This month I've been reading Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History by Stew Thornley, and there are some great stories in it.
If anybody knows any good biographies about Rube Waddell, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher, I'd be fascinated to hear about it. After you read this, you will be too.
Waddell was one of the best southpaws in the first half of the 20th century. But in those days, it wasn’t uncommon for successful players to spend their time in the minors as their skills deteriorated. That may have been especially true of a character like Waddell. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore, folks. From Stew's book:
“Rube Waddell pitched for the Millers in 1911 and 1912, compiling records of 20-17 and 12-6, respectively. Waddell had led the American League in strikeouts from 1902 through 1907 while pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics. During that time, the southpaw also resisted attempts by manager Connie Mack to keep his mind on baseball.
According to Lee Allen in his book The American League Story, Waddell could find much more that pitching to occupy his time:
Consider merely a few of the things that happened to him in one year alone, 1903: He began that year sleeping in a firehouse at Camden, New Jersey and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling, West Virginia. In between those events, he won 29 games for the Philadelphia Athletics (even though he didn’t bother to hang around to the final month of the season), played left end for the Business Men’s Rugby Football Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, toured the nation in a melodrama called “The Stain of Guilt,” courted, married and became separated from May Wynne Skinner of Lynn Massachusetts, saved a woman from drowning, accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and was bitten by a lion.
Even though Waddell had worn out his welcome with the Connie Mack and later with the St. Louis Browns, he created remarkably few, if any problems for Joe Cantillon and the Millers. In 1912, the management of the Minneapolis team reportedly promised Waddell $200 if he remained sober all season.
That year during spring training at Hickman, Kentucky, Waddell was one of the hardest workers in helping the residents try to save the local levee during a flood. And when the levee broke, Waddell “did heroic service in helping the panic-stricken citizens to safety.” It was also reported that while in Hickman, Waddell spent many hours trying to train three wild geese to skip rope.”
This guy makes Lew Ford look like Emily Post.
(Actually, there is something I'd pay money to see - Lew trying to look like Emily Post. Not as much as I'd pay to see geese jumping rope, though.)