I often find myself delving through countless hours of baseball history looking for something interesting in America’s pastime. Lately I’ve been thinking about players that we never talk about, the guys that had great careers or did something noteworthy. One player I continually do research on is Rube Waddell, who might be the most interesting person to ever play the game of baseball.
The capricious southpaw would occasionally leave during the middle of a game to go fishing or chase fire trucks, yes a grown man running after a red truck. Now if you ask me that’s true entertainment, not watching a bunch of overpaid athletes go through the motions. Just imagine setting watching a baseball game and a player runs off the field to chase something. We don’t know if Waddell did this to amuse his teammates or if he had some serious mental issues, but we know it’s downright hilarious. Now days we would immediately call him crazy and would have never seen the greatness that was within him.
The eccentric Triple Crown winner wrestled alligators and was distracted by puppies. He was also an alcoholic, but it surely didn’t affect his game.
The story of “The Rube” is surely a great one, it’s a story of a man who was the most dominant pitcher of his time. He was the first ace in baseball history and he probably would have never had a chance these days. Its been over 100 years since the world has seen his antics.
The short lived life of Rube Waddell is the greatest baseball story we never talk about and we should. His name should be mentioned with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Cy Young and Honus Wagner. He accomplished more in his 13-year career then most pitchers could accomplish in 20, but we never talk about him. Why is this? Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time, but that was in 1981 and no one has ranked Waddell since in that exclusive category. The two writers had a great point though, why not include the player with extraordinary talent just because he has an issue with either injuries or is an alcoholic. Why are we so quick to judge? We often consider Sandy Koufax as one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, and like Waddell, Koufax had to cut his career short. Now his issue wasn’t substance abuse, but it was the fact that he couldn’t throw the ball anymore do to arthritis. Koufax and Waddell had very similar numbers and yes it was a completely different era, but now is a different era too. You can’t tell me that Koufax would be able to strikeout Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. Just like you can’t tell me that Waddell would’ve been able to strikeout Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. It’s just something we’ll never know, but we still rank Koufax among the greats. Let me get something straight I’m not saying that Waddell is the greatest player of all-time, but he still deserves to be in the top 100 if you ask me.
Waddell finished his career with a 2.16 ERA and a record of 193-143, while posting 2.03 FIP and a 61.0 WAR. He was a strikeout machine, recording 349 strikeouts in 1904, which was 110 more strikeouts than the second place pitcher Jack Chesbro and 137 more than Christy Mathewson. Both players ended up in the Hall of Fame. Waddell finished his career with 2,316 strikeouts, which is 47th all-time.