Walter "Rabbit" Maranville was a 5'5" baseball clown with a goblin face full of laugh lines. One of the most animated players in history his humor was antic and visible to the fans. Nick-named "Rabbit" because of his large ears and fast running style, he left a geact of wild nights and zany stunts.
The shortstop for the 1914 "Miracle Braves", after the Series, he and several of his teammates out on tour in a Vaudville act. The act consisted of songs, anecdotes and recreations of plays in the World Series. In Lewiston, Maine one night the Rabbit declared to the audience: " I will now demonstrate how I stole second base off Bullet Joe Bush in the Series." Sprinting off a mythical first base, he slid into a picture perfet slide....unfortunately he miscalculated the distance and wound up landing on a drum in the orchestra pit, breaking his leg!
He was a photographers dream! He would pull the bill of his cap over one ear - baseball's oldest comic gesture - and jump into the arms of his biggest teammate. He would an umpire a pair of glasses, mock slow pitchers and ponderous batters in pantomime. He was an after-hours main-stay who loved to have a good time. After a few drinks to help get up his nerve, he would pull stunts like walking hotel ledges, swallow goldfish, and toss firecrackers. Even when he wasn't out partying, he would enjoy himself by pulling stunts!
Once when he was in New York, he arranged for pitcher Jack Scott to chase him through Times Square shouting"Stop Thief!" Another time his teammates heard wild noises coming from within his locked hotel room; screams, gunfire, breaking glass.....the Rabbit moaning "Eddie, your killing me!" It sounded like a murder in progress! When the door was finally broken down, the Rabbit and two accomplices paraded right by his shocked teammates as if nothing happened, with the Rabbit greeting them with a "Hiya fellas!"
Lost in all his shenanigans is the fact that he was always a superior fielder, famous for his basket catch of high infield flies. He led NL shortstops in putouts each year from 1914 to 1919 (except for 1918, which he spent in the Navy), assists twice, double plays three times, and fielding average once. He was traded to Pittsburgh in 1921 for outfielders Billy Southworth and Fred Nicholson, shortstop Walter Barbare, and $15,000.
He led shortstops in fielding average in 1923, eventually moving to second base when Glenn Wright took over at short in 1924. Dealt to the Cubs after the 1924 season, he continued with his solid play. His late night partying and devil-may-care antics finally began to catch up with him in Chicago. When he was named manager in July 1925, he failed miserably! He had no set rules for the team except that they couldn't go to bed before him! One can imagine how worn out the Cub team was after just a week under his guidance. After 53 games and Chicago in 8th place, he was let go!
From that point it was downhill for Maranville. The Cubs waived him to Brooklyn. The Dodgers then released him unconditionally halfway through 1926. The Cardinals finally picked him up and optioned him to Rochester (IL). It was there that Maranville finally saw the light! "Going back to the bushes was the best thing for me!" said Maranville in an interview years later...."I knew that that was one place I didn't want to finish my career in, either I had to lay off the booze and get serious with the game or it would be the end of me."
Rabbits change of attitude started on May 24th, 1927...the day he took the pledge to "lay off the sauce". Branch Rickey exclaimed later in the season, "Walter is a changed man....it is apparent that he has scene the light....his change in attitude is remarkable." He was rewarded and brought back up to the Cardinals where he played 9 games at the end of the '27 season. Rewarded with a contract for 1928, he helped the Cards during their pennant-winning season. Sold back to the Braves in 1929, he continued his steady play, never playing fewer than 142 games a season over the next six years.
During a spring training game against the Yankees in 1934, the 42 yrs old was on the front end of a double steal of home when he snapped the tibia and fibula in his left leg. Sitting out the season, he tried a comeback in 1935 but he just wasn't his same old self. He retired as a player and then turned to coaching in the minors where he had some success. He was even a player manager one year....batting .323 in 123 games for Elmira of the New York-Penn League in 1936!
Eventually Maranville wound up settling in Queens, NY as director of sandlot baseball programs for the New York Journal-American. He loved working with the kids..... he could tell stories about his baseball career and "make the boys laugh!" He was always quick to point out the error of his ways and never encouraged the same vices that had almost ruined him! There was a drive by many writers to have him elected to the Hall Of Fame, but he would never get to see Cooperstown as a member.
Early in the morning
hours of Wednesday, January 6th, 1954, Rabbit Maranville died of a heart
attack at his home in Woodside, Queens. He was only 61 years old. He did make
it to the Hall Of Fame , posthumously, later that year.