicago Tribune said he was detained by the police for some old debts incurred in Pittsburgh:

“After dodging constables for three days to avoid service, Manager Loftus was glad when two of the minions corralled Rube.”

Waddell told his manager he could “settle with them for $21.” Loftus paid the debt, and he was able to take the mound the following day.

More Rube Wednesday

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s