Waddell entertaining on and off the diamond

awaddell1.jpgThis is a story about Connie Mack, the Philadelphia Athletics, and how a simple straw hat cost the A’s the World Series. Impossible you say? Well, let me explain.

 Way back in 1905, Mack’s Athletics were on top of the baseball world. Philadelphia was a team that was blessed with stars such as Eddie Plank, Lave Cross, Chief Bender and Topsy Hartsel. It was a time of change in America at the turn of the century, Teddy Roosevelt was president of these United States, Ty Cobb was making his major league debut, and the Mackmen were the toast of Philadelphia.

 During those early days, Mack’s pitching staff included one Mr. Andrew Coakley. Coakley, a native of Providence, R.I., joined the team in 1902. He was a dapper sort of fellow who could always be found sporting finely tailored suits, knit sweaters and monogrammed dress shirts. The sharp-cut Coakley was a bit of a ladies man. To Coakley, appearance was everything.
Unfortunately for the dapper Coakley, the Athletics’ pitching staff also included one George Edward “Rube” Waddell.

Waddell was one of those happy-go-lucky characters that tumbled out of baseball lore and became the stuff of legend. He was also the antithesis of Coakley. Waddell began his career back in 1897 with the old Louisville club which was, at that time, part of the National League. He quickly gained a reputation for being somewhat of an oddball with a cannon for an arm.

Waddell, who had an uncontrollable taste for whiskey, was one of the greatest strikeout pitchers in the history of the game. He would lead the league in strikeouts six straight years. Between innings Waddell was known to have soaked his pitching arm in ice water to slow down his pitches. The lovable Rube always feared killing a batter and theorized that ice water would cramp his arm. Waddell’s career ended in 1910 and decades later he would find his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But as great as Waddell was, his reputation as a complete nut overshadowed his greatness on the baseball diamond. Waddell would go down in history as the clown of clowns in baseball, a title matched only by the comical Germany Schaefer of the Detroit Tigers.

Waddell’s bizarre behavior would drive Mack and the rest of his teammates up the wall. Without warning Rube would up and disappear for days on end, only to be found somewhere in the Canadian wilderness pursuing his first and only true love: fishing. If it weren’t for his spectacular arm, Mack would have axed the unpredictable Waddell without hesitation.

Despite the ocassional distractions, the Athletics (with its arsenal of superstars) coasted through that season of 1905. They remained in first place for most of the year and were headed for the Fall Classic.

With the pennant all but wrapped up the Athletics were on cloud nine. The last week of the season rolled around and the Athletics had one final three-game series to play against the St. Louis Browns. So the team gathered at the central train station with baggage in hand.  

 Well, Coakley arrived wearing a rather expensive suit complete with a gold-chained watch and on the top of his head was a brand-new straw hat with a gaudy silk band. The hat was the perfect complement to Coakley’s outfit and probably set the pitcher back almost $1.

Well, when the lovable Waddell saw that hat he screamed at the top of his lungs and made a mad dash for Coakley. He wanted that hat so bad that he jumped up and tried to grab it off Coakley’s head. Coakley, not wanting to lose his new topper, stepped out of Waddell’s way and watched him sail by like an out of control mortar shell. Waddell went flying head over heals into a pile of luggage and hit the ground like a 50-pound sack of potatoes. 

 When Waddell tried to stand, a stabbing pain sent him right back to the ground, Waddell had dislocated the shoulder of his pitching arm. Old Rube was out of commission for the rest of the season and, much to Mack’s dismay, the World Series as well.

 Philadelphia club, minus one Mr. Waddell, headed to the World Series and awaiting them was the powerhouse New York Giants led by the iron fisted John J. McGraw.  Without their star pitcher Waddell, the Athletics were pummeled by the Giants, four game to one. So ends the story of how Connie Mack’s Athletics lost the Fall Classic all because of a hat, a silly little straw hat. The City of Brotherly Love went into shock over the loss. Waddell, on the other hand, went fishing, dislocated shoulder and all.  
The Elusive Waddell Signature
 About the only thing rarer than Waddell’s half-baked personality is his autograph. It is one of the crown jewels of the Hall of Fame signatures but, in my opinion, virtually impossible to find. I have been asked by several collectors to write a signature study of the great Rube Waddell.

Unfortunately, that is not possible, as of this writing there are no known signatures of Waddell in the marketplace. In fact nobody really knows what his signature looks like. There are a fair number of forged signatures in the market that are usually found on old cabinet cards and signed “Compliments of G.E. Waddell” or “G.E. (Rube) Waddell.” Some are signed in fountain pen while others are in pencil. I have seen them signed on both on the front and on the reverse. These forgeries surfaced over the past 10 years, just when the values of vintage signed material began to skyrocket. My advice to collectors is to avoid Waddell until such time that his signature can be verified, which probably will never happen.

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